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Mindset And Ballet Training

first published in March 2020

You may have listened to the Business Talk Radio interview I was invited to give last week. If you missed it, I put the link at the end of this blog. Apart from my background and the background of Holistic Ballet, I also spoke about the importance of the right mindset in ballet training.I said that ballet tends to attract people who may be perfectionists who put themselves under the wrong pressure and tension that prevent them from progressing and achieving their goals. This may not resonate with all but certainly, with some of you and of course, I am also talking from my own experience. 

Franziska Rosenzweig teaches her Holistic Ballet class to Adult Ballet Dancers
Franziska teaches passé to adult ballet students


Ballet Is Unforgiving

We all know that ballet is unforgiving as its precise technique and aesthetic do not leave much room for individualism and the complexities of ballet movements require superior concentration and control. It comes as no surprise then that this, in combination with the traits of a person who is highly ambitious, can tense up, get anxious, and be frustrated at his or her inability to master the steps. I discussed this in my blog from May 2015 Adult Ballet: How Serious Do You Take Ballet It? 

If the above description fits you, maybe not always but often enough, it is important that you:  

1) are consciously aware that this is happening,

2) remind yourself to stay calm, 

3) allow yourself to make mistakes and be less than perfect.

How Can We Do Better In Ballet?

Let's look at these three points in more detail and what we can do about them.

1) Becoming aware when your thinking gets into overdrive. It may be in specific circumstances, e.g. travelling sequences, pirouettes, or too many people.

There is always a beginning, a middle, and an end to each situation. So try to catch yourself when you feel your thoughts and emotions are beginning to take the better of you, for example when they change from enjoyment to nervousness. 

Take a step back and watch your inner voice making comments. Listen to this negative self-talk. By becoming aware of it, you can bring it from running on autopilot in the background, where it has control over you, to the foreground, where you can have control over it.

You may not be able to switch the voice off completely but you can lower the volume. Then try to notice another voice. A voice that may come from a kinder place. It could be your own voice, an imagined one, an encouraging teacher's or a friend's voice. It has always been there but you could never hear it because of the noise of its negative counterpart.

Should this sound a bit cuckoo to you, just move on to the next point.

2) If the above does not help you calm down, practise breathing. Unfortunately, ballet requires short and shallow breaths, a breathing pattern also associated with anxiety, stress, and panic attacks. So, whenever possible, take slow and deep breaths during the class. 

When we are anxious, we are in our heads and not in our bodies. You often hear me say to connect to your feet and your feet to the floor. This will instantly ground you, slow down your thought loops, and you will feel safer moving across the floor.

3) Because you are human, you will make mistakes. There is nothing wrong with aiming high. In fact, setting goals for each class, each month, and each year can be really helpful, but it's important not to be too attached to the results.

Progress is not linear. What matters is the journey, as this is where you learn and where you build your strengths, physically and mentally. Patience, Practise, Perseverance!

Adult Ballet Class with Holistic Ballet
adult ballet dancers practising the 5th position of the arms


A Mindset Of Treat Yourself Like You Would Treat Others

Imagine how you would treat a frightened child, kitten, or puppy. You would likely show compassion and employ soothing tactics. Be as kind to yourself during pirouettes, or when starting the centre combination on the left side. Being harsh, forceful, or unforgiving, will not bring the desired results. 

Being kind to yourself does not mean that you are lazy or undetermined, but rather that you give yourself a chance to attempt challenges with a calm and clear mind. To quote Joseph E. LeDoux, an American neuroscientist, 'Strong emotions make us stupid.

There are many more tools for dealing with stress and mindset in ballet class or life in general and I hope these three simple techniques are already useful. 

It would be a shame to lessen the benefits, that I know you do get from ballet training because of unhelpful patterns. If you would like to learn more about how to work with your mind to improve aspects of your ballet training or other areas in your life, please do contact me for a chat.

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