What Your Dance Teacher Wishes You Understood: Effort and Perfection


November 22, 2013 by Nicole

I spend a lot of time these days talking to dance educators and reading what they have to say online. It’s kind of amazing how general themes emerge, even when teaching students many miles apart and in different genres of dance. There are several consistent ideas and wishes that begin to take shape. One of these was shared with me recently, in pin-form, through the following quote:


I pinned it to my Fitspiration board. I’ve also thought a lot about it. This is another one of those things I wish I could have understood when I was dancing seriously. Or just in general – this concept doesn’t apply just to dancers. I see it in my life now all the time.

In fact, I’ve learned a lot about effort over the last 10 years I spent away from dance and in the year that I’ve spent reentering the field. I’ve learned that:

  • Effort is cumulative.
    If I did 20 pushups right now, then stood up & flexed my arm muscles, would you see the results of those 20 pushups? Of course not. That effort is invisible….at first. Over time, those pushups will manifest as muscles and increased strength. But only if you keep doing them! Dance is the same way. Everything comes in increments. You don’t go from 100° to 180° turnout overnight, the same way that one class doesn’t take your developpe height from 90° to 120°. Conversely, just because you don’t have “perfect” 180° turnout right now doesn’t mean you won’t ever get there. It does mean that it will take effort and a little faith that your efforts will accumulate over time into the results you want. Like the quote says, this is where transformation happens: putting effort into what you’re doing (dance, fitness, career, etc) every single day and be patient for that work to pay off.
  • Effort is mental.
    It’s really easy to give up on those days where nothing is coming easy, everything feels like a major struggle and you’re pretty sure you would rather be anywhere else on the planet. The truth about effort is that is requires real commitment to what you’re doing – which is mental. If you go into class (or practice or whatever) on those bad days and put in effort, it will still pay off. You won’t feel as good about your work – those are the days you have to check your vanity at the door and do as much as you can do that day, mentally and physically. Practicing yoga really drove that concept home for me. Even if it’s not perfect, or your best, your body is still reaping the cumulative benefits and strengthening the muscle memory, and you’re training your mind on how to commit to what you’re working on. I think that’s why the quote says to “remember why you started” – use that mental motivation to stay committed to putting in effort versus just going through the motions.
  • Effort is equally important (if not more so) as talent.
    Almost every teacher I’ve spoken with has said to me that they would rather work with someone who’s struggling but trying, than someone who’s naturally gifted but doesn’t care about the quality of work. In other words, they’ll take someone who puts in the effort – who really tries to understand the movement and who’s thoughtful about themselves and the work and tries, even and especially when it’s challenging – over someone who’s technically gifted or trained, but not mentally invested. Remember, “it’s not about perfect.” It’s about trying to be better than you were yesterday. This is true in dance and in life. Also, if you were perfect, why would you need class? Class is your time to be pushed, to refine what you already know and to learn your capabilities and limitations….which means you’re going to be handed things that are currently “too hard” for you. And that’s good. The whole point of class is that you exert the effort to push through those things, to improve…not that you show up able to do everything perfectly.
  • Effort is never wasted.
    And it shows up in unexpected ways! Going back to those days where you’re struggling…let’s say a double pirouette is giving you trouble. For whatever reason, you can’t seem to hit your double in a combination. What do you do? You can fall out of it, give up on the combination, and try to exit the dance floor as quickly as possible, disappointed in yourself and praying that your dance teacher didn’t notice/won’t make you come back and do it again. Or, you can fight for it (aka, put in some effort). What if you did a clean single and try to hold the passé a count before coming down? Or just take the balance without turning? Or try to connect the clean single into the next step? Figuring a way out of the difficulty – sticking with it – is effort. It’s still building strength (holding the passé) and keeping you engaged in the choreography. It’s not giving up. And it’s helpful! What happens when you’re having “one of those days” during a performance? If you’ve never made the effort and/or practiced saving something, you’re probably going to have a pretty stressful, disappointing and anxiety-filled performance. Of course, we all want to peform our choreography perfectly….but the stars don’t always align that way. Being able to adjust to current circumstances is a vital skill and it’s one that’s acquired through effort.

That’s what I wanted to share today. I’ll often come across pins or something someone has shared and it’ll spark an internal dialogue for me. Sharing the dialogue here helps it take shape for me, and helps me put something I find inspirational into practice in my own life. I also hope it’s helpful to someone else. I think we all get joy from sharing our stories in the hopes that we can help someone else along the way.

Tell me what you think….how do you see effort and its role in dance/life? If you’re a dance teacher, what do you wish you could share with your students?

About the author: I’m a professional communicator with a love of dance, entertainment and constant improvement. You can find me on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


4 thoughts on “What Your Dance Teacher Wishes You Understood: Effort and Perfection

  1. Rhonda says:

    This is spectacular! I want to make a wall hanging of that for my daughters room. I am going to have her read this over and over! Great piece, thank you.

    • Nicole says:

      Thank you so much! I’m so happy that someone’s connected with what I’m writing. It makes my day! Thank you for reading Dance Orlando!

  2. […] What Your Dance Teacher Wishes You Understood: Effort and Perfection (danceorlando.wordpress.com) […]

  3. Louise Knowles says:

    When learning something new you have to check your vanity at the door. Otherwise you could give up too easily. Of course it is easier to succeed than to fail. But sometimes you have to be content just to make the effort. Most times, if I am honest. I hate that people see me struggle and think I am not talented or that I make things difficult!!!. I didn’t manage to stand up yesterday and I wanted to give up. But I live at the sea and surfing is healthy and natural and maybe one day it will be easy.

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