Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Joyful Dance Laura Stanyer

Monday, 27 June 2011

Dance and Self-Esteem

Many dancers I've worked with tend to determine their self-esteem by their achievement in dance. Dancers are often judged on how they look and how well they perform and often allow these judgements to negatively affect their self-esteem.

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is your opinion of yourself, how much you value yourself how worthwhile you feel. Your self confidence is the belief in your ability to perform a task therefore not a judgment on yourself as a person. Dancers are susceptible to attach their self-esteem to their dance ability also dancers often set impossibly high standards for themselves for example one dancer I was working with expressed she still felt like a failure although she gave a great performance she didn't receive the positive feedback from the director she was expecting and this greatly affected her feelings about herself.

Having healthy self-esteem is important because feeling good about yourself can affect your actions. If you have high self-esteem you can make friends easily, are more in control of your behaviour, not take life too seriously and will enjoy life more.

Your self-esteem is based on who you are as a person not what you do in life whether your focus is your career or children or other pursuit. If you were to take away your role as mother, father, care giver or your work or activities how would you describe yourself? What personal characteristics best describe you? Most of us struggle to value ourselves and our unique qualities and often look at what we do rather than who we are to find appreciation. For example, if I value myself as only a dancer when I was unable to dance due to Coccydynia my self-esteem may have been negatively affected however if I value that I'm a compassionate person and that I'm considerate, friendly and generous I can value myself although I'm not able to dance.



More often than not as dancers we have very high standards and expect a lot from ourselves in our achievements and we give ourselves very little room for making mistakes which can greatly affect out self-esteem. It is important to adopt a realistic perspective of achievement and learn to value yourself and all your positive qualities, value yourself for who you are not just on what you may have accomplished.

Nurturing your self-esteem

A positive, optimistic attitude can help you nurture your self-esteem allow yourself to be human and make mistakes, lovingly take responsibility for your actions not blaming others around you when your expectations are not met.

Self-esteem can be nurtured by knowing what makes you happy and setting achievable goals can help you feel capable, strong, and in control of your life. Often daily goals are the most important as taking small steps towards your goals and rewarding yourself not only for success but enjoying the process can greatly enhance your self-esteem. For example, after giving birth to my son I assumed after six weeks I would dive straight back into my dance practice and loose all my baby weight I had gained. The reality was I was unable to exercise as I was in constant pain to sit due to suffering Coccydynia as a result of childbirth. After seeing an orthopaedic surgeon I was given the information I needed to work out daily exercise goals. Ideally I just wanted to start dancing but I had to set realistic goals and start gently by walking to build up my cardiovascular fitness. At first I walked for five minutes each day and gradually increased the time until I was walking for half an hour each day. I was receiving acupuncture fro pain relief and I did daily visualisations to help with injury rehabilitation. I acknowledged the good things I was doing looking after my son and accepted I was unable to dance but optimistic I will dance in the future and gradually I lost my baby weight. As you gradually build up towards a goal that is attainable you can begin to value your unique qualities.

It is important to enhance your self-esteem to learn to like and love yourself to have the ability to survive and flourish in the world we live in and a positive attitude and a healthy lifestyle are a great combination for building high self-esteem. Low self esteem and self criticism can have an impact on your ability to function in life and can impact your general well being.

Top Tips to raise your self-esteem:

Love your body

Body image is how you feel about your own physical appearance. For many people, especially dancers, body image can be closely linked to self-esteem as many of us are concerned with our body image as none of us fit the illusion of the perfect body.

Some people think they need to change how they look to feel good about themselves. It is important to change the way you see your body and learn to accept, love and appreciate how amazing your physical self is. The more I studied anatomy and physiology the more I realized how remarkable the human body is and allowed me to change my perspective and love my body.

Write down all the things you like about yourself in a list include:
  • Physical attributes
  • Qualities of your personality
  • Your emotional qualities
  • Your creative qualities or imagination
  • Recognise your beauty, inner power, your strengths, your talents, your unique qualities.
Nurture these qualities and keep adding to this list.

Write down what things or qualities you do not like about yourself
Work out from your dislike list and split into two sections:
  • things to let go of and accept. For example I'm 4ft11” and accept I'm excluded from dance work in the west end due to height restrictions. I accept this and create my own work.
  • things you can work on or change do so gradually.

Be Self Loving

  • Love and respect yourself for who you are
  • Be self-aware so you have a positive self-image
  • Respect your own healthy value system
  • Have a clear idea of your life purpose
  • Have realistic expectation of your goals and outcomes

Trust Youself

Learn to trust yourself, challenge and question the current state of affairs. Trust your own value system to enable you to take risks and trust your intuition. For example I did a full physical assessment of one of my dance students and we discovered she's slightly knocked kneed (Genu valgum, a variation of the knee strucutre) it is a condition where the knees angle in and touch one another when the legs are straightened. I advised her to make adaptations to her contemporary technique and not stand in parallel but with feet slightly apart to prevent injury to the medial side of the knee. Her contemporary dance teacher insisted she stand correctly as she would spoil the aesthetics the art form and may fail her assessment. Contemporary dance is an art form that is evolving but she had to challenge the situation and decide what was more important to her; maintaining her long term health of her knees or maintaining the traditions of technique to receive the grade she desired. What would you do in her situation? Should her self-esteem be affected if she doesn't pass her assessment even though she is an excellent dancer but chooses to respect her unique body? Sometimes we need to take risks that support our wellbeing but may be in conflict with the current state of affairs.

