Saturday, August 4, 2012

The correct way to compare yourself to others

Newbies are smart to observe others who are more experienced and to compare how an advanced dancer performs a combination to how they themselves are doing it.  When you don't know much, you need to watch dancers who know what they're doing. Careful observation and even mimicking will teach the muscles and brain what is correct and what isn't. As a teacher, I try to point out when someone is doing something the right way (or the way that I prefer) so that other students will learn how to recognize a correct step or line or phrasing. Hopefully a Newbie will aspire to be that student who has been held up as an example!

But once dancers have made some leaps and bounds and perhaps plateaued once or twice, comparisons tend to veer toward the simplistic "Who's a better dancer?" variety. This type of comparison is a hindrance to progress, especially for those students who come to ballet as adults. They consider solely the length of time they've been studying and then look at other students who may have been similarly trained and they think, "Why am I not as good as she is??

As an adult it's easy forget that things took time to learn. You didn't learn to read or write overnight.  You didn't learn to drive overnight. You didn't become CEO or manager overnight. Why on earth should you expect to be a ballerina overnight?

If you are a parent of two children, one of whom learned to ride a bike quite quickly while the other struggled with it, would you encourage the second child or discourage her?  Of course that isn't even a question!  You would tell your little girl to keep trying and eventually she will get it.  You would tell her that everyone progresses in their own time, at their own pace. And you would tell her that she can learn from her sister but not to compare herself to her.

You are no different! And I am here to encourage you, to tell you not to compare your own technique to that of someone who may have far more experience than you think, who may take more classes than you do on a regular basis, who may have a different lifestyle and job and stresses - and genetic gifts. You are an individual with your own talents, perhaps ones that you may not even realize.  You may have an amazing balance in your turns or fast feet in allegro or a performance quality that makes you shine on-stage.

So I just said that comparing yourself to others is nonsense; yet the title of this post suggests otherwise. What's the deal with that? There is a good way to compare:

As adults, we can glean a lot from watching others.  We are mature enough (hopefully!) to understand that a compliment to one person does not mean a negative comparison to others. If I tell a student she has performed a pirouette well, that takes nothing away from you. That does not mean you did not perform it well.  This is the mature part of the comparison.  You hear me tell a student I liked her epaulement in the adagio - then watch and learn! Don't tell yourself you must have done it poorly simply because I didn't acknowledge it.

I may have years of experience under my belt but I still learn from the observation of others - not to ask, "Is she better than me?  Do I dance as well as she does?" If I am drawn to watch a dancer in class, I want to know why.  What does she do well that I can learn from or, at the least, appreciate?  That is the sort of comparison you should make for yourself.  Not good vs. bad or right vs. wrong.  Ballet, like life, is not so simple.  Mature comparison to others will encourage you in a healthy way, rather than a competitive one.

Happy dancing~


Rachel V. Olivier said...

That's good for all sorts of things outside of dancing as well. Thank you!

Leigh Purtill said...

Rachel, I hadn't thought about it but you're right - I compare myself to other writers in the "wrong" way. Very unhealthy and an impediment to my own (personal) progress. Thanks for stopping by~

Abby Ventzke said...

Absolutely true, Leigh! I learn so much from watching other dancers. I try not to make too make comparisons though....highly discouraging, LOL!

Leigh Purtill said...

Exactly, Abby...everyone has a unique way of attacking a step or combination - we should look at each class as an opportunity to learn from others rather than a way to show off TO others.

Lorry said...

I love to watch better dancers and learn from them. I always listen to ALL corrections given in class and to compliments as well in order to apply what I can to my own work. But I have to admit that sometimes it is hard not to compare progress and have to remind myself that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. I find it to be much more helpful to make friends with my classmates, learn from each other and encourage each other rather than to engage in competition.

BalletLA said...

Lorry, you make a very good point about being friends with classmates - getting to know them helps you realize they too have their own problems, issues, weaknesses. I love seeing how much my students encourage each other!

Anonymous said...

thanks for posting.