You Can Only Be Better Than Your Previous Self
I don’t often talk about my struggles in dance – or in life for that matter. Why? Because everyone struggles with different things, and I’d rather live a positive life than one that focuses on negativity. But sometimes I think if we can acknowledge something we struggle with, you know – get it out in the open – then we can actively fight against it.
Dancers are pretty hard on themselves. In an effort to constantly strive to become better, we end up judging our current performance, comparing ourselves to others, and wondering if we are good enough. We know there is always room to improve, so it’s as if we feel like we have never fully accomplished what we set out to do. In class, we become frustrated if we don’t pick up the choreography quickly enough, if we fall out of a turn, if we can’t keep up with others. We fight for the teacher to notice us, to give us a compliment that will somehow justify that we are talented. At an audition, we judge ourselves by how many callbacks we receive – comparing ourselves to those who were kept longer than we were. Am I the only one who finds this whole thing tiring?
I’ve always been my own worst enemy in dance – telling myself I can be better. And sometimes that is a good thing. If you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you will increase your ability and creative capacity. But sometimes it can be toxic. If you constantly pick out what you did wrong and compare yourself to others, you rob yourself of the talent you actually possess.
In an attempt to become better about being a self-supporter instead of my worst enemy, I started keeping a notebook that I journal in after each class and audition. In it I have two columns: “You dominated this!” and “You’ll get it next time!” I make sure to write down corrections and things I feel I can fix, but I also make myself write down at least three things that I feel I did really well or that I noticed I’ve improved. This has truly helped to keep me on track and also remind myself that yeah, I can do this. I’m good enough to be here. Even still, I sometimes struggle.
But yesterday I had such a wonderful breakthrough moment. For the first time in a long time, I was able to brush all the over-thinking out of my head, and you know what I did? I danced. And it was beautiful.
I was taking class at the Taylor School, and I noticed some pretty significant improvement. For some reason this really surprised me, and I became thoroughly elated to just be dancing. For the next hour and a half, I didn’t compare myself to those who have been studying the movement for much longer than me; I didn’t care if I missed a step here or there. I just danced. I was better than my previous self, and that was good enough. That should always be good enough.
Why do we get so wrapped up in being perfect or thinking we are inadequate that we forget what it is we love to do? I think that for me it’s because I know this is something I want from the very depths of my being. So, I end up fighting so hard that I end up fighting myself. You know what, Val? Let go. When you let go, you can breathe; you can dance; you are so free. It is then that you allow improvement. It is then that you show whoever is watching your passion. It is then you are truly dancing.
I know that yesterday wasn’t a “cure all” and that this will be an ongoing struggle. But I acknowledge it. And I’ll let you in on it because I know so many dancers – and humans – struggle with it. But if we can have more of these “breakthrough” days, I think that’s a pretty good step, don’t you?
Stop dancing* for others. Start dancing* for yourself. You can only be better than your previous self. And that’s enough.
*insert whatever verb is applicable to you here