"When I would get competitive over every little thing, my teachers would remind me that there is no perfect dancer out there," says ballet student Alina Taratorin. (Photo by Oliver Endahl, courtesy Taratorin)

How to Channel Your Competitiveness So It Helps—Not Hurts—Your Dancing

Ballet dancer Alina Taratorin has struggled to control her competitive nature for years. "When I was younger," the 17-year-old Bayer Ballet Academy student says, "I would get so intimidated by the other dancers at competitions. If someone made a nasty face at me or did intimidating stretches, I would actually shake and fall onstage because of it." Her desire to win was strong, but rather than channeling that desire in a productive way, she'd attack herself. "I tend to overanalyze everything," she says. "I had to learn to control my own mind."

These days, Alina uses an array of mental tricks to perform at her peak without getting psyched out by the competition. Are you struggling with overly competitive tendencies? Try these tips from the experts to bring balance to your dancing life.


Focus on YOU

Whenever you begin to fixate on out-performing the dancers around you, take a step back. "Remember why you're dancing," says Dr. Kate Hays, a performance psychologist based in Toronto. "What matters to you about dance? What do you love about it?" Articulating your strengths and your passions can help you stay calm and focused when a competition heats up.

If you're having a hard time concentrating on yourself in key moments, Alina recommends putting on your metaphorical—and literal!—blinders. "Before competitions, I put my headphones in, stand facing the wall, and go over things by myself until it's my turn to dance," she says. Tuning out the competition can help you perform without fretting about what's at stake.

Linda Holland, owner and artistic director of the Dance Institute in Austin, TX, points out that this self-focus starts in the classroom. "Take class for yourself," she says. "You have things you're working on—your feet, your extensions—that aren't the same as what your peers are working on." For big-picture goals, like competition titles or summer intensive slots, you can talk to your teachers to develop a personalized path. "Whatever the goal is, we can outline what you need to do to get there," Holland says. "If everyone is on their own path, it's not about competing with each other. It's about putting in the work."

Students from Dance Institute in Austin, TX, performing at competition (Evolve Photo and Video, courtesy Linda Holland)

Compare Without Criticism

One dancer's arabesque is higher than yours. Another has better feet. Comparing yourself to your fellow dancers is unavoidable, especially when you spend hours every day surrounded by mirrors. "But what are you doing with the comparisons you're making?" Hays asks. "Are you channeling those observations into your own growth?"

If seeing someone else's epic balances inspires you to build your core strength, that's a constructive use of competitive energy. If watching your peers succeed makes you cut yourself down—or if your instinct is to sabotage them, or to lash out so that they feel bad about themselves—that's not so healthy.

Turn to people you trust to help you reset. "When I would get competitive over every little thing, my teachers would remind me that there is no perfect dancer out there," Alina says. "Even the best professionals have qualities that aren't ideal, but they learn to hide them or control them. Also, dance is a subjective artform. One director might not like how I move, but another person might love it. We don't all have to be exactly alike."

Alina Taratorin (photo by Oliver Endahl, courtesy Taratorin)

Take It One Day at a Time

Changing your thought processes—let alone any unproductive behaviors associated with those thoughts—likely won't happen overnight. Be patient with yourself, and be willing to engage in some trial and error to determine what helps you most. Your goal is to feel as motivated as possible without crossing the line into harmful patterns.

Hays offers a strategy for learning to modulate your competitive spirit: "Do a self-rating from 0 to 100, where 0 is not at all competitive and 100 is absolutely cutthroat. Based on past experience, what is your optimal amount of competitiveness? Where are you now? If you've gone over your best number, how can you pull back?"

To decrease anxiety, she recommends diaphragmatic breathing, fully expanding the lungs and rib cage into the sides and the back. Visualization can also be useful. As an audition, competition, or other high-stress event draws near, picture how you want to present yourself and practice affirming your abilities. When the day arrives, you'll have tools at the ready to keep your competitiveness in check.

Finally, remember that even if a result isn't what you were hoping for, chances are it's not the end of your dance journey. "There are always lessons you can take back into the studio," Holland says. "You can always look ahead to what's next."

Latest Posts


Gregory Batardon, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne

The 2021 Prix de Lausanne Prepares for a Year Like No Other

In an ordinary year, early February marks an exciting time in the ballet world: the return of the prestigious Prix de Lausanne competition. But this is no ordinary year, so this is no ordinary Prix. Due to the pandemic, the 2021 edition will run from January 31 to February 7, completely via video.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Photo by Mena Brunette, XMBPhotography

Inside Washington Ballet Artist Ashley Murphy-Wilson's Dance Bag

Ashley Murphy-Wilson, an artist at The Washington Ballet, is all about making things personal. Well, personalized, that is. "My best purchase ever was a label maker," she says. "Everything I own is labeled. My phone charger is labeled. My roller is labeled. Everyone knows: If I leave something in the studio, I'm coming back for it—because my name is on it."

The TWB dancer adds a personal touch to almost everything in her dance bag, be it with her label maker, her "signature" leopard print legwarmers or her bedazzled (yes, we said bedazzled) booties. It's the mark of an experienced dancer; Murphy-Wilson, now in her sixth season at TWB after 13 years with Dance Theatre of Harlem, knows better than to let her belongings get lost to the dance studio "black hole" effect.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Charlene Gehm MacDougal as Lead Nursemaid in Petrushka. Photo by Herbert Migdoll

In Memoriam: Joffrey Dancer Charlene Gehm MacDougal, 69

Former lead dancer with The Joffrey Ballet, Charlene Gehm MacDougal died of ovarian cancer on January 10 at her home in New York City, age 69.

Gehm illuminated the inner life of each of the varied characters in her extensive repertoire. Whether she was the gracious hostess in George Balanchine's Cotillon, the riveting Lady Capulet in John Cranko's Romeo and Juliet, or in the tumult of William Forsythe's Love Songs, she drew the viewer's eye and heart to the essence of the role.

As Forsythe puts it: "Charlene was certainly one of the most elegant dancers I have had the privilege to work with. Her striking countenance flowed into her work and, joined with her wicked sense of humor and intelligence, created thoughtful, mesmerizing and memorable art."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks