Finding the Right Frame of Mind

Finding the Right Frame of Mind

by Leigh Machnee, Dance Artist

Photo by Brenda Kent

In choosing to be a professional dancer, you are choosing to take on an unpredictable career path. Making the decision to take on life as a professional dancer is scary. But once the decision is made, there are still many challenges to be faced. That is the place where I find myself right now. Uncertain of the steps I need to take to get myself where I want to be.

Well, let me be more specific. There are certain steps that need to be taken by any dancer who wants to pursue a career in the industry: Headshots, action shots, a demo reel, biography, artistic statement, a website. Not to mention having experience, references, and an understanding of the dance network in your community. These are all factors that every aspiring professional dancer should address. They might take some time to put together, but really, they’re the easy part.

The hard part is silencing that little voice in your head; the one telling you that this is crazy, that you should pick a different career. Getting in the right mindset is essential as a role or a contract as a dancer isn’t like other jobs. You don’t have to nail an interview, or even a series of interviews. You don’t even necessarily have to meet a certain set of criteria. But you do have to be prepared, go above and beyond the expectations, and have that elusive “something” that sets you apart.

I am in a constant struggle with myself when it comes to the mental aspect of preparing myself for a career as a dancer. How do I stop telling myself that someone better than me will get the job? How do I push aside that nagging worry that if I get injured, I don’t have a backup plan? Mostly, though, it’s the self doubt that plagues me, and I know it plagues most dancers that I know. We go into every audition knowing that we are one of many, that we are expendable. We berate ourselves for not training harder, for eating that cupcake on the weekend, for missing class last month, for taking the summer off three years ago. We are intensely self critical. But instead of scaring us, or motivating us, this becomes our safety net. We comfort ourselves when we don’t get a job by telling ourselves that we were never going to get it anyways. We set ourselves up for failure by believing that we don’t deserve that coveted spot in the company, or the leading role, or even that one day gig. It’s a way of avoiding pain and disappointment, but it doesn’t help us grow.

Desirée Dunbar, the founder and director of Catalyst Dance, helps her dancers to recognize, assess, and deal with these mental blocks. Whether they are self made, pre­existing, rational or irrational, her practical guidance and mental exercises help those of us who are currently stuck in limbo get ourselves mentally and spiritually prepared for life as a dancer. It’s challenging to tell yourself that you’re good enough, and that you have worked hard enough, but harvesting a positive energy when you’re gearing up for auditions is just as much an integral part of preparation as having your headshots ready and completing a good warm up.

At every Catalyst rehearsal, Desirée guides her dancers through a series of mental exercises. We set up a positive, trusting, and creative environment. Yes, we challenge ourselves physically, we push ourselves technically and artistically, and we still do tendus. But what I’m learning from Desirée is more than how to make it as a dancer, it’s learning how to stop telling myself that I can’t.

Watch Dancer Spotlight video on Leigh