Dancer to Dancer: Letter to my Teenage Self

Show of hands, who else has been the victim of a ‘general class correction’ that you just know was directed straight towards you?

Teacher: ‘Girls, pull in your stomach and point your toes!’

(eyes shift around at fellow ab-engaged foot goddess co-workers)

Think to self: Surely they don’t mean me!

Good advice, like corrections, isn’t actually that hard to come by. It’s just hard to apply.

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(I’ve stolen this photo from Dance Magazine’s article, ‘The Seven Deadly Sins of Ballet’ by the wonderful Kina Poon)

One of my favorite features in Dance Magazine is the ‘Dancer to Dancer; letter to my teenage self’ page. Successful dancers share what they wish they could have told their prodigious sixteen year old selves:

Polish your Youth Grande Prix trophy more often! Stop falling asleep in a perfect 180 frog split! Wear deodorant!

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Most of the time, these letters are enjoyable to me because they seem like a personal window into the mindset of someone that I admire. Trouble is, the advice is usually something pretty generic and very introspective, tips like ‘don’t be so hard on yourself’.

Figuring out a dance career can be, scratch that, is confusing. One minute you think ‘I should develop outside interests to be well-rounded’. The next you’re bashing yourself for straying from a clear and direct focus. One moment it seems like smartest choice to accept a contract with a company you aren’t too sure about and the next it seems wiser to move somewhere, no contract, and just take class with a company you really like- if they’ll let you- in the hopes you’ll get a job next year. What works for one person won’t for the next, regardless or talent or tenacity.

In truth, I don’t know what to say to teenage me. I can’t say what warning or sage advice I would give to make all of the dreams that have decidedly not come true magically have unfolded in my life story. Mistakes were made but I don’t know how truly unavoidable many of them were and I don’t think anything anyone, even the 28-year-old version of me, could say would have made all the difference.

beautiful photo of Kameliendame Opera Ballet students from Girl's Snap Tumblr

beautiful photo of Kameliendame Opera Ballet students from Girl’s Snap Tumblr

If I were to give myself or any of my students advice these days, I would stick to a few generals that I think do apply to everyone. Here are the best lessons that everyone can take from me without having to learn the hard way:

  1.  Update your CV and Resume often. It is a nightmare to have to go back and try to remember names of theaters, music, dates. Keep it on point!
  2.  You can never be too grateful for your opportunities, for attention, for friendship, for corrections, for someone paying your tuition and getting you to the studio. It takes a lot of people and collective effort just to make one person’s dream come true. I still think of a moment in 2004 when the six graduating seniors from my dance school were invited to give a speech at the reception following a performance and in the midst of lots of jokes, I did not thank my parents. I hate that memory and if I could, would go back in time to that moment and give them the public thanks they deserved then and still deserve now.

That’s really about all I can say that I think works for everyone. For my dear friends reading this, I would love to know the best advice you would give on pursuing your passions.What would you share with or warn your teenage self?

I suppose if there is one thing I would tell my younger self it would be:

‘follow your instincts and don’t hesitate’. I think I have a pretty good instinctual feeling of when a choice, job, director is a good match for me. And I htink one of my biggest problems especailly of late, are the doubts that stop me from taking action when i know it is right.

Otherwise, you’ll end up  28-year-old dreamer with a lot of mistakes behind her, hopefully untold exciting creations and collaborations ahead of her, which  maybe isn’t so bad. Now if I can just remember to polish my imaginary Youth Grand Prix trophy, I’ll be all set.

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