Dance education gives a dancer many gifts that they carry throughout their lives—self-motivation, self-discipline, poise, grace, an appreciation for the arts, life-long friends and mentors, wonderful experiences, and precious memories. But just as in life, dance has its ups and downs. Moments where a dancer feels exceptionally successful and where they feel completely deflated.
I treasure the moments I felt outstanding and wonderful because there is nothing quite like the feeling of your hard work paying off—moving up a level, getting the part you wanted, landing an extra pirouette, etc. No matter how happy those moments felt or how they would motivate me to continue my journey, I look back now and know I grew and learned more from the disappointments and setbacks I experienced than from my accomplishments.
I was four-years-old when I first took a dance class. By the time I was twelve, I was in the advanced levels of tap and jazz, but it wasn’t until I was fourteen that I achieved my goal of being in the highest level of ballet. Sure, these are essentially the benchmarks of my journey, but they do not paint an accurate picture of the hours, blood, sweat, tears, frustration, and heartache that went into achieving my goal.
Dance will help teach students how life doesn’t go as planned, how you don’t always get what you want, and how to learn from every opportunity you’re given.
Growing up, people always thought I was older than I was because of my height. I’m also the youngest in a large family, making me comfortable around people much older than myself, which led to comments such as, “Oh, I thought you were older” and “You seem so mature for your age.” When it came to dance classes, I was usually one of the youngest students in my level which meant I didn’t always advance to the next level with my friends.
Young dancers sometimes don’t understand why they repeat a level while some or even all their classmates move up the ranks. Sometimes their bodies aren’t mature enough to advance and directors want to ensure they are physically ready for the demands of a higher level. Sometimes the reason is maturity—has the dancer shown they are responsible and mentally ready for the next level? Other times, the reason a dance director keeps a student in the same level for another year or two is to allow the dancer to build a strong foundation of skills and technique that will be required to succeed in the next level.
No matter the reason, I spent a fair amount of time in certain levels (still remaining one of the younger girls). When I did advance to the next level and it came time for casting, I was sometimes cast in parts with girls in a lower level than myself—talk about feeling embarrassed, confused, and just all-around heartbroken.
I tried to never show my disappointment when I was at the studio and it was important to me to never feel jealous of my friends who got the parts they desired or who advanced to a higher level. I knew how hard they worked for their goals—I wanted to share in their joy because I was proud of them and their achievements.
So what should a dancer do when they are disappointed, discouraged, angry, or sad when evaluations, placement, and casting don’t go their way? Take it out on the dance floor.
Dancers can challenge themselves and use their classes and rehearsals to expand their technique and skills. If you want to move up a level, learn what you need to improve on and take advantage of staying in a level another year. If you’re unsure what areas need your attention, talk to your director. However, the corrections you receive in class, especially the repeated corrections, will give you an excellent place to start.
In class and rehearsal, I would really listen to the corrections I received and made it my goal to apply them as quickly as I could. When I was in the intermediate to advance levels, but still teetering on the boarder, my director suggested that I take the lower level classes in addition to the classes in my level, eventually taking them in pointe shoes. I know dancers might not have the energy to take on a heavier schedule, but this is when I noticed the most advancement in my technique. In the lower level classes, I learned to stop watching and comparing myself to my classmates and how to focus on my movement and the music, strengthening my concentration and muting my doubts. Then in my regular classes, if I did watch my classmates it was out of admiration or to observe how they moved when they excelled at something I received a correction for. You are not competing with your classmate, the only person you should strive to be better than is the dancer you were last year, last performance, last month, or last class.