In dance, why isn’t happiness a measure of success?

Dancing has never really made me fully happy. A break-down before class, a skipped meal, an anxious pre-show panic. When I launched myself into full-time dance college, I thought that things would get easier- I’d be happier- but I was simply wrong.

Characterised by its constant demand for perfection- the dance world appeared to me unforgiving and unfair- I would work ceaselessly for something, yet never see achievements bloom. Misted by anxiety and lacking self-belief, I craved for a boost of success, which I perceived as being more important than my own happiness.

I needed validation that I was enough.

In an industry that relies so heavily on exam results, competition scores, soloist roles, castings and promotions- ‘success’ within dance is usually only synonymous with physical accomplishments.

This struggle towards constant success stems from a society of dancers ‘suffering’ from perfectionism. Crystal Nicholls for Medium Magazine, recently likened perfectionism within the dance world to a ‘growing epidemic’- with dancers becoming consumed by a fixation upon faultlessness. It comes as little surprise that such a mindset can be linked to ‘depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia and suicide’.

I’ve watched as young dancers have forced themselves through shows, injured and emotionally dismantled- because they ‘have to’. I’ve seen dancers, of the utmost talent, fall out of love with dance, but are still indebted to carry on.

Surely, in life, the one and only thing driving you forward is happiness- therefore being the optimum example of ‘success’.

So why is this forgotten within dance?

Dancers should be encouraged to strive towards making themselves content. They shouldn’t be shackled to the feeling of misery just for the cause of an audition or an examination. Dancers should be encouraged to pursue happiness.

I came to a point in my training where I only survived off physical achievements- it was the single quality that kept me going. So when I experienced failure, I lost everything. There was nothing left to keep me afloat.

We need to see change. Educational providers, companies and dance schools need to start encouraging happiness, and they need to quantify it as a measure of success. Young dancers need to be taught that it’s acceptable to fail- but only if you remain untroubled and satisfied. The dance industry needs to stop shutting away mental instability and put it right in the forefront of importance.

No opportunity, training, audition, exam or job is more important than your own happiness. Once you reach happiness, you are successful.


‘How Perfectionism In Dance Is Becoming A Mental Health Crisis’

Medium Magazine

Crystal Nicholls

June 29th 2018

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