Positive Feedback Loop: Make Your Own

In my post on using video as a feedback tool for improving, I mentioned that the hardest part of that exercise is not becoming completely negative while watching yourself on video.

I promised to come back to this topic because how we feel about our own image either in the mirror or on video gives us some useful information.

The Role of Corrections

For starters, from the earliest days in the classroom, dancers seek out corrections from their teachers in part because corrections are a form of attention.

If you look at other fields of study, being corrected is not necessarily a good thing- it means you’re doing something wrong. But in dance, we seek out that feedback. It is not unusual to hope for attention in the form of criticism, and it informs how we interact with our image.

When most of us look in the mirror, we look with a critical eye, we focus on finding problems and fixing them. This means that we don’t often see the whole picture: we miss the parts that are going well. But dancers are loathe to see the good stuff. Students have asked me, how it is possible to improve and not lower our standards if we are “wasting time” noticing what looks good, instead of “working hard to improve”? Good question.

Positive Feedback Loop

First, noticing what looks good creates a positive feedback loop. When your teacher or friends compliment you, it feels good, right? It doesn’t feel like a waste of time, does it? Of course not! We all love to hear what’s going well. It lifts our spirits and makes us feel fantastic. Those good feelings help us to approach our work in a more positive way. That’s a positive feedback loop.

You are already engaging in something similar when you use the mirror. When you correct a problem, do you notice later that it’s better? Of course you do! That’s how you know to move on and look for something else to fix.

But most of us gloss over the improvement, and move right away to the next problem. This is a missed opportunity. We should pay as much attention to what we’ve fixed as we do to what’s wrong. It builds self-esteem in part because it’s proof that you are improving.

Cultivate Your Own Loop

We all need positive feedback- it helps us grow and improve. But it is unreasonable to expect all of that feedback to come from your teachers because they have the entire class to monitor. You can start cultivating your own positive feedback loop by noticing what’s going well, and allowing yourself to feel good about it. This is an active position, one in which YOU take action, rather than waiting for external feedback.

I would guess that some of you are wondering if this exercise will give you a big ego or cause you to stop working hard. That is highly unlikely in part because dance tends to attract individuals who are driven and ambitious. It’s unlikely that paying attention to the good stuff is going to diminish your drive or suddenly eradicate your well-trained critical eye. Instead, it’s likely that you will start feeling more  emotionally balanced and supported.

Give it a try and see how it goes. You may run into a few things that get in the way:

  • Your body.

All dancers have some part of their body that they wish were different, from the feet to the ears. You may have a hang-up about a body part, and every time you see yourself, all you see is that part you don’t like.

This is a complex problem, but to keep it simple, try this: make peace with yourself. If you want to dance happily, you need to make peace with your body, both its good and “bad” parts. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore them, or stop working on them, but instead, they need to stop being obstacles to your positive feedback loop.

This is so important, I’m going to say it again. You must make peace with the parts of your body that aren’t the way you want them to be in order to move forward with your training and improve.

  • Your self-talk.

It is common among high achievers to engage in what is called negative self-talk. Self-talk is the words or thoughts that you have in your mind when you dance or see yourself. You might see an unpointed foot and say, “Come on, point!!” or “That foot always looks so bad.”

Over time, these negative messages accumulate in your brain and affect the way that you work. Negative self-talk is a major impediment to your positive feedback loop, so it’s a good idea to start noticing if you do it.

Ask Yourself Some Questions

To wrap up, in order to create a positive feedback loop, you’ll want to look at the two issues raised here and ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I have a stumbling block in my own body? Is there something that I don’t like that I always focus on or look at?
  • When I see that body part, what thoughts go through my mind?
  • When I make a mistake, what goes though my mind?
  • What kind of language do I use with myself when I am working in class?

It’s a good idea to write down the answers, especially the words that you use in your head. Once you do this for a few days, you will be able to see a pattern.

If it’s not positive, try to start incorporating some positive feedback into your day. Every time you spot a “negative” in the mirror/video, also find a positive and really enjoy it. If you find that you use a lot of negative language with yourself, try incorporating some positive phrases in and see how it feels.

Research in performance and sport psychology has shown that positive self-talk and feedback improves performance by a huge margin. Why not give it a try? Let me know how it goes!

Comparisons Done Right: Summer Study

Comparisons…like apples and oranges.

Summer intensives offer so many opportunities for growth and learning. If you go away to another school, the experience is also an opportunity to see how you measure up against other students.

