7 Reasons You Are Lucky to Be a Dancer

Being a dancer isn’t all rainbows. Learning to dance well takes years of hard work, and there’s typically no pot of gold awaiting you, either – sore, callused feet are more likely.

Still, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how lucky you are. There are plenty of benefits to being a dancer.

7 Reasons You're Lucky to be a DancerWe hope you’ll do a jig when you read these lucky seven:

1. Dancers move with health and confidence.

Dancing helps keep you physically fit and healthy. Dance is good for your heart, lungs, and bones. It’s a fun way to stay active while increasing your strength, stamina, and flexibility. In addition, dancing encourages good posture, body awareness and control that, even as you age, can and will benefit you. All of these things come together in a dancer to give him/her a physical confidence that others can spot and recognize. “You’re a dancer, I could tell.”

2. Dancing helps you keep your wits.

Two well-publicized studies [study 1, study 2] concluded that dancing is the only physical activity to reduce your chances of dementia in the way that cognitive activities do. Dance requires you to use multiple parts of your brain at the same time. No matter your age, this increased brain power improves your mental sharpness and agility, and can even increase your attention span.

The Benefits of Being a Dancer3. Dancing gives return on self-investment.

Dance keeps you in touch with your body, which is healing all by itself in a couch potato culture. Dance also helps you connect with your mind, emotions, and spirit. The practice of dance is an investment in yourself that can reduce stress, improve your mental well-being, and give you an outlet for self-expression.

4. Dance teaches survival skills.

Dancing builds resilience and determination because, well, dance is hard! You learn to keep trying despite failed attempts, keep going when things don’t go as planned, and yes, occasionally grit your teeth through a bit of pain. Dance also gives you plenty of chances to be resourceful and a creative thinker, especially if dance is your chosen career.

5. Never. Stop. Growing.

Dancing teaches you to keep going but you also learn that a person never stops growing. Every step you ascend on the stairway of dance, lights the way to more. There’s always somewhere to go; more goals to accomplish or details to master. This endless climb is also quite humbling… bonus!

6. All you really need to know, you learned in dance class.

Commitment, communication skills, passion, perseverance, the ability to take and respond to constructive (or not-so constructive) criticism and, you bet, that slice of humble pie, are just a few of the life skills dancing develops in its lifetime pupils. There’s not much you need to know in life that you haven’t already learned in a dance class.

7. As a dancer, you become part of a bigger picture.

Dancers build lasting memories and friendships with one another. Maybe it’s the work or long hours together, or maybe it’s because you’ve each given so much of yourself, but it always happens. Wherever you go, when you spot that other dancer in the room (and you will), you’ll know you have something in common. That shared experience is part of a rich history of tradition and innovation that unites dancers all over the world. And, because dance is tied deeply to the roots of our communities and cultures, dance builds awareness and appreciation of the differences and similarities between people. This makes you a better citizen of the world.

So, count your lucky charms, dancer. You are all kinds of awesome!

Before you go, be sure to share why YOU think you’re lucky to be a dancer in the comments.

May all your wishes be granted this St. Patrick’s Day!

Summer Dance: Fiction With Real Insight And Heart

It’s that time of year when so many young dancers are thinking ahead to summer.

If you are contemplating the exciting possibilities that await at a summer intensive or training program…

If you have fond memories of your own summer experiences…

OR if you’d just love to step into that world for a moment, I think you’ll love Lynn Swanson’s novel, Summer Dance.

Summer Dance is available on Amazon.com (for Kindle, too).

Summer Dance is available on Amazon.com (for Kindle, too).

Intended for tweens, but worthy of an all-ages audience, Summer Dance will appeal to both non-dancers and dancers alike. In the midst of tough competition and very authentic episodes of teenage drama, the characters develop… well… character, learning and demonstrating ways to get along and even work together.

Summer Dance author, Lynn Swanson, has a degree in dance from University of Michigan, an MA in creative writing from Michigan State, and has enjoyed teaching ballet and creative movement to children for many years.  She took some time to talk with us about the themes in her book, her own summer dance experiences at Interlochen Center for the Arts, and her career as both dance teacher and writer.

Dance Advantage: How many of your experiences as a dance student at Interlochen went directly into Summer Dance?

Lynn Swanson: Interlochen was the main impetus for writing the story. It is enchanting there, and when I went, camp was a full eight weeks and it was intense. You had to learn to pace yourself socially as well as technically and keep a cool balance. There were highs and lows in terms of energy and emotion.

Now camp there is mostly three week sessions, but they still cover a lot of ground. The geographic locale is made of tall and wonderfully smelling pine trees, lakes, and dirt paths to everywhere. There is no boy’s camp across the lake, and we were so busy dancing that nothing like the adventures with the boys in my book ever happened! Being at Interlochen for four summers changed me into a mature dancer and inspired me, so that I returned home in joy and expansion.

DA: The competitive nature of summer programs and the dance world is a very real and very central theme in your story right from the start, yet unlike so many narratives featuring dancers, I appreciate that you have successfully resisted over-dramatizing this aspect. How did you ‘keep it real’ as the writing unfolded?

