Carmel Valley Dance Students Measuring Up?

Carmel Valley San Diego Community | North County DanceArts Inc. | Measuring Up

Photo Courtesy of NCDA

“Suzie wants to quit.”

Suzie’s mom is in my office and she is dumb struck over Suzie’s desire to discontinue her dance studies.  “She feels that she is doesn’t have the kind of talent other students have; she’s not getting anywhere with her dance.  Others in her classes are promoting to higher class levels,  auditioning for and winning positions on dance teams or companies, getting leading roles in musical theater productions, or taking home the first place prize in regional and national dance competitions,” her mother tells me.  “It makes no sense.  She really wants to be a dancer, she’s always dreamed of it, but now she wants to quit”.

I hear this many times a year.  It’s common among dance students of Carmel Valley and in every studio, in every town, in every state; students comparing themselves to other dancers in class to determine if they ‘measure up.’  For many, this comparison leads the dancer to believe that they are not progressing as quickly as everyone else so they shouldn’t be dancing at all.  While for others, its an attitude and they feel as thought they’ve made it and don’t have to work anymore.

In Suzie’s case, at eleven years old, she stands at five feet ten inches above the heads of her fellow dancers.  Her long legs and arms are twice as long as those of some of the smaller ballerinas.  Her height has been a great advantage at school where she plays on the girl’s basketball and volleyball teams.  Her participation on the team has, in part, helped to win championships.  Depending on the season, Suzie can be found on the basketball or volleyball court, practicing four times a week for 3 hours a day.  Then of course, there are her twice weekly piano lessons, her once weekly French lesson, her once a week church youth group meeting, and homework.  Along with that, Suzie attends two one hour ballet classes a week.

I remember when Suzie was four years old in her first pre-dance class.  She was so excited to be in class and participated fully.  As Suzie’s body and all of her appendages began to grow, she became awkward in her movements and slow in performance or reaction.  Other smaller dancers seemed to zip past her – grasping new technique quickly, and gaining momentum.    Suzie couldn’t understand.  She was taking the same number of classes as the other girls, however she seemed to be lagging behind the rest.  Now Suzie has the mindset that everyone is better than her and she will never catch up.  So, she’s quitting.

My advice to Suzie and her mother?  It was twofold.  First, Suzie needed to be patient with herself.  Taller dancers, because of their height and longer arms and legs, sometimes develop and progress more slowly in their dance studies than their smaller contemporaries.  It’s a matter of physiology and physics.  It’s more challenging to move longer bodies, arms and legs around the floor.  Your body needs time to get used its new size and direct just the right amount of energy needed to move those parts with the music and choreography.  Secondly, Suzie was committed…to everything.  I suggested that Suzie and her mother sit down and have a thoughtful discussion about her desire to be a dancer, and compare that with some of her other activities that took up so much of her time.  If her decision was to work toward being a great dancer, she must commit to it by attending more dance class, perhaps private lessons while she worked through her growth spurt.  She had to speak to her instructors, and in so doing, set some goals for progress and commit to working toward those goals.  If she wanted to continue with her other activities and also dance, then she would have to be honest with herself and come to the realization that dance, for her would be an activity to just be enjoyed.  More importantly, she had to accept her pace of learning and focus on herself, the enjoyment of the movement and the camaraderie of the other dancers, instead of someday joining a professional ballet company as a Prima Ballerina or on a Broadway stage.

Whether the dancer has a situation like Suzie’s or not, every dancer looks and compares themselves with other dancers and comes to some kind of understanding where they fit into the hierarchy of the classroom.  Dancers begin to measure themselves against other dancers as young as 4 years.  I’ve heard the comments in pre-dance classes like, “I don’t get that step but everyone else knows it,” or “I’m the only one who knows the class dance.”  From that they formulate a belief about themselves, either good or bad, and this can influence the dancer for their entire dance career.

Sometimes it’s helpful for the dancer to compare themselves to other class dancers if they use these comparisons for motivation.  If the dancer can first base all of their thought on the fact that some dancers are naturally poised for dance and everyone learns at a different rate, then the dancer will be able to look at a fellow classmate and think, “what is she doing that I can learn from?”  I always tell my students to watch each other and listen to every correction given by the instructor even if it is not directed towards you.  It’s always a great learning tool!

When comparing yourself to other dancers, start a list, a journal of steps or things you would like to improve on.  Then, set off to seek out how to accomplish that.

  • Speak to other dancers.  Ask if they are getting extra instruction in the form of classes or private lessons.  Do they attend any extra dance camps or conventions?  Do they practice in their free time at home or not at all?  How do they feel when they compare themselves to other dancers?
  • Ask for honest assessment from your instructor about your personal progress and your progress compared to your classmates.  Sometimes dancers ‘feel’ that they are lagging and that everyone else ‘knows it all,” but in actuality, while some dancers excel in varying areas, the class as a whole is dancing at a similar level.  The belief that you are not as good, or lagging, could be an incorrect belief you’ve held onto in your own mind’s eye.
  • Speak to instructors about what they feel would be a good direction to direct your energy.  What do you need to accomplish to progress to the next level?  What extra classes would they suggest taking to improve?  Would private lessons help and what should they focus on?

Remember, if you’re focused on other people, you’re not focused on what you need to do to dance well.  Don’t worry about what  other dancers are doing – instead, focus on yourself.  Don’t get stuck comparing yourself to see if you measure up to others.  Measure yourself against yourself and what you have set for your dance goals.

Lastly, one true fact still remains.  You are always better than some dancers and worse than others.  So if that is true, stay focused on your true goals and desires for progress…and of course, never, never, never quit!


Carmel Valley San Diego Community | Louis A. McKay | North County Dance Arts

Louis A. McKay

Louis McKay is President of North County DanceArts, Inc. located in Carmel Valley and currently trains 400 students from ages 3 to 93 years of age.  Louis has performed and taught Master dance and musical theater classes in 42 of our 50 states and Europe and South Africa. In 1980, Louis McKay opened Louis McKay Dance Studio, later to become North County DanceArts, Inc., which is a teaching facility that is best known for its professional teaching staff and quality dance training. Dancers from beginning level to professional are taught technique, terminology, and discipline in a nurturing and fun environment. Louis currently lives in Carmel Valley San Diego with his wife Tanya and is the proud father of four grown children and two grandchildren. Louis and Tanya McKay also own DanceHearts, a 501 (c) (3) Public Charity called Bells of Freedom Program, serves military men, women and their families by providing emergency care and support, back to school backpack program, vehicle donations and the annual “The Big Thank You” Military Holiday Event.


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2 Responses to Carmel Valley Dance Students Measuring Up?

  1. Whoa! 5’10” for an eleven year-old? She’s still gonna get taller than that when she reaches 18! Good luck to her dancing career.

  2. Yes! She is only one of our very young dancers reaching ‘great heights’…and she is still dancing and still star of her girls volleyball team.
    Peace, Louis

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