I don’t like hinky words. Like hinky, for example.
There is one word that is so misused, abused, tortured, and flailed about in ballet and I cannot stand it one more minute. Please stop. Please stop excusing yourself and claiming to be explained away by your pursuit of… oh god, here is the word… perfection.
Perfection. Did you know that unless you ascribe to the theological definition of perfection that you cannot define perfection without using the word perfection? Circular distortion. It means that there isn’t actually a definition. If a word doesn’t actually have a definition, it isn’t a “real” word, it is hinky.
But I’m a scholar so I’m going to have a go at a clear and concise definition for you. Perfection is a desperate attempt to succeed by someone else’s undefined standards and to receive approval from others who believe that they have some abstract notion of what constitutes these abstract standards. Perfection is a set of unattainable goals that are set and controlled by other people.
And there you go. Perfectionism is based on a foundation of deadly self-criticism not on life-affirming motivation. Now if you are a professional dancer, or a pre-professional dancer, I’m actually sorry to say that in a way, yes, since it is your job, you are beholden to do your job according to someone else’s standards. And if they want to throw around the word perfection at you, well suck it up ballerina, you are on someone else’s dime. But you don’t have to embrace the nonsense and use the hinky meaningless word yourself. But for the adult dancer, this is a 100% different situation. I know, I know, you are thinking but I have to do what my teacher says and there are standards of classical ballet!!! Yes. You are correct. And we should be striving for those standards. We should be striving for more grace, speed, accuracy, more turns and higher jumps… and joy and happiness and satisfaction. We should be setting attainable goals, goals that we can actually define, goals that have meaning, high goals, yes! But real goals, dancers, REAL, beautiful, dancerly goals.
The Tao I Ching says that we should exercise unrelenting discipline over our thoughts and cultivate only productive attitudes because we are the product of everything that we put into our bodies and our minds. When you are thinking that maybe your thought patterns are weak because you aren’t staking a claim for perfection, remember this – unrelenting discipline! that is hardcore, that is real!
The Bible says to do this, forget what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, press toward the goal for the prize… (Phil 3:12-15, translation my own). Mistake, bad class, trip and fall on your face… forget perfection, forget it and strain forward with all your might for your defined prize – a double pirouette, full splits, a pretty jete.
Here are a few more thoughts for you…
A perfection of means and a confusion of aims seems to be our main problem ~Albert Einstein.
Advance, and never halt, for advancing is perfection ~Khalil Gibran.
It is through art, and through art only, that we can realize our perfection ~Oscar Wilde.
Here’s my last thought on this… love yourself and love dance and, please, refrain from torturing both! Give yourself permission to learn to grow even from mistakes because that is what happens when we challenge ourselves. Leave that hinkey perfection in the studio corner, it doesn’t play well with others. Give yourself permission to set your own goals and most of all to bring yourself to the barre and to be yourself when you dance!