Modern ballet dancers coaching

Why Do Modern Ballet Dancers Need Development Coaching?

Nearly fifty years in the business of ballet has allowed me to work alongside several generations of emerging dancers, as a colleague, as an artistic director and as a teacher and now as a personal development coach. Over the years I have experienced some of the good old days as well as some of the bad, but mostly what I have seen is exciting and positive change in our industry.

I often hear people of my generation starting sentences with—“in our day”… followed by lamentations over declining standards of professionalism and of how a younger generation is unappreciative of their predecessors’ achievements. It is true that I too look back on days of yore with some nostalgia from time to time, and I do not always “get” what happens in the world of dance today, and perhaps many fine values do run the risk of being lost in the process of change, but let’s not forget that some of the ideas and values that dominated our era were not all that great anyway and to be honest; many of our accomplishments were not necessarily worthy of preservation. I’m not dismissing the past, but we must be mindful that the needs and aspirations of every new generation of dancers will be different from those who went before them.

Young dancers of any generation are children of their own time. They have their own views on dance, on life and on art. The challenge for artistic directors and teachers is today, as it always was, to provide leadership, management and training that accommodate these ever changing attitudes; whilst at the same time safeguard knowledge and professional values that have evolved over decades. However, with the extraordinary pace of social change we experience today the gulf between past achievements and present aspirations is widening at an exponential rate, and the challenge of keeping abreast with progress is increasingly difficult.

Contemporary dancers seem to be faring better in these times of change than ballet dancers and I imagine the clue to this is in the word “contemporary”. The training of ballet dancers, however, is not one that traditionally encourages initiative and self-management. Ballet dancers are typically told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. The profession is also one that by necessity demands an unusually single-minded focus from very early on in life. Whilst this can develop some very attractive qualities in a person it can have its downsides too.

Many ballet dancers lead relatively sheltered lifestyles, removed from demands of the “real” world outside of the ballet company. This somewhat rarefied existence can have detrimental effects, leading to insecurity and low self-esteem. Furthermore, in the ballet world, old-fashioned “command and control management” still dominates and because of long established patterns of behaviour people within the profession, even when they move into teaching and leadership positions, are unlikely to break from convention and so outmoded and destructive habits prevail.

It is in light of the above that I believe regular provision of personal development coaching for dancers may have a role to play in helping future ballet dancers move with the times more effectively. I’m not referring to coaching in the sense we normally associate it with ballet (and sport) but in the sense of non-directive coaching, or life coaching, as it is generally known, a concept in personal development that has virtually exploded onto the market since the late nineties.

Coaching enables a person to adopt a learning philosophy that will help them to develop effectively, deal successfully with change and meet challenges with confidence. It is about improving a person’s thought process, and to help them think—for themselves. The fit between dance and non-directive coaching seems to me so perfect that I think every ballet company should provide this to all its members as a matter of course—top to bottom.

Dancers that receive coaching for personal and professional development from the beginning of their careers would mature and become truly useful company members sooner, perhaps without having to go through some of the stress and insecurities many dancers experience in their late teens and early twenties. The self-awareness (as opposed to self-consciousness) that comes with coaching would help develop more grown up, emotionally balanced, and motivated individuals. Such professionals have more capacity for self-management and will therefore work more efficiently and effectively, as well as having a greater chance of reaching their full artistic potential, and as a result be more useful employees in a ballet company.

Ultimately I believe dancers that have received coaching would grow into professionals with a broader outlook on both life and profession, and with a greater potential for being proactive in the shaping of their own lives and careers. And so, perhaps, artists with the capacity to move with the times and become the enlightened leaders of tomorrow, whilst still valuing the past, will emerge from the ranks of young dancers of today.

Ideal time for coaching


If there is one thing I have learned from being a coach it is that change is the law of life. People change, circumstances change, friends arrive and friends leave; life doesn’t stop for anybody. And unless you want to be left behind you have to be up for the challenge of moving onwards as you and things around you change.

Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go that is needed to progress because nothing is as painful as remaining stuck where you no longer belong. Courage is having faith to let go of the familiar in the firm conviction that there are far better things ahead than what you leave behind.

However, new situations are uncomfortable and difficult before they become easy, and good things take time and effort to accomplish. And even though change may be inevitable, growth from change is optional because growth and comfort do not coexist easily. At any given moment you have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into the safety of the familiar. But you will never grow until you step out of your comfort zone because development begins where your comfort zone ends.

The main reason people seek out coaching is because they think they are in a problem situation, which they are not handling well. Others feel they are not living life fully. Many feel they are not leveraging their full potential and want it tapped. They may be missing opportunities, under performing or just feeling stuck. Some have self-doubt, unreasonable fears and lack resilience to cope. Most are simply getting in their own way. In all cases it starts with the recognition that help is needed.

But coaching is not only for troubled times, especially if you want to remain a top performer. It will in fact be most needed and most effective when everything appears to run perfectly well because: “This too shall pass”. And it is all too easy to remain oblivious to what’s happening around you and what’s changing within you if you don’t pay attention, even when life is great.

When things seem reasonably OK is actually the ideal time to take a closer look at your situation, and when you are most able to make positive change and progress. The question is how do you know it’s your time to seek out challenge and change. Below you will find ten signs that, if three or more of these statements ring a bell, indicate that now is the right time for you.

1. Your life is basically running smoothly.

2. You are mostly getting positive feedback at work.

3. You don’t have to work too hard to be successful.

4. You no longer prepare for meetings because you already know the answers.

5. You are as busy as ever yet slightly bored.

6. You are spending too much time fixing other people’s problems.

7. You have stopped learning something new every day.

8. You are taking more time in the morning to get ready for work.

9. You feel uninspired by the thought you might still be in the same situation a year from now.

10. You are becoming increasingly negative but can’t identify why.

If any of this rings true for you, and you’d like to explore how coaching can help you move forwards, I would be pleased to schedule a free strategy session with you. It would be risk-free and potentially life-changing if you have the courage to take a close look at your situation. To find out if we are the right match for working together drop me a line to schedule a time for a confidential conversation.