My daughter is the ultimate perfectionist. Even when she does a flawless performance she thinks that she is terrible and scrutinizes every move. Is this healthy?
Ballet is one of the most competitive industries in the world. There are so few positions at the top, and every girl wants to be a prima ballerina. This is a perfect example of a mismatch between supply and demand. There is a massive, massive supply of budding ballerinas, and very little demand for professional classical dancers. Even though each large company may have a feeder school, positions only become available in a company if someone is out due to retirement, injury or reduced performance. They do not just rotate company members to give the new girl a shot. When it comes to this kind of reality and that level of competition, a dancer will actually need a certain amount of perfectionism to get to the top.
Every dancer needs to do the perfectionist thing. That’s what makes ballet so beautiful. There is a sense of perfection and being beyond reality. However it is important to look at her motivation. Girls will use perfection and imperfection as a motivation to keep dancing. Were they ever to be satisfied they might give up. However, if they constantly scrutinize everything they do then they will keep striving towards perfection. The girls who have succeeded, the girls who are number one all have the perfectionism streak, but they also have the ability to sense satisfaction. When you look at a dancer who does nothing but criticize and is critical of herself and the dancing, there is always this angst in her energy. There is angst in the way she dances. There is this lack of satisfaction. But watching a dancer who can look at herself and be not forgiving, but appreciative when she does hit the mark, is a totally different experience. Not only can you judge and critique but can you appreciate your work? When you hit the mark, do you notice it? Or don’t you? Do you ignore all the times you got it right and focus solely on the time you didn’t?
It’s not about stopping a dancer from being a perfectionist, but asking her to add appreciation for hitting the mark. The error is often in the parents and in the teachers who try to stop girls from being critical. We don’t want her to stop being critical, as an athlete that is a brilliant, and crucial trait. You need that competitive edge in this world. But just make sure that every time she hits the mark she jumps up and down once. Then she can go back to being critical, as critical as she likes! The game is not to stop the critique, but to also get the balance that says “I got it!” Then she knows why she is being critical. There is a purpose for the critique. But if she is never going to actually recognize hitting it, then she will always just be critical and it is a downward spiral. If she can then convert all of her criticisms into completions, then there will be a celebration that night!