I can't stop beating myself up over past mistakes. How can I focus on what's in front of me? —Susan

One of the most beautiful things about dance is that it exists only in the “now"—once the movement's moment is over, poof! You can never get it back. But you can always try again—and that's where the real success lies.

I know from experience how damaging relentless self-criticism can be. I used to cry when a class or rehearsal didn't go well, or give up mid-combination in defeat. Once, after a particularly frustrating rehearsal, the stager took me aside and made me repeat, over and over again, “It just doesn't matter." I felt pretty silly, but she helped me realize that I was getting in my own way.

Try to look at your training and dance career as an endless learning process. If you've performed poorly or had a bad class, it's normal to feel frustrated. But try to have a little perspective. I promise, there are much bigger problems in the world. Instead of equating a botched pirouette as a failure, think of it as an enticing challenge. What lessons can you take away from it? And remember, give yourself credit for all the things you've done right.


Do you have tips to camouflage a long torso and short legs? —Casey

As dancers, we often develop our own personal style—but it's important to think of it as flattering your proportions rather than hiding or “camouflaging" them. I have a long torso myself, and there are easy ways to highlight your line. For instance, when choosing a leotard, high necklines, like turtlenecks, will accentuate the length of your upper body. Instead, opt for open necklines and backs to visually break things up. The height of the leg opening helps, too—“ballet-cut" leotards come up higher on the hip, adding the illusion of a few more inches of leg.

As for your lower half, chopping up the leg—whether with longer shorts or cut-off tights—will be less flattering. Instead, opt for footed or stirrup-style tights. If your dress code allows, try wearing pink or black tights over your leotard, letting the elastic hit at the waist (as opposed to slinging them low around your hips—low-waisted styles will make your torso appear longer). Short skirts and cropped sweaters can easily help complete a flattering ensemble.

Are private lessons necessary? I think I'd improve more quickly, but I'm already really busy. —Sarah

Private coaching, while expensive, certainly has benefits—it allows you to fine-tune small details or concentrate on specific things you're having trouble with (such as pirouettes or petit allégro). They're especially helpful if you're behind for your age, have some serious bad habits or if you're preparing a solo.

But busy dance students also need time for homework, family, socializing and rest. If you're already struggling to keep up with a heavy schedule, it's better to hold off on private lessons for a time when you can really focus—after your performance season is over, for instance, or during summer, winter or spring break. That way, you're better equipped to mentally and physically handle the intensity. And keep in mind that some schools frown upon private lessons, especially if you're working with an outside teacher. Make sure your studio is okay with it first.

Do you have a question for Amy? Send it to her here, and she might answer it in an upcoming issue!