Self-trust is a combination of three emotional and spiritual qualities:

  • self-awareness an accurate assessment of who you are and what you care about or values
  • self-acceptance embracing who you are in all your complexity
  • self-reliance your ability to utilise what you know about yourself to reach your goals without constant worry about the approval or disapproval of others.
Self trust is an important quality of heart and mind as you trust yourself you can better find a way through challenging times and as you accept yourself for who you truly are you will be able to learn and adapt to the experiences of life.


Create a treasure chest of success

Keep a box or journal and write and keep objects and thank you cards or symbols of your successes no matter how small.
Each time you achieve something positive write it down and keep a log. Keep it up to date so each time you feel low go to your treasure chest of success and as you read and look through you can boost your self esteem and confidence. Write down what you are thankful for you can wash away your self doubt by looking at evidence of your achievements and what you appreciate this helps you run a reality check and put overwhelm into perspective.

Fully commit to your responsibilities

When you are working you are fully committed to your work or dance practice. It is important to be in the moment and fully committed to accomplishing your work or dance practice. If one of your responsibilities is to look after your child or children it is important to be fully in that role and give you love and attention fully to your child or children and have quality time and experiences with them. It is important to have time just to be yourself and let go of any judgments from the other aspects of your life. For example do not let what you achieved in your dance practice affect time to yourself but give yourself permission to relax and just be.

Be resilient

Develop the ability to pick yourself up when things go wrong. When you face disappointment learn not to take it personally. Learn visualisation and relaxation skills that develop positive thinking during adversity. When you believe in yourself you are more self aware and able to recognise mistakes take lessons from them and are able to bounce back from disappointment.

Detach from criticism don't take it personally

It can be difficult but attempt to understand when you receive criticism from another person they are criticising an action or behaviour not you as a person. Try to separate the criticism from you as a human being and not take it personally.

Stop being overwhelmed by your inner critic

You will be harming your self-esteem if you constantly listen to your inner critic. It is important to understand your inner critic is attempting to protect you from failure or success. However it can overwhelm you and stop you from progressing sometimes it is healthy to make mistakes as this is how we can learn and improve.

To stop being overwhelmed by your inner critic try:
  • Change the sound, volume, speed and tone of your inner critic's voice so it sounds more supportive. If it is very loud change it to a whisper.
  • Explore the outcomes of failure, are they as bad as you imagine or what lessons may you be missing from avoiding failure. Is the fear of failure stopping your personal growth?
  • Detach your behaviour or actions from your characteristics or who you are as a person. Failure in one task in life does not imply you are an incompetent person.
  • Also striving for success can be seen as a distasteful trait and evoke disapproval from others. Ask yourself what success means to you and what would it be like to be successful. You may want to ask what is more important other peoples opinions or what success may do for you.

Do not compare yourself to others

When you compare yourself to others whether you compare your physical appearance, abilities, natural talents or past achievements you may harm you self-esteem. We are all unique and no one can be you so be the best at being you.

Develop outside interests

It is important in raising yourself esteem to participate in things you enjoy other than your work or family. Most people devote themselves to one aspect of life and neglect themselves in the process. In nurturing yourself you can give more to others and work with greater vitality and enthusiasm.


Build a support network

It is important to surround yourself with people who support you and make you feel good about yourself. Seek out nurturing people who are like minded and have similar value system. Avoid people who don't support you. This does not mean they are bad people but be aware of people who drain you and avoid them. For example, a nurturing, sensitive person can blossom around other caring compassionate people but feel isolated in a competitive environment. Find true friends who love you for who you are as a person first. They do not judge you based on your career, status or outward appearance but appreciate you for you as a person.


Nurture the people around you

Treat the people around you with love and respect so you can enhance others self-esteem which in turn the people around you can support and encourage you creating a positive and supportive environment. Positivity is infectious and can create a joyful environment.


Healthy self-esteem

Take responsibility for your own well being and take small steps each day to nurture your own self-esteem, respect yourself and your own values and seek what you like about yourself. Reframe any negative thoughts about yourself and forgive yourself easily. Give yourself time, space and a goal to aim for, allow yourself to make mistakes, find like minded friends respect yourself for who you are.

If you have a positive body image, you probably like and accept yourself the way you are. This healthy attitude allows you to explore other aspects of life such as, self trust, developing good friendships, growing more independent as a person, and challenging yourself physically and mentally. Enhancing your sense of humour not taking life too seriously and not just seeing yourself as a dancer but developing the various parts of yourself can help boost your self-esteem.

Being Your Best Visualization by Laura Stanyer

Disclaimer: The information contained on this web page is intended as general guidance and information only. Laura Stanyer and its authors accept no liability for any loss, injury or damage however incurred as a consequence, whether directly or indirectly, of the use this information. All advice on this web page should only be used under the supervision of a qualified dance / fitness / healthcare professional.

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