How to hold onto a positive mindset when your hard work is being cancelled out by toxic people around you…

We’ve all been there. Right? Right.

Up until recently, with the pandemic, your mindset has been your own business, because, well, everything was your own business: you were in your lounge room and the only group dynamic you were dealing with is maybe sibling drama or people who drink from the milk carton.

Normally, though, your mindset is something that operates next to other people: managing your identity as part of a group is an often neglected part of the psychological challenge of being a dancer.

“You might be really on top of things, or taking conscious steps to keep yourself emotionally and mentally ok, but there will always be others around you who are, well – not”

Toxic people and toxic behaviour ensues, and it can be made all the worse by the pressure and competition that is innate in the ballet world. While some days you might feel frustrated, angry, and upset that other people’s problems are filling up your already-overloaded brain, there are some more restful, and more effective ways to deal with other people’s toxic behaviour.

Here are some ideas to help you break down this into actionable steps and avoid the unnecessary drama:

  • Try to see your teachers, coaches and directors as resources from whom you learn, rather than as people you need to impress. This orientation takes the focus off your interpersonal relationship and allows you to focus on the learning itself. If you’re not worrying about what your teacher thinks of you, you can follow the content of their suggestions with a clearer head. (Ironically, too, you’ll most likely end up impressing them more that way).
  • Ballet communities (schools and companies) can feel claustrophobic. You’re there every day, and your fellow dancers are the people who see you putting yourself on the line and making yourself vulnerable while trying to perfect your art. It can feel like that room is the whole world.  Bear in mind, though, that ballet is a world made up of stages that are passed through, lived once and then left. It can be useful to really focus on the fact that you won’t be there forever, and when you’re in the next school, city, or job, this room will feel very far away. This also applies to the person in the room who is competitive or difficult — it seems impossible, but future you knows that soon you’re going to forget their name.
  • The usual interpersonal warnings about social media apply to the ballet world particularly powerfully. If you (and we are ALL guilty of this) use it in a way that lead to comparison and judgmental self-definition, be conscious of this and tread with care. The gap between filters and reality definitely applies to ballet, arguably more that to any other industry. Just as nobody’s makeup is like that in real life, so too are nobody’s extensions like that in the flesh (unless you’re on Misty Copeland’s stories, in which case, sigh away.)

“You will come out stronger if you use social media as a place to affirm and inspire, to dream and gain helpful inspiration”

Like always, it comes down to learning to do, and think, in a way that is ultimately helpful for you: your health (physical and mental) and your quest to be the best dancer you can be. ‘Self-care’ gets a bad reputation sometimes (and for good reason), but we have to keep in mind that one of the sites of self-care is the space where the self meets the other. Tend to that space with care.