A new dance season is among us— new goals, higher expectations, and countless possibilities for growth. But with each new season comes a unique set of challenges. Whether you’re joining a new school, beginning a renewed company contract, or returning to your usual spot at the barre, a sense of overwhelm is likely. This is especially true when the pressure to perform is high.
Class placements and Nutcracker auditions await many dancers this time of year. If you danced throughout the summer, then you might feel somewhat prepared. But if you took the summer off (no shame in that, in fact… I encourage it!), you might be feeling a bit doubtful. Regardless, we can look forward to this new season as one of opportunity. Evaluating your expectations and setting realistic goals is a major part of the process and this article will help you do just that.
Identify the expectation
Whether set by yourself, a dance teacher, an artistic director, a parent, or anyone else, expectations are defined as a belief that something will happen because it is likely. In other words, expectations come from a standard. But a hard truth for dancers is that most of these standards and ultimately, expectations, are quite skewed.
Food and body standards are an example. Oftentimes, unfortunate body ideals center around thinness and weight loss. Similarly are the expectations around food. Many dancers strive for “clean” eating, attaining nutrition guidance from those not qualified to give it. Both restrictive food goals and unattainable body ideals are what drive a dancer’s risk of negative body image and disordered eating. Work ethic is another one. Many dancers struggle with over-exercising, often as a result of wanting to improve their strength, endurance, and stamina.
Evaluate the expectation
Social media is notorious for setting forth these unrealistic (and arguably, harmful) expectations. The infamous What I Eat In A Day vlogs, workout routines, and dance tricks are just some of the content that makes up a highlight reel of unrealistic expectations for dancers.
And there are also the nuanced expectations of intuitive eating (well, the social media AKA “food freedom” version). Snapshots of gorgeous plates equipped with the supposed “eat what you want, when you want” mindset makes this work out to be way easier than it is. In fact, these unrealistic expectations are common reasons why dancers fear relinquishing control around food. Though “over”-eating and binge eating are quite normal when dancers first start healing from diet culture, these experiences, alongside the fears of “emotional” eating (the culturally-constructed version) leave dancers feeling like they’ve failed “intuitive eating” (spoiler: they haven’t).
Make goals more realistic
Despite this, not all expectations are built on faulty standards. In fact, some can be super motivating and even support a dancer’s performance potential. When attainable, expectations can help us craft manageable and realistic goals. Let’s look at a few:
Food goals for dancers
If you’ve gone years experiencing the extremes of feeling very in control around food to feeling very out-of-control around food, then the expectation to heal your relationship with food won’t happen effortlessly. Rather, we can assume the expectation to be finding a place where you can balance proactive fueling with intuitive eating.
Your goal might be to finally access the ability to keep a pint of ice cream at home without fear of “over” doing it in one night. To get there, a flexible meal plan might be imperative, along with mindful eating techniques. You might experience instances of feeling out of control around food even while working towards building a more supportive relationship with it. This isn’t evidence of failure, but rather, part of the process.
Body goals for dancers
As I mention in this article, dancers should avoid making body goals their priority. Rather, focusing on your relationship with food and building a supportive body image are bound to help you in the long run.
Performance goals for dancers
When it comes to your dancing, particularly your technique and artistry, your goals can absolutely align with studio expectations. Say for example the expectation is to get through a 2.5-hour Nutcracker performance in December. Your goal might involve increasing your stamina and even working towards technical advancement for auditions.
Whatever the expectation is, it’s important that you evaluate its practicality and set forth manageable goals to get there. Swapping lofty goals with SMART ones is a helpful technique that involves setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. As an example, you might not be able to control your class placement or the outcome of auditions, but you can control the effort and consistency put into your training. Can you set forth a specific and manageable cross-training routine to strengthen the stability of your standing leg by Nutcracker? If you’re struggling to feel in control of your goals, then reevaluate them alongside those expectations and remember the following:
- Expectations need to be realistic and attainable.
- Goals need to be manageable and SMART.
10 inspirational ideas to support your dance goals this season
- Consistency in your dancing with a regular schedule that leaves plenty of room for rest and recovery. Rest allows your muscles to heal and rejuvenate, preventing overuse injuries and keeping you energized throughout the season.
- Cross-Training to complement your training. Activities like yoga, Pilates, and Gyrokenesis will help with core stability, flexibility, and overall strength. But make sure to not overdo it. Here’s advice on building a sustainable cross-training routine.
- Versatility in your technique. When feasible, take classes from experienced instructors who can share their expertise in helping you to learn new techniques, refine your skills, and develop your artistry.
- A supportive mindset with relaxation techniques like deep breathing and visualization to manage performance anxiety and maintain focus.
- Embrace feedback and constructive criticism as an invaluable tool for improvement. Use it to identify areas that need work and turn weaknesses into strengths.
- Stay inspired with live performances, dance videos, and other outlets to keep you from burning out.
- Embody confidence with self-affirmations, visualization, and neutral or positive self-talk to boost your self-esteem.
- Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth. Don’t shy away from difficult routines or new styles as this will broaden your skill set and make you a more versatile dancer.
- Fuel proactively as a method to support your body’s baseline nourishment. Working with a licensed dietitian can help.
- Utilize self-discovery as a journey, not a destination.