Should Dancers Stop Striving for "Balanced" Lives?

August 22, 2017

As a dancer, it’s easy to get completely obsessed. The only place you want to be? The studio or the stage. The only people you want to hang out with? Other dancers. The only things you want to do in your off-time? Dance more, stalk other dancers on Instagram or maybe cross-train to get stronger.

Of course, several people (including, ahem, Dance Magazine) will tell you that’s not exactly the healthiest approach. But Brad Stulberg, a well-known writer on health and human performance, wrote a fascinating piece in The New York Times yesterday arguing just the opposite: Maybe being unbalanced is the key to happiness after all.

Nathan Sayers

His arguments?

1. When you’re completely consumed by an activity that you’re excited by, whether it’s writing a book, researching a cure or dancing, you feel more fulfilled.

2. Trying to devote energy to other parts of your life can detract from fully experiencing what you’re most passionate about.

3. To reach the top of any field, you have to go “all-in” to a certain extent, which means saying no to other opportunities.

4. When you’re “in the zone,” the outside world melts away; you find a state of flow where you’re so immersed in what you’re doing that you lose track of time and any other commitments. And as Stulberg puts it, “compared to flow, balance seems, for lack of a better term, boring.”

Kyle Froman

The trick, of course, is to realize what you’re sacrificing when you channel all of your energy into dance. Missing out on your friends’ “Game of Thrones” party might be worth it if you’d rather spend a couple extra hours in the studio; missing your brother’s wedding may not be. Focusing narrowly on dance and only dance will make it that much harder to step away from the studio when you’re forced to retire; it could also limit your artistry if you don’t have enough real life experience to bring to the stage. And of course, overdoing it could lead to injury or burnout.

Stulberg’s advice? Pursue your passion fully, but constantly check in with yourself to evaluate the tradeoffs. Developing an internal self-awareness will help you make conscious decisions about how you spend your energy instead of simply losing yourself in your love of dance.