Thoughts On Being The Best

I am currently teaching in just about every corner of the dance education world. I am teaching professional dancers at Broadway Donation Dance Classes, I am teaching pre-professional ballet students at the Joffrey Ballet School, I am teaching pre-professional musical theater students (serious young adult beginners) at CAP21, Molloy College and New York Film Academy, I am teaching recreational children’s classes at Hamilton Dance, I am teaching open level adult classes at both Joffrey and Alden Moves Dance Theater and I am constantly traveling the country to guest teach at competition studios.

I’ve noticed more and more that the students who are more talented, who are for the most part doing well, have a very strong need to be “the best”. They need a lot of stroking and complimenting. They need repeated reassurance that they are at the top of their game. I even once had a student leave a more prestigious school for one a little lower on the totem pole…and it appeared that one of the main reasons was that he wanted to stand out, be special, be the best. And, sadly, it is rare that these students really have the diligence and work ethic that they will need to reach their full potential. I have students who are gifted both in their ability and facility. Students who have long, lean, strong, flexible, turned out bodies with a nice technique and a reasonable sense of musicality, artistry and style. They say that they are dedicated to dance. And yet, when I or my colleagues stand in front of them, teaching them, guiding them, passing on our art form, they just don’t seem to fully engage. They are there. They sort of listen. They pick up steps. They do steps. And then they wait for the accolades. I have so few students who are ferocious learners. So few who listen with full attention. So few who take responsibility for their own training. And still they yearn to be the best. And I think that our “Every child gets a trophy culture” is part of the problem. I studied for nearly ten years with Mdme. Darvash. I don’t ever remember a compliment. I have no recollection of my parents telling me how brilliant I was. And many times I lost. Many times I didn’t get the trophy (or the job, or the part, or the big solo). And that is life…and it is a lesson that is best learned sooner rather than later.

I implore all pre-professional dance students to stop yearning for perfection; yearning to be the best. It is a waste of time. There will always be something more to learn, something to work on, something to improve. And there will always be someone better…and they will be standing right outside the studio door waiting for your job. I try to encourage the students to be the best STUDENT that they can be. They need to hang on their teachers every word. They need to study themselves in the mirror as objectively as possible rather than admiring and self-congratulating. They need to listen to corrections, apply the corrections, and make their work and their training their highest priority. And they need to stop loving the idea of being the best and start loving the process of learning to dance. They need to realize that as their teacher I love them and want the best for them. They need to understand that the most important thing to me is their success, their improvement, their achievements. But as teachers, we cannot make dancers, we can only guide them.  Once they let go of their need to be the best and start embracing the process of learning, they will find that they truly soar.  And they won’t need the stroking and they won’t need the compliments  because the results of their work will be staring back at them from the mirror.

To quote the legendary Mikhail Baryshnikov:
“I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.”

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