The Slight Edge For Dancers

I recently read Jeff Olson’s book, The Slight Edge. I was looking for information to help me improve myself, my business and my life. I found his philosophy so powerful and realized that it is applicable to any pursuit you might care about. So here, I apply it to the pursuit of Dance.

“Simple daily disciplines—little productive actions, repeated consistently over time – add up to the difference between failure and success” from The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson.

The pursuit of any skill is a compilation of hours and hours of dedication, practice and determination. For a dancer this means come to class early and stay late. Listen to and apply all corrections to your own movements. Watch everyone. Practice, practice, practice. Place yourself in the front row. Learn all the parts. Ask questions. Protect your joints and bones with proper alignment and a sprung floor.

These are the class habits that create a foundation that leads to rapid improvement. There are many other daily habits that will support your bodies health while you are asking for it to go beyond what it is currently able to do. You must stay hydrated, eat quality protein, plenty of fruit and vegetables, cut down on sugar, get enough sleep, take care of your instrument with self care like baths, massage and other bodywork modalities like chiropractic care or meditation and you must stretch every day. Strength training and aerobic exercise are also important to maintain proper muscle tone and cardiovascular health.

But then of course you can’t dance to the exclusion of all else. must have other interests, contact with family and friends. Time away from the studio is key to avoid burnout—get outside! Study dance history, art history, music history, philosophy, read novels, play games.

While all of these things are easy to do, they are also easy not to do, as Jeff Olson points out. Individually they seem insignificant, but taken together they are anything but. They are the difference between a good dancer and a great dancer. They require time and patience to make that difference.

“Difficult takes a little time, impossible takes just a little bit longer” -Jeff Olson

For dancers, this translates into thousands of plies, thousands of pirouettes. It’s attending class even when you’re tired or busy or when it’s a beautiful day outside.

Jeff Olson also points out the link between Happiness and Success. The common belief is that if we are successful we will be happy. But in fact the reverse is true—if we are happy we will be successful. For dancers that means quieting down that negative voice in our heads that makes us compare ourselves to others. It means helping other dancers and taking pride together in the finished product. It means sometimes dancing away from the mirror. It means attending dance concerts for inspiration. It means audition a lot so that you learn to see it not as a terrifying ordeal but as a chance to grow and learn.

Who we are is also affected by who we associate with.

“We are all having a ripple effect on others; the question is, what kind of ripple effect, negative or positive, do we want to have?” -Jeff Olson

We have all had the experience of being in class with someone who is insecure, self-absorbed, and selfish. They don’t seem to know that there is anyone else in the room. They are glued to their reflection. They don’t blend in, they stick out. Behavior like that effects the whole mood in the room. It creates a competitive atmosphere. But then there’s the dancer who asks good questions, helps other dancers with a difficult combination, and knows when to blend with the group. The class feels comfortable and exciting when this is the prevailing attitude. Which dancer do you want to be? It’’s up to you.

Not sure where to start? Then find someone who you admire in class for their work ethic, or their technique and watch them. If you truly desire to improve you might need to change your spot at the barre, away from the chatty dancers, the late arrivers and the dancers who complain about being tired. They will hold you back. Make a commitment to yourself to create new habits, a new mindset, that anything is possible. And celebrate your successes—especially the little ones. One good double pirouette. An inch closer to the floor in your splits. Remembering a complicated sequence. Build momentum and run with it.

Make a plan, but don’t get caught up in needing it to be a perfect plan. No plan is perfect. You must be flexible. Suppose your plan is to go to New York and land a job in a major Ballet company. But along the way, you realize you find the most joy in dancing Salsa. Adjust the plan and move forward.

“First comes the thought; then organization of that thought into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination” -Napoleon Hill, the Law of Success