My first few summers away were full of observation. I remember being in awe of some students, watching them almost obsessively and trying to imitate their technical and artistic bravura. There was always this period of intense watching before I could shift my focus back into my own body.

Overall, observation and imitation helped me pick up little things that I hadn’t been exposed to before, like stylistic flourishes and different qualities of movement. And as I got older, I continued to observe other dancers and “steal”** from them, but it occupied a lot less of my energy because my work became more about my own needs.

Comparisons Done the Right Way

I am a proponent of observing fellow dancers in your classes and learning from them. But in my experience, many students approach this exercise in a negative way, comparing themselves and coming to conclusions about how “bad” they are, and how good everyone else is. If this sounds familiar, or if you think that you might be spending too much time looking outside yourself instead of inside, ask yourself some of these questions:

  •  How much time do I spend during barre and centre looking at someone other than myself?
  • What thoughts are going through my head when I look at other dancers?
  • Are my thoughts positive and constructive?
  • Are my thoughts negative and critical?
  • Am I making comparisons between those dancers and myself?
  • What is the nature of those comparisons?
  • Am I ultimately learning anything by looking at other students in my class?
  • Am I improving by using the information I’m getting from observation?

If you find that you are spending more time looking at other people than working on your own stuff, you might want to ask yourself why that is. Are you hiding from yourself? Or are you just very distracted?

It is really only useful to observe others up to a certain point, after which, your work really needs to be about you.

If, on the other hand, you are using observation as a tool to improve your dancing, and it isn’t interfering with your own concentration, then you’ve probably found a good balance.

Framing Comparisons

Think of comparisons as opportunities to learn or “steal” something, rather than a measure for how you fall short or don’t measure up. That is, “I really like how she scoops up her foot in coup de pied as she’s doing a developé…I’m going to try to do that.”

That’s much more helpful than, “The way she articulates her feet is amazing; there’s no way I can do that.”

Framing your observations in terms of what you can learn changes the reason for looking, as well as the impact- and it makes observation worthwhile rather than upsetting or damaging to your sense of self.

 

** The art of the steal: A teacher of mine once told me that all artists “steal” from each other. Musicians imitate their predecessors, painters mimic their teachers, and of course, dancers do as well. “Stealing” is when you see someone do something in a way that moves you, or makes sense to you- it can be technical or artistic- and then you imitate it. Most of us do this instinctively without even thinking about it, because the training model encourages it. We watch our teachers and we mimic their way of moving. I always found this to be one of the great reasons to watch other dancers closely.

 


Diana Vishneva Leaves ABT

On Friday, June 23rd, I had the pleasure of watching Diana Vishneva’s final performance with American Ballet Theatre. It was a beautiful and emotional goodbye and the New York audience showed up in droves to applaud her.

This is not a review of the performance, but here are some good ones if you’re interested:

From Wendy Perron of Dance Magazine: Vishneva’s Farewell: A Great Ballerina Leaves

Haglund’s Heel Blog: Onegin: Passion Perfect

And this New York Times’ article, Flowers, Flowers, and More Flowers, has gorgeous photographs.

I love watching Vishneva dance; she embodies the qualities I work on with my dancers every day: fearlessness, confidence, and artistry.

Fearlessness

Diana Vishneva is fearless. I still remember vividly watching her descend the staircase in Romeo and Juliet, at the start of the balcony scene. She didn’t walk or even run down the stairs – she flew. Her feet touched every other stair and then every three or four stairs as she picked up speed. The audience gasped audibly. I remember raising my hands to my eyes, fearing she was going to fall before reaching her Romeo.

But she didn’t. Instead, she flew off the steps with a leap and ran across the stage, like a young girl in love: impetuous, free, and unthinking.

In a performance of Swan Lake with David Hallberg, her Odile piqued into an arabesque and tipped into the supported lean as her Seigfried was still crossing the stage. Again, audible gasps from the audience. But Hallberg made it, as she knew he would. And if he didn’t, her attitude seemed to suggest, she’d be just fine.

Vishneva is not afraid to take risks onstage and that makes for very exciting ballet. I have to imagine that fearlessness comes from her immense trust and confidence in her dancing body, as well as not getting stuck in her technique.

Confidence

As a former dancer and an avid watcher now, one thing that bugs me in professional dancers is a lack of confidence on their faces. You’ve seen it: that sudden drop of the performance smile when something technically difficult arises as if to announce, “I’m not sure I can do this!” Even at a company like ABT this happens.

