A parent recently wrote me, explaining that her 14 year-old daughter started ballet at 10 years old. Her concern was that when her daughter goes to auditions, she is behind her peers technically and she wondered if I had any advice. In response, I want to address some of the emotional obstacles that those who come ‘late’ to dance often face. I’ve taught beginners of all ages and I’ve observed that these mental hurdles are often harder to overcome than the physical.
Also, because nearly all dancers, at one time or another, encounter situations where they feel behind or challenged I think it may speak to other young dancers, too.
Steps A Dancer Can Take To Crush Comparisons
Possibly the worst thing dancers can do when there is a strong desire to improve is make negative comparisons of themselves to other dancers.
As Dianne of Ballet Shoes and Pointe Shoes recently pointed out, sometimes comparisons help us create a realistic picture and provide awareness of where we are and where we still have to go.
See her post on Late Ballet Starters for a few pointers on where to look to form this realistic picture.
However, comparisons must stop there. Once you recognize where you are, let it go, and focus on what you need to get yourself where you’d like to be. It’s easier said than done, I understand.
So, here’s a plan (not THE plan) but a plan that I hope will be a help to you. Use what resonates most for you and leave behind what does not.
Step 1 – Change the Way You Think
Expecting perfection, overnight results, or for everything to come naturally leads to frustration.
Read this: I Can’t
If you begin to feel negative thoughts creeping in or start to feel badly about a correction you just received, tell yourself to STOP (seriously!). Then replace these thoughts “I am learning,” “I am patient,” “I deserve to succeed.” For more on thought-stopping and building success…
Read this: It’s In Your Head: The Power of Thoughts on Performance by Sanna Carapellotti (Dancer; Jan09)
Step 2 – Get Real About Your Strengths and Weaknesses
- Recognize that everyone has both and that weakness only really matters if we allow it to turn us off our goals.
- Have a conference with your teacher and have an open and honest conversation about the areas in which you need the most work. Explain that you are feeling the need to “catch up” with your peers technically and that you are willing to put in some extra work to improve.
Step 3 & 4 – Set Goals and Make A Plan
The best way I know to get beyond comparing oneself to others is to set personal goals and make a plan to achieve them.
- During that discussion mentioned above, have your teacher help you define some things you may be able to do outside of your regular class; an additional class or private lesson perhaps (if that is in your budget), some “homework” that strengthens, conditions, and supports what you are learning in class.
Read This: Setting Goals
- As the article linked to above demonstrates, be sure that you create a plan that will help you reach your goals and determine a “backup” plan: what you will do or say to yourself when the going gets rough.
How Parents Can Help
Parents, your child must desire the additional work and goal-setting it will take to reach his or her dreams. Make sure your child’s dreams are her own.
While you can certainly help guide your child through this process, remember that your primary role is to support your child. Be careful not to become another voice of criticism (it is likely your child has more than enough of their own negative thoughts to tangle with).
Read This: Accentuate The Positive
Praise your child in a way that will further their skill development and feelings of accomplishment.
Read This: Appraising the Value of Praise
Disappointments along the way are inevitable, even if they are only the momentary ones when your child lets negative thinking or comparisons get the better of him/her.
Read this: Dealing With Disappointment
Know Where You Are Going
I’d be remiss to not point out that, if you are auditioning and feeling that you are not up to par with your peers, or are just not where you’d like to be technically, that it may be time to reassess.
Part of knowing where you are in your training includes determining if you are on the correct training path: studying the material and working with the teachers who can get you to where you’d like to be. Form that realistic picture, mentioned at the top of the article.
Professional ballet, in particular, requires intense study of the form. How much time spent in the studio and the quality of instruction matter in this field. The good news is that there are many wonderful careers available to dancers and that there are multiple paths to getting to where you’d like to be. Just know which path you are on!
Read This: Finding The Right Teacher
Are you a late beginner?
What words of encouragement can you give others?
What helped you to get beyond those late-beginner blues?
What have I missed? What advice would you have given this dance mom?