Asking How to Get Better at Ballet (or anything) vs. Asking Why
When I’m not doing well at something in life or dance, I inevitably ask myself ‘why’. Why am I not getting this?, Why does everyone seem to get this but me? Or in ballet: Why can’t I get my leg higher?, Why do I always fall out of my pirouettes?, What is wrong with me? It feels so frustrating and self-defeating.
In a gym class the other day at Mark Fisher Fitness, Michael Littig, Fitness expert, encouraged us to instead ask ourselves ‘how’. We went around the room, each saying how we wanted to feel – accomplished, motivated, energized, successful, strong. Each of our desired outcomes could be ours, he said, if we asked ourselves how do I get there instead of why can’t I get there. Asking “why” keeps you stuck, spinning your wheels and not moving forward, while asking “how” allows you to see the possibilities, encourages you to problem solve, and allows your mind (and body) to start changing. I told a friend about ‘how vs. why’, and we applied the concept to an idea she had, and pretty soon we had talked out an exciting plan to make her idea a reality!
With this concept in mind, I decided to apply it to ballet. How can I get better at ballet? Let’s make it more manageable. How can I get 1% better at ballet? (We’re not talking ABT, just 1% better!)*
1. First it might help if I show up regularly to ballet class. I can work on that by looking ahead at my calendar, and blocking off the time. I can help myself stay on course by letting friends know I have a previous engagement at that time but I’d be available afterwards or on another night. I don’t have to tell them what the commitment is! Don’t feel bad for your friend, like that person is less important than ballet. No, you are doing this for you, and aren’t you just as important as your friend? Yes you are!
This also applies to work. If you had tickets to a show for which you already paid money, and your boss asked you to stay late, you’d say, “I won’t be able to stay late tonight, I have plans.” Why should ballet be any less important than Hamilton tickets? 🙂 You don’t have to explain your personal commitments.
2. Next I make sure I have something clean to wear and I pack my bag the night before so in the morning rush I don’t forget my shoes or pants or something.
3. During class, I stay present, and focused, continually bringing my mind back into the room and not worrying about work or something outside of class.
4. I listen to all of the corrections given in class, and apply them to myself even if they aren’t specifically given to me. Any correction in ballet class can potentially help, so I pay attention.
5. I scan my body during class. Is my head held high, extending the back of my neck? Is my chin parallel to the floor? Are my shoulders down and back and is my back wide? Are my elbows lefted and my fingers reaching out as if they had LED lights radiating from my fingertips? Is my tailbone lengthening toward the floor as my belly lifts in and up? Can I maintain this tall, wide, expanded posture with grace and without tension? Are my legs extending out and away from my body, are my feet reaching long with all the toes reaching and stretching long when I point my feet instead of scrunching up my toes?
6. I watch the other dancers in class. Everyone has their gifts and abilities, no matter what their level and watching the other dancers can allow me to learn more than if I only focus on myself. There is also some research that suggests watching others dance creates a kinesthetic response. It’s as if neurologically you are doing the movement when you watch others do a movement, particularly one with which you are familiar. Pretty cool!
7. Finally, after ballet class is over and while you’re still warm, commit to doing 5 minutes of simple stretching to take care of your body before changing your clothes.
8. What about homework? Dancers ask me this all the time. The thing is, you can’t cram for ballet class. If you overstretch, you risk injury. Ballet is something at which you will improve slowly over time. When you are first learning, it’s better not to practice at home anyway because you don’t want to practice it wrong. The good news is that means you don’t need to do anything extra! You went to class, so give yourself a hug. No guilt for today!
Keep asking yourself ‘how’. I’m going to see what other areas of my life I can improve using ‘how’. Until then, I’ll see you at the barre.
Looking for a ballet class? Come join mine! Tuesdays 7-8, and Saturdays 12-1:30. 380 Broadway, Buzzer #5, two blocks south of Canal street. Classes are only $10.
*Getting 1% better at anything is also a Mark Fisher Fitness ism.