Real Resolutions for Dancers
It’s a new year, and with that always comes lists of well-meant promises to yourself. Clean page, fresh start, this year you’ll try harder/get better/master your pirouettes! Put pen to paper, and a few minutes later you’ve got a gleaming master list of Dos and Don’ts that you are sure will help you make this The Year of Perfection. But what happens? January starts off with daily references to The List, lots of effort - totally doable! By February, the list is starting to make you feel guilty - it’s SO hard! - and by March you’re purposefully avoiding looking at It. April swings around and it’s List? What list? You pretend to forget about it, pretend to forgive yourself, and swear that eight months from now you’ll write a new one and do better.
So this year, let’s ditch the guilt-inducing list. Dancers are already perfectionists and don’t need to be reminded of our constant failure to reach that unachievable goal of doing EVERYTHING right. I offer an alternative: try adopting these resolutions for yourself, and see what happens. So repeat after me:
This year, I resolve to:
Be generous with praise. If there’s one thing that’s noticeably absent in classrooms, dressing rooms, and rehearsal rooms, it’s compliments. I’m not talking about cheering when your friend nails a quad en dedans turn; I’m talking about going up to the new girl who’s only been here a few months and telling her how lovely her adagio combination was that day. Or reminding your best friend that turns may not be her thing, but you could see how much she’s been working on her head placement. Or - and here’s a radical idea - praise yourself! Find something good about the class you just took - or the variation you just ran - or the audition you just gave - and be kind to yourself. Mean it.
Be stingy with criticism. Here’s the flip side of the paltry praise - there’s always plenty of criticism to go around. We often tear down other people, needing to find small flaws in others to help us feel better about what we perceive as our own looming imperfections. Dressing room talk can be casual and cutting and the scars can last forever. Be honest with your friends, but be thoughtful about how you offer criticism. And you know this is coming - be kind to yourself. When you’ve had a bad class/audition/run-through, don’t dwell on it. You know what to fix, so let it go.
Accept my uniqueness. This goes along with the stingy-with-criticism thing. I tell my dancers this all the time: there’s already a Misty Copeland and a Dusty Button. Don’t try to be them. No one else has to offer what you have to offer, so take that and run with it. If you can’t turn like Dusty (and even Dusty can’t turn like Dusty sometimes!) then stop punishing yourself. If you’re 5 foot 10, you’ll never dance Baby Swans. It’s ok. I promise you, the shorty dancing Baby Swans wishes she had your legs. Find what’s unique about yourself - your power, your big jumps, your deep connection to the music - and be proud of it. I guarantee you, someone who is hiring is looking for that.
Be mindful of my health. What will this look like for you? Is this the year you bite the bullet and finally go see the dentist? Is it the year you give up cigarettes or diet drinks? Perhaps this will be the year you finally get that clicking knee looked at. It’s thinking long-term: your body is your instrument, so what do you need to keep it running at maximum capacity? Don’t try to tackle everything at once: just start with something.
Pick one thing and deal with it. You know what this is, too. Perhaps it’s working on turns or flexibility, but more likely it’s learning to like the way you look in the mirror, or admitting you hate petite allegro but need to work on it anyway. It could be finding someone to talk to about the pressure you feel in your life; or perhaps it’s getting out of a company where you’re floundering, and landing in a place you’ll be valued. Whatever it is (and like I said, you’ll know) take the long view and look at it as something to work on over several months - there’s no instant fix for IT. Whatever IT is. Make a plan, ask for help, do your research. Just get started.
Go outside my comfort zone. Are you hard-core Vaganova girl? Take a Balanchine class. Hate looking less than perfect? Seek out a flamenco/tap/hip-hop class and give it a try. Expand your horizons and I guarantee it’ll make you a better dancer. AND you’ll discover your comfort zone is suddenly much bigger . . .
Find the sacred moments, and dwell in them. Don’t roll your eyes, hear me out here: you’re doing this for a reason. Lord knows it’s not the money or the way society thinks dancers are a vital part of our national fabric. So remember why you got into this in the first place, and refresh that love regularly. Dance, for me, is a gift I’ve been given, and I feel a responsibility to be a good steward of that gift and share it with others. It’s hard to share that gift, though, if I’m not remembering why I love dance in the first place. And sure, I love being onstage and feeling the audience right there with me, but for me? In the wings is where it’s at. I LOVE standing in the wings, watching everything that’s happening onstage, and feeling the cocoon of the black velvet curtains wrap around me as I wait to go out. The moment is so full of possibility, and the anticipation is delicious. There’s art and joy about to happen for me - and I feel supremely grateful. That’s my sacred moment, and I will inhabit it as often as I can. Don’t forget why you’re doing this. As you hang in a suspended turn or soar through a perfect jump, relish that moment. Cling to it fiercely, and don’t look forward or back - just live in the now.
So that’s your list. Totally doable, right? And while we’re at it, here’s one more resolution: I will NOT look at this list as setting myself up to fail. Every dancer is a perfectionist, and the last thing you need is something hanging over your head reminding you of all the things you’ve failed to achieve. So print off this list, copy it to your phone, whatever - I want you to check in regularly with it! - but don’t look at the things you’ve ignored and feel bad. Just look at the ways you’re working on yourself and give yourself a pat on the back (see: Be generous with praise).
New year, new chances, every morning. No pressure, no stress, just opportunities. You’ve got this.