Motivation is one of the key factors to progressing in ballet. When you're not motivated, it can make all the difference in how you perform in class and on stage. Motivation is one of many things that dancers seem to struggle with. So how do we manage to get over these motivational "slumps,” as we call them? The answer is in finding what personally inspires you and makes your desire to dance intrinsic. You have to find your personal way for bridging the gap between lack of drive and full-fledged ambition.
Every day in class you must contemplate your choices and acknowledge that you are in control of your effort. When you train, there's an easier path and a harder path. The easier path involves a mindset of: lowering your leg to 45 degrees, avoiding putting on your pointe shoes as much as possible, or skipping class altogether. Whereas the harder path involves a mindset of: trying to jump higher, doing as many exercises at barre on relevé or taking as many extra classes as possible. To reach your full potential as a dancer, you have to be willing to choose the harder path most of the time, but part of motivation is knowing when, and where, to hold back so that you can channel your energy to where it's most useful. Elsewise, you'll beat yourself down to a pulp over the course of a couple of days.
Going about dance as a game of goal-setting and goal-reaching is another good way of looking at it. Rather than perceiving what you can't do as a failure, perceive it a challenge that you will, in time, overcome.
Another good way of revving up your motivation is watching videos of your favorite dancers on YouTube whenever you get the chance, but especially before class. Analyze them and figure out what it is about them that sets them apart and makes them stand out to you. Try to incorporate that into your own dancing. A piece of advice a teacher gave me over the summer was that whenever you're tired or feel that you've hit a rut, close your eyes and envision how your favorite dancer would execute whatever combination or variation you are doing. Trust me: it definitely elevates your dancing. It's also important to remember that it's not the end of the world if you fall out of a turn or mess up a combination. Every combination is a new combination, so if a previous combination didn't go well, that's okay. What happened in a previous combination doesn't determine how the rest of class will go, only you can. Staying positive is a huge factor. I always like to say that dance is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical.
It's also important to try and find time for yourself doing the things that you enjoy, which can be difficult when you're busy. But if you can find time to take a break from everything hectic and just relax for a little while, you'll find that even simple things, like going outdoors or taking a warm bath, can do wonders at leaving you feeling rejuvenated.
I also know that staying motivated, focused, and positive is easier said than done, especially during the school year. There are many days where I'm so sore that I feel like I couldn't do a tendu if I tried, or I'm too distracted during class by things irrelevant to dance and don't perform to my fullest capabilities. But every time you push through days like these, it will help make the next days like them a little easier.
What all this really boils down to is that you have to do this for you. Whatever your end goal is with dance, it needs to be coming from you internally and not from anyone or anything else. It's too hard, and it takes too much effort and time, if you're truly not enjoying it. There are plenty of ways to draw inspiration to aid in your motivation, but if this is what you love doing for the time being, or possibly for a career, the strongest sense of motivation will most likely come from within yourself.
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Photography Credits: Richard Calmes, David Robertson Jr.
Videographer Credits: Charles Sanford, Jared Johnson