So, it’s been a really long time since my last post. Things have been a little crazy! I’ve been on (my first) holiday, moved house, changed jobs and celebrated a birthday in a short space of time. So apologies for the lengthy hiatus, and I am still incredibly busy, but I will try to find time to keep updating- this blog is a great way for me to write about what I love, and I don’t want people to stop reading due to lack of new material!
Anyway, now that’s said, lets move on. I was inspired to write this post because my ballet school is currently putting on a series of performances. As a serious school, these are very high-quality productions. Not everyone has been included in the performance (and I count myself among those not participating this year!). The girls who are newer to the school and still working on bringing their technique up to scratch weren’t included in the cast, and one or two are very disappointed about this. I support the school’s choice not to cast everyone for the sake of it- the quality of the performance is integral, and there are certain standards that must be attained to be able to participate.
I was speaking to one of the girls who isn’t involved in the shows, and I couldn’t help but wish I could have given her some more frank advice. However, I was conscious that it wasn’t my place to tell her how she should be managing her life! I tried to encourage her to stay positive about it, and left it at that. So instead, I will give my full and honest opinion about the issue here, and hope that it helps someone.
The main point is this: if you want to do ballet at any sort of serious level (i.e. not taking classes just for fun and fitness), you MUST have a very thick skin! Dance (and not just ballet) is a competitive and sometimes harsh industry. Dancers are, ultimately, replaceable, and directors, choreographers and ballet masters all know this. If a dancer is not performing to the required standard, they are likely to simply be replaced, as the quality of the performance comes before any individual’s feelings. In addition to this, to train in ballet is to receive constant criticism: from your teachers, from choreographers, from yourself and from onlookers. There is also support, advice and encouragement, but there is invariably criticism. Ballet is striving for perfection, and there is always something to be worked on. That is what creates such beauty.
In ballet, sometimes issues crop up which can feel unfair and might be hard to deal with. One of these issues is weight; professional dancers need to be slim, not just for aesthetic purposes but for practicality. It doesn’t matter if you think that this is the wrong approach, because companies will continue to prefer slimmer dancers over bigger ones. Comments about dancer’s bodies are often thrown out in an offhand way, because it is considered a professional correction in the same way a teacher might call you out on not keeping your heels down in a plié. It’s probably not the right way to bring it up, but it is the reality. If you go to pieces every time a teacher or director tells you that you need to lose weight, you will have a very difficult time in the ballet industry. Developing unhealthy habits and a low self-esteem will only ruin your happiness and chances of success; you need to have the inner strength to accept the criticism, without taking it too seriously, and act upon it in a sensible way. It is upsetting and embarrassing to be spoken about in such a way, and it is okay to feel down about it temporarily, but if you allow it to eat away at you, only harm can come of it.
The same goes for teachers correcting your technique during class. Teachers often give you a hard time because they want you to succeed; if they didn’t believe in you, they would not bother correcting you at all and just ignore you. If you are being shouted at whilst someone else is being ignored completely, accept that your teacher is pushing you to make you better because they believe that you can give more. Be pleased that they are taking the time to point out your mistakes and that they believe that you can do more. It is inevitable that when you’re being shouted at you might get upset, but as long as you understand this, you can use it to make yourself a better dancer. If you are the one being ignored, make it your mission to show that you deserve attention. Work tirelessly and impress with your improvement.
Being depressed because you are not improving as fast as you want to, or because you are comparing yourself to others, or because your teachers are shouting at you or telling you that you need to make changes, or because you are not included in something, will get you absolutely nowhere! In ballet, no one is going to give you a chance just because you deserve it. It doesn’t matter how deserving you are, you will only succeed with tenacity and determination.
If you have been asked to work on your technique, start doing some conditioning exercises, take more classes, write down your corrections and speak to your teachers about what you can work on. If you have been asked to lose weight, establish some positive lifestyle changes to achieve your goal, and don’t be afraid to tell your teachers how you’re working towards it, because the results aren’t always obvious straight away. They will likely be impressed by your maturity about the situation and dedication to change. If you think that your school’s approach to weight is unhealthy, then remove yourself from that environment and go somewhere you can grow as a dancer. Don’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself- you will only waste time that you could be using to get closer to your dream.
You may be reading this thinking “That sounds easy enough, but it doesn’t work like that in reality”- believe me, I know! I joined my school a couple of years ago with the understanding that I would be on the vocational course. I was admitted by audition, so the teacher saw potential in me. Straight off the bat, they told me that I could be good, but I needed to lose weight and learn the Russian technique, which I agreed with, and I appreciated the upfront advice. In order to do this, I spent a long time taking class with the younger students, and also taking class with adult amateurs, rather than the vocational class in which I struggled to keep up. I totally lacked turnout and strength in the right muscles, which was a long and slow process to correct, and I am still working on it. I am also keeping up with things I found totally impossible before, which is great. I have hit many snags along the way; constant financial issues, trying to balance a full-time job with full-time training and the utter exhaustion it caused, a serious break-up, a serious injury. As a result, I am still working towards my goal. My weight has fluctuated and I am still almost as big as I was on the day of my audition. I have had moments of despair, of “am I good enough?”, of “am I wasting my time here?”.
However, my conclusion has always been that I must try. I will not just give up, and if I don’t plan on giving up then I will keep working instead of moping! I’ll maybe mope for a couple of hours, but then I get a grip and carry on. I take everything with a pinch of salt, rather than taking everything straight to heart, and don’t allow struggles to diminish my enjoyment of ballet. Yes, it’s hard work, but every time I take a class I remember how much I love to dance and that’s why I do it. If you don’t love it, then stop, or just take classes recreationally. There’s no shame in deciding it’s not what you want for your future, no matter how much time you’ve put into it! But if you do want it, then pull yourself together, stop moping, and think about what you can do to move forwards. It’s a very blunt way to put it but I promise that’s the truth- the way I see it, anyway!
I hope that has helped at lease one person who is feeling down about ballet at the moment. Don’t worry, we all have those feelings at some time or another! Feel free to comment or ask questions… until next time!