October 30, 2014 by Nicole
Photo courtesy of Lisbet Photography, lisbetstudio.com
To some extent, I do think perfectionism is inherent in the work of being a dancer – that’s basically what we do, right? We learn shapes and movement and steps and then we set about the work of perfecting them. And there are aspects of perfectionism that are very positive and move us forward: goal setting, drive, ambition, planning and determination are all critical for success.
However, it’s also possible to have too much of a good thing. Perfectionism, when taken to an extreme can actually keep us from either progressing or doing our best work. People who struggle with perfectionism often:
- Set excessively high performance standards or unrealistic goals
- Have an unattainable ideal in their minds at all times
- Measure their self-worth by their ability to live up to that ideal
- Are overly critical and harsh when evaluating themselves
- Think that others are going to be just as critical/harsh when evaluating them/their performance
- Fear that others will reject them if they aren’t perfect
- Have anxiety around failure
- Deeply fear not being good enough
- Have difficulty finishing projects for fear they won’t live up to expectations
When your mind is so caught up in making every little thing perfect, or evaluating every step and arm placement you take or worrying about how your performance stacks up in the mind of your directors, you’re actually distracted. You are not free to connect or perform to your greatest ability.
For example, New York City Ballet corps member Megan LeCrone shared with Dance Spirit magazine that she always wanted her dancing to be absolutely perfect. She worked hard and was incredibly focused. But instead of concentrating on how much she was improving, she obsessed over her mistakes. “I constantly saw my weaknesses and flaws as something wrong with me,” she says. “In class, I’d be so busy thinking about the last mistake I made or the things about me that needed ‘fixing,’ that I would miss corrections from the teachers or would be slow to pick up the combination. This affected my confidence and focus.”
In additional to negatively affecting your self-confidence and self-esteem, putting that kind of stress around your dancing can also actually change it from being something you love and need to do to something you dread. A dysfunctional sense of perfectionism can rob you of your passion for dance.
So what can you do?
“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~Anna Quindlen
First things first, I think you have to really understand and accept that perfection is unreachable. You have to know that no one can possibly be perfect; that is what makes us human. Accepting that also means that you can be happy or comfortable with your so-called “imperfections” because they are what make you uniquely you.
If you do have a perfectionist’s mind, that can be a struggle. But mindset is also a habit, which means it’s changeable. Michelle May, M.D., founder of Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training, a program that helps individuals break free from mindless and emotional eating offers these tips, which I love and find equally applicable to the study of dance. She suggests that you:
- Think direction, not perfection. (So, instead of trying to make something “perfect”, think about your trajectory. Is this improving?)
- Ask yourself: “Is there a more reasonable expectation I could have about this situation or myself? What would be a more realistic and empowering way of talking to myself about this?”
- Be willing to make mistakes since they are an opportunity for learning and growth.
- Be vulnerable. Let people you trust see your imperfections and fears. This can deepen intimacy and free you from the need to be perfect.
There’s some really good stuff there! You can use those prompts in your dance journal or as a tool to help improve your self-talk.
Do you struggle with perfectionism? How do you manage it?