-This article was first written for, and published on, the Latvian Dance Magazine.
– All Photos by YugaPhoto
Once upon many auditions, I was telling a friend about a dancer I saw during the class. She immediately replied, “I never watch other people dance at auditions. I just focus on myself.” I thought, wow, what practical and logical advice. If watching people leads me to comparison, and comparison makes me feel insecure, and insecurity makes me dance poorly, then surely the most logical conclusion is to not watch people, ever. I didn’t realize how much that statement impacted me, until many years later.
Throughout my childhood years and teen years, I was obsessed with ballet. I would watch it nonstop on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram. Often my sister made fun of me for only using my social media platforms as a means to watch ballet. I couldn’t wait to show other people these videos that inspired me. I wanted to share the beauty that I found. Fast forward to my first five years as a professional dancer and you’ll see I had shoved myself into a dark corner where I
watched no one, saw no one, except myself. I couldn’t bring myself to watch my second cast, because what if they were better than me? How would that make me feel? I could barely bring myself to watch my beloved ballet videos anymore should the feeling of inadequacy try to creep in. In that dark corner I tried to keep these feelings of jealousy, intimidation, inadequacy, far from me, but it came at a cost. I no longer could be easily inspired, no longer could be excited for my coworkers, I struggled to appreciate the beauty in their art or the art of ballet as a whole.
After years of “protecting” myself in this little dark corner, I realized that it had done nothing to improve my dancing or progress my career. This protection mechanism acted like a bandaid. It did nothing to heal or improve anything. It just kept my insecurity from getting worse. I was so tired of feeling uninspired, of feeling like everyone (even the ballerinas on YouTube) was my competition, of not being able to fully rejoice in my friends’ successes and just enjoy ballet for what it is. It was at this point that I thought maybe I got it all wrong.
When I finally took the brave step to leave this prison I had been hiding in, I noticed two things.
– Watching my coworkers reminded me of how much I love this art form! They were a source of inspiration I had neglected for a very long time. Watching them dance made me want to get up and dance too!
– Watching my coworkers is a way of learning! Through my isolation, I had sabotaged myself of opportunities to learn. Instead of being open to learning from others, which follows only after acknowledging something good and beautiful in someone else, I was determined to do it all by myself. And let me tell you, it is an uphill battle.
Jealousy is a very real feeling. Even the kindest person has probably experienced the heartwrenching feeling of congratulating a friend on a role, a dance, an achievement that they wish was theirs. Many people know this perplexing tension of wanting to be happy for their friend but feeling crushed themselves. Often the shame that envy brings pushes us deeper into that darkness and sends us into isolation. Other people are out rightly jealous but don’t recognize it in themselves. Often they tend to blame others for their problems and discredit others’ successes. Their insecurities come out in hurtful words/actions, but they would probably never admit to the feeling of envy.
So where do we go from here? Is it possible to truly be happy for your coworkers’ achievements whilst not doubting your own capabilities? Is it possible to celebrate with your colleague for the role you wish was yours, whilst not being discouraged in the process? Is it possible to congratulate your friend wholeheartedly for their hard work and not blame the director, circumstances, or politics for their success? The answer is yes! But it takes some work.
I think the number one root of jealousy is comparison. We are constantly trying to level up our lives against others and see where we stand but the reality is we are different people, with different characters, different bodies, different experiences, different training, different goals, and so it’s unfair to ourselves and others to use each other as standards.
Physiologist, Dr. Caroline Leaf puts it beautifully,
“No one can compete with you because you have no equal. Your individual specialization contributes to the group success. You don’t need to be jealous, envious, or knocked down by other’s opinions of you; if you get a hold of the truth of your core identity…”
You can’t be “that” dancer, but guess what, they also can’t be you! That should make you excited about what both of you have to offer! So when you step inside the studio, lean into what you’re good at, lean into your strength. Own your uniqueness, be it your jumps, turns, high extensions, quality of movement, or incredible balance. Do what makes you happy and excited, because dancers who are having fun are the most fun to watch.
Mindset Coach, Kirsten Kemp breaks down three simple ways to let go of comparison.
– Clearly define what living successfully means to you, not just what achievements look like success to you.
– Choose an intention that you’re excited about to explore for each class instead of working on what you ‘feel’ you should fix.
– Know what values you are working to bring into the studio or stage, and identify clearly why that contributions matter.
Living successfully actually looks different to different people. So it’s good to outline for ourselves what we want to accomplish and then ask, “why?”.
Asking yourself ‘why’ is a huge practical tool to help you understand yourself better. Using “The 5 Why’s Method”, developed by Toyota Motor Corporation to enhance their problem solving, is now widely used to also help problem-solving in the human mind.
“I feel jealous of my coworker’s promotion.” Why?
“I wanted that promotion.” Why?
“I want to move up the ladder.” Why?
“It’s important that I advance in my career.” Why?
“I want to keep picking up new skills and experiences.” Why?
Answering these “why’s” might just help you understand yourself better!
Clarify what you want to bring to your company and workspace. Often we generalize, “I want to be great”, “I want to be the best dancer”. But what does that mean? What does that require of you? And, again, why do you want it? This way of thinking can become self-centered and can feed our green monster. It leaves very little space for you to be happy for others. After all, how can you be happy for someone who is “ahead” of you when your goal is to be “the best”? And what is “the best” in an art form? So much of art is up to opinion, and the feeling you deliver to someone; it’s very subjective. But when we look at what our presence contributes to ballet as an art form, to the theater we work for, to culture, to our nation, that is huge!
Jealousy is a liar. It tells you that you are nothing without x, y, and z. And that is simply not true. Believe it or not, while you are pining over “that dancer’s” jumps, they’re probably pining over your gorgeous adagio. But what if we owned our uniqueness, and thrived in it? Then maybe we’d all be eager to celebrate each other’s victories. And that would free us up to be excited to learn from each other!
When I realized how privileged I am to be surrounded by so many amazing diverse artists, I began to look forward to watching rehearsals so much more, because all of a sudden I saw it as such a huge opportunity to learn! When the new girl gets a better role than me or someone who has been in the company a long time, I ask myself, “What made her stand out more than me? What can I learn from her that will help me too in the future? Is it possible that maybe this role simply suited her strengths more than mine?”
Ballet is notorious for being a cut-throat environment. But I think we can rewrite that story. I think it can be a place where every individual is celebrated, and where these individuals come together and make something spectacular! The question is, are we willing to put in the work, to face our insecurities, to lay down our pride, and to see and acknowledge and celebrate the beauty with in us and in those around us?