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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Negative Thoughts


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As posted in another thread, I recently had my first class after three years off. Outside the studio warming up, I was very excited--so happy to be dancing again. However, within about ten minutes, I was already right back to mentally criticizing my feet, flexibility, lack of strength, &c. Obviously, that type of thinking is the last thing I need! Any tips on how to stop that?

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Seriously, I'm plagued with this as well. I have some weeks when I'm very confident, and others when I'm so tense, it shows in my dancing. My turns can go from fabulous triples to pathetic turned-in messes with raised shoulders.


I had 5 years off, and it was very difficult to deal with the new body. I was sore for a long time, because my memory of how to do a step would kick in, but the body just didn't have the strength or flexibility to support it. My advice is to work very carefully, and do any extra conditioning you can. It took a whole year to even get back to the level I was at...before my body felt like "mine". I kept thinking it would happen faster. Even with all the accelerated floor barre, tons of classes, chiropractor, one on one Pilates...still took a year. But the progress was, and continues to be, steady.


Choreographers want a consistent dancer who's mature. I keep reminding myself of that because you never know who's watching...


I've gotten better though. I used to cry all the time after class, and now I only get a bit grumpy when something doesn't work. My dancing has improved too, so maybe I'm just happier now that I'm better?


I have no tips. I know very well that it does no good to hesitate and to self-critisize. It makes the dancing worse, not better. I try and listen to the music and abandon myself to it. When something (like a pirouette) doesn't work, I try and figure out why, and fix it in a rational way. But sometimes, the emotional brain takes over the rational one. Try and approach the next class better.


Visualize everything perfectly. I don't visualize myself from the third person. I actually walk around trying to feel the correct way of doing something in my body. I hope it creates some type of neural connection that will start to work on a physical level. I think it may.


The mental process of all this is just as challenging as the physical, especially one you get to a high level. I'm amazed at how these young kids can be so focused. I never could have been at 17! I can barely do it now.


I watch how dancer who are better than me work. Most of them are very quiet and don't display how they feel. then again, some of the very best dancers do. Everyone has thier own style.


I also try to tell myself that I'm old, my hips may not be willing to do this forever, so I better enjoy the process while I can.


Good luck Hans! Just enjoy it. Easy to say...

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I don't have an easy answer for this, especially since your goal is to get back to a professional level—seems like it almost goes with that territory. But I've been thinking of it this way. You could stop again tomorrow if you wanted. You probably had a good reason for stopping in the first place. Something brought you back that was stronger than that negativity.


Probably it was the realization that dancing is a part of who you are. So be yourself as fully as possible. That's what maturing as a dancer and a performer means, and it's what makes people want to watch you, and not Angel Corella (and I do want to watch more dancers than just him!). I know this is kind of stating the obvious. You could listen to the negative voices, let them overwhelm you, and start thinking you have no business dancing again in the first place, but you already know that isn't true.


At this point, since you're an adult, you know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Dwelling on them emotionally will be draining and a waste of time. Thinking strategically about improving them, concealing them, showing them off is worth the effort. You know how people will point out bad things about themselves you hadn't even noticed—"Look at my zit, it's horrible!" "What zit?...Oh, eew, now I see what you mean." It's probably the same way with your self-criticisms. Other people are more likely to single out the good than the bad. If you remember that, you can keep yourself from living too much in your own head.


I know it's hard, but you also have to be patient. It will take a while for your body to catch up with your mind. I'm sure you will be constantly progressing, so let us know how you're doing. :thumbsup:

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And if it's any consolation, you and lampwick are both an inspiration for the recreational students on BT. It's pretty exciting for us to hear what you're doing.

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I have a hard time with comparing myself to my classmates and/or worrying what my teacher thinks of me. I'm a compulsive worrier, so there is not much I can do in that regard. I'm also very competitive which makes it even more difficult to fall short of perfect.


I try to focus on doing my very best at everything I attempt. Sometimes I do outshine others in the class and I can chalk that up as a good effort. I do especially well in jumps and anything on half-pointe (I have very strong legs/ankles).


