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Ballet Talk for Dancers

"Cognitive Distortions" in Ballet


hart

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I am a college counselor. As a counselor, you are usually trained in "Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy," which addresses, among many things, the role of cognition in emotions and behavior. Look CBT up on the internet and you will, no doubt, find a list of "cognitive distortions," or systematic errors in thinking. Try http://depression.about.com/cs/psychotherapy/a/cognitive.htm as an example.

 

Some examples of cognitive distortions include All/Nothing Thinking, Overgeneralization, Mental Filter, Disqualifying the Positive, Jumping to Conclusions, etc. You can look them up to learn more.

 

Last night, in dealing with my perfectionism, I took ownership of my perfectionistic tendencies in ballet as they relate to all/nothing thinking, catastrophizing, filtering out the positive, and jumping to conclusions. I carry so much tension and anxiety in my body when I dance and big part of it is because I tend to believe:

 

(1). I haven't learned anything (all/nothing thinking).

(2). I'm a terrible dancer (catastrophizing and filtering out the positive)

(3). I'm never going to improve. (Jumping to Conclusions)

 

Such processes can just shipwreck the enjoyment that dancing can bring as well as the quality of your dancing. Last night my "mantra" was "Just do what you already know." It really helped. I felt so much more relaxed. The reality is that I have been dancing for two years, which isn't very long in the dancing world, but it still counts. I stopped doing this for a while, but in the past, I spent time working on "affirmations," speaking truth in my log about what I had learned in class rather than being negative about what I hadn't learned. This also seemed to help.

 

Anyway, we tend to focus a lot on physical technique but not so much on mental/emotional "technique," so to speak. Sometimes, perhaps the best way to learn how to pull-up, for example, is to realize that you are already doing it to some degree. Maybe not perfectly, but your doing it more than you realize.

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Does the list of cognitive distortions mention those involving body image? I think such distortions are really common, in fact it's REALLY HARD to truly understand how we look on the outside. We see something small that's amiss, and all of a sudden it fills our psyche and we figure everyone else must see it to (and be staring at it).

 

I aim to dance without killing myself over it. I just focus on doing the best I can and on improving what I can, and I know that things will look better over time (they always have). As long as I'm discovering and building awareness and refining movement. I also understand that it's hard to really know the relative importance of the things I'm worried about --- cognitive distortions. Assessing relative importance is the teacher's job, from a somewhat more objective perspective. So I resolve to address what I can address without worrying about it --- if that makes any sense. When the class is over, I put it all away until the next time I get to work on it, just like you put away your work at the end of each day (I hope).

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When ambitious people attempt to gain skill in an activity where skill acquisition and development is almost painfully slow, problems are guaranteed. Optimistic, can-do teens can approach skill development naively much to their benefit. We adults are not so naive, which only makes it all the more difficult. Though we learn technical aspects of dance from our teachers, there is essentially no help for us psychologically. We either adapt or quit.

 

As much as I admire and respect teachers, I think they are essentially useless in helping adult students deal with the psychological aspects of dance. Teachers acquired their skills and much of their knowledge when they were young, and relative to the adult student, found it easier to learn and develop. They just can’t relate to the adult need.

 

I always think back to my beginner classes. I was certainly not anything special in class—average at best. But of the people in those classes, to my best knowledge, I’m the only one still dancing. Why has always perplexed me. I don’t believe it was the physical that stopped them. I believe it was the mental that did.

 

What to do about it I have no idea. I do believe, however, that knowledge—understanding ourselves and how and why we think as we do—is the only approach that has a chance of working (and even with that knowledge, there is no guarantee). Thanks to hart, we have something concrete as a resource. And hart even provides a technical name (though to me CBT will always stand for computer based testing, but that’s irrelevant). I also liked reading hart’s real life application. Excellent.

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As much as I admire and respect teachers, I think they are essentially useless in helping adult students deal with the psychological aspects of dance.

 

This so much depends on the teacher. Not all of them are. I have the pleasure of studying under certain teachers who really understand the adult beginner, too.

