Personal standards in dancers: how high is too high?

We live by the rules that we have created for ourselves. Sometimes, though, this is problematic. Why? Because our rules become prerequisites for accepting ourselves.

Dancers are notorious for setting very standards for themselves. Unrelenting, some might even say. It makes sense: they spend their days chasing perfection, running an impossible but alluring marathon.

The upsides of this are many. Determination, work ethic, drive, grit – we see these traits embedded in dancers, and are often the drivers of success in this world. Dancers aim high, push themselves, seek to be many different versions of ‘better’ every day. But the downside of this is the impact it has on self-acceptance, and self-worth.

Many people rate their ‘worthiness’ against how well they are doing at living up to their own standards. Fine – if the standards are achievable, flexible and account for a certain amount of human error. What about when the standards are so impossibly high that they are unreachable? Then it can be a problem.

Evaluating your self-worth based on how well you are meeting your own standards as a dancer can lead you down a perfectionist rabbit hole. If you’re not meeting your self-set standards, you are likely to feel sad, angry, let-down, ashamed and generally, pretty bad about yourself.

And the other complicating factor? Your standards no doubt include external or unchangeable things like your teacher/director’s opinion of you, your body shape, your physical traits like foot shape and turnout, and your artistic ability. Reaching for a level of perfection that is impossible to achieve is exhausting, and whittles away your ability to feel good about yourself.

So – a question then: are you aware of how much your standards impact your wellbeing? Of just how heavy the burden of living up to them is? Maybe you are, and it’s something you are trying to change. But if you’re not – do yourself a favour:

  • Reflect on the standards you hold to allow yourself to feel ‘good enough’.
  • Write them down.
  • Count them.
  • Now, find that number of heavy items from within your house – a book, a carton of milk, a heavy bag.
  • Read out to yourself your list of standards. Each time you say a new one, place a heavy item into your arms.

How does it feel like to hold those standards? Do they weigh you down? Do they make things easier or harder? What do they add to your life? You’re a dancer – high standards are important. But if you are selective and mindful about where you’re setting your standards, you may be able to lighten your load a little, and allow yourself some space to be – and feel – your best.

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