Traits of Successful Ballet Dancers

From the most celebrated dancer at your studio, to the ballerina on the cover of your favorite dance magazine, most successful dancers share some key traits. Whether you’re a young dancer looking to emulate your role model or a partner trying to be the best cavalier you can, read up on these traits to get the most out of your training (and career!)

Keep in mind that while certain personality traits can help dancers become successful, other factors come into play as well. Rest assured that while the right mentality may not make you principal at New York City Ballet, it can make you principal at your studio.

1. Ambition

While it seems as though all dancers are perfectionists in some way or another, there is a certain unspeakable drive in successful dancers. This ambition — whether it is to get the lead role in a studio’s show or a spot in a great company — is what motivates a dancer.

Even if you’re dancing only on a recreational level, think about your goals. What do you dream of doing with ballet? Is there a specific role you want to dance, or a place you want to perform? Never sell yourself short! If you want to do something, write it down and make it happen. Having a clearly defined goal will motivate you to work toward it, opposed to practicing aimlessly with no payoff in mind.

2. Work Ethic

Where ambition and goals will motivate you, a strong work ethic will get you to the end result.

Ask any successful dancer what his or her “secret” is, and most will simply say something along the lines of, “Hard work!” The bottom line is that no matter how motivated you are mentally, physically applying that motivation is what will get you where you want to be. Millions of girls want to go pro in the ballet world; only hundreds have the work ethic to get there.

Once you have defined your goal, write it down. Then write the steps you intend to take to get there. Want to do 32 fouettés en pointe? Write it down. Then write down the strengthening exercises you’ll do nightly to stabilize your ankles, the extra pointe class you’ll take per week, and the stretches you need to do to open up your shoulders.

Always keep in mind that goals are attainable through you. Hard work is what will allow you to achieve your goal, and no one else can do that for you.

Hot Tip: Teacher Talk

Don’t be shy when it comes to discussing goals with your teacher. You may get some great advice and exercises from a simple conversation — tips that can take you from aspiration to accomplishment.

3. Self Awareness

Most dancers are excessively in tune with their mind and body. This means knowing when you’re injured, what muscles need stretching, and what/when to eat. This self awareness reaches a new level in successful dancers.

Take, for example, a principal ballerina in your favorite company. While she surely takes company class every day, constantly stretches, and rehearses until midnight… she also knows when to push harder and when to stop.

If you want to be successful in dancing, you have to know your sweet spot is in terms of mind and body. This means pushing yourself harder and harder until you’re challenged. It also means resting enough to prevent both injury and mental fatigue. While taking twelve classes a day looks great on paper, you need to listen to your body when it says, “Slow down!”

A dancer who is mentally and/or physically exhausted will not perform at her best level, and is more prone to injuries and losing her love of dance.

4. Knowledge Seeking

Though you may learn a whole lot about the ballet world just from going to class and listening to your teacher talk, dancers who are successful almost always seek knowledge on their own. This can mean the internet (like what you’re doing right now), books, DVDs, or merely talking with a dancer outside of class.

Never stop seeking out new sources of knowledge on your art. If you love it, you should learn everything about it you can. Make yourself a dancer in not just body, but mind as well. Read up on famous dancers, watch obscure ballets, and sit at the library checking out interviews with dancers of the past. All of these activities mean absorbing the history and progression of ballet. If you understand from where the art came, you’ll have a much easier time understanding where you want to go with it.

Mental Edge: Experiment Openly

Don’t feel turned off by things you don’t know. Keep an open mind and try everything once, whether it’s watching an ultra-contemporary ballet or reading a book by your least favorite dancer. The act will benefit you either way. You may end up loving it. The worst case scenario is that you’ll be able to figure out why you didn’t like it, instead of never knowing!

5. Love

Whatever your aspirations are in ballet, the one thing any truly successful dancer possesses above all other traits is love for the art. While perfect technique and a solid work ethic may get you as far as the best company in the world, true satisfaction will only come if you really and truly love ballet. Then even the smallest achievements will hold a special significance for you!

Never Stop Learning & Loving

Regardless of your goals, achievements, personality, and body; you are a dancer if and only if you love dance. When you fall on tough times and wonder if it’s all worth it, come back to this simple fact: The title of dancer belongs to she who loves dance, not she who can do quadruple pirouettes!

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