Career Advice

Atlanta Ballet Dancer Alessa Rogers' Open Letter to The Dancer Who Hates Herself

Alessa Rogers as Juliette. Photo by Charlie McCullers

To The Dancer Who Hates Herself:

I see you. I know who you are. If you think you are hiding your self-loathing, you are deceiving only yourself. It is time to stop. Whatever baggage you are carrying around, whoever told you that you weren't worthy once upon a time or is still telling you that now—let those voices go.

You're not alone in this. On bad days when you look in the mirror and feel insecure and invisible and not enough, remember that other dancers have those days, too.

It's so easy to criticize one's self. Be braver than that. Be brave enough to love yourself. Tiny acts of forgiveness will add up to something beautiful and redemptive. If you don't know how to start, start the way you would start falling in love with anyone: slowly and patiently, with curiosity and infinite tenderness.


Don't be seduced by the feeling that berating yourself makes you a better artist. I know you are trying to protect yourself by saying self-judgmental things so that it won't sting if others do. But putting yourself down will not endear you to the people in the front of the studio. Habitual self-criticism is limiting and distracting and unproductive. It keeps you mired in small thinking.

Habitual self-criticism is unproductive. Photo by Matthew Murphy for Pointe

Be mindful of the feelings you choose to cling to. A well-rounded artist who experiences the full spectrum of emotions and transforms them into dance is going to give deeper performances than the one who chooses only to suffer. Yes, feel all your valid varied and true feelings. But don't give greater weight to the bad ones. Happiness is a choice and a practice. The struggling artist trope may seem alluring but it is ultimately a mask that gets in the way of the work. You can make art with joy, too.

Don't define yourself by what you can't do. Yes, work on your weaknesses, but work on your strengths more. Whatever is special about you, grab hold of that thing and own it.

Shine your shine.

Try adopting the aura of confidence that certain special dancers have. Imagine how you think they feel at their best, form a soul memory of that feeling. What people see is what you project, so project who you want to be.

Adopt an aura of confidence: The Bolshoi's Maria Vinogradova, photographed by Quinn Wharton.

And if people want to love you, let them love you! Take that compliment and run and don't look back. Accept that love into your entire being and let that crack in you heal a little bit.

How you should be, want to be, could be—these are illusions and it is not fulfilling to dwell on them. Get out of your head and into your body. Work so hard you don't have time to judge yourself. Do your best then let it go, and don't attach labels to the outcome.

Dance is only ever a process. A big opening night, an injury, a failed audition—these are but moments. You will never fully understand the trajectory of your career until you view it from afar, years down the road, and realize everything was falling into place, maybe not how you expected, but exactly as it beautifully, imperfectly should.

Work so hard you don't have time to judge yourself. Photo by Quinn Wharton

Progress can be achingly slow. But trust me, one day you'll look back on the years of struggle that felt hopeless. The months that you never saw improvement. Improvement is a shadowy friend: You can never see it right in front of your face, it's only looking back that you realize it was there all along.

There won't be a day when we won't let ourselves down in some tiny or profound way. But you have to love and forgive yourself anyway, even when you are all scraped knees and stumbles, messy hair and missed rehearsals. There is nothing shameful about showing up and being vulnerable and falling on your face. Shame is in closing yourself up and trying to be perfect when all you can ever be is you.

You'll never have a different body, or different training, or get to take back the choices you've already made. Your work is to love this fleeting, glorious career fiercely, to value your place in it and cherish the body that lets you do it. There is no one to prove anything to unless you can be content in your own skin.

Here's what I think. Your self-hatred is just an excuse to not be as bright as you are. But you are better than the fear you have grown used to. Loving yourself takes guts. It is revolutionary. It is worth it.

Let yourself shine.

The Conversation
News

Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.

The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.

As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:

Keep reading... Show less
Hive by Boston Conservatory student Alyssa Markowitz. Photo by Jim Coleman

The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Lorenzo Di Cristina/Unsplash

When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.

The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."

Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Quinn Wharton

What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.

So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by McCallum Theatre
Last year's winner: Manuel Vignoulle's EARTH. Jack Hartin Photography, Courtesy McCallum Theatre

It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.

Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance History
Still of Fonteyn from the 1972 film I Am a Dancer. Photo courtesy DM Archives

On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance As Activism
Courtesy #Dance4OurLives

Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.

When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.

The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.

Keep reading... Show less
Rant & Rave

A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.

I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.

There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.

While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?

Keep reading... Show less
What Dancers Eat
Getty Images

Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.

"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.

The key is choosing your loaf wisely.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending

It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.

We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance in Pop Culture
Unity Phelan in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Photo by Niko Tavernise, Courtesy FRANK PR

"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.

News
Walsh's Moon Fate Sin at Danspace Project. Like Fame Notions, the title was derived from Yvonne Rainer's "No" manifesto. Photo by Ian Douglas, Courtesy Danspace Project

The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Career Advice
Via YouTube

What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.

The heart of his message: Be generous.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox