Comparison in Dance and Life

Comparison in Dance and Life

[An] important lesson to impart to a young student is that they can be proud of their achievements, regardless of how those achievements compare to another’s. It is a waste of time and energy to be concerned about the achievements of others. (John White, Teaching Classical Ballet)

We live in a time that is rife with comparison. With the constant presence of social media, it is even easier to know what is going on in other people’s lives. But do we really know what is going on? I’ve heard it said before that it is all too easy to compare other people’s highlight reels to our personal behind the scenes. This is not fair or healthy. You cannot be envious and happy at the same time.

From time to time, I find it is helpful to give myself a quick check-up in the comparison department. I ask myself “Do I compare my talents, my accomplishments, or even my belongings to other people’s?” I am often surprised at what is revealed, and it helps show me that there are more important things to do than compare myself to others.

The Bible warns us against the dangers of comparison and gives us advice that is still relevant today. People have struggled with comparison and how to overcome it for as long as there have been people. In Jude (Jude 1:19) we are warned against the division comparison can cause, directives to avoid comparison run throughout the ten commandments (Exodus 20:17), and Israel’s first king, Saul struggled with it. “Saul was very angry; this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.” (1 Samuel 18: 8-9) When Saul chose to keep a close eye on David, he took his focus off God. You can’t focus on your purpose while looking at other people.

It is common for dancers to compare themselves with other dancers. It can actually be very healthy and serves as an integral part of the learning process. In about a month, recommendation forms will be arriving at your homes by mail. This is a chance to celebrate the milestones reached in the past year, as well as an opportunity to get excited about another year of dance. Recommendations are a snapshot of your current abilities at the current time. Some years, students are thrilled to be placed in the next higher level. They have finished the mastering phase in their current level and are ready to begin the learning phase in a new level. For those students just entering the mastering phase for their level, it is normal to feel disappointed when you don’t progress as fast as you would like or if you don’t get placed in the level you had hoped. It can feel extra frustrating when a fellow student (or even a friend) gets the placement you wanted.

Please know that the teachers at MKS take this time very seriously. Most of us even meet together and discuss what we think is best for each individual dancer. Maybe we think a student’s training could really take off if they could just focus on strengthening a certain skill, and that skill isn’t addressed in depth in the next level. Maybe we think a student needs to be pushed a little harder to help them realize they still have more to learn. There will always be someone who can jump higher, do more turns, has higher extensions, or has stage presence to spare. “Dwelling on the negative only contributes to its power.” (John White, Advanced Principles in Teaching Classical Ballet)

You should dwell on the only truly unique thing you can bring to the studio-you! So bring the best version of you. It’s been said, “The only person you should try to be better than is who you were yesterday” (Unknown) because when you strive to be the person God made you to be then you will find satisfaction and joy. I’ll leave you with one last thought from the ultimate authority –

“Let everyone be sure to do his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work done well and won’t need to compare himself with someone else.” (Galations 6:4)

See you on the dance floor!

– Erin Cooper