Letter to a young dancer

I recently received a comment on my Ask Me Anything post that caught my attention.

IMAG0310Michaela, an insightful dance student, recently decided not to pursue dance as a career path, and she was curious to explore the subject of competition, passion, and value in the dance studio.

Because of the rarity of dance contracts and the demands of the craft, most young dancers will not pursue a professional career in ballet. So, in a way, Michaela’s story is that of many students of dance, and I wanted to speak to her and any others that might be in her position. Her story may not be uncommon, but I have rarely heard such ideas articulated so well, so I wanted to share her comment in full before moving any further.

Here’s what she had to say: Continue reading “Letter to a young dancer”

Another perspective on leaving the ballet world: Chloe Shelby

So, I just the left the world of dance. And you’ve heard my story. But there are lots of other stories out there, often untold to the dance world. Or worse, misunderstood. When we are involved in an endeavor that has required such dedication to reach our level, it can be hard to understand why someone would give all that up.

This is Chloe Shelby’s story. She came up through the school of Oregon Ballet Theatre when I was in the company. She was one of the top students in her class, technically skilled, and smart to boot. I remember watching her in class and onstage and thinking “Man, will I ever have that kind of control?”

However, once she joined the professional world, it turned out that Chloe’s talent wasn’t enough to keep her going. This is not to say that she didn’t have the skills! Even with pure talent, the ballet world is tough – and without an inner fire and devotion to the work, it can be incredibly draining. As she explains, the professional dance world was entirely different from the one where she had been formed as a dancer, and her drive to continue hit a dead end.

But her future is no less bright because of it. Leaving the dance world can lead to so many different opportunities, and Chloe was able to find that inner fire elsewhere.

Continue reading “Another perspective on leaving the ballet world: Chloe Shelby”

5 perspectives on the life of a professional ballet dancer

What is it like to be a dancer? What do we strive for? What do we fear?

In my previous article, I wrote about my perspective of the pursuit of perfection in a ballet dancer’s life, and about what that might entail. I got a great response from all of you, but it made me wonder: “How would others describe their motivation for what they do? What do they see as their ultimate goal in being a dancer, and what might be some of their personal obstacles in the way of progressing towards that goal?”

So I decided to reach out to several friends of mine – each in different places in their life, different stages of their dancing career, and different kinds of ballet companies – to get an idea of just how our goals and obstacles in this dancing life might differ, and to see how they might compare.

Turns out there’s plenty of common ground in their answers. Let’s meet my contributors: Continue reading “5 perspectives on the life of a professional ballet dancer”

On dancing and the pursuit of perfection

Not too long ago, a friend aptly noticed that I often refer to our goal as dancers as “reaching as close as we can to perfection.” He wanted me to unpack that statement. What does that even mean? Are we talking about technical attainment? Power or finesse? Maybe something else?

As Steven put it, we’re transitional beings… we’re of this world, and whether we like it or not, perfection is not an option. Such a thing is an illusion.rainbow-background-1149610__180

But having a personal idea of perfection does present a way forward. It is the needle on our compass. What are we reaching for in ballet if not an ideal?

The fact that perfection is unreachable doesn’t mean that our work is meaningless. No, we’ll never reach that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but we will see many things on our journey. Continue reading “On dancing and the pursuit of perfection”

Why the ancient greeks are the best ballet dancers: a brief look at Stoicism

A few months ago, Sports Illustrated released an article entitled: “How a book on stoicism became wildly popular at every level of the NFL.” This article detailed how The Obstacle is the Way, a book about the benefits of applying the ancient greek philosophy of Stoicism to life in the modern world, has spread throughout the NFL, including football players and coaches alike.

I read this book last year, and I found it to be full of wisdom and good advice.

This ancient approach has implications for anyone to live their lives in an optimistic, non-cynical way, but it’s especially relevant for those in a world where every little improvement makes a difference. Practice makes perfect, yes, but only with the right mindset.

If this approach can help the football world, I figure we in the dance world have something to learn from it as well. Even if the two are worlds apart in the kinds of people they attract, both worlds are part of the human enterprise of pursuing perfection, both mental and physical.

Stoicism is a philosophy that understands that while perfection may be unreachable, there are ways to reach a little bit closer. Step 1: Get out of your own way. Continue reading “Why the ancient greeks are the best ballet dancers: a brief look at Stoicism”

Yannick Boquin (part 2): lessons learned from a life dedicated to ballet

We’re back with Yannick Boquin for round two of our interview. If you missed the first part of the interview, catch it here – if not read on. Yannick has spent time in pretty much all of the corners of the ballet world. Whether as a principal dancer, guest teacher, ballet master, or choreographer, he’s done it all, and in this section we explore some of the insights he’s come away with during each of these careers.

Continue reading “Yannick Boquin (part 2): lessons learned from a life dedicated to ballet”

Correcting the crowd: how group feedback affects us

How do you inspire a group of dancers to live up to their full potential?

One of the most important skills to learn as an artistic director, ballet master, choreographer, or teacher is learning how to speak to and manage the group. All  bosses have to do it. Organizing a large group of people can be hard at times, and learning the skills necessary to pull the best out of that group can be a long, hard process.

One of the most important tools that can be used is group feedback.Photo on 12-21-15 at 8.07 PM Just as the coach of a football team needs to be able to call the team together to inspire them to action, so does the person at the front of the room need to be able to gather the dancers together to “course-correct.” It might be to suggest a way of approaching the choreography, it might be chiding the group for a lack of focus, or it may be an inspirational talk to boost spirits. It may even be all three at the same time. Group feedback can be used for many different outcomes, but the main idea is to focus the whole group on a particular issue or desired approach.

The principal questions here are: what makes group feedback succeed at its intended purpose? And how can it be used to inspire dancers to work better or harder? Continue reading “Correcting the crowd: how group feedback affects us”

You suck at dancing and it’s your own damn fault (part 2)

 

In the first part of this article, I tackled the false idea that many of us (whether dancers or non-dancers) often have, which is that “you suck at dancing”. If you missed it, find it here. If not, read on.

The second myth I want to take on in this article is this: it’s completely your choice to (and definitely your fault that you) dance the way you do.


This is perhaps the most prominent illusion in our world today, and all sorts of notions about self, willpower, and self-worth are wrapped up in it. Continue reading “You suck at dancing and it’s your own damn fault (part 2)”