I’ve been dancing since I was three years old, but it’s only recently that I realized that all that time spent onstage has taught me some vital life lessons beyond pointing my toe correctly and fluffing my tutu.
1. Be nice to your costume designer.
In theater, one person you never want to piss off is the costume designer. Why? The costume designer can make you look fabulous…or they can stitch your pants just tight enough to show your muffin top. Not many of us have costume designers in real life, but this important life lesson has taught me that every job is vital, and every person has their specific purpose. An architect’s design is only as good as the team who assembles it. Treat everyone with the same respect, even if they aren’t the ones in the spotlight, because chances are they’re the ones who can make your job that much easier…or make you wear a mustard yellow spandex unitard.
2. Practice makes permanent .
In my dance studio growing up, the phrase wasn’t “practice makes perfect,” but “practice makes permanent.” If you practice the wrong things, that’s what’s going to stick. If you always procrastinate, or if you only do your work with half the focus, that’s how you’re training yourself to respond to all situations. The same holds true outside the studio as well.
3. How to set goals like a pro.
I also learned that progress is a series of tiny, almost invisible improvements. I don’t aim to do everything perfectly in dance class, but I focus on a few goals to get me through the day, like lifting my leg a little higher, or going for an extra pirouette across the floor. Life is the same way. It can be hard to try a new fitness routine, or on keeping my car clean, or to cook more than I eat out, but if I focus on the baby steps each week, I’m much closer to make progress.
4. The small things will get you hired…and fired.
There is a very strict, mostly unspoken etiquette in dance. Showing up early, wearing clothes that don’t get in the way of dancing, turning off your cell phone, and a strong focus on the task at hand prove a dancer’s mettle almost as the diva who can whip out 32 fouettes, but shows up half an hour late all the time. These same mannerisms, along with my ability to pick up on unspoken etiquette, has gotten me jobs outside the theater. It’s amazing how much the little things can make an impression on others…and conversely, I’ve seen others deal with the fallout that seemingly insignificant practices.
5. The final performance is out of your hands.
Now matter how many weeks and hours you practice, live performances are subject to last minute disasters. I’ve seen broken bones, fire alarms, slippery floors, tangled jump ropes, broken shoes, and countless other small catastrophes that are almost impossible to prepare for, but at the end of the day the show must go on. Life is a live performance. It’s important and necessary to prepare as much as you can, but at the end of the day, you have to work with what life throws at you. It’s no use beating yourself up about what you couldn’t prepare for, so be happy with what you did accomplish and get on with the show!