LS: I simply wrote from my heart. Before writing anything new, I would completely re-read everything I had written and feel it in my heart, then proceed in a place of solitude trying to keep it close to my heart.

My own experiences in competing gave me the wisdom that competition is purely being the best at that moment that you, yourself, can be and has really nothing to do with anyone else in the room.

DA: What do you think is most important for young dancers to keep in mind as they come face to face with competition or even rivalry at a summer intensive (or elsewhere)? [Read more…]

This Is Why I Bother

Melanie Doskocil’s final entry for Ballet’s Un-X-pected Lesson Files this year. Enjoy!

I looked over the group of 5 and 6-year-old budding ballet students.

The girls were all clad in their little yellow and black stripped leotards, little yellow and black tutus, wings, head pieces with cute bouncy antennae. The boys in their striking bug costumes with jet black bodies and iridescent green wings.

I had a can of good old Super Final Net in my hands and wandered amongst them, spraying a wisp of hair here, a clump of bangs there. I checked ears and wrists and fingers for forgotten jewelry, tucked loose draw strings into leather ballet slippers, clipped threads and checked hands for no-no nail polish and pesky pen doodles.

IMAGE Excited little bumble bees IMAGEAs I was grabbing a few bobby pins to tackle a loose bun, one of the guest chaperones whispered loudly to another,

“I don’t know why she bothers; they are only on the stage for about a minute.”

I turned to the kids and said, “OK, Bees and Bugs, are you ready to go dance with your Flower in the Nutcracker?”

One tiny ballerina said to me, “I feel like a fairy princess!”

Then I turned to the parent and said, “THAT’s why I bother.”

Many families are inducted into the ritual of ballet performance during The Nutcracker.

There are strange rules to follow [Read more…]

What a Candy Cane Can Teach About The Virtues of a Dancer

Dancers learn important life lessons younger than most people. Melanie Doskocil adds another page to Ballet’s Un-X-pected Lesson Files illustrating integral qualities that lead to success, not only in dance, but in life.

Knowing her as well as I did, I could see the telltale crease around her eyes as I told her she would be a Candy Cane again in this year’s production of the Nutcracker. Her smile never wavered, her posture never slumped, but the miniscule sign of disappointment was there. She thanked me profusely and walked proudly out of the studio. Even later, when I was in my office and the thin walls amplified the voices coming from the dressing room, I could hear her extolling the virtues of being a Candy Cane to another of this year’s Candy Canes.

IMAGE A candy cane's tabletop reflection forms a heart. IMAGE

Photo by JD Hancock

“Talent notwithstanding,” I thought, “this one will go far in dance.”

This 11-year-old budding ballerina had already learned life lesson number one of being a dancer:

Handle rejection with grace.

Successful dancers learn early that they won’t always get the parts that they want, and later, the jobs they want and the salary they want. They learn to accept these decisions with poise and dignity, instead of throwing a temper tantrum that can have severe and often dire consequences. Dancers are not meekly accepting of what life hands them, however they keep their grace and dignity in the face of adversity, determined to succeed where others might quit.

Accept, even covet, constructive feedback or criticism.

This is another life lesson that dancers learn at an early age.

One day, while teaching my advanced level, I [Read more…]

LINES and Limitations: Ask Yourself This Question

Melanie Doskocil is back this month with another addition to Ballet’s Un-X-pected Lesson Files. This one isn’t about summits (see I’m A Better Backpacker Because of Ballet for that). It’s about limits. Read on…

For the first time in 15 years, one of my all time favorite teachers/choreographers had brought his company to Aspen. Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet was here for one night only. This man who I trained with and learned so much from, who I hadn’t seen in years was in my hometown, and I was sick.

I lay there on my sofa sniffling and groaning and bumming that I could not get up long enough to drive to the theater and watch the show. I’m mad too! I’ve been sick once in the last 2 years and now, NOW I get some nasty bug that knocks me down.

As I lay, drifting in and out of a fevered stupor, it came to me that some of the greatest lessons about life I learned in Alonzo’s studio. From him, from Arturo Fernandez, from simply being in that great facility.

IMAGE A dancer looks tired and sweaty during her dance rehearsal. IMAGE

Photo by Steven Depolo; CC BY 2.0

I was at the very first summer workshop put on by Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet. I won’t tell you how long ago it was. But it was two weeks of the most life altering and gratifying training I’ve ever received.

One particular lesson has stuck with me my whole life:

It was the end of the day. We were in Alonzo’s choreography class, working on putting a whole bunch of movement phrases together.

Everyone was fading. Alonzo was going over time. He asked us to do it one more time and I rolled my eyes looked at the clock. I was STARVING, I was EXHAUSTED, I was really wimping out!

Others started moaning and whining too. With all my body I wanted to flop down on the floor and cry…my eyes welled up with tears and I looked at the clock again, trying to send out that silent plea to let us go.

He was a task master, heartless! Couldn’t he see that we were fading? That our concentration was lagging? Our energy depleted?

He looked me in the eye, and then at each one of us, and very kindly asked us [Read more…]