Dance and Perfectionism

perfectionism danceStretch your knees, shoulders down, tail in, tummy in… oh that’s right it’s 2012… I mean lengthen both sides of the body equally… and now smile! I don’t know about you, but my experience of being a dancer and now a teacher has been a journey. Excuse the cliché, but I live in Byron Bay and maybe we use the word “Journey” too much. Actually I am personally sick of that ambiguous word which alludes to hardships coated in a deep profound yet positive (and again abstract) self discovery.
However, I will be more direct in my statement and boldly say that the life of a dancer is a journey of perfectionism. From a young age we are trained to master technique. Our teachers constantly remind us of our dance corrections to bodily imperfections. Their voices are permanently marked in our brains and echoed through time. I can still hear my teacher ….“Kate pull up your knobby knees!” My knees were the bane of my dance existence and the more experienced I became, the better I was at hiding my hereditary shameful knobs by extending my leg line.
In a way, we dancers are like magicians. We create an illusion of complete effortless, visual athletic beauty for our audience and yet behind the scenes our feet bleed and our bodies ache. However, our success depends on how much we transcend such pain and show godliness on the stage at all times, no matter what! We become conditioned to perfectionism in our craft and are praised for it professionally, but what can happen when perfectionism seeps into our other areas of our life?
Perfectionism has both positive and negative aspects. However, when we require our life to be “perfect” like the illusions we create on the stage, we can set ourselves up for inflexibility in our thinking. When an ideal outcome is not achieved we can change our perception, creatively respond and change our approach, alter our expectations or shift direction and adapt to the situation at hand which is a positive approach for both our mental health and well being. However, if we are inflexible in our thinking and perceive an intended outcome in a black and white fashion, then we can suffer mentally, physically and creatively when our ideals are not met. In some cases this can lead to depression, anxiety and other mentally and emotionally limiting states of experience.
Some examples of perfectionism out of control may include;

  • Expecting others to fulfill your every need and unmet ideals
  • Black and white thinking and using exclusive terms in your language such as; always, never, must, mustn’t, have to, have not
  • Separating your persona into one for the public display and one for your private life to extreme degrees
  • Being overly critical towards yourself and others

If you find that you fall into the category of seeking perfectionism in your day to day life to extreme levels that it affects your relationships and general well being, then seek out a health care professional. Alternatively one of our consultants may be able to assist with life balance tips.
5 Tips to ensure for a Healthy Mind for the Perfectionist

  • It’s not personal! Learning to separate your craft from who you are is healthy. You are not what you do. Therefore receiving feedback about your dance should be done in an objective fashion with the premise always being that YOU are not what you do. Learning some basic meditation and breathing exercises for relaxation and letting go will be a great help.
  • Accept people for who they are instead of what you wish they were (this does not mean accepting disrespectful behavior) understanding that everyone is different and that often we have to adapt to those differences if we want a relationship with them
  • Accept that not everything will happen overnight and your way. Create goals that are congruent to your values and be sure to include realistic time-frames. Goals that are created in too short a time frame can create unnecessary anxiety and even burnout.
  • Pat yourself on the back and write down all the positive achievements in your life so far. To you they may not seem brilliant, but believe me, they are! Perfectionists are much more critical of themselves, so we need to remember to enjoy the ride.
  • Take up a hobby or recreational exercise that is for enjoyment purposes only.

Enjoy your journey in dance and know that it is a journey that will unfold each step at a time.
Yours in dance
Kate Histon
Kate Histon is director of Byron Dance Dynamics (est. 2000), R.A.D classical coach, a consultant on performance development for dancers and teachers, including mental and emotional well-being, career development, and performance psychology.
This article is © Copyright to Kate Histon PTY LTD 2012 on behalf of Dance Life Australia. To copy or distribute any part of this article you must first seek permission by the author