The rest, I've been noting in my notebook and working on at home.

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When stuck in negative thought I try to come up with a positive version to *replace* the other. Every time I start to think the undesireable thought I consciously begin to work on the alternative.

Edited by homeschooltreasurs
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From the replies so far (and mine will be no different), those of us who pursue dance (and ballet in particular) tend toward perfectionism, which is a double edge sword. On one hand, it enables us to strive toward the ideal, and it provides the drive to overcome obstacles whether they be an imperfect body type or life issues that get in the way. But it also leads us to picking things apart and analyzing them constantly so that it becomes easy to find fault in just about anything, at times even good things.


As a certifiable inflictor of self-criticism and a known perfectionist, I tend to become frustrated when I cannot perform to my personal standard. I have learned to try to focus on improving one thing in each combination, and at the end of each class to consciously remember the best part of class for me, even if it is only one step of one combination that I feel I did correctly.


I don't know your age, but coming back after three years, I imagine that there is a maturity in your dancing that will set you apart. Use that to your best advantage and the rest will come in time.

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Ah, Hans, don't take self-criticism PERSONALLY! That's a bit like talking to yourself, then saying, "What?" :blink: Your abilities to note your own technical imperfections are TOOLS for creating improvement! Detecting faults is a good thing. "Make note to self not to sickle feet." That's a plus. It's not a failure of you as a whole person, and not an insurmountable obstacle. Remember this, and as a controlled bipolar subject, I can comment on this from personal experience, you are GOOD. You have an excellent mind and a high degree of self-awareness. Your body, just like my body, is just somewhat stupid, and has to be taught to do things correctly. It's not a personal failing. As a matter of fact, you are in better command of your body than 99 44/100s% of the population; be PROUD of that! In your self-awareness, you have to keep aware of the fact that you've been off for quite awhile, and now, it's back to work time. Getting things back where they belong is part of the job right now. Expect setbacks, know that things are going to feel different. You have it in you to correct the technique, and you have time, thank heaven. Feel good about that! :)

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All very good ideas--I may print this thread and keep it in my dance bag! I particularly like Mel's idea of not taking self-criticism personally--that is brilliant.

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Self-criticism is natural when you aspire to something. Essentially, depression occurs when our expectations do not match our assessments of our performance. Performance is something that is given, observable, and represents reality. Expectations are something that we create. Expectations exist only in our minds.


I think one of the most important things for any performer is the management of expectations. We have to have high expectations, as they help motivate us and move us toward better performance. We work hard and try to improve because we think we can do better. But if we are high achievers, we always seem to not fully meet our expectations. And we tend to raise our expectations as we improve, forgetting how hard it was to achieve what we achieved. Having too high expectations creates a climate for failure, having no fun, and eventually giving up.


I don’t mean this as a boast, but well before I came to dance I was an athlete, and quite successful. Know what the fun was for me? Not being at my best, at the high point of my athletic career. That was actually not very interesting. The best part was improving, analyzing my training, technique, and development and developing a plan for getting better. What I call dancer’s depression is short-term, part of the normal process of development (or redevelopment if you are reentering a field). Accept it. It will pass. Relish the experience.

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I relate to homeschooltreasurs idea of replacing and training the mind to be constructive. So instead of just thinking - ''i did that badly or incorrect'' try to think ''yeah that could be better - next time!''


Its hard because we expect immediate results and just because we can visualize movement in our mind - our body doesnt always respond accordingly :)


Anyway you could see the positive side of thinking like this, imagine if you believed you were perfect and the best at everything already! Critisism would be hard to swallow and nothing would feel like a challenge. Imagine if everything seemed simple and easy, what would be the point? what could we achieve :blink:

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Isn't it a pain that it's so hard to stay positive? I've got two tactics to overcome feeling negative abuot myself (not just about ballet classes, but also anxiety-making work stuff): one is to write down in my notebook anything I did well, so there's always a list of good things to look at. The other is to call my dearest friend and tell her about something I managed, and she's so impressed I get a lot of positive affirmation - posting here is a good alternative as people are so fantastically supportive!

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