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For those of you who don’t know, (one of) my greatest passions in life is classical ballet. I started dancing ballet at quite a ripe age (in my teens) and by that point, I knew that there was no hope for me to “make it” as a professional. Then I quit and picked it back up as an adult. However, I never let my age stop me from working hard, attending classes, and continuing to improve my technique.
To me, classical ballet is one of the most beautiful art forms in the world and it’s taught me some of life’s greatest lessons.
1. Sometimes you’re born with it and other times you’ll just have to work harder than everyone else
I don’t have a ballet body. I have short and wide bones. I’m also not very flexible (for a dancer). And I really hate my flat feet.
In ballet, beauty is considered having long, lean limbs with very high-arched feet. I am the opposite of that.
However, I did not let this natural disadvantage dissuade me from dancing. I love dancing, it brings me a lot of joy. It just meant that I had to work twice as hard as the next person just to see a little bit of progress.
And working hard pays off. The day you land your first pirouette or the first day you go on pointe (dancing on your toes) just feels magical. You don’t take anything for granted because you know all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into landing that perfect pirouette 🙂
Set goals, work hard, and celebrate the small wins 🙂
2. You’ll never improve if you’re too afraid to let go (of the barre)
When we first start studying classical ballet, we are at the barre, doing exercises to warm up the body and build technique. The ultimate goal is to move away from the barre and dance freely in the centre.
Without the barre, it feels like your body doesn’t know how to function anymore. At the barre, your kicks can be SO high (we’re talking head height) but once you let go, good luck getting 90 degrees!
I see so many ballet students who don’t progress because they’re just too afraid to let go of the barre! And oftentimes, these students don’t even need the barre. It’s just there to give them a false sense of security.
I’ve made the greatest achievements in life by letting go and stepping out of my comfort zone. I quit my job a few years ago to live my dream (of living abroad) and I couldn’t be happier. If I hadn’t let go, I would probably still be where I was 2 years ago, in a dead-end job that made me so miserable!
Let go of your insecurities and just dance!
3. Consistency pays off
If you’re serious about ballet, then you have to dance every damn day. I am talking 5-8 straight hours of dancing every day.
I’m obviously not a professional but I like to attend ballet class at least 2-3 times a week. When I was more serious, I was going almost everyday.
Initially, you won’t notice any progress at all. However, over time, your body will start to remember all the sequences (muscle memory). You will be surprised at how much progress you’ll have made in a few months’ time.
Over the years, I had been extremely inconsistent with ballet. Sometimes, especially when I go on vacation, I’ll take a few weeks or even months off of dancing. And whenever I came back to class after a long break, it always felt as if I was a beginner all over again.
Consistency is key. Never stop dancing. Never stop practicing and never stop learning! It will pay off one day.
4. Being flexible isn’t a requirement, but it sure helps a lot
It’s important to be flexible in ballet. I’m not just talking about how you must be able to bend your body in every angle imaginable. You also have to be flexible in that you can improvise new choreography or take on someone else’s role if they break a leg.
By participating in annual ballet recitals, I had learned to be super flexible with last minute wardrobe malfunctions and choreography changes. I remember at one of my ballet recitals, we literally didn’t finish the piece until the morning of the recital. And still my ballet teacher was making changes to it (in her head) and expected us to dance it live on stage without ever having rehearsed it!
Being flexible with an open-mind is the best way to cope with life’s stresses.
5. You will get kicked in the face… a lot
In some ballet classes, the room is so small and packed-full of students. You sometimes end up standing really close to other students. And by really close, I mean, sometimes, I’ve had someone’s butt literally in my face.
The worst is when you get kicked in the face. I think I’ve gotten kicked in the face at least a handful of times. I have also kicked someone else in the face (or chest, or arm, or what have you).
When we get kicked in class, we pretend like it didn’t even happen. We just keep on dancing until the music stops playing, at which point we casually apologize to the victim like it’s no big deal.
I’ve learned to not sweat over the small stuff. And never hold grudges. If someone does something nasty, brush it off like it’s no big deal. You will be happier this way, trust me.
Life is too short to be holding grudges. Forgive and move on.
6. It’s way easier to get started when you’re young
Sometimes I regret not having started studying dance earlier. My mom tried to enrol me when I was a kid and I started crying to get out of it. I got curious in my teens and enrolled in a class and got addicted. Then I gave up because I hated how crappy I was compared to the other dancers.
Looking back, I wish I hadn’t quit during my teens. For something as mentally and physically demanding as ballet, it is far easier to start when you’re younger.
