What Dance Taught Me

by Danielle Hernandez on May 11, 2018

Ten Lessons from My life in dance

With near 30 years of dance training, competing and performing, it would be safe to say that for me, a stage and a studio have been like second homes. As a teacher and a professional dancer, there are so many lessons you get the opportunity to observe and wish so often you could share with others, especially those who are starting out.

The one truth I have realized while coaching dance competitive cheer squads and dance teams is that Dance, like any other career, has a learning curve. With time and experience, you find ways to navigate your daily life in this art form–and piece by piece you learn what works best for you regarding a career path. It isn't always easy–especially in the beginning–but over time, most dancers find their way.

So what are those myriad lessons that you can learn and put into action long after the last curtain call? What can a child and his or her parents learn after being enrolled in a dance class? I attempt to share with you these lessons I have learned along my journey in dance.

1. Use Criticism To Your Advantage.

In dance, you receive a lot of criticism -- some constructive, and some not. However, I learned fairly early that while there is always some truth in the criticism, you can block out any accompanying negative thoughts and use every correction you receive on your technique to your advantage.

Don't feel ashamed or take it too personally if you get a correction. Feel grateful that you have a chance to improve. Strive to hear a correction only once, and for this very reason, I used to write the corrections down in the notebook in my dance bag. And do give yourself the time to apply it.

Instead of throwing yourself into doing something poorly or incorrectly over and over again pause and think about why and how you could approach it differently. You'll find you have more control over your body and improve more rapidly. Staying present and focused on the dance movements will help you tune out anxiety related to reviews and the audience's potential not- so- favorable reactions.

2. Let Passion Be Your Guiding Force

When you observe a good dance teacher, what do you see? The corrections and criticism are aplenty, but if you look real close, you will see that their heart is in what they are saying and that stems from passion. Passion for the art form and passion for their student to give their best. Having the desire for dance can make you self-motivated and discipline and persevere, against all the odds, it seems at times.

3. In One Word, Persevere.

If you stuck on to your chosen dance form vs. someone who didn't, there is just one explanation for it. And that is perseverance. If we dancers had given up every time a challenging combination came our way, we would not have gone far in our dance career. Practicing that one difficult combination, week after week for hours through the day builds stamina and helps persevere, not just in dance but in any rough patch you encounter.

4. There Is No Substitute For Hard Work

Thomas Edison said this, and you learn the value of hard work as you evaluate the random bruises, the continual struggle of sore muscles and the frustration of that one 8-count that trips you up every time.

There are no shortcuts to glory and success. Practicing for hours on end, getting the steps to a point where you can’t go wrong and being always ready for that dream audition are traits of a super successful dancer. And all of these involve hard work. A dance career, especially in ballet career is so short that you have to remind yourself of your goals and to keep pushing forward until you got the results you wanted.

5. The Dance World Is A Small One, So Be Nice

Not every dancer may become a dance legend, but just being nice is also an incredible legacy to leave behind. I have learned that when I criticize others, I take energy away from improving myself.

In a world as small as professional dance, gossip will not make you a better dancer, but it will make you a less desirable person to be around. Remember that the dance world is incredibly small and you risk shunning the support of a community when you are not very nice.

By becoming aware of the contribution and efforts of the countless people we come across in our dance careers - parents, teachers, the artistic staff, production crew, I have developed perspective and gained balance in a career that is so easily rocked. Be grateful to these people in your life and when you get a chance, pass it on.

6. Know The Power Of Good Health

As a dancer and athlete, I knew what my body is capable of and what fuels it to get there. As athletes, we know how to fuel ourselves properly with the right types of food. We also know that injuries happen, and it's important to take time off and rest. Listening to your body is so important in college, and helps you make smart decisions, such as eating a salad once in a while or staying in when you're really tired.

Even when you cannot dance, look for ways to take care of your body, roll out your muscles, have a warm-up and cool-down routine, cross-train, and even schedule sleep time (if that's what’s required to whip your body into shape for performance. It’s imperative that you mindfully take care of your body because if you don't, you risk compromising all the hard work that went into prepping for a performance.

7. Humility Goes A Long Way In Upping Your Performance

Every one of us, even the most amazing of dancers, started as a beginner. Remembering that it is only through humility that we can discover, train, and grow made a considerable difference in adjusting my attitude to the constant learning, falling, failing and challenging moments of my dance career.

As an artist, we are privy to what goes on behind the scenes, and how much work goes into making something look effortless. Appreciate the arts and don't let your role as a dancer be the end all and be all of the equation.

Remembering that the opening night is just one night and it will pass in the blink of an eye; it’s the daily classes and rehearsals, that are there to stay. You might have the most glorious show of your life, but the next day you're going to have to go back to that barre. Love the work itself because that will never go away. Enjoy the process of reaching the top

8. Cherish Your Community

Dance taught me the importance of community. The other dancers in your group or studio or class are the only ones who can honestly hear you, empathize and understand what you are going through. In a super competitive sport like dance, the encouragement and guidance received by peers who know her best at crucial junctures can make or break a dancer.

Because there are so much collaboration and teamwork required to pull off a show, cultivating a healthy work environment between the dancers can infuse a performance with positive energy and give that unique quality that will dazzle the audience.

9. Feel Free To Express Yourself

Dance is a brilliant medium to express oneself, and it gave me the opportunity to explore my thoughts and emotions and what my body was capable of. It sparked off confidence that I could push the limits of what I was capable of to find my edge.

Allow yourself to ask questions, and drench yourself in the knowledge of more than just your steps and sequence. Being a well-rounded person will make you a better dancer because you will have more experiences and emotions to draw from. Choreographers are often more interested in openness than technique.

10. Know That There Is Always Going To Be Somebody Better

Everybody in this competitive dance world strives to be the best, and for sure you will encounter sooner or later that there will always be someone out there who is and will be better than you. But if you let that person be somebody that pushes you to be a better dancer, then you can come out a winner.

I realized that in the pursuit of greatness, I had to be gentle with myself at times and not put myself down. Dancers work hard, by being patient with what you want to achieve and ignoring the naysayers (even if it's only you), you can make a better version of you, and that should be the only measure of greatness.

You may choose dance for a while or for several decades but know this - once a dancer, always a dancer. The final curtain may have fallen; the applause died; the trophy may have passed on, but those life lessons you learned in the studio and stage are yours to keep.


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