In a Slump? Here's How To Find Your Motivation Again
Let's face it: The demands of a dancing life are extraordinary, and sometimes we would just rather not.
“We all know those days where you have to wrench yourself out of bed and you're shuffling to the shower because you're so tired and it's about all the effort that you can muster," admits Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal dancer Alexandra Kochis.
There are times when the rehearsal process just feels stagnant, when class becomes mind-numbingly repetitive, when you simply can't psych yourself up to take Pilates class after yet another six-hour day of dancing.
Motivation can be a challenge for every performer, no matter how passionate they are. But competition in the dance world is far too intense to succumb to a slump. In order to achieve your goals, simply showing up to class isn't enough: You've got to give it your all once you get there.
So how do you get yourself out of a funk?
Are You Pushing Too Hard—Or Not Enough?
Notice how much effort you're putting into class. Photo by Quinn Wharton
It can help to acknowledge that you are in control of your effort. Dr. Alan Goldberg, a sports consultant and author of many books on mental toughness and peak performance, asks dancers to visualize a “Y" shape. The stem is your daily path which leads you to a “daily choice point" at the fork in the road.
“Every day when you train, your road forks many, many times," says Goldberg. To the left you find the simpler path—don't go to class, lower your leg to 45 degrees, take off your pointe shoes. To the right is much harder—take an extra class, beat your jumps, hold that balance for two counts longer.
What Goldberg suggests is not that there is a right decision and a wrong one, but that we are often not aware we are making the decision at all. Your dedication in class isn't all or nothing—maybe you can't muster a six-o-clock penchée but you fully commit to the cleanest grand jeté you can hit later in class.
“After class, ask yourself what road you spent more time on," suggests Goldberg. “Was it 90/10, 30/70, 50/50? With that awareness you're more inclined to make the right decisions."
To reach your full potential as a dancer, you have to be willing to choose the more difficult path most of the time. But part of maintaining motivation is cutting yourself the slack to pull back so that you can channel your energy to where it's most useful.
“When you're full speed ahead 24/7 and you go down the right road all the time," says Goldberg, “that can be just as destructive as hanging out in la-la land." Remember that sometimes the “right" decision is to sit out and ice your ankle.
Identify What's Different
Your mind might be telling you that you need a break. Photo by William Stitt/Unsplash
Sometimes, the issue may be more complicated than not wanting to put your tights on. Ask yourself if your lack of motivation is really about dancing. Is there stress at home? Are you in the right company environment?
“If it's starting to become a pattern, stop and ask yourself what's really going on," says Dr. Nadine Kaslow, psychologist for Atlanta Ballet. Often, there are multiple sources that contribute to a lack of interest in something you love as much as dance, and if you don't deal with those reasons, they'll just keep being there.
If you find yourself avoiding dancing full-out for weeks instead of days, your lack of motivation could be a warning sign of burnout. Trouble eating, difficulty sleeping or low self-esteem could even signal depression and the need to seek professional help.
“Sometimes your body and your mind are telling you that you need a little break," says Kaslow, “so give yourself permission to do that."
Don't Forget Your Goal
Remember what you're reaching toward. Photo by Rachel Papo for Pointe
Once you've ruled out more serious problems, the first step to reigniting your inner fire is tying your daily motivation to your larger career goals.
“You have to be asking yourself: How is what I'm doing right now going to help me get to my goal?" says Goldberg. “A lot of times when we're feeling unmotivated we're not thinking about that." He adds that the point of having goals isn't just about reaching them. “The purpose of a goal is to get you to make the right decision when you're getting pulled down the wrong road."
Get Inspired By Other Dancers
On the mornings that it's hardest to get into the studio, Kochis sometimes turns to YouTube. A video of Sylvie Guillem rehearsing Kitri helped motivate her during her own preparation for the role last season.
“I really love watching some of my favorite dancers in the morning and analyzing what makes them special and trying to incorporate that into my own dancing," she says.
Kochis will identify a specific quality in a dancer she's watching and then focus her attention to mimicking that in class that day. Create a playlist of your favorite dance videos, and seek out performances where you can discover new artists.
Try Something New
If class is feeling rote, do something different. Photo by Liza Voll
Kaslow suggests making simple tweaks to your habits in the studio. “Do something different in class," she advises. Stand in a different place, or splurge on a new leotard—research has shown that the clothes we wear can affect our attitude and performance.
Many dancers find taking a class in a different genre, or trying a new cross-training method helps them refresh. Or you can simply put on a favorite piece of music before rehearsal starts and move freely to it.
See the world beyond the studio from time to time. Photo by David Marcu/Unsplash
Don't forget to leave the studio. “Take a walk and feel the breeze," suggests Kochis. “Set aside time for yourself to experience something other than the studio." She likes to use her break to walk through the neighborhood to get a cup of coffee, and sometimes takes her day off to get out of the city for hiking, camping and kayaking.
“In Japan they have coined the term 'forest bathing,' " she says, “and that's exactly how I feel after getting away even for just one night—rested, cleansed and inspired."
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
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.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
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.
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Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.
Cloud & Victory gets dancers. The dancewear brand's social media drools over Roberto Bolle's abs, sets classical variations to Beyoncé and moans over Mondays and long adagios. And it all comes from the mind of founder Tan Li Min, the boss lady who takes on everything from designs to inventory to shipping orders.
Known simply (and affectionately) to the brand's 41K Instagram followers as Min, she's used her wry, winking sense of humor to give the Singapore-based C&V international cachet.
She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about building the brand, overcoming insecurity and using pizza as inspiration.
The Ballet Memphis New American Dance Residency, which welcomes selected choreographers for its inaugural iteration next week, goes a step beyond granting space, time and dancers for the development of new work.
This is huge news, so we'll get straight to it:
We now (finally!) know who'll be appearing onscreen alongside Ariana DeBose and the other previously announced leads in Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story, choreographed by Justin Peck. Unsurprisingly, the Sharks/Jets cast list includes some of the best dancers in the industry.
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
At six feet tall, Jesse Obremski dances as though he's investigating each movement for the first time. His quiet transitional moments are as astounding as his long lines, bounding jumps and seamless floorwork. Add in his versatility and work ethic, and it's clear why he's an invaluable asset to New York City choreographers. Currently a freelance artist with multiple contemporary groups, including Gibney Dance Company and Limón Dance Company, Obremski also choreographs for his recently formed troupe, Obremski/Works.
Last night at Parsons Dance's 2019 gala, the company celebrated one of our own: DanceMedia owner Frederic M. Seegal.
In a speech, artistic director David Parsons said that he wanted to honor Seegal for the way he devotes his energy to supporting premier art organizations, "making sure that the arts are part of who we are," he said.
It's a bit of an understatement to say that Bob Fosse was challenging to work with. He was irritable, inappropriate and often clashed with his collaborators in front of all his dancers. Fosse/Verdon, which premieres on FX tonight, doesn't sugarcoat any of this.
But for Sasha Hutchings, who danced in the first episode's rendition of "Big Spender," the mood on set was quite opposite from the one that Fosse created. Hutchings had already worked with choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, who she calls "a dancer's dream," director Tommy Kail and music director Alex Lacamoire as a original cast member in Hamilton, and she says the collaborators' calm energy made the experience a pleasant one for the dancers.
"Television can be really stressful," she says. "There's so many moving parts and everyone has to work in sync. With Tommy, Andy and Lac I never felt the stress of that as a performer."