Starting professional dance training: Tips I would tell my past self

July Issue 2021

As the end of the current chapter in my dance journey draws to a close and I prepare to embark on my next adventure, I thought I would reflect on my improvements and things I have learnt. Starting professional training is such an exciting time in a dancer’s life if this is the route you choose for yourself. I have loved my two years at CAPA College, meeting amazing people who will always be family to me and receiving such high quality training that has been truly enjoyable. I am now preparing to start the next stage of my journey and training at Performers College in Essex where I am sure I will develop as much as I have in the past two years. As I am currently going through a huge change myself, I thought I would share some tips for things that I have learnt and would tell my past self prior to beginning my training as I believe this may be beneficial for other dancers who may be experiencing similar life milestones. I hope that this blog will be helpful and insightful as you enter the next stage of your performing journey.

If there is one thing I have learnt in the past year it is that time truly does fly by and in the words of Ferris Bueller ‘if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it’. The past twelve months feel as though they have blended into one until I actually stop and realise how much I have actually accomplished and achieved. My advice to you is to soak up every moment and in the words of my incredible teachers at CAPA, ‘be a sponge’. Every moment, every class and every day is another opportunity to learn, grow, develop and achieve. Use every minute to your advantage and even if you are having a bad day, allow it to happen and try not to stress too much. On these occasions, I always remind myself that ‘the sun will rise again tomorrow and I can try again’, in an attempt to motivate myself and push through the struggles.

My second tip is to fuel your body properly. Dance is intense and the timetables that you will endure during your training will really push your body and mind to the limit therefore you need to make sure you are catering to your needs. Listen to what your body needs and make sure you are eating enough and the right foods in order to allow correct bodily and brain functions. You need to make sure that you have enough energy to survive the day and are ensuring that your body and mind are able to work effectively in order to get the most of your training. Lack of energy and a proper diet could lead to fatigue and exhaustion which can lead to injuries which can be fatal so the importance of this tip cannot be stressed enough. 

Following on from the previous point, the importance of rest is my next tip. I must admit, I personally do not like rest days as I feel as though I am not being productive and am guilty of not resting as much as I should. However, self care and rest is just as productive as intense days training and working in the studios as your body requires rest and sleep in order to recover effectively. Make sure you are getting enough sleep so that you are prepared for the day ahead. Dancers are athletes and require more hours of sleep in comparison to the average person due to the intense training regimes we complete on a daily basis. Other forms of self care are also important such as hot showers and baths to soothe muscles and foam rolling on a night to relieve tension from the body. By actively performing self care routines and resting properly, you can decrease the risks of injury and potentially prolong your performing life.

My next tip is about personal practice. I have learnt that it is important to conduct your own practice outside of the studio walls in order to develop as much as possible and focus on your own goals. For me, as a late starter, this was flexibility, therefore I began to perform a stretch routine on a daily basis. I would definitely advise creating some form of routine or ritual that works on your latest goal so that you can improve effectively and then move on to the next aim. To also expand on my point about flexibility, stretching outside of studio hours is also important as you may not be provided with the time to do so during your timetable therefore it is important to factor this into your own time if you wish to be the best version of yourself. 

Also, as dancers we are often perfectionists and can often take criticism and feedback to heart. I, for one, can relate to this. When starting my training at college, shortly after taking my dance aspirations seriously, I used to feel disheartened and down when I received any form of constructive feedback or criticism but over time I have learnt that this is often more beneficial than the compliments we desperately seek. By focusing on our areas of improvement, we can effectively develop our abilities and effectively reach our goals. I now frequently ask my teachers for feedback so that I can progress further in my training as I now understand that criticism and feedback is not personal, it’s to help you. Through my dance journey, I have not only become stronger physically, but also mentally as I have learnt to overcome rejection and criticism, turning it around into creating learning opportunities. Take every piece of feedback and use it to help yourself develop and another tip is to perhaps take notes of your feedback at the end of everyday so you can apply it next time.

As a late starter, I found being surrounded with talented performers with years of experience intimidating and daunting. Once I decided to embrace this and not run from my lack of confidence however, I realised that learning from and observing a variety of people can benefit your own training. In classes, as well as practicing movement at the side of the studio the other groups were performing, I would watch a different individual each time, pay close attention to their movement and take things for myself to apply and enhance my own performance. So my next tip is to utilise your peers and classmates, learn from them and apply this to your own practice

It is important that we take care of our bodies as performers as they are essentially our careers. During long days of rehearsals and classes, it is crucial that we listen to what our bodies need. If during a class you feel pain or discomfort, it is important that you acknowledge this as this could be the start of an injury that may become worse if not cared for. Knowing your limits is important and learning that it is ok to take a moment and rest is ok is just as important. Observing a class or rehearsal is just as beneficial as taking part in the class as you will still be able to take choreographic notes and other pieces of information you may need to know. The last thing we want to do is to sit out of a session but if it is what your body needs, then it is important that you follow this through. By resting an injury correctly and promptly, you could potentially save yourself from a shortened career.

Furthermore my next tip is probably one of the ones I relate to the most. At college, I am surrounded by my amazingly talented peers who all have clear visions as to what they would like to achieve in their careers, whether that be performing on the west end, on cruise ships or for contemporary companies and especially during audition season. For me, this was and still is not the case. During audition season, I was unsure about what the best route for me would be until my acceptance email from Performers College arrived in my inbox and a ‘light bulb’ moment suddenly occurred for me. Even though I have solidified the next chapter of my dance story, the question of my dream career pathway within the arts still remains. So my advice to you is that it is ok to not know your identity as a dancer as many of us are also still figuring it out. As you progress through further years in training, whether you start at 16, 18 or later, your desired path may become more explicit.

My next tip is to acknowledge the your smaller improvements are important and they make bigger things happen in the future. By focusing on the bigger goal, we often forget to praise ourselves for the smaller stepping stones that help us achieve the larger dreams and aspirations. Even little things like attending an extra class, performing a stretch routine, perfecting that phrase that has been bothering you or even taking a day for self care should be acknowledged and praised. We often notice the smaller steps once we have reached the end goal and forget about the journey but remember, the journey is just as important and exciting as the destination.

My final tip is that ‘hard work gets noticed when talent doesn’t work hard’. One thing I have realised is that in this industry it is often not enough to just rely on your ability as an ‘outstanding performer’. Showing your commitment, dedication and passion will open just as many doors for you in your career as being able to perform the most stunning jete. Choreographers and directors want to work with people who are driven by the love they have for their craft as well as talented performers, so don’t let your talent be wasted as you don’t apply yourself and put your all into every aspect of your training.

I hope some of these points were helpful to you whether you are starting professional training or just embarking into your own dance journey. Take these tips with you and apply them to your training to improve both as a performer and an individual. Not all of these may be helpful to you as these points are all based upon my own experiences which may differ greatly from your own. Keep dancing dancers, exciting times are ahead!

 

“Act as if what you’re doing makes a difference, because it does”

Costello

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