Success starts with Summer intensives
Success is a choice. My first summer intensive away from home was in New York. Over a hundred enthusiastic teens like me from all over the country had come to train with Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s teachers.
We spent our days immersed in ballet, from technique to pointe to repertoire to pas de deux classes. Even on weekends we didn’t stray far from Lincoln Center watching performance after performance; whether it was New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, or the Royal Ballet (who happened to be on tour). We were a community of ‘bunheads,’ if you will. Ballet enthusiasts bordering on obsessive. We bonded quickly over love of the same art form. It was such a wonderful feeling being surrounded by people who understood me. People who shared the same dream.
I stay in touch with many of the dancers I met and it still comes as a surprise when I find out that someone has changed their mind at age sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. How could one come so far only to throw it all away? If a five year old dreams of becoming a ballerina but quits after discovering ballet is hard, that’s understandable. The majority of people don’t know what they want to do with their life at that age. But at sixteen, dancers are aware of what it takes to succeed in this career. They have already put in years of work. Do that many people really give up at this stage?
Self-critical v confidence
It’s not a matter of confidence, or I would have been out years ago. In fact, I
can say that right now, as a pre-professional student, I cannot imagine myself in a job with a classical ballet company. I don’t know anyone in my position who can. It’s not a secret that dancers are extremely self-critical, it’s part of our profession. Throwing that into the mix of insecurities that come with being a young adult makes it doubly hard to have faith in yourself. Even some of my most talented peers are full of fear and doubt and yet they have no backup plan, no desire to take a different path.
Ballet students, especially in their late teenage years, spend so much time worrying about the future that they forget to enjoy the present. All of this anxiety comes from the idea that they haven’t ‘made it’ yet. Young dancers need to remind themselves that it is normal to feel this way. There will be moments when you wonder why you’re still pursuing this career when it seems impossible. Everyone is scared. Everyone feels completely hopeless at times. But not everyone quits.
You have to remember that even the most gifted prodigies have all the same doubts as you do and still a lot of them do give up. You don’t have to be a star at sixteen to succeed in the ballet world. Fast forward a few years and half of these stars are majoring in economics.
I don’t believe in backup plans. I know there are people who will disagree with me on this. They will argue that having a backup doesn’t mean you will work any less hard towards your original goal. This may be true, I don’t know. But I do know that it will make you feel safe to have something to fall back on, just in case you fail. However, ballet isn’t safe. We are not meant to feel safe and it is okay to fail. When you do fail, don’t turn to plan B, try again. That’s the only way forward.
It can be frustrating to be told over and over again to just ‘believe in yourself’, and I won’t be the person to tell you that. I will tell you to be patient with yourself. Keep pushing when you feel like giving up. Work even when it feels pointless. Be naive, take risks, audition for everything you think is out of reach. One day, you will be so glad you did.
Alisa Nishanova joined her first ballet class at the age of two. She grew up dancing at a local school (International Ballet Academy, Kirkland WA), training in many styles. Alisa has travelled through the US, Switzerland, Russia, and the UK, and has attended summer programmes with Bolshoi Ballet Academy, English National Ballet School, and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. At home in Washington, she had the opportunity to dance various classical ballets. Performing and travelling from a young age, Alisa was no stranger to the stressful environment and pursuit of perfection, a pressure that’s constantly present in the world of ballet. Over the years, she witnessed fellow dancers being hospitalised or even forced to quit because of mental illness. After moving to England to train at Northern Ballet School, Alisa discovered more challenges young dancers had to face when living away from home for the first time. She is now passionate about raising awareness and ending the stigma surrounding mental health in dance, and hopes that open discussion will help struggling dancers realise they are not alone.
Thank you Alisa Nishanova for sharing these motivational thoughts. See below for her social media contacts.
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