"If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Updated in May 2022
Here's to the dreamers.
This article was written for dancers, though you can apply my tips to any career path.
Are we too old to dream?
In the performing art industry, especially in the dance world, you might hear that phrase: "You are too old; it's too late now." Well, it is true, only if you are listening to them. Are you in this position today? Are you starting dance quite late, and you are unsure about your future?
I will be frank with you. I have been dancing since my childhood, and I have been a performing art professional for more than 17 years. I have a career. I have always been a dancer my entire life; however, I started my professional dance training at 23.
My life could have been entirely different if I got scared of my dreams.
After watching a ballet late at night on my favorite TV channel, I had an epiphany and decided to give it a go. I gave up my career in hospitality management to become a professional dancer.
I knocked on many doors to pursue my dream, and it wasn't an easy task. According to many ballet teachers, I was way too old to start ballet, and they refused me in their school. Until the day I found my angel, my master, my first ballet teacher.
He changed my life forever.
What's too Old?!
Firstly what's old? 15? 18? 23? 33? 65?? I didn't know that I was too old until someone told me. Hearing such a statement in your 20s when you are so happy and cheerful like me was pretty depressing; come on!... I was 23 years old, and I felt young!
As a dance teacher, I have met many students who started their professional dance journey at 15, 16, or older. Luckily for them, they had me as an example of a late start and realized that it wasn't too late for them after all. If you are reading this article and between 14 and 20, you are still way ahead of me!
So what do you do if you are being told that you are too old for something?
Don't listen and see the positive side of the situation: you have the maturity, and it is your real strength right now!
When people told me that I was too old to be a professional dancer, I couldn't listen to them; I couldn't because my desire was too strong. I wanted to become a dancer, and nothing could stop me. I read many books and articles about dance, watched hundreds of videos on YouTube, and came to my first conclusion: I must enroll in a professional dance school.
I also knew that I wasn't ready for it, so I established a plan to succeed. This obsession shaped my entire life, and this is how I became a professional dancer in just a few years.
I quickly realized that ballet would be my best ally in becoming a professional dancer and would allow me to build a fundamental dance technique. It would help if you started classical ballet as soon as you could.
Classical ballet will help you with any dance style you wish to pursue. You will learn all the foot positions and steps that are used in academic dance, as well as the famous dance vocabulary. This language is universal. Ballet will also give you lines, strength, flexibility, and grace, making your movements seem effortless. You will learn how to use your entire body and improve your footwork.
Ballet is essential if you are serious about dance; preparing your body for the professional dance world is crucial.
This fundamental technique will change your life and put you on the right path. Learn more about classical ballet and its benefits:
Stretching and Flexibility
At first, I had absolutely no idea, not one clue about stretching and flexibility. It was like another world to me. Shortly after starting my training, I understood that just as crucial as taking regular ballet classes, I also needed to be more flexible if I wanted to become a professional dancer.
It would help if you were flexible enough to execute specific steps without feeling restricted in your movement.
Realizing how important it would be for my career, I decided to take on stretching sessions. For six months, I had four classes per week and regular ballet lessons. I was so stiff; I have to tell you the truth, it was hard work!... My teacher also made me use a brilliant machine to stretch my hamstrings and quad muscles for the split, which was very useful, and I improved pretty quickly.
If you are serious about becoming a professional dancer, take regular stretching lessons. It might not be enjoyable initially, but you will get used to it after a while, and you might even love it!...
There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your progress and finally doing the split! So enjoyable, you will never forget that.
Your body is your tool. You must look after yourself daily.
At 23 years old, I understood that I had to change my lifestyle. I began partying less, eating healthy, and working towards getting an athletic body. I knew that I had to be at my best to be a thriving performing arts professional.
Eating the right food will boost your metabolism, be more robust, and recover faster after an intensive training session. You will be in great shape, and there is nothing compared to the tremendous energy that a healthy diet provides. Every morning, you will wake up with a positive mindset, ready to start a successful and productive day!
If you would like to learn more about such an important topic, I have the perfect article for you:
One of our most popular articles, read it thoroughly; it might change your life.
I also was quite skinny back in the days, so I decided to go to the gym more regularly, and it is how I met my fantastic gym mentor. Gym workout is a genuine science; seriously, all these machines are sometimes complicated and intimidating. If not used properly, they can dangerously change your body and even harm you.
So one day I went to talk to this man who looked very impressive. I told him: "Hello Sir, I would like to be muscular, maybe not as massive as you, because I want to be a professional dancer, but I need more muscles to be able to lift girls and also to look better in tights. I don't know anything about gym exercises, please could you teach me? I'll be very serious and dedicated". He just looked at me and replied: "I'll see you tomorrow at 10.00 am."
And this generous man took me under his wings for a year, and he taught me everything I know. He helped me change my body forever.
I am so grateful to him; he is such a nice person.
You understand now that I had many mentors in my life, and they all gave me something unique, which I still cherish today.
We all need someone to look up to, it is a precious gift, and it can make a big difference in your career. You can't do it all on your own. There is nothing wrong with getting help, especially in the performing arts industry and, most importantly, in dance.
How to find a mentor?
Find someone who inspires you, someone who did it before you. You perhaps already have a mentor right under your nose, and you don't even know it yet! Look around you; you might be surprised. Your mentor might have a completely different vision of success than yours; it doesn't matter. The only thing you need to know is that they did it before, and their experience can help you make your dream come true.
Observe how they operate and, if possible, ask for their guidance regularly.
