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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Losing your joy while in professional training


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This question is geared towards those who have been in professional fultime training and know what it is like. It is so different to train to make this your living rather than doing it just for fun.


What do you do when you just lose your joy of dancing? The pressure has become so high, that I've become scared of dancing. I'm not great at remembering combinations and I'm not the greatest techician and the fear is just paralysing me and sucking all the joy out of it. The knife really cuts both ways: I'm not an amazing dancer, so I have to get it from the storytelling, but I got so scared of dancing that there is absolutely no storytelling going on. All I can think is: OMG, I'm so crap at this, I can't remember the combination, I've just used the wrong foot, I look like a fool...

On the other hand, I'm not that bad at technique, I've got clean double pirouettes, my battements can go very high. But in a combination, my pirouettes are always wonky, and my leg goes only half as high as I know it can go.


So in class, I enjoy barre in ballet and the warm up in jazz. I enjoy the technique exercises/combinations in both ballet and jazz, but once it comes to a combination, I get scared, I don't want to dance anymore, and my dancing just falls apart...All I want to do in class is cry.

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Marjolein, trust me, you are not alone. I have the same feeling. I started very late, and no one was really expecting me to "make it", but I was determined that if I were to fail, I would rather fail trying.

It is actually funny that even though as much frustration, depression I get, it has never occurred to me that I want to stop dancing. It just motivates me to try harder. And I did not even realize how I wasn't enjoying my class/appreciating what I have achieved until a teacher actually had a talk with me because she felt that as much as I loved ballet, she had only seen my "dead serious focusing" face during combinations. She also confronted me how I was having high expectations of myself that whenever my body doesn't do the best it could do, I get upset. (Think me yelling at myself "BAD LEG!!!!!!! WHY did you just ......?!") And she urged me to not criticize myself anymore (which is hard to resist!), and instead, be nice to my body and work in a gentle way -- "Good leg! Now let's do just a little bit even more! Oh, you are such good leg!". She put in quite some effort to eliminate the negativities within me, and would brainwash me if she ever hear me say something negative about my dancing. Staying positive really helps!

Another teacher always reminds me not to work too hard, that she thinks that I am such a hardworker that I am always so focused on corrections and forget that dancing should also be joyful and fun!

Plus, a therapist friend told me this, and I think it is true -- "Life is too short to be upset about yourself. Enjoy it when you can!"

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Dear Marjolein, I've been thinking about your post since I read it. I don't know if any of us can offer a solution -- we can be a friendly ear, though!


It sounds as though you're very hard on yourself. And it also sounds as though you're in quite a competitive atmosphere. Can you take a little bit of pressure off yourself by not participating in any competition with other classmates?


And I wonder if you can do some self-help stuff about being quite vigilant in making sure you don't allow the negative self-talk you describe above. It's hard -- you need to be quite disciplined in deliberately recognising and then setting aside negative thoughts.


I think it's called 'mindfulness.'


This forum is mostly adult recreational (albeit serious) dancers. Would you like me to move this thread to the College Students forum?

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It sounds like you're asking us to go back into experiences of professional training - so even though I am not currently dancing much now, I will relate to you my experience from dancing full time at a pre-pro school. I started late, and luckily out of sheer cosmic chance I was able to study full time with some very well known and amazing teachers and students (who are now in well known companies). I have to admit, I never lost my joy for learning and dancing until I got smacked with mandatory contemporary class.


Please note: This is from my personal experience of being in a full time program, so I imagine that demands in a rec program might be different. I am not saying that ALL teachers are like this, and I actually loved the teachers I had - despite their "Just Do It" attitude.


We had wonderful teachers from great places such as Lines and RDT come serve as faculty temporarily just to teach contemporary class for a semester or to set pieces on us. It was difficult. I found myself being unmotivated to continue on, I could not pick up the combinations at all, I could not move the way they wanted me to, and the teachers were not tolerant of it.


Basically, despite how deep and spirit-searching Alonzo King's training program grads are, outside of bringing a notebook to write down your whimsical artsy thoughts, class with an Alonzo-Alumni is still like being fed to the sharks. The philosophy behind many of the contemporary teachers I encountered was, "Get your pointe shoes on and catch up or get left behind". It got to the point that I would have to muster courage to go into class after an intense day of technique, pointe, variations, etc. It felt like I was abusing myself, especially when all of my fellow young classmates LOVED class - they got to let down their hair and "express". The students felt that they could get artistically intense or whatever. I felt like I was obligated and masochistic because I could not miss class since I was lucky to even get the opportunity to have permission to participate - yet the teachers couldn't possibly want such a lagger in class. I'd even heard from a well known teacher, "favoritism at this level isn't a bad thing, if you can't get noticed you can't get chosen." Truly... and it was not said to be negative, it was more of an audition tip.


In the end, I made use of the artsy-deep-thoughts notebook and wrote down nothing spiritual, but only sequences that I couldn't remember. It was hard as there's no decipherable method to jotting down contemporary movements. Everyone else was writing their emotions for the day, and I was writing, "roll and fling arm, flick wrist, then convulse onto a crouch en pointe at count 5.5 during weird digital beat in music".


I also mustered up the courage to find time to ask my teachers when they weren't busy to elaborate on those things. One of them even nicely suggested that I create flashcards for memory practice (though that was less helpful as I have a great memory for things not contemporary movement). I practiced on my own, sometimes I would corner a more talented student and ask them to break down parts of class for me. I found my peers very eager to help, but too shy to suggest helping. Most of them don't want to overstep their bounds, but also would love for me to figure it out so I stopped my spatially unaware flailing into their dance-space.