There are many things I wish I’d done when I was younger too. I wish I had travelled more when I was younger (my first solo trip was at 24 and I already felt like I was already too old). I wish I had been more outgoing and socialized more during high school and college. So many regrets.
However, it’s never too late to start to make positive changes in your life. Like I said, I didn’t really take ballet seriously until I was an adult, and now I can dance on pointe and do double pirouettes. If I’d started earlier, I may have become a professional (and already retired) by now 😉
Don’t let your age stop you from doing something you love. It’s never too late to try something new!
7. There’s always someone better than you
I know it’s hard to accept but there’s always going to be someone better than you. At something. Just don’t let that bring you down.
I used to compare myself to the other girls in class and get so depressed thinking, “Why can’t I dance like her?” I realized that comparing myself to others was toxic and was only making my dancing worse.
When I finally started feeling happy for other girls in my classes, that was when I actually started feeling positive in class. And that took my dance to a higher level.
I’ve learned to stop comparing my journey to someone else’s – be it for my career, or for my blog, or for my other random hobbies.
If one of my friends gets promoted to Senior Manager, I will be happy for her. I won’t sit around moping and wondering why I didn’t get a promotion (well, the answer is obvious, I chose to quit my job to become a student for life :P).
Or if someone talks about how they earned $10,000 from their blog last month, I will be happy for her. I’m not going to cry because my blog is still earning peanuts.
Never compare yourself to others. Celebrate other people’s successes with them and use them as a source of inspiration!
8. Never think you’re too good to go to a beginner class
Sometimes I attend a class that is at a level way lower than mine and I am so shocked at how much more difficult it is than actually attending an advanced-level class. How is that possible, you may ask.
Well, in an advanced class, the combinations are so difficult that sometimes you’re just focusing all your mental energy on getting it right. However, in a beginner class, you already know all the steps and it actually gives you time to work on executing everything perfectly.
Once in a while, I like to attend beginner classes. It brings me back to where I first began. It reminds me of how much work I’d put into dance. And it’s always nice to see other motivated beginners and witnessing their progress. Sometimes, I find beginner dancers more motivating than advanced-level ones 🙂
Never think you’re too good for something. Stay true to your roots, your values, and your beliefs.
9. The best way to give back is to teach others
I’ve studied with so many great ballet teachers in the past (including many famous ex-ballerinas). The teachers who have left the most impact on my life are the ones who do it because they truly love the art and aren’t doing it just for the money. They’re the ones who stay 30 minutes after class to answer questions. They’re also the ones who don’t mind putting their hands on your smelly feet to explain to you how to point your toes better. You get the idea.
I used to want to be a ballet teacher too but then I realized that it would take too long. Instead, I got my yoga teacher training certification. I love it when people ask me to teach them yoga or for general advice on how to get started. I think I naturally love teaching and sharing my knowledge with others. That is why I started this blog, to share my life learnings in hopes to inspire another generation!
Never think that you don’t know anything or that no one would be interested in what you would have to say. I was really surprised that within weeks of starting my blog, people were already asking me for blogging advice. Ironically, I felt like a complete newbie at the time but others looked at me as an “expert.”
Don’t shy away from helping others. Teach others and spread knowledge and joy.
10. Early retirement is a thing!
Did you know that the average age of a ballerina at retirement is 35? Ballet is SO DEMANDING on the body. It’s seriously a sport. I admire dancers who are able to dance beyond their 30’s (it’s rare).
However, a lot of these dancers don’t actually retire after leaving the big stage. A lot of them go into teaching, coaching, and choreographing. They love dancing so much that they keep doing it for the rest of their lives, in some other shape or form.
I think the same will hold true for me. Apparently, I have a high enough net worth that I could actually have retired 5 years ago (that’s what the FI calculator told me, sounds a bit fishy however). Regardless, there are some things I love doing (such as writing, blogging, volunteering, researching, dancing, and learning) and I definitely do not see myself retiring from that any time soon.
Ever since I quit my corporate job, I stopped dreaming about retirement. If retirement is defined as “not having to work” or more precisely, “not having to do work you don’t enjoy,” then I guess I have already achieved early retirement 😉
Create a life you love that you don’t need to retire from.
In this article, I discussed all the life lessons that I learned from studying classical ballet. Studying ballet has taught me to be a fighter and never give up. It’s taught me how to set goals and celebrate small wins. I’ve improved my outlook on life. What’s best is that ballet has given me the confidence to step outside of my comfort zone and pursue my greatest passions in life.
What are your life passions? What lessons have you learned from them?
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