Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Chase the Dream, Not the Competition" - Psychology of Improving as a Dancer

After thinking this quote was my motto for the past 3 years or so, I finally figured out what this means. I know that, as dancers, we're very critical of each other and even more critical of ourselves. Some of us will look at other dancers and try to catch them making mistakes so we will feel more accomplished. I know I did. I was pretty horrible about it - I was always competing with the same people in my head, telling myself that "hey, I can do more crunches than ________" or "oh my gosh, she just messed up there. I got that. HA." I would be demoralized by watching dancers better than me.

Then I went to New York City Dance Alliance's Summer Dance Intensive (NYCDA SDI). When I first got my letter of acceptance to the program, I couldn't believe it. I knew I was in for a long two weeks of playing catch up to all of the amazing dancers that NYCDA attracts. And I was completely right. I was one of the worst dancers around - I couldn't kick my leg up to my ear, or do triple pique turns, or touch my ponytail to the floor when bending backwards in a layout. But somehow, that changed everything.

Suddenly, I was no longer in competition with everyone. I admitted to myself that I was not nearly as skilled as most of the dancers in the room, and that I really had nothing to lose. I started focusing on my own dancing. I would watch other dancers when I stood on the side, but this time, with the intention to admire and draw positive things from their dancing that I could add to my own dancing. I stopped competing with people in my head, because really, who cares about what goes on in your head?

Once I stopped harping on everyone else and focusing on myself and improving my dancing, there were suddenly no boundaries. Since attending NYCDA SDI, I've improved exponentially. I surprise myself every time I dance with a new ability. I'm usually completely unaware of what's going on with other dancers in the room while I'm dancing because I'm focusing so hard on improving myself and learning. Weirdly, being one of the worst dancers at dance camp gave me a sense of confidence. Yes, I had maybe 1/5th of the training of most of the dancers there, but I was able to do everything they did. Not as well, maybe, but I did everything. I could keep up. And I was no longer afraid of what people thought of me when I was going across the floor with most of the room watching because I was dancing for me.

It's this confidence, knowing of myself, and admitting to myself that I'm not the best dancer I can be that has helped me improve so much. I've improved more since that camp than I have in any other period of my life. It was partially because I've never been pushed so hard before to do things that I previously never dreamed of doing, but it was mostly because of my change in thinking: I started chasing the dream, and not my competition. If you already think you're amazing, you won't get any better. How much better than "amazing" can you get? Admit to yourself that you're not the best, but don't start looking at other dancer's mistakes to cover that insecurity. Because once you look at the dancer next to you and deem that he/she's your competition, you've already lost because you've admitted that he/she's just as good or even better than you are. If you focus on yourself, your own dancing, don't care what you look like to other people, and don't care what others are doing, you'll have won, because you've improved yourself.


  1. Thanks for this! I'm been struggling a lot mentally with being the underdog because I started taking dance classes in college only 2 years ago. It has always felt like almost everyone was ahead of me in all the upper level classes (they are, a lot of them by many years). Because of this, I have been aggressively training to catch up in years worth of experience in what has been just 2 school years.

    I'm trying to be the opposite, less self-critical by comparing to others, and this article gives me a little inspiration that being on the bottom is going to make me a better dancer.
    great article

    1. I'm glad to help! From one dancer on the bottom to another, I know how you feel. It sucks, it's embarrassing at times, and I'm proud of you for a) keeping at it and not losing hope or giving up, and b) for being open about it! Anything's possible, it's never too late :) and hey! You've got absolutely nothing to lose except your love for dance.