Why Your Hobbies Have More Influence Than You Think
Although I took ballet lessons for 14 years, I never considered myself a ballerina. Unlike my fellow dancers, I never attended summer ballet workshops or submitted headshots to professional dance companies. I treated ballet as a hobby and a form of exercise, not a potential career aspiration. That’s not to say that I didn’t gain anything from ballet.
I’m a firm believer in the idea that what we do affects how we think. The development of good habits in one area of your life will inevitably overflow into all other aspects of your routine, making you a stronger, smarter and better person, which is exactly what ballet did for me.
Thanks to ballet, I have really strong calf muscles, the ability to put my hair in a perfect bun in under two minutes, and can hum the entirety of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite from start to finish on command. More importantly, I have ballet to thank for my work ethic, my discipline, and my endless appreciation for art and beauty.
One of my old ballet teachers used to say, “Nothing about ballet is natural.” The classic balletic stance (feet turned out, abs pulled in tight, back ramrod straight) is completely opposite to the way people naturally stand. Any ballet dancer worth her salt, amateur or professional, needs to train her body to do exactly the opposite of what it wants to do, a task much easier said than done. It takes a neurotic level of dedication and tireless work to mold your body into that of a dancer. Once I taught my body to move balletically, the other challenges in my life started to seem less insurmountable.
Every successful ballerina, from Anna Pavlova to Misty Copeland, knows how to push her body to perform almost superhuman feats without appearing to exert any effort at all. A good ballerina makes dancing en pointe look as easy as breathing. I never came anywhere close to dancing that effortlessly, but my 14 years of trying taught me grace under pressure, the ability to keep my cool no matter how much stress I’m under. The same focus and mental strength necessary to power through a week’s worth of Nutcracker performances with bruised and blistered feet is easily transferable to other arenas of life, from cramming for finals to acing a job interview.
The single most interesting thing I’ve noticed over the near decade-and-a-half I’ve spent dancing is that there is a very specific type of person that becomes a ballet dancer.
My fellow classmates were all incredibly focused, hard-working, determined people. I got used to seeing them all dressed up in leotards and tights, hair pulled back tight, but on the few occasions that I would run into them out on the street or at school, I could still see glimpses of their balletic selves, even in civilian clothing. Year after year, I would watch the older dancers graduate high school and go off to amazingly prestigious universities. The intersection between ballet and academic success was no fluke—the same qualities that make you a good dancer make you a good student. Perseverance, determination, and perfectionism, the holy trinity of dancerly characteristics, just happen to come in handy in the classroom, as well.
I know not everyone spent 14 years dancing, and so all the things I learned from my years of ballet are not applicable to the lives of everyone around me. However, I believe that no skill is so specialized that it cannot be useful in other aspects of your life. What skills have you learned from your job, hobbies, education, or childhood? How are you applying them to the rest of your life?