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!