It has been on my mind recently, that judgement and comparison in the dance world has the potential to seriously impact a dancer’s well being. I don’t really know why I feel the need to share this, maybe it’s to provide food for thought for the teachers out there. Maybe it’s to help dancers think twice about how the behaviours they face on a daily basis are actually impacting on their lives. I do believe that awareness can be the first step in protecting us from personal destruction, so I hope these words are thought provoking at the very least.
As a dancer we pay to be criticised! I use to love that and frowned upon a teacher spending time telling me I did something well. I was only ever interested in hearing what I needed to do to become better. I think this trait is pretty standard for athletes, however artistic industries such as dance, are unique compared to other sports as everything is based on personal judgement. It’s not like a runner who trains to perfect his technique and then if he the first past the post, he’s rewarded and can quieten his critics. At a competition, the dancer is under the magnifying glass from start to finish and again the next day, the following month and year, regardless of whether they are winning or losing. This is also not only from the judges – you find the same story with your peers and often the audience! I should know, I am one of them! Sadly we are surrounded by the ‘wrong doings’, all of the time. My husband and I try when we teach to say what our student is doing well as well as what needs to be done (well to be honest more my hubby), as I’m too brutally honest in my Aussie way! I usually defend this by saying that people don’t pay me to tell them what they are doing well – as this was my premise. To a large extent I still believe this should be the case during lessons, however it’s just unfortunate it is the way with everything for the dancer. I am very well aware we are never going to be able to change the structure of competitive dance (this is a novel in itself), but I think every dancer should consider how what is going on around them impacts them on a deeper level. You may not think it’s affecting you, but later in life maybe a light will come on with the realisation that for your whole life you’ve been told you’re not good enough or it’s not good enough.
Of course this can be seen in many aspects of life, but I thought I would write about dance as I have experienced it, lived it and feel subconsciously it has had some impact on me. I will always be of a competitive nature, I still love to perfect what I do and I still crave to be told how to improve BUT it is vital we also accept what we are doing and know as long as we try our best there is no benefit in beating ourselves up.
When you are being judged in every aspect of your life, on a daily basis for years on end it is extremely difficult not to react in some way to this. I would like to name a few of the aspects in which we are constantly judged: our dancing (the most essential in my opinion) but then there are a million others… the way we dress, our weight, what we eat, how many times we go to the gym, our make up, our lashes and brows, our nails, our tan, the colour of our hair, the way we do our hair, our material belongings, our physique, how we stand, how we walk, the competitions and dance camps we attend, the teachers we learn from, our dance outfits, the way we practice, the gifts we give the teachers, our results, the invitations of important persons to events, and one of the most recent ones – our posts on social media! The list can go on and on. To be honest with you, I feel tired, restricted and upset just typing that! When I first retired I missed dancing immensely, but when I thought of these aspects I felt relief that I can just be who I want to be, ALL of the time without significant consequence. Believe it or not, there is still consequences as a teacher, but I made a conscious decision to do only what I want to do, not what others expect of me.
Dancers are so clever at trying to boost their confidence by demoralising others. You will often observe a ballroom dancer criticise another to make themselves feel better or more worthy. For me this is just a ‘fake’ confidence and does not foster real self belief. I applaud the dancer who has an appreciation of their competitor and will compliment them in some way. This shows real strength in your own character and for me is a sign of much greater confidence. It is often the case that another dancer is not your cup of tea, and that is absolutely fine, just as we are not all best friends in life. But at the very least couldn’t we appreciate and highlight some skill rather than just what you dislike. And even worse, rate them as people like you do their dancing. Their performance is only that couple trying to do their best, as you are. We don’t all love each other as people, and we won’t all like each others dancing, but we do not have to choose the path of constant criticism. Surely it’s much better to focus on your own dancing – and within that consideration of your assets as well as your deficits.
Like I mentioned earlier, we will not change the way dancing operates, but it is important that you don’t get sucked into this perpetual negativity. We as teachers, must understand a little about the personality of our student, their culture and personal circumstances in order to help them in the best way possible. Personally, I think kindness and honesty are winners in all circumstances. I think comparison is detrimental to us in life, and taken to the extreme can lead to all sorts of mental health problems. Sadly, the dance industry is based on comparison (and comparative political power), so we cannot escape this beast. I believe extra special care needs to be taken by all to foster well balanced individuals that do not seek self esteem through the destruction of others nor feel the need to cover their feelings of not being worthy, deserving or good enough.
I believe that the dancer does all of these things out of fear. Fear of being judged (which we are), fear of being talked about negatively (which happens) and fear of being not being liked and ultimately fear of being marked poorly. I am under no illusions, doing the opposite will not necessarily achieve the results you desire but my aim is to make you aware of how we are judged with everything all of the time and I think it is just important to take care of yourself. This was not written with the intention of criticising the dance industry, it’s merely reflecting on how the dance world has the potential to make us feel if we are not careful. If this blog makes just one other person relate to what I am saying and think wow, I feel like this some or ALL of the time and would just like to get out of the rat race and breathe, then do it. Take time for yourself and know that there are people out there watching who even if they don’t love your dancing, can find an appreciation and respect for what you are trying to achieve.