Life Lessons Learned From Ballet: The Official WISH Countdown

One of the first pieces of advice I ever heard about writing was to write what you know. It was natural to set WISH in the world of ballet since it’s defined who I am today. Aside from the obvious things like good posture, body mechanics and spatial awareness, ballet works on a subtle, character-building level. Here are some of the ways ballet helps dancers grow:

mistakes are a good thing

Ballet class is an ongoing experiment for any dancer; a place to try new things, fine tune others, maybe fall flat on your face. By the time a dancer performs something on stage, the mistakes have been made and they’ve practiced so many times they could perform in their sleep.

Mistakes are a part of every dancer’s process, a chance to learn and evolve toward perfection. Asking what went wrong and why, and what you need to do differently in the future means that you will get an improved outcome the next time. Living in fear of making mistakes holds you back from trying new things. There is no mastery without mistakes. Ask Edison. It only took him 10,000 tries to get a light bulb to work.

Stand Up Straight

One of the first things a dancer learns is the importance of proper posture. The elegance of ballet demands it, plus it’s a great party trick. As a fellow dancer friend likes to remind me, “You can always tell when a dancer walks into a room.” I can’t tell you how many times my first ballet teacher had to tell us to “straighten your telephone poles.”

Ballet dancers are meant to be graceful, regal beings with a commanding stage presence; the slumped, hunched-over look just isn’t going to cut it. Yet this is exactly the way most of move through life–study the people waiting in line for Starbucks if you don’t believe me. The older we get the worse our posture becomes until the hunchback effect becomes so pronounced we start to look like turtles.

Listening is critical

Have you ever asked yourself how often you truly listen? Dancers spend a lot of time listening; if not, they run the risk of missing choreography and cues. In every ballet class, dancers spend at least 40% of the time listening to instructions and corrections from teachers. Even when they’re dancing ballet dancers are still listening– to the music, coordinating their steps with each beat.

Listening does not come easily for most humans. Random thoughts often fight for attention, causing us to tune out. Before you know it, minutes have gone by and you’ve missed out. Dancers can’t afford this, and neither can anyone else who plans to get where they need to go on time.

What is the risk of not listening? For a dancer, it might mean missing an important entrance or exit on and off stage, or going right when the rest of the class is going left. Either way, there’s the potential to be embarrassed… or worse.

If you fall, get up again (quickly)

Planet Earth is plagued with a powerful yet pesky force called gravity, which constantly sucks everyone and everything towards the ground. Most of the time this is a good thing, a helpful thing, like in the shower, for instance. However, there are moments when gravity is not your friend.

Nothing is more embarrassing than falling on your face, center stage, in front of thousands. You’ll have to trust me on this; I’ve lived that unfortunate reality. The moment is surreal; it seems like it will never end. When a dancer falls, giving up is not an option. There is only one choice: get up again–quickly– and move on. Everyone else will forget about it…probably more quickly than you will.

No one likes to fall, but it happens. With any fall comes the chance to rediscover the strength and grace to get back up again and keep going.

If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it

Everything that exists begins as an idea. The chair you are sitting on, the book you are reading, even the clothes you are wearing had to be imagined first. It’s the same with dance (or anything else): every dancer starts out with a dream to dance but the most important key to success is a dancer’s belief in themselves.

The biggest, most important dreams don’t happen overnight. Dream, believe, keep your thoughts aligned with your goals…this is what keeps us moving along the path, one step at a time.



Bunheads 101: How to be a Ballet Dancer…or just look like one

The Rules of Ballet

A Day in the life of a Professional Ballet Student

How to Become a Professional Ballet Dancer

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