“What do you do when you can’t give it everything you’ve got? When you can’t give even 100% when your norm is 105-110%?”
I’m used to going above and beyond always. That’s my job. Go big or go home. Every day spent dancing is a gift (for lack of a better cheesy analogy), and it’s another day you can succeed in expressing yourself, expand your technique, and develop a deeper understanding of your artistry. But what do you do when you can’t give it everything you’ve got? When you can’t give even 100% when your norm is 105-110%? Well, panic I guess, for one…Not feel like yourself…Become frustrated…These are all normal responses to such a situation, but the words “be careful” and “take it easy” are not really in a ballerina’s accepted vocabulary, no matter what the problem.
There is a certain responsibility that you accept when you decide to become a professional dancer. You are willingly committing yourself to a career of performing impossible feats, creating impossible shapes, and evoking emotion in strangers that is so strong it is palpable even from the last row of an auditorium (you have to be superhuman, essentially). Easy tasks? It’s not saving the world exactly, but putting your body through the constant stress of ballet in a studio setting is hard enough, then add the challenges of competition and performance as well.
“[This is] how we’re programmed. We live a lifestyle in which every second matters.”
What is terrifying, in a way, is the fact that our entire body is needed to ensure success as a dancer. There is not a muscle or nerve synapse you can do without if you want to give yourself the optimum chance. So, basically, no pressure, but eat well, get enough rest, exercise and cross train sufficiently (but not too much), stretch on the daily, practice, practice, practice, always be mentally focused, don’t get sick, don’t get injured, and don’t do anything to jeopardize yourself in any way. Complete this list of lifestyle choices, and you’ll be set up for success every day!…Yeah, okay. But what about when you get a cold? Or you suffer an injury? What about when you overwork yourself?
We’re trained to think that these things don’t matter. That it’s still possible to get through class and rehearsal and do it all, even if you’re hacking up a lung or you have a nagging muscle pain. But it can feel impossible to throw in the towel and stop or sit. We mentally bribe ourselves that it’s fine and do more than is necessary (“just at least do adagio too, and then you can sit down!”). It’s how we’re programmed. We live a lifestyle in which every second matters. Every combination skipped is missed time for practice and improvement. But when we are at our weakest, it is not the time to max out. Be careful. Take it easy—two things we don’t want to hear. But better to conserve the good, than contribute to the bad.
I hope these thoughts are a source of inspiration to myself as well. Just two weeks with a busted ankle feels like a lifetime to me. But a career as fragile as a ballerina’s is bound to be riddled with its share of challenges. When you can’t see the end, it seems impossible, but think of all the superhuman things you’ve already done as a dancer. I’ve fallen, I’ve bled, I’ve bruised, I’ve danced with fevers and bronchitis, I’ve even performed with vertigo. But here I am. Maybe we don’t always have to be that perfect. We can be broken down physically to no end, but the passion remains. No matter the challenge, we accept it, add it to our list, and keep going.