Feeling Rejected? Adopt a Mantra

I know you have been in a situation where you wanted something to happen and it didn’t. Maybe it was an audition for a summer program, or a role you really wanted, or getting into certain school. You practiced, you did your best, but you weren’t accepted. This happens to a lot of dance students. It happened to me a lot even as a professional.

Rejection can’t be avoided, but the important question is how do we deal with it?

There are a number of strategies to deal with rejection. Recently I found a new one that has been very helpful to me. It came from one of my teachers. She suggested that I adopt a positive mantra.

A positive mantra is a short phrase that you can say to yourself when you start to think negative thoughts about yourself or your abilities. Negative talk in your mind leads to all sorts of problems.  Briefly said, what you think is what you do. (See associated post for more.)

Remember, the mind is powerful. As an artist, it is crucial to stay positive. So, instead of going to a negative place, find a positive saying that speaks to you and make it your mantra.

Choosing a Mantra

In my case, my teacher’s words became my mantra. “There’s no rejection, there’s only selection.”

I like this mantra because it replaced rejection with selection. Just because we aren’t right for every role we’d like or for every school we select, that doesn’t mean that we’ve been rejected. It just means we haven’t been selected for that particular thing. And although that disappointment can be painful, other better opportunities will come along. They always do. So that mantra speaks to me.

Mantra for Stress Reduction

We can use mantras to calm our minds in times of stress, like during an audition or before a performance. Having a positive thought to focus on keeps us from getting distracted by fear or self-doubt.

Repeating it while practicing mindful breathing can also calm nerves. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, and out through your mouth while saying your mantra. The one I’ve started using lately is, “You’ve got this.”

Your mantra should be

  • Short
  • Positive
  • Make you feel better emotionally
  • Set your mind at ease

Does this post give you any ideas? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.

What We Can Learn From Black Swan

The Horror!

The other weekend, in time for Halloween, I finally watched Black Swan. I know, I know, but I had put it off for so long because it had such mixed reviews. Also, I generally don’t care for movies that portray dance and dancers as monsters or crazies.

Well, I was happy to discover that this was not a movie about ballet, but instead about one woman’s descent into madness. I have to say it wasn’t a very good movie, even when seen in that light.

That said there were some things that I thought were interesting and that aspiring dancers could learn from the movie.

Perfection, mistakes, resilience

Right from the start, the protagonist, Nina, states that she wants to be perfect. As a former professional dancer, I understood exactly what she was getting at.

Our teachers and coaches tell us that perfection is what we are aiming for, and the art form almost demands it. So it is no surprise that dancers in general, tend to be perfectionists. They are highly attuned to the mistakes that make them less than perfect.

This isn’t because dancers are crazy, but because this is what we have be trained to strive for. And we aren’t the only ones. Musicians, opera singers, and Olympic athletes are all trained to not make mistakes, and to perform as close to perfection as possible.

But that is not the only thing they are trained to do. Performance is about more than perfection. When we get hung up on it, perfection can get in the way rather than helping us achieve our goals.

The main problem with holding onto this idea of perfection is that it is unattainable. We will make mistakes. It is inevitable.

And, as Tomas (the Artistic Director) said in Black Swan, it is even desirable, because imperfection is what makes a performance exciting, and a dancer alive and human.

What we ought to be focused on, instead, is how we recover from mistakes. This is a truly useful skill and one that we will have the opportunity to use over and over again.

The incredible power of the mind

A teacher of mine once said that if you don’t use your mind, it will use you. That is exactly what we saw happen in Black Swan to Nina: she was not in control of her mind and it got the better of her.

It is terrifying to imagine losing control to such a degree that we cannot distinguish fact from fiction and reality from imagination. When we are performing, it is so important not to let our minds take over and unsettle or derail us.

Strategies Nina Could Have Used

While Nina’s devolution into madness made for a dramatic movie, it’s far from the goal that we want to set for ourselves. Instead, let’s strategize about how we will recover from our mistakes, both in the studio and onstage. To get started, let’s ask ourselves a few questions:

  • What is your current habit when you make a mistake in class or onstage?
  • How do you usually respond?
  • What are your thoughts following a mistake?
  • What are your feelings following a mistake?
  • How does your body feel?
  • Do you tense up, and if so, where?

Taking the time to notice these things is the first step to fixing any bad habits you may have. If for instance, every time you start to fall out of something, you let it go and stop dancing, then that is likely to be what you’ll do onstage or in an audition.

Or if you tend to replay your mistake over and over again in your mind, your concentration is bound to be disrupted.

Take some time to think about these questions, and perhaps over the next week or month, write down the answers. Having a few weeks worth of information will help you spot patterns of thought and behavior.

The next step will be building a strategy to better handle our inevitable mistakes…stay tuned!

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.

Healthy Body Workshop at STEPS

On April 9, 2011, the School at Steps (SAS) in New York City held a  “Healthy Body Workshop” for their students and the public. A number of professionals in the wellness world in NYC spoke on topics ranging from “occupational hazards” (Dr. Linda Hamilton) to yoga and meditation for dancers (TaraMarie Perri).

New York City Ballet principal Jenifer Ringer was also there to speak to her own experiences with staying healthy both physically and mentally. It was a wonderful event and one that all dancers, students and professionals would have benefitted from attending.

Take-Aways

Here are some of the take-aways for those of you who couldn’t be there.

  • Alternative/Supplementary Training: Yoga and Meditation

TaraMarie Perri, dancer, yoga instructor, and founder of Mind Body Dancer, spoke about taking the things we already do well as dancers one step further, like body awareness. She engaged us in a breathing and body scan exercise to allow the mind and body to check in with each other and take stock of emotions as well as tensions. Once you are comfortable with the practice, it only takes a few minutes and is a great way to start your day, getting your mind and body in harmony.

Taking up a meditative practice like yoga can bring important things to your dancing that aren’t usually focused on in dance training. Mindful breathing, a sense of calm, and a mind-body awareness will enhance your connection to your artistry as well as your technique.

It can take time to become comfortable with a new form of movement, so don’t give up if it feels strange at first. Let your body and mind get used to thinking and working in a new way.

  • Occupational Stress Management in Dance

Dr. Linda Hamilton, clinical psychologist, spoke about a number of physical and emotional stresses common to dancers and how to manage them. The main idea was that dance training can be stressful and no one expects young dancers to just “deal with it.”

From the quest for perfection to the physical strain on your bodies, there are therapies, coping strategies, and techniques to put your health and well-being at the center of your experience. One good one I like is reframing any negative talk you have in your head in a positive way. You’d be surprised how much it changes the outcomes in the studio, not to mention your quality of life.

Another good take-away here was that 70% of injuries occur after 5 hours of dancing. As dancers, we are often trained to think that more is better, but this not true when it comes to physical activity. Repetition causes fatigue and fatigue causes injury.

Try not to get stuck in this negative cycle. Instead, try alternative forms of exercise that work other parts of your body and mind (like yoga!). This statistic is also good to keep in mind as we move into summer intensive season. We want to work smarter, not more.

Tune in to the next post to hear the take-aways from Dr. Price, an orthopedic surgeon who works with dancers, and NYCB principal ballerina, Jenifer Ringer.

Photo credit: OzRock79