“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
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 listen to them. Are you in this position today? Are you starting dance quite late and you are unsure about your future?
I will be very honest 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 years old.
My life could have been completely different if I got scared of my dreams.
It was after watching a ballet late at night on my favorite TV channel that 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 simply 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? 16? 18? 23? 33??? I didn't know that I was too old until someone told me. Hearing such a statement in your 20's when you are so happy and positive like me was quite depressing, come on!... I was 23 years old and I felt young!
As a dance teacher, I have met many students in my classes 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 you are 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 are not too old. You have MATURITY. This is your strength right now, your best asset!
When people told me that I was too old to be a professional dancer, I couldn't listen to them, I simply couldn't, because my desire was too strong. I wanted to become a dancer and nothing could stop me, no one. I read many books and articles about dance, watched hundreds of videos on YouTube, and I came to my first conclusion: I must enroll in a professional dance school.
I also knew that I wasn't ready for it at all, 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 to become a serious professional dancer and would allow me to build a real dance technique. You must start classical ballet as soon as you can.
Classical ballet will help you with any dance style you wish to pursue. You will learn all the basic feet 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, it is an essential support to prepare your body for the professional dance world.
This fundamental technique will change your life and will 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 important as taking regular ballet classes, I also needed to be more flexible if I wanted to become a professional dancer.
You need to be flexible enough to execute certain steps without feeling restricted in your movement.
Realizing how important it would be for my career, I decided to take on stretching sessions. During 6 months I had 4 classes per week along with 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 clever machine to stretch my hamstrings and quad muscles for the split, which was very useful and I improved quite quickly.
If you are serious about becoming a professional dancer take on regular stretching lessons. It might not be particularly pleasant at the beginning but after a while, you will get used to it and you might even love it!...
There is nothing more rewarding than seeing your progress and finally do 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 worked towards getting an athletic body. I knew that I had to be at my best to be a successful performing arts professional.
Eating the right food will boost your metabolism, you will be stronger and you will recover so much faster after an intensive training session. You will be in great shape and there is nothing compared to the fantastic energy that a healthy diet provides. You will wake up every morning 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 a lot more regularly. This is how I met my fantastic gym mentor. Gym workout is real science, seriously it is. All these machines are sometimes complicated and quite intimidating, and if not used properly they can dangerously change your body and even harm you.
So one day I simply went to talk to this man who looked very impressive and 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 just 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 for that, 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 real 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 some 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. Who knows, 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, you don't really care about that. 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 on a regular basis.
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 simply ask their counsel on a few things, ask if you can 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, it could also be a friend or a family member, just ask. 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 on a weekly basis. I had changed my body and I was ready to take the next step. I found the perfect school for me, it was in Paris and it looked great.
What is the best school for you?
First, if you are starting 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, the only thing you risk is not being accepted. Just try!
If you are accepted for an audition, give your best 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 important 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 definitely 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 strong 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. This 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. The cherry on the cake, it even made me progress way faster as a student.
You can do anything if you truly believe in it. It is all in the mind. You must think and do things a certain way to manifest your dreams.
To learn more about the wonderful power of your brain read our previous article:
Keep learning at every single opportunity, your subconscious will assimilate everything you see. Time is precious, so be smart about it.
Listen to the people around you, 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 to travel, and I am so 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! During these years of training, we sometimes tend to think that we have an entire life ahead of us, which is indeed 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 extra 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 very short period of time 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 like that, by learning from others. I love that.
I remember when I was a student at The Ailey School in New York, I once had a small injury and I couldn't dance for a week. I had long breaks between my classes, so instead of hanging around in the lounge with my friends, I spent this time observing other classes. 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 very first weeks of professional training, I used to focus on too many different things at the same time, which was a bit overwhelming and not very efficient. One of my teachers told me to work on a different target every day and on a weekly basis. This was also golden and 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 arms. 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 it really helped me and I am confident that it will help you too.
Consistency is key. Stick to your daily routine, and when you've found the right approach, repeat for a few weeks until it becomes a habit. This is how you will achieve anything you put your mind to.
Are you too old to Dream Big...
No, you are not. You can dream and you can make your dreams come true if you really want to.
I know many people who started their dance career late. My first mentor is a former ballet dancer who danced in major ballet companies and started his 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 definitely 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
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