So, you want to be a ballerina?
You hear it from countless little girls, twirling in satin and tulle:
I want to be a ballerina when I grow up!
Their eyes fill with wonder and joy and their bodies lilt and sway as they say it. But as little kids get bigger and dancing becomes more serious, the pursuit of this dream can add layers of complexity to the wide-eyed wonder of childhood.
The stakes get higher, the competition gets tougher – all while you are growing up and just starting to work out who it is you really are and what you want for your life!
This can make for some confusing times, when you wrestle with the big question:
“Do I hold on to this ballerina dream or let it go?”
This question comes around a several points in a dancer’s life:
- When taking that first step of pursuing dance seriously
- When making decisions about education and schooling
- When considering moving away from home & family
- When looking for a job
- When facing injury or illness
- When looking for new inspiration and challenge as a dancer
- When coming to the end of your dancing days
At each of these points (and at plenty of others!), you will have to choose between giving up something familiar and important to you and continuing pursuing your dream. Sometimes the answer will be clear and the decision straightforward, but often it’s not.
To help you make good decisions in these situations that you can look back on without regret, there are a few things you need to consider:
1) What am I being asked to give up at this point? Am I ok with giving that up?
This is all about getting to know what you value and staying true to that.
You might be asked to give up living with or near your family, or to set aside your academic studies for a time (or give up much of your free time in order to dance AND study)… How important are these things for you? How will your life change without them?
Everything you give up to pursue your dream comes at a cost. Evaluate it carefully and make sure you are prepared for it. You might find that you’re not ready to give up whatever it is yet, that’s ok. Take some time to work out how you can plan and prepare for a change later on.
And if you find that actually, you’re not willing to give up whatever it is, that doesn’t mean you’re a dance-failure, it means you have just found out what you really value and that’s a wonderful thing!
2) Does this dream still fit with my talents, personality and passions?
Take a good honest look at who you are: what makes you tick, what excites you, what are your strengths? Is the ballerina dream still the best fit for who you are becoming?
As you grow and change and gain life experience, you may find it doesn’t fit you as much as it used to. That’s ok.
If you keep pursuing a dream that doesn’t fit, it won’t make you happy.
Either you will struggle to fit the mould and constantly feel like you’re not good enough (which is a recipe for low self-esteem), or you will do well, but it’ll feel pretty empty and unfulfilling.
Just because being a ballerina is the pinnacle of dance success, doesn’t mean it will be the most fulfilling role for YOU to play in the dance world. Everyone is unique, so you need to find what is right for you.
People often ask me if I miss dancing professionally. Many are surprised when I say “not a lot”. I actually love what I am doing now as a counsellor, and I find great reward in helping others overcome the things that hold them back.
I retired fairly early from my ballet career, but it was the right choice for me and I’m really happy with it. Who knows, perhaps I will do more good for the dance-world as a counsellor than as a dancer?
I believe there is a place for everyone in the dance-world, but the hardest thing for many dancers is working out what that place is and then allowing themselves to enjoy it.
This brings me to my third and final point to consider:
3) Am I pursuing this ballerina dream for the right reasons and if not, how can I get back on track?
Unfortunately, the 5 year old’s tutu-and-tiara dream of becoming a ballerina can easily become something far less magical, and the reasons many dancers continue on this path far less positive.
Expectations, pressures and limitations creep in to the pursuit of this dream that stifle healthy motivation and make it a lot harder to evaluate what you actually want. Things like:
- Success = Being a prima ballerina. Anything less is a failure.
- Success = Classical ballet. Modern dance/musical theatre are inferior options.
- My teacher said I’d never make it, so I’m going to PROVE I can do this!
- Dancing = My entire life. I will pursue this to the exclusion of my health/relationships/life balance.
You can see how these beliefs add layers to the ballerina dream that can interfere with making wise choices about your career path. I don’t have time to go into each one here, but if any of these ring true to you, it is probably time to re-evaluate why you are dancing and what is motivating you.
You may find you just need to get back to the purity of your original goal, or you may find you need to give yourself permission to pursue something else.
Whatever it is, it is my hope that this article will help you to find your place in the dance world and be at peace with any decisions you make as you wrestle with how long to hold on to the ballerina dream.
If you would like someone to talk through these kinds of things with, please get in touch. I would love to help you find your way!
P.S. For those of you patiently waiting to find out more about my little project to help dancers stress less and dance better, I do apologise for the delay! I have a 3 week super-simple e-course almost ready for you, I’m just getting the final technicalities together!
So, stay tuned, and please sign up below (if you haven’t already) to be the first to find out about it!