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5 Reasons My Dancing Day is Ruined! [Lessons to Learn from The Bolshoi Ballet’s Acid Attack]


This week, Bolshoi Ballet soloist, Pavel Dmitrichenko was sentenced to 6 years in prison for plotting the acid attack on Director, Sergei Filin. Although he did not plead guilty, CNN reports that the dancer wanted “Filin to be punished in some way for failing to give him the roles he wanted”.

Apart from being a punishable crime, this is a tragic event in the ballet world.

And I also see this as an extreme example of something that happens quite commonly among dancers: it’s something psychologists refer to as having an “external locus of control” where instead of believing in your own ability to control your life, you blame circumstances, people or things outside yourself.

Has this ever happened to you?

You get up in the morning in a good mood, you’re looking forward to the day and eager to get to dancing.

Then something happens during class or rehearsal that seems so big and bad and frustrating that it feels like your whole day is ruined. Soon, you find yourself jumping to all sorts of conclusions about your ability as a dancer: you’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough, so what’s the point in even trying?

You are sure that your entire career and future as a dancer is doomed because of it.  (And usually, you end up having a pretty crappy day too!)

Yeah, it’s happened to me too. Ok, so let’s admit there’s a little truth to it…

Dancers can be drama queens!

And you have to be of course!

On the stage it’s important to be able to really get into your role and perform expressively (and I love the drama of a good acting scene!).

But often dancers take this skill into the studio too, where instead of helping you perform better, it can actually get in the way of the progress you want to be making. You allow whatever it is that goes wrong to rob you of a day of good work focused on reaching your goals and gaining confidence.

In psychology, this is called “catastrophising” (it’s a great word, I know!), where small things can be blown way out of proportion, causing problems when they really don’t have to.

Here are some of the most common “catastrophes” dancers report. Do any of these diva-cries sound familiar to you?

“I’m having a ‘fat-day’!”

This catastrophe happens before you even get into the studio. You’re getting dressed for class and no matter which leotard or skirt or leg warmer you put on, it doesn’t look quite right. You look in the mirror and feel fat and ugly.

Without even doing a single step, you are already feeling depressed and any motivation you had before has now shriveled up completely! You mope into the studio, look in the mirror and notice every single flaw in your appearance, all confirming the worst: you are having a “fat-day”. You proceed to have a bad class and give up easily whenever a step doesn’t work.

The problem: you may not realize it, but you’re letting a *leotard* or a *leg-warmer* decide for you that you’re going to have a bad day.

Really, can a piece of clothing have that much influence???

Even if the worst case scenario really was true (which quite certainly is NOT the case!), that still doesn’t mean you can’t work towards your goals today and enjoy a sense of satisfaction in your work.

For example, if your goal is to work on your core stability, or your hip alignment or avoiding tension in your arms, you can still work on those areas even if your leotard sits a little different to the way you would prefer.

Staying focused on your goals can help you from falling down the catastrophe spiral (if you need some help with setting goals, have a look here and here).

Or, how about this one?

“Someone took my favourite spot at the barre”

Yes, that spot. Your precious, favourite one.

This morning, someone *dared* to get to the studio before you and claimed it for themselves.

In shock, you look around for another spot, already starting to get anxious and telling yourself all the reasons you won’t do a good class there: it’s too close to the front, you won’t have anyone to copy, it’s by the ‘fat-mirror’, that barre is too wobbly… But it seems you don’t have any other choice but to take it.

With a big sigh, you start warming up in this very inferior location, feeling frustrated, grumpy and a maybe just a little bit of self-pity. Unsurprisingly, you also get frustrated and grumpy with yourself whenever you make a mistake. You have a bad class. And yes. The rest of the day is a write-off too.

Once again, this is giving a huge amount of power to a very small patch of tarkett flooring!  Really?

“My teacher hates me!”

This one is WAY too common for it’s own good!

Your teacher is onto you, whipping your butt for every tiny mistake you make, with much more persistence or insistence than seems fair. It feels like they are out to get you and make your class and your day a living hell.

You are convinced that nothing you do will ever be good enough to please them, so you get frustrated with yourself, resentful towards your teacher and generally annoyed at the world.

Unfortunately, none of this helps you to work smartly towards your goals and develop your confidence, does it, because you are so focused on what your teacher thinks of you.

Perhaps your teacher didn’t get enough sleep last night, maybe they really think you are close to breakthrough in a certain area. But you’d never know, because you filter all the other possibilities out by drawing the conclusion that “my teacher hates me”.

Or maybe the opposite is happening to you…

“I’m not being pushed enough!”

Instead of having a teacher who won’t let up on you, you feel like your teacher isn’t pushing you hard enough or giving you as many corrections or roles as they used to… (this may have been the kind of thinking that eventually led to the Bolshoi Ballet acid attack).

Without their constant attention and promotion, you get lost and depressed and feel like you’re not improving. No. Actually, you’re going backwards. And there’s nothing you can do about it, because your teacher isn’t pushing you enough.

The fact is, even your teacher does not have control over how much you improve and reach your goals, only you do.

“She’s so much better than me”

This catastrophe builds up when you focus on another (awesome) dancer, who seems to have everything going for them. But not only that, their success seems to come really easily to them. It seems to you that they never get injured, they never fall out of a pirouette, they have perfect technique, they always get the best roles, AND they don’t even seem to sweat! (What’s with that??!)

Their success only seems to highlight all the ways you don’t match up.

The more you focus on them, the worse you feel about yourself. You watch them do a pirouette, then you try one and fall out of it. You watch them do an entrechat six, then you try one and trip over your own feet! You feel like a fool for even bothering to try, and so you give up, presuming you will never be as good as them.

Well, you just let another person (who I’m sure if you asked them, would give you 100 reasons why their life isn’t all perfect and easy in reality) stop you from working on your goals and building your confidence!

And the list goes on…

If it’s not one of these common reasons, your day could be ruined because your pointe shoe feels a bit funny today, or maybe it’s your partner that’s too sweaty or the person in front of you who keeps forgetting the combination, or the guy who cuts in front of you when you were about to take your turn from the corner.

Whatever it is, you are letting things outside of yourself decide for you that you are going to have a bad day. And that is giving those things or people far too much control than they deserve to have over your progress.

Still reading?

Phew, this post is already really long, so I’m going to stop here for now! But don’t worry, I’ll be back with some strategies to quiet the drama-queen within and start owning your progress in the next post.

Hopefully this post has given you a bit of insight into some of the ways you’ve been handing over control without needing to, and given you some reasons to think twice when you notice yourself heading down a catastrophic spiral.

As always, I’m here to help if you want some feedback or support. Shoot us an email if you have some questions.

And let me know in the comments if I’ve missed any other catastrophes that happen to you all the time!

Here’s to helping you find your groove!

🙂 Philippa

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