But not with Diana Vishneva. Regardless of what she’s feeling inside, her facial expressions always register complete confidence. She is completely in her body when she performs, embodying the “flow” or being in “the zone” that strong mental fitness skills can deliver.

Vishneva has lovely technique, but it is not the first thing I noticed about her and it’s not front and center when she performs. It’s there like a skeleton or a scaffolding: without it, there wouldn’t be anything to “hang” her performance on, but it’s not what I pay attention to when watching her. Her body executes the technique, but it’s like speaking a language: I’m interested in what she’s saying, not so much how she’s saying it.

Artistry

Vishneva is an actress; she inhabits the characters she dances, body and soul. And that is part of what makes her so much fun to watch.

I remember watching company class onstage one Saturday and looking for her. I could not find her, although I was pretty sure she was there. Eventually, in the back, in a corner, I spotted her during adagio. I kept my eyes on her and was surprised at how tiny she looked. No matter where she is on the Met stage, my eye is always drawn to her, even when she’s not dancing much. But during class, she was just another body in motion up there.

I realized that when she performs, she PERFORMS: she’s an artist. Class is just that: class, a warmup, a way to get ready for the moment when it counts.

My Work

When it comes to my work, I want my dancers to watch people like Diana, who dance beyond their technique and who focus on the message of their dancing as well as the medium. That takes work and it takes trust. At some point, dancers need to trust in their training and let themselves go. And that takes a lot of confidence in one’s self and in the process of learning to dance and performing. That sequence of events – work, trust, confidence – is one that takes a career to master. But it is so worth every minute of work for it. Because the outcome is sublime. It’s a performance like Vishneva’s last at ABT: one that lingers in the mind’s eye for days and weeks later.

 

Video: Tool or Weapon? You Decide.

Now that we’ve talked about the mirror, a tool that is often misused, I want to turn for a minute to video.

Most of us have seen ourselves on video at one point and may have been disappointed by what we saw. Often the reason for that is that what we see recorded is not what we felt when we were performing. Why is that? I’m not exactly sure, but I can tell you two things.

First, no video can capture the thrill of live performance. What you felt onstage is real and it’s yours to keep.

Second, no performing artists are happy with recordings of their work. Try asking musicians how they feel about the recording of their latest performance. They will point out all the errors. Same thing with actors and singers. So you are not alone in feeling that what happened on stage and what you can see in the video are not equal. That said, video can be a great tool for improvement, which is what I want to talk about.

Video as Weapon

Using video as a weapon is a dramatic way of saying that you use it to tear apart your dancing and/or yourself. Focusing all of your attention on what you don’t do well and feeling terrible about it, is truly a missed opportunity (not to mention a very bad habit to get into).

Video as Tool

Instead, think of video as a tool through which you can learn more about your dancing. Try this experiment.

  • First watch the recording and allow yourself to experience whatever emotions you feel.

It’s okay if you aren’t 100% happy with what you see. Take a little time away from the video if that’s the case, so that you can process those feelings. Take a whole day if you need it. Then take a deep breath, and…

  • Watch the video again, this time noticing what looks good.

Imagine you’re watching a close friend of yours and you want to compliment him/her on the video. (Go ahead. You’re the only one listening.) It’s important to train your eye to see both the positives and the negatives. Seeing only one or the other is not being realistic, and will make it hard to use the video as a tool for improvement.

  • Now, rewind and watch the video a third time with a notebook handy.

This time, focus on what you see without any judgment. Try not to criticize or compliment yourself while watching. Instead, pretend you are watching that close friend of yours again and you are taking notes to help this person improve. Use positive, constructive words to correct yourself, like “place arabesque behind you” rather than “arabesque is all wonky.”

  • Use your corrections on yourself when you practice.

Now that you know what needs work, start to apply it. Be kind to yourself, and remember that muscle memory is stronger than your brain, so it will take time to “reprogram” your muscles. Just stick with it, and try to get your muscles to comply.

  • Videotape yourself again doing the same piece/variation.

Some of the changes you make might feel simple, but remember that your muscle memory may revert to the old way out of habit.  It can be helpful to video yourself more than once to see if you are applying the corrections you spotted. Don’t worry if you aren’t and don’t beat yourself up about it. This process of seeing, correcting, and trying again is part of becoming a better performer and it requires patience.