I never got awesome at contemporary, I never grew to love it either, but I did grow to learn a new method of learning. I also began to find appreciation for it, and was glad to be able to discover that I had courage to stick it out. I don't know if this helps at all. I guess the short of it all is, ask a friend for help on your off time. Also, on a personal level, learn to let go of your mental blocks - your stress is going to make it even harder for you to learn.

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I had a career in musical theater. I did most of my training in dance in New York City at Steps on Broadway, Broadway Dance Center and Luigi's Jazz Centre. The competition was fierce. Really fierce. I was never in a full time "program" but I certainly danced full time. I was a late starter and it was definitely an up hill climb. One suggestion that I can make...would it be possible, with the schedule that you currently have, to take some classes that are at a lower level? A place where you can dance with out the stress of "what's coming next?" with out the stress of the competition with the other students, with out the STRESS? This might help rekindle your love of dance. I talk about Luigi a lot (even though this is a ballet site) because he was instrumental in making me a dancer, and his philosophy of dance and movement applies to all disciplines. There was / is a class at his studio. Monday through Saturday called "STYLE". Basically what it is...is a beginner class. Everyone took it. EVERYONE. From Broadway pros to housewives. It was a place where you could DANCE. Dance, and absorb his philosophy of dance and movement. Not worry about the difficulty of the steps or the length of the combination. It was so important for my development. That class (along with basic ballet with a marvelous teacher named Debby Cruz) was something that I kept up my entire career. Even when I was working at a high professional level, and taking pro classes with Madame Darvash, Frank Hatchett, Cecelia Marta, Joe Lantieri...I still went back and took those beginner classes. I was never great a picking up combinations...but I got better.


Here's the thing. As a musical theater performer (it does say on your profile that you are a musical theater student) a lot is expected of us. Unless you are a famous star...a television or movie celeb...you will be expected to act, sing and dance...ballet, tap and jazz. Very few people can do everything equally well...well, no body does all of them equally well. So maybe you aren't a dancer first. The world won't come to an end. You will still have a career. Trust me. I have a friend who was up for Cassie in the last broadway revival of A Chorus Line. She is a marvelous actress, a marvelous singer...and ...she dances. She made it almost to the end...actually. No, she didn't get the role, but she does have a wonderful career...and she made it down from hundreds of girls, to the very last call back for CASSIE...IN A CHORUS LINE...ON BROADWAY. And she isn't even a "dancer first". A lot goes into making a musical theater performer.


I don't know if any of this is helpful...but please don't be so hard on yourself. Find yourself a class where you can get satisfaction, and work your butt off. It is the only way.


Good luck and please stay in touch.

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Nothing to add (nor am I qualified) but I wanted to wish you luck and thank Willimus and LaFilleSylphide for their fascinating responses. Really, really enjoyed reading them. (And I would second Willimus' suggestion of trying a class a step down, if only once. To be the queen bee in a class instead of the struggling, striving one, is a heady experience and does wonders for the body, ego, soul. It will give you a chance to rediscover how good you are, how far you've come, and all the stuff you have going for you. And you'll likely have a ball in the process!)

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Thank you so much for all your replies. I really appreciate you taking the time to write such lengthy answers.


Yes I am very hard on myself and I'm a perfectionist. I'm never happy with what I do. I will definitely follow your advice of taking some lower level classes. It will probably do me some good to be one of the better ones in class, instead of always being the one who struggles. We were placed into level groups at the beginning of the year, and much to my surprise I was placed in the top level class, probably because I seem to have an excellent body for dancing, with really insane hip flexibility (think 180° rotation and a natural battement to my ear) and a very dancer-like look. But it seems that even with all this training, I cannot use my facility and that frustrates me.


Willimus, to answer your question: I am definitely not a dancer first, singing comes way ahead of the other 2, though my acting is pretty solid too. I didn't used to be such a bad dancer, but it seems all the stress has taken away my ability to just dance. All that goes through my body when doing a combination is fear, and it numbs everything else. Far from performing and portraying a story, I can't even show my joy in dancing anymore.

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I'm glad that you can take some lower level classes...but it isn't just about feeling good about yourself (yes, that's part of it) but I think it is important for your training to be able to work on phrasing, style, musicality without being stressed about steps. I find that a lot of young students that I encounter don't want to take lower level classes. They either seem to think it is a waste of time, or that it is in some way embarassing. I always took beginner classes, along with the advanced classes. You can work on different things.


Best of luck to you in your training! Please keep us posted!

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That is exactly why I used to take jazz at 2 different levels in my old studio: jazz C to work on technique and to challenge myself, jazz B to work on style and performance. Because I have been put in such a high level at school, I have not been able to do these things as all of my classes are so technically or stylistically (think Fosse classes) challenging.

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Got it. I think we had an exchange some time ago about fosse's choreography in class.


Good luck...stay in touch!

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Marjolein, I hope you feel better just for sharing your anxieties here. And I hope you look at your post about the level placement. And that you remember what you've written:


that you are placed in the TOP level in a professional full-time musical theatre university level course.


Keep talking to us -- there are broad and friendly shoulders here. And I know I've followed your "journey" over the years here at BT4D. It's exciting, living vicariously through your exciting experience.

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