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Five Life Skills I Learned from Dance

One by one, 24 visions in white descended gracefully onto the stage. Each dancer slowly stretched into an arabesque, appearing identical to the ballerina that preceded her. The packed audience of the War Memorial Opera House erupted into applause as they performed the famous "Kingdom of the Shades" scene from La Bayadère in perfect unison.

Rewind a couple of weeks.

All at once, 24 sweaty and unkempt ballerinas hunched over in defeat. Some cried out in pain, others shook out their legs in attempt to soothe their cramping feet. I tried to catch my breath as I rested my hands on my knees, steering my thoughts away from the blisters starting to appear on my toes.

San Francisco Ballet dancers in La Bayadère. Photo by Erik Tomasson.

As an advanced student at the San Francisco Ballet School, I had been one of eight girls chosen to learn Natalia Makarova’s La Bayadère with the company. Little did I know, I was gaining much more than just “experience” in these high-stress company rehearsals. Getting from huffing and puffing to effortless arabesques took hours of hard work, but I was gaining a set of valuable tools that would guide me even after I left my ballet days behind. After trading tendus for college textbooks and landing a summer internship at Dance Magazine, I can attest that these tools were instrumental in finding success after dance. Here are five skills I gained from my dance training that will serve any dancer long after their final bows.

1. A knack for problem-solving

When I accidentally ran on eight counts too early in San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker, I had to fix the problem and I had to do it fast. With a quick mind (and enough adrenaline), a dancer can handle anything from an onstage tumble to a class presentation gone wrong. The show must go on, after all.

2. Teamwork mentality

What greater example of teamwork is there than a corps de ballet? Dancing in the corps required me to work with a group of diverse personalities. This makes me a valuable player in group projects in which, like the corps, nobody looks good unless everyone looks good.

3. A “thick skin” and perseverance

As difficult as it was for me to hear from a professor that I was unlikely to pass her class last semester, I took it as a chance to up my game, ultimately exceeding her expectations and earning an A in the course. Dancers know better than to take criticism or rejection personally. We recover gracefully, challenging ourselves to improve instead.

4. Unwavering dedication

Dance has taught me the value of keeping commitments. I often missed out on concerts and parties in favor of rehearsals; if I didn’t show up, I wouldn’t get cast. While attending class in college is considered "optional," in reality, the same rule applies: Skip a day? Forget about straight A's.

5. A sense of self-discipline

Dedication matters, but showing up is only half the equation. Discipline is a side effect of our training, as technique classes are dictated to us through a series of commands. Self-discipline, however, is the drive to perform these actions to the best of one’s ability 100 percent of the time. Dancers are hard workers and self-motivators, taking their tasks seriously in any context. Whether it’s nailing 32 fouettés or landing a dream internship, dancers have what it takes to achieve their goals.

 

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