If you can do this, if you can watch yourself on video, note your strengths as well as your weaknesses, take notes and then apply them to your dancing, then you will be using video in a smart, sophisticated way that will help you improve.

The hardest part of the entire exercise is not becoming completely negative while watching yourself, so please try to avoid that trap! I will address that issue in my next post so stay tuned…

If you try the experiment, let me know how it went! What did you notice or learn?

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall: Part II

So you have discovered that you use the mirror as a crutch. Now what do you do? Here are a few things to try: **

  • Change barre placement: stand where you can’t see yourself.
  • Change centre placement: stand in the back, or on the side where your full image is not visible.
  • Try doing normal, non-dance things without a mirror. If you practice yoga or go to the gym, don’t look in the mirror. Try to feel and sense things instead.

This will all feel weird. Don’t worry and don’t give up. You are highly adaptable and in a few days, it will feel normal. Think about how the first rehearsal on stage feels so strange, but then, within a few run-throughs, it starts to feel better.

My Story

It wasn’t until I got injured that I changed my relationship with the mirror. I learned that when I was forced to face the wall, I lost a lot of my turnout and placement. I also learned that my alignment when jumping was slightly off, which I couldn’t see very well during en face allegro. The physical therapist I worked with at the Boston Ballet helped re-orient me in the studio so that I was looking inside of myself for my alignment and balance, not in the mirror.

I started taking barre a few days a week without looking at myself. I learned to place myself in the centre off to the side, behind the piano, so that I would be forced to dance without seeing my image. It was hard!

At first it was so disorienting to not get the immediate feedback I was used to. I couldn’t see how good or bad things looked so I didn’t know what to work on. Instead, I had to focus on what it felt like in my body. And you know what? I adapted. My body and mind adapted. I learned how to look inside for my center and how to feel my technique. I didn’t have to see it to believe it.

This was an important lesson that I learned much too late.

Doing these little experiments can help you understand whether you base your feelings about yourself, your body or your dancing on what you SEE in the mirror or what you FEEL in your body. This is an important distinction, but most of us can’t feel it because we’re so distracted by what we see.

Try this out and then tell me: What did you learn? Did anything surprise you?

 

** NOTE: If you are like many dancers, you have a certain way of doing thing. You like “your spot” at the barre; you have a special way you like to stand so that you can see yourself just so. Which means, of course, that you may not want to experiment with standing somewhere else. But if you’ve noticed that you use the mirror as a crutch, then do try some of the experiments. I promise you, you will learn a lot about your dancing and discomfort is often the first sign of growth. Don’t be afraid to try something new!

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall: Part I

Mirror as Crutch

As dancers, we are trained to work in front of a mirror. For as many as eight hours a day, we scrutinize every inch of our bodies from our fingertips to our toes, searching for…what? Are we using the mirror to scrutinize our dancing or are we getting distracted?

I was taught that the mirror was a tool and that by looking, I would become more self-sufficient at spotting and correcting my errors of alignment, line, and technique. In fact, when I was training, I used my reflection constantly to correct myself and it was helpful.

However, at some point in my training, the power dynamic shifted and the mirror came out on top. When I couldn’t see my reflection, my technique suffered. When my image was blocked by another dancer, I didn’t feel my feet or my extensions in the same way. I became reliant on my reflection to dance well. It stopped being a tool and became a crutch.

How Does It Happen?

In my experience, this is something that happens to most dancers at some point.  We often have trouble feeling things like where an arabesque is (90 degrees? 110 degrees?) or whether our feet are pointing in petite allegro, so we look at our reflection to see what’s going on.

Find Out Where You Stand

If any of this sounds familiar, then try this little experiment over the summer. Start by asking yourself some questions:

  1. If I am having a good class- I’m on my leg, I feel centered and balanced- does that change if I stop looking in the mirror?
  2. Does my image of my body or technique get better or worse when I see myself?
  3. When I see my image in a distorted mirror (the so-called “fat” mirror), does this change how I feel about myself or my dancing?
  4. When my reflection is “taken away” or covered, do I panic? Do I lose my center and my bearings? If so, how long does it take for me to get re-oriented?
  5. How much time do I spend correcting errors vs. noticing other things about myself (hair, make-up, leotard, etc) or other dancers?

Your answers to these questions may indicate that it’s time to start thinking about how to change your relationship with the mirror. It will take some time, but will be well worth the effort. You’ll dance in a more organic way if your movement comes from what you feel in your body, rather than what you see with your eyes.