Do not scare your future mentor, don't be too demanding or present in their lives as a mentor is often a busy person. Be discreet and respect their privacy. You can ask their counsel on a few things and send them emails when you struggle with stuff. Being able to send an email once in a while to request their guidance and expertise on a specific topic can be very beneficial to you and your career.
So go for it and do not hesitate to ask; it could also be a friend or family member. Any support along the way will make a difference in your life and will get you closer to your goals.
Enjoy the journey, and may your mentor give you as much as my mentors gave me.
"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."
Find the perfect training for you
After a year, I was ready to audition for a prestigious dance school. I spent a year of intensive training, ballet, gym, and stretching every week. I had changed my body, and I was ready to take the next step. I found the perfect school for me in Paris, and it looked great.
What is the best school for you?
First, if you start late as I did, you must find a school that accepts students your age. You might be a year or two older than some schools' age limits, but it might still work; I've seen it happen with other students and experienced it myself. Send your application and a nice photo; trust me and try!
If your application is successful, give your best at the audition and don't stress too much about it, you are a student; they don't expect perfection from you at all. They will watch your potential and who you could become! Make sure you look like a student, be willing to learn, and be open-minded.
These are precious years and an essential part of your journey as a dancer. You might write down the most beautiful pages of your life.
You can consider private lessons as well. Private lessons help you progress faster because you receive the complete attention of your teacher; therefore, you can achieve more!
If you are willing to add a bonus to your professional training, join our 1-on-1 Programmes! Discover our courses on offer, perfect for the Horton and Graham techniques lovers:
"Open-mindedness gives students the ability to: embrace different points of view, listen to and consider the perspectives of others before making a decision, understand new ideas and experiences, broaden their mind, and challenge their thinking."
Build your life project on solid foundations, and you will live a happy and fulfilled career.
Catching up with technique wasn't easy, and one of my first teachers once told me: "If you want to improve in ballet, dress up as a ballet dancer, act as if you are a ballet dancer, be a ballet dancer!" That was a revelation!... You must convince yourself that you belong, and the more you'll genuinely love what you are doing, the better you will be. That is one of the best pieces of advice ever, and it truly helped me. It was at first like wearing a mask, but becoming part of my identity changed the way I was taking my classes and made me feel more confident. I progressed faster with that attitude.
You can do anything if you truly believe in it. It is all in mind. You must think and do things in a certain way to manifest your dreams.
To learn more about the power of your brain, read our previous article:
Keep learning at every opportunity; your subconscious will assimilate everything you see. Time is precious, so be smart about it.
Listen to the people around you, and absorb everything you can. Any piece of advice can help you grow. I met this former ballet dancer once when I was just about to start my dance journey, and he told me: "My only regret is that I worked in only one ballet company; therefore, I never really traveled. Don't make the same mistake, be versatile, do different things and see the world!".
These words inspired me to take risks and travel, and I am glad I did.
Maximize your time
Starting late has its advantages but also its challenges. If you start dancing late, you have no time to waste! We sometimes think that we have an entire life ahead of us during these years of training, which is true, but it is not a legend: time does go by quickly! You started late, and you must manage your time smartly.
To catch up, you must work twice harder and do additional research. Learn about your industry, then find what's best for you and work towards this goal. You must be fully dedicated to your craft if you want to change your life in a brief period, as I did.
Be an active watcher, pay attention to details, and how the best students in your class do certain things. I've learned a lot faster by learning from others. I love that.
When I was a student at The Ailey School in New York, I once had a minor injury and couldn't dance for a week. I had long breaks between my classes, so I spent this time observing other lessons instead of hanging around in the lounge with my friends. I asked every single teacher at the highest levels if I could watch the class and see the best students in action. Oh my, I learned so much; it was so interesting. It was a blessing, and it tremendously influenced the way I worked in class afterward.
During my first weeks of professional training, I focused on too many different things simultaneously, which was a bit overwhelming and not very efficient. One of my teachers told me to work on another target every day and every week. With this invaluable feedback, I enhanced my technique in no time!
Plan your week this way; write down everything you have to work on; for instance, on Monday, you would work on your releve, Tuesday on your posture, Wednesday on your Flat Back, Thursday on your artistry, and Friday on your contraction. Use this method for a few weeks and see the difference by yourself. It truly works. I'm sharing these tips with you today because they helped me, and I am confident they will help you.
Consistency is key. Please stick to your daily routine, and when you've found the right approach, repeat it for a few weeks until it becomes a habit. That is how you will achieve anything you put your mind to; it works!
Are you too old to Dream Big?
No, you are not. You can dream and make your dreams come true if you want to.
I know many people who started their dance career late. My first mentor was a former ballet dancer who danced in major ballet companies and began training at 18! Which is quite late for ballet.
The legendary Martha Graham and Lester Horton both started late as well!... Misty Copeland, Principal at The American Ballet, started ballet at 13 years old! Look at where she is today.
These are just a few examples to tell you that you are far from being the only one. If you are willing to learn and hard-working, you will make it.
It might sound cliche, but it is never too late. Listen to your heart and do it,
You Could Be Great.
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Photos: Krivec Ales, Gustavo Cruz, Ann Nekr, Sebastian Voortman, Arron Dunworth
The Private Coaching Programme is for dancers who want to improve, excel, and become the best dancer they can be. Also, for dancers in need of coaching for performances, competitions, college audition preparation, summer program video submissions, pre-professional programmes, and choreography.
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