“How can you push your dancers to give all of themselves, without holding back or giving up, while staying safe physically?”
Dancers are taught to push until there’s nothing left…To exhaust the body and give more than 100% at all times – in class, in rehearsal, in performance. We are ‘spoon fed’ the concept from day one that ballerinas are a special breed (and they are). Achieving success requires us to be calm and collected, focused, impeccably precise, and emotionally unshakable, even in the face of criticism and harm to the physical body.
While I believe those factors to be non-negotiable requirements, I am equally aware of the potential danger behind this message, not only in terms of our physical state, but also mental condition. While there are many who promote and encourage the self-care of professionals, some teachers and mentors do not (I have experienced both sides in my career thus far). Understandably, it’s a fine line to walk, especially for an artistic director or ballet master/mistress. How can you push your dancers to give all of themselves, without holding back or giving up, while staying safe physically?
“There is a time to push for more, but there is a time to conserve too.”
I, too, struggle with this as a dance educator. At times I feel hypocritical, but I have to fully communicate the need to PUSH oneself. If a student does not have that desire, there’s not much I can do on my end to cultivate it. It has to come from within. On the other hand, there is the student that gives 110% at all times, but struggles to understand signs of fatigue and overuse in their body. There is a time to push for more, but there is a time to conserve too. As a teacher, it can be difficult to understand and/or translate individual cues, recognizing the difference between laziness and fatigue. But this is my greatest responsibility.
What is lacking, for many students especially, is self-care – both physical and emotional. It is impossible to expect success without properly caring for the body and the mind, not only in the studio but also outside of the studio. The body requires stretching, massage, icing, the stabilization of weak areas/potential injury spots, additional conditioning, and aerobic exercise, in order to sustain a high level of dance training. The mind, on the other hand, is taxed with millions of different kinesthetic commands, as well as complex patterns and choreographic pieces. It is a dancer’s job to allow mental capacity and the clarity to ensure confidence, artistic expression, and freedom from anxiety and fear.
The vast amount of energy that must be devoted to dance can be overwhelming to a dancer of any caliber. In a world that demands excellence from all angles, the demands of ballet seem impossible to maintain. But those who really want ‘it’ understand and accept the unique commitments required to truly grow as artists. We learn when to push, and when enough is enough. Only when we are truly tuned in, mentally and kinesthetically, can we reach a high level of excellence, and hope to sustain that excellence in the future.