Answer the above questions and tell me what you’ve learned. I’d love to hear from you. Next time, we’ll talk about ways to start changing how you work with your own image.

Female Athlete Triad: know what it is!

The Female Athlete Triad is named for three health problems that are linked:

  • low energy availability
  • menstrual problems
  • weak bones

ENERGY AVAILABILITY

Energy availability refers to how much energy from food is available to your body after you have exercised. If you don’t eat enough, your energy availability will be very low after you dance- so low that other healthy functions like getting your period, repairing muscle tissue, and building bone won’t be able to happen.

Dancers, athletes, and other physical performers can also lose strength and muscle mass when the amount of food eaten is too low compared to the level of activity. Over time, this can cause you to feel more and more tired, get sick more often, and take longer to recover after injury.

MENSTRUAL PROBLEMS

When the body doesn’t get enough food and energy, its normal reproductive functions can be interrupted. Missing a period every once and awhile can be a sign that you aren’t getting enough calories in your diet. Missing three or more cycles in a row is a sign that your body isn’t happy. It means your body isn’t producing enough estrogen, a hormone that is necessary for menstruation and…building strong bones. (The term for this is amenorrhea.)

WEAK BONES

I’ll bet you didn’t know that your period was linked to bone health. (I certainly didn’t when I was dancing.) I also didn’t know that peak years for building bone start in puberty and end at age 20. This is such a small window to build strong bones!

In order to make the most of it, your body needs to have food and energy available; when your hormones communicate that not enough energy is available, your old bone cells don’t get replaced with new ones. Weak bones are susceptible to breaks and fractures, which keep you from performing and weaken your skeleton.

THE CONNECTION

So remember how these three things are connected: low energy from not eating enough food can cause your reproductive system to “shut down” and not produce a menstrual cycle; when this happens, the body isn’t producing enough estrogen which is needed to build and maintain strong bones. When your bones become compromised, you are at risk for developing stress fractures and early osteoporosis.

If you have even one of these three things: low energy availability/erratic eating habits, irregular periods, or stress fractures/reactions, you could be at risk for developing the Female Athlete Triad. And that means you could be at risk for getting injured.

If you have any one of these components of the Triad, talk to your parents and doctor right away. If they don’t know what the Triad is, print out this page and share it with them. Please don’t compromise all of your hard work and dreams for the future by ignoring the warning signs of the Triad!

HOW DIET FITS IN

All of this information serves as a reminder that eating a healthy diet is crucial to becoming a strong performer. We may think that we know what we’re doing when we play around with our diet in order to fit into a costume or feel ready for an audition, but your body does not go along with these practices. Your body knows what it needs to perform its best: it needs regular energy availability, which is a fancy way of saying FOOD.

If you don’t know what to eat, or feel that your eating habits are not good ones, email me  or talk to your parents or doctor. As a health coach, I help performers find ways to maximize their energy and keep their bodies healthy. You don’t have to do it alone.

Source: The Female Athlete Triad Coalition, femaleathletetriad.org

End-of-Year Meltdowns Got You Down?

It’s spring, so that means meltdowns and performances. (Haha.) Seriously though, it’s definitely performance time: most dance schools are having their end-of-year shows to showcase all the good work their dancers have accomplished over the year. So it’s a time of excitement but also nerves, often for teachers as much as students. Everyone wants to put their best foot forward (no pun intended), but the anticipation can stir emotions into a real frenzy.

If you’re still in the countdown to an end-of-year show and are either experiencing meltdown-inducing levels of stress yourself or dealing with them from your peers or teachers, here are some fun tips to keep you sane.

  • Perfection will not be achieved between today and the performance, so let go of that as a goal. How you’re rehearsing today is the best indicator of how the show will go, so start turning on your face muscles to get ready to glow onstage because…
  • Performances are the reason you work as hard as you do every day. They should be exhilarating, as well as fun. If you keep the focus on dancing your best and having fun, you’ll be happier.
  • If your teacher(s) is overly stressed, don’t take it personally; end-of-year shows are an evaluation of them as well as you, so they’re entitled to jitters. Remind yourself of that if those jitters become meltdowns: everyone is doing their best and some people cope better than others.
  • Be in control of yourself and only yourself. There’s no point in trying to fix everyone else’s problems because it won’t work. Turn your focus inwards to yourself: how can you be best prepared to perform well? Keep your focus there to feel less stressed.
  • Finally, mark the end of your school year with a celebration after the performance, however small. It’s important to mark the occasion with a dinner out or some other way to celebrate your accomplishments.

