Success: Defining it in Dance

Published on 20/12/2017

With the dance year drawing to a close writer Nina Levy explores the true meaning of success and what you need to reflect upon from your dance year. Nina also speaks to some of the 2017 Bloch Artistes and finds out what it means to them in this thought-provoking piece every dancer needs to read. 



What is success in dance?
Exams, competitions and eisteddfods, auditions for roles, schools and companies… as dancers we tend to think about success in terms of achieving tangible goals and we’re trained to think this way from an early age.
These achievements do measure success but only to a certain extent. For one thing, they’re subjective and opinion-based. For another, they’re about a relatively brief moment, and not about the hours spent in the studio over weeks, days, months, years. There is so much more that goes into an exam, competition or audition than the examiner, adjudicator or panel sees and that has to count for something too, right?

But if success isn’t about the end result, then what is it about?
Think back to my “Nurture” blog post. Remember performance psychologist Dr Shona Erskine referring to the importance of focusing on process rather than product as a means of managing dancers’ mental health? Process plays a huge role in determining a dancer’s success too.
That’s not to say that goals aren’t important in order to succeed as a dancer, says Erskine. They are – but it’s about prioritising the right type of goal. “Those tangible goals – exams, competitions, auditions – they’re actually the least important. Performance psychologists talk about different types of goals: process goals, performance goals and outcome goals; and that’s their order of importance.”

  • Process goals

“Process goals are the most important because without them you wouldn’t get better,” Erskine explains. Process goals are things like: make it to training five times a week; make sure my meals are all nutritionally high content; make sure I do my rest and recovery. They are most important because without those you can’t reach your performance goals.”

  • Performance goals

The next most important goals are the performance-based goals, says Erskine. As the name suggests, these are related to improving physical capabilities such as strength and flexibility. “Performance goals are things like: increasing flexibility so that I can do splits; for young men, being able to bench press x number of kilos in preparation for pas de deux. So those are the performance goals – they’re things you can tick off the list.”

  • Outcome goals

“It’s the outcome goals that, unfortunately, we focus on in dance all the time, which is to win that competition or to pass that exam, that type of thing. They’re not that important… but they’re the sexiest,“ she laughs, “because you get the most attention for them. But in terms of you wanting to be really great, the process goals are the most important, and then your performance goals and then your outcome goals.”



It’s no coincidence, then, that when I asked some of the young Bloch artistes to talk about what success means to them, every one of them referred back to the studio, to daily class, to incremental achievements.

Joshua Jack Price (15) Training at San Francisco Ballet School

The essence of success is entirely dependent on how you approach your work mentally. For me, I base success on the smaller and more personal moments in the classroom, when you realise your hard work has helped you achieve something or overcome a hard combination you have been trying to perfect. It is when you jump a little higher, turn a little easier and move with more control than yesterday. Winning a competition doesn’t make you more successful than someone else – it’s more about the personal breakthroughs that occur during the process that build your success as a dancer.

 

Kenzie Andrews (9) Training at Annette Rosselli Dance Academy and Claudia Dean Coaching

For me being successful as a dancer means achieving my personal goals without comparing myself to anyone else. I am always trying to be a better version of myself by working harder than the day before. Sometimes this means I will achieve more and do better, sometimes it means I've worked harder than I've ever worked but achieved less. Often when I'm on stage I will come to a point in my routine that I have really struggled with and will totally nail my steps, and that's success for me. I feel so amazing that I usually can't even remember the rest of the routine.

 

Tyla Steinbach (16) Training at San Francisco Ballet School

Success to me means that I feel happy with myself and with what I have done, whether that be something big or little. At times success is felt at a certain moment such as achieving a placing at a certain competition or being accepted into a prestigious school. However, I do think success can mean something much bigger than that. It can be a certain feeling that is felt deep inside the body. I’m sure many dancers can agree that there are certain times when you step onto stage and everything falls into place, you feel relaxed, in control and there is a connection felt with the audience.  To me this is the biggest success as it is something that isn’t felt often but when it is felt it means that all the hard work and many hours in the studio have paid off.

 

Mimi Swinton (16) Training at Elmhurst Ballet School

For me success is joy, a feeling of achievement within myself, a deep feeling of self-pride. It can also be a moment of acknowledgement and appreciation by someone else – when I feel I have inspired others through my dance, I feel joy, a feeling that l have passed something on. My personal success is when I focus on what I put my mind to and not worry what others think and I’m truly myself. As a dancer it’s easy to feel compared to and judged, so learning to be myself and believing in myself is the most powerful lesson for me.

 

- by Nina Levy, Co-editor of Dance Australia

  • Success: Defining it in Dance