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Dance_Scholar_London
Last night, in dealing with my perfectionism, I took ownership of my perfectionistic tendencies in ballet as they relate to all/nothing thinking, catastrophizing, filtering out the positive, and jumping to conclusions.  I carry so much tension and anxiety in my body when I dance and big part of it is because I tend to believe:

 

(1).  I haven't learned anything (all/nothing thinking).

(2).  I'm a terrible dancer (catastrophizing and filtering out the positive)

(3).  I'm never going to improve. (Jumping to Conclusions)

 

Such processes can just shipwreck the enjoyment that dancing can bring as well as the quality of your dancing. 

Anyway, we tend to focus a lot on physical technique but not so much on mental/emotional "technique," so to speak. S

 

I do conduct research in this field, in particular I investigate emotional aspects of learning ballet at elite conservatoires, mainly looking at frustration/depression, career anxieties (among student dancers) and feelings of guilt. There are not many publications in this field but you might want to check out different academic journals such as "medical problems of performing artists" and 'research in dance education".

 

I also deliver papers on that particular topic at conferences, next one will be at the international arts and humanities conference in hawaii. feel free to contact me if you want more info.

:):shrug:

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Dance Scholar London -

 

I grew up in Hawaii so if you need any info let me know!

 

Betsy

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Dance_Scholar_London
:P Thanks gimpy, will PM you as soon as you get full membership (4 posts to go). I have never been to Hawaii before, so I am quite excited about it.
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I think that these phenomena happen in all professions, and the more specialized the work, the more likely they are to occur. I see it all the time, and even suffer from it myself in the history business. (Dammit, this paper just won't READ right!)

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And would probably explain why I decided to complete re-write the last half of a chapter at 2:30 in the morning... ugh... does anyone have some coffee????

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Excellent topic, and applies to some other "perfectionistic" topics I've replied to recently. Every once in a while I tend to veer off the path mentally/emotionally when it comes to ballet. It works wonders to keep a good sense of humour about yourself and remember to have fun. It works for me. I'm still the one who tends to come off the stage remembering the steps I forgot or messed up rather than the beautiful devoloppes en pointe or the eight fouettes I pulled off. Ballet takes an incredible amount of hard work and concentration and it's easy to forget that hard work can still be fun. The key is how we approach that work-the mind at work is just as essential as the body, if not more, since it controls the body.

 

Now, if I could only remember those combinations...

 

Candi

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Ah yes, the mirrors! I take a kind of fascination in the "fat mirrors" and the "thin mirrors". As long as I know which is which, I "correct" for the effect in my mind.

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Body image is so encompassing a field that it's got its own condition - somatic dysphoria. This, translated, means, "I think my body stinks".

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Body image is so encompassing a field that it's got its own condition - somatic dysphoria.  This, translated, means, "I think my body stinks".

very serious topic... but this comment still made me snicker B).

 

I'm naturally a horrible perfectionist (yes I'm the type that has gotten upset that I only got 99% on a test), I actually think it is one of those things that draws me to ballet. I like that there is a concrete correct way to do everything, I like that it is a slow painful journey to master even something rather simple like holding your arms or posture. If I master something quickly or something is easy for me I generally get bored. And strangely enough ballet helps my body image, not initially I admit when all I saw was this clumsy creature with thighs that looked like someone tried to shove too much cottage cheese into a pair of sausage casings and various other parts that bulged and generally made me want to weep in dispare. But now though I haven't really lost any weight (maybe some toning) I realize that I can move and what i see in the mirror occasionally even looks graceful! I also watched some of the ballets at PNB and have seen some of the dancers up close and was shocked to discover really they aren't that much leaner than me (some are indeed tiny sylph like creatures with bodies of 12 year olds but others do have curves), and what their bodies looked like was not as important as what they looked like dancing, and also broadened my view of what a ballerina body was. So at this point it has become less about how I look in static but rather how I look in motion... I won't look in the mirror unless I'm moving or at the least making sure mybody is holding the right line in say arabesque, this way I don't focus on my physical flaws but rather am I doing this correctly and how can I adjust myself if i'm not. Anyway enough rambling! My point being I wonder if being a perfectionist type attracts other to ballet, it seems as if it would be so... and is that perfectionism always negative? especially if (3). I'm never going to improve. (Jumping to Conclusions) is rather- "I suck now but with a ton of hard work I will improve"

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