Don’t fall into the trap of letting stress overshadow your performance(s); learning to cope with pre-show jitters is a big part of becoming a happy performer. If you have tried all of the above and still can’t deal, email me. I can definitely help.

 

Centered vs. Uncentered: Where Are You?

Centered vs. Uncentered

Yoga and meditation practitioners say that the body is controlled by the mind and the mind, in turn, is controlled by the breath. When mind and body are in tune with each other through the breath, we can consider ourselves to be “centered.”

When the body is out of control and we can’t settle ourselves down, we would consider ourselves to be “not centered.” This can happen before or during an audition, when sweating and shaking can become uncontrollable.

It can also happen to the mind. Instead of thinking about how well you will perform, your mind is going through the list of everything you’ll probably mess up. In either of these uncentered situations, we don’t do our best work.

When we think about being centered, or achieving our center, we can go back to the first line of the post: the body is controlled by the mind, and the mind is controlled by the breath. This is where we want to be: in a calm body, with a calm mind, breathing easily.

So, are you centered?

If you are like a lot people, you are an energetic multi-tasker. You do five or six things at once, shifting from your smart phone to the computer, to the TV, homework, and rehearsal flawlessly. You might even be stretching while you do all of that.

Although a useful skill in many ways, multi-tasking is, by definition, not allowing the mind to focus on one thing. If the mind is unfocused, it can be difficult to feel centered.

In some ways, this state of hyper-activity makes us feel accomplished. We can get so much done in a single morning or day! But the question today is, do we feel centered enough to do our best work?

To find out, answer these questions:

  • When you want to focus on a single task, are you able to turn down the chatter in your mind and achieve total focus?
  • How long can you remain in that state before your mind starts to activate or wander to other things?
  • When you set a goal for yourself, can you accomplish it in the time you set aside for it?
  • How often do you get distracted in the middle or before it’s done?
  • Can you think of a time when you wanted to do good work, but your mind or body’s nervousness or anxiety got in the way?

The first step in getting centered is recognizing that you aren’t. Don’t worry if you’ve just realized that you are easily distracted – most people are! It’s actually very normal and natural.

Controlling our minds and bodies is a sophisticated skill that few people have mastered, mostly because they haven’t tried. Stay tuned to the next few posts where I will give you some tips to getting centered.

Healthy Body Workshop Take-Aways

A growth spurt can leave you feeling discombobulated. 

The School at Steps’ Healthy Body Workshop- take-aways continued…please see my previous post for the first part.

  • Physical Development

Among other things, Dr. Andrew Price, orthopedic surgeon, spoke to the challenges posed by a growth spurt.

Did you know that when you are going through a growth spurt your muscles are weaker and tighter than usual? It makes sense when you think about it because your bones are growing and the muscles are racing to keep up with the new length acquired. Usually, students find that they are suddenly very tight (especially in the hamstrings) and weak. It can be hard to lift your legs anywhere near your usual height. But don’t despair. This is all natural.

The take-away here is not to push yourself during a growth spurt.

Go easy on leg extensions and big jumps until your body is finished the spurt. Then focus on strengthening and stretching again. It’s best to talk to your doctor and your dance teacher if you think you are going through a growth spurt. They’ll help you navigate these new parameters so you don’t get injured.

  • Maintaining a Healthy Self-Image

Like many of you, I had followed the aftermath of a certain New York Times’ critic’s remarks about NYCB Principal Jenifer Ringer and her partner’s weight in December 2010. It was great to have her on the panel to speak to her own personal experience with staying healthy as a dancer, as well as dealing with the above-mentioned remarks.

The big take-aways were two.

  • First, that Jenifer, like a lot of young dancers, spent a number of years trying to make her body into something it wasn’t. She didn’t accept her body and spent years hating herself. Her story was about coming to terms with her body and learning to love herself, which included what she called her “womanly curves.”
  • The second take-away had to do with the New York Times critic’s comment. Ringer said that his comment was her worst nightmare come true. And yet, she felt fine. She was not devastated by it.

She attributed her ability to manage that comment to the years of work that she had already put in to accepting herself and loving herself as a healthy, womanly dancer. Her words were so positive, so affirming, and so important to hear. This level of self-awareness and acceptance of our bodies is something that we can all strive for as we learn to navigate the expectations of this training and art form.