Three steps to think ahead with confidence
Maintaining motivation and a long-term vision isn’t easy at the best of times; mid pandemic, it can feel almost impossible. Alice Aschwanden offers some guidance.
As a dancer, you get used to living with uncertainty as a constant companion. Will I get the exam grade I’m aiming for? Will I get injured? Will I get cast in my dream role? Will I make it at all? You can never be quite sure what your next months or years will have in store for you. While you do get used to this feeling of "what next?", you also need to learn to live alongside it in a healthy and accepting way. In this article, I’m going to talk about three key steps that can help you deal with the lingering questionmark over your future and gain the confidence to think past it.
Maintaining motivation and a long-term vision isn’t easy at the best of times; mid pandemic, it can feel almost impossible. COVID has shaken the dance industry in unprecedented ways, injecting even more uncertainty into dancers’ lives. Three years ago, we would have laughed at the idea of trying to do petit allegro or a warm-up routine in masks, and well – here we are. Many of the things we take for granted in the dance industry, including bodily contact and closed spaces, have now become threats to our wellbeing.
Similarly, maintaining confidence in your future is particularly hard at because the impacts of the pandemic have been so visible. Theatre closures, company suspensions and virtual classes are daily reminders that things are different right now. On top of that, you’re dealing with the frustration of a complete lack of certainty as to when and how things will return to a level of normality that allows the industry to function once more.
Despite this, dancers all over the world have been purchasing at-home barres, tarkett flooring and conditioning equipment as they power through in a show of superhuman determination. Another Zoom class, another cancelled show, another rescheduled exam, another cancelled audition.
However well you may be coping on the surface, this level of uncertainty does take a toll – physically, mentally and emotionally. As a dancer, this isn’t news to you. You’ve cried, felt dismayed, been angry and wondered when the end is in sight. But what else have you done? You’ve kept going, even if you’ve only had capacity for the occasional class, some at-home workouts or your daily walk.
The crucial thing to keep in mind right now is that the pandemic and resulting complications to your training don’t mean it’s time to hang up your shoes. It means you need to call upon some of your lesser-used skills as a dancer and lean on them hard: agility, fortitude, patience and courage.
Plan in small steps
In my work with dancers, I generally recommend thinking long-term as a strategy to maintain focus and block out distractions. This, however, is not so helpful at the moment - indeed, it often increases anxiety and shifts the focus from the task at hand.
What is helpful is thinking in small, tangible, achievable steps that are less reliant on the stability of the world around you. For example, identify one area of your technique that you want to improve and focus your physical and mental energy on that. Or, if you are in your higher years of training and will be graduating in the next one to two years, start to map out your CV profile – your written resume, your professional photos, your video content. Alternatively, put together a list of schools/companies you are interested in and do some research – director, style, geographical location, etc. The key here is that you are focusing on things that you can control, not what you can’t. And the bonus is that you are preparing early for a huge step in your life as a dancer – you will thank yourself later on!
Recognise the value of your training as a springboard to excellence – in any field
Dancers are incredibly multi-talented people. You don’t realise it now, but the skills you are working on every day in the studio or at home are skills that will carry you through your whole professional life – dancer or not. Many dancers who train extensively and then change paths as young adults feel a heavy sense of failure, like they have wasted their time and will need to start again. This is absolutely untrue. Dancers emerge from their training and careers with incredible levels of very desirable (and hireable) traits: determination, motivation, attention to detail, visual memory, resilience and conscientiousness. Dancing at a high level, whether professional or not, puts you in an excellent place to succeed beyond the studio. So take a step back, recognise the value in what you are becoming, and know that it is setting you up to succeed, whether inside or beyond the dance world.
Acknowledge - and actively think about – your future
Hiding from your future is the fastest way to stand still. One of the most important things young dancers need to do is to make friends with the discomfort that arises when you consider the future. Instead of thinking about it as one overwhelming box to open later, we can open the box and just take out one thing at a time. In doing this you can make it into a habit, and like anything you get used to, it will become less daunting. A short journal note listing your goals, some YouTube research into different parts of the world you may want to try living in, or a quick Google search of the back stories of some of your favourite dancers – these are all small yet powerful ways to start a conversation between your mind and your future.
While in many ways this pandemic is shaping us, one day it will be a story, a memory, a piece of history - and no matter where you are in 10 years, I guarantee you will look back upon your younger self with pride. And so you should.