It’s awesome to be self-confident. It’s totally great to believe in yourself and have that can-do bootstrapping attitude. It’s a fine line, of course, between believing in yourself and being a self-aggrandizing entitled asshat convinced of his or her own unique special snowflake qualities that are a singular gift to the world at large. But as long as you keep it under control, a healthy level of self-regard is essential.
Especially as a dancer, right? Because you have to BELIEVE when you get out on the floor that you are going to be fantastic, that you are going to win, that you are worth looking at. Because if you don’t believe it, let me tell you, friend, nobody else will either.
But sometimes, even with all of that, what you really, really, really need is for someone else to believe it, too.
And for them to say it.
It is absolutely impossible to overstate the importance of saying and hearing these four words:
“I believe in you.”
Last night I went out dancing with some co-workers – it was the after work, who-gives-a-shit kind of dancing. We fooled around, switched out partners, flirted, got a little buzzed, and generally remembered why dancing is so goddamn much fun. Later that night I was chatting with one of the gentlemen, a long-time veteran of the dance business. He’s seen a lot of people come and go, and knows what the hell he’s talking about.
I had not had a great week. There were the general levels of ambient drama that always pervade a studio, extra personal drama with another dancer leading up to a competition we were preparing for, and I wasn’t teaching a lot of lessons, so I was making even less than my usual high-rolling tens of dollars.
And I was expressing that to this guy, and he took my hands and looked at me and said, “You are going to be fine. You are.”
And I nodded and said, yeah, yeah, no, I know, sure, I will be.
And he cut me off, and said, “I’ve seen you dance, I’ve danced with you, I’ve seen you teach. And you have something that not a lot of people have – you are special, you really are. And I believe in you.”
And it made me cry. It made me cry because I was a little bit drunk, but truly because I was so touched that someone actually gave a shit, that someone bothered to watch me and think about me and didn’t just write me off immediately; that this man, who knew whereof the fuck he spoke, believed in me.
It made a difference. You have to believe in yourself, sure. But sometimes you need an assist.
* * *
Last week, one of my students had his first session with a serious coach. His session with her was a true learning experience – she gave him things that he’ll be working on for the next six months (honestly, for the rest of his life as a dancer!) – but it was a change of pace for him. It was a jump up the ladder in terms of expectations and difficulty. Not just one rung, but three or four. Afterwards, we were sitting together, going over his notes from the session, and it was clear that he was a little overwhelmed.
“That was a lot, huh?” I said.
“Yeah.” He nodded, looking down at his notes.
“Here’s the thing,” I said. “She could have told you that everything was great, that you looked perfect, that you were amazing. But she didn’t. You know why? Because she wants you to be a better dancer. And so do I. She takes you seriously, and she knows that you can do all these things. I know it too.”
“I guess…” he said.
“Listen,” I said, “I need you to hear this. You did such a good job today. You were pushed further than you’ve gone before, and you really came through. I know this will make you better.”
“Okay,” he said, not convinced.
“I believe in you,” I said. “I really do. I believe you are a good dancer and I believe you will get better and be a great dancer. That will happen. I need you to believe that, too.”
He straightened his shoulders and looked at me, and I could tell that he believed it a little more, too.
You gotta say it out loud, or it doesn’t count.