Dear Christopher (not Chris),
With the looming doom of teenage years, I know you are probably swamped with dance recitals, theatre rehearsals and homework. However, when you get a free moment, I need you to do me a favor.
Take a deep breath.
Inhale. Breathe in lessons learned, new opportunities, soak in the day.
Exhale. Breathe out the negativity, release your stress into the flowing air.
Now keep reading.
While at times it may feel impossible, things get better. Not to spoil the ending or anything, but… you make it.
You continue performing professionally. Despite countless teachers and peers discouraging you, despite the “you’re not good enough” spiels, you forge onward.
All the while, even though it is a faint whisper at times, the stage never stops calling to you.
What? You can’t hear it?
Well, you’ll just have to believe me.
In the meantime, here is my self reflection of the many lessons learned along the way toward pursuing our passion for performance. You may not realize it yet, but the difficult experiences you’re facing now not only shape you into a hardworking, fearless performer, but a genuinely goodhearted person.
Kindness Over Comparison
Above all else, I think one of the most important lessons learned along the way is to be kind. A performer’s everyday life includes constant comparison: Am I talented enough? Am I pretty enough? Am I toned or muscular enough? With the unrealistic expectation of social media and the “gram worthy life,” it can be incredibly difficult not to compare your everyday life to a social media influencer's “perfect” portrayal. Well the short answer is, you are enough just as you are. Performers support other performers because at the end of the day, we love what we do. Stepping onstage and telling stories with our voices and bodies is exhilarating, especially working as an ensemble. Expressing gratitude and compassion in both your personal and professional life allows for consistent self reflection and self-awareness, where dancers can build better mental habits that help turn envy into motivation. Find kindness toward yourself and others, because it only strengthens your work ethic and outlook on the world on and off the stage.
Time Management is Key
The performance lifestyle is extremely difficult: juggling rehearsals, shows, auditions, self tapes, a “social life,” eating healthy, exercising, side jobs, the list goes on. Like all careers, pursuing the life of a performer requires dedication and time management skills to stay organized, detailed, and successful. With ever changing schedules of rehearsals/auditions, it can be incredibly beneficial for performers and dancers to consider exploring time management and the benefits of being one step ahead of your schedule.
Leadership Is Not Control
From running collegiate dance companies and choreographing/teaching weekly, to serving as dance captain and assistant choreographer for professional productions across the country, learning genuine leadership skills and techniques are a MUST. Leading as a dance captain does not translate to having the most power or being the most talented, it rather regards genuine connection to guide and direct the cast to achieve a common goal or solve the problem at hand. The key to a successful dance captain requires maintaining show integrity while always having the dancer’s safety in mind, plus striving toward being an authentic, goodhearted leader.
“Healthy” Looks Different For Everyone
A common misconception in the dance world is that an ideal body image equates to looking like a petite ballerina supermodel or jacked muscle builder acrobat. For some, this may ring true. However, the typical “healthy dancer body” looks vastly different from dancer to dancer, as everyone is beautiful in their own way. Along with dance classes and workshops, dancers utilize strength conditioning, flexibility, cardio, and toning to stay in shape physically and mentally. After all, everyone’s body is dynamic, and that is what makes you an artist. In a world of “5, 6, 7, 8…” and constant movement (literally), dancers live healthy lifestyles through eating nutritious foods, drinking plenty of water, and exercising both mind and body muscles regularly.
Advocacy is Essential
Fortunately, many performers are born very empathetic humans, emotionally in tune with themselves and others. We are compassionate and forward thinking toward the world around us. These qualities, along with the innate nature of storytelling allows performers to learn advocacy, and the many ways to influence communication, collaboration, and presentation. Sticking up for what you believe in can be a difficult feat, but it is crucial to lifting up small voices and supporting others. Practicing impactful advocacy looks like doing what is right, not what is easy.
Now, as a working professional in the performance world, I utilize all of these lessons learned as life experiences to inform me in my next steps as a dancer and performer. I consider myself lucky: even though I wasn’t listening intently, the stage never stopped calling to me, bringing me back to my passion.
After all, one of the most important lessons I've learned in this letter to myself: