I get this question a lot, especially after dance competition weekends. And I completely understand it. We stand in awe of gorgeous dancers with long legs, perfect bodies, and flawless technique and wonder, “why don’t I look like that?” The answer is simple, but one you might not want to hear. With a few exceptions of course, the answer is one of two things, or maybe a combination of both. One, you weren’t born that way, and two, you don’t work as hard as she does. I know it sounds harsh, but sometimes the truth is a bitter pill. First, the “born with it” answer. Don’t get me wrong, dancers come in all shapes and sizes and every dancer should embrace the body they have. Dancers can be absolutely brilliant on stage in any height, weight, or shape – I’ve seen it first hand. Do not believe that just because you don’t have the “perfect” dancer body that you should not dance – that is absolutely not true. But when a dancer stands back and looks at “that girl” on stage and wonders why they don’t look that way – sometimes it is as easy as a simple anatomy lesson. Some girls are born with long legs, great turn out, high arches, a long neck – and a list of other things all dancers wish they had. It’s just that simple; they were born with it. Of course they had to work to develop it, but you can’t trade in the body you were born with for a different model. You can however, embrace it, improve it, and learn to work to your strengths. You can create the best possible version of your body through hard work, dedication, and solid training. Which brings us to part two.
The “work harder” answer. This is the honest and brutal truth – she probably works harder than you. I call this the “Maddie” syndrome. Suddenly, every young girl who takes a few dance classes a week wonders why they don’t look like Maddie from Dance Moms. Apparently they watch the show, but don’t pay close attention to the details. Like the fact that she doesn’t go to school, and that she trains all day! When she was recently interviewed about her dance schedule, Maddie replied “usually on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I start at about 1:00. On Thursday I have rehearsal at 9:30 in the morning. I do ballet and then I go to my tutor and then I go back to dance at 4:00. It really depends on the day, but I always end around 9:30 or 10.” Now I did the math, and that’s about ten hours of dancing a day!
I’m not saying that every girl should be dancing ten hours a day – in fact, I don’t even think it’s healthy. But when you wonder why she looks like that and you don’t – it’s because she is dancing over forty hours a week and you are dancing four hours a week. You are not going to look like Maddie Ziegler.
Dance is not magic. You are born with a certain body and then you develop that body to become a dancer. The harder you work, and the more time you devote, the better you will get. Dance is hard work. Period. Your teacher can’t make you better. They can give you all of the information and training and encouragement you need to be amazing, but the magic resides in you.
That’s the truth. Dancers aren’t created by a magic wand or a tv show camera – they are built by dedication, passion, and drive. Their “magic” on stage is built upon hours and hours of blood, sweat, and tears in the studio. The seemingly effortless movement you see on stage rests on the foundation of hundreds of sit-ups, of full day rehearsals, of classes upon classes upon classes – day in and day out.
So don’t stop watching that girl on stage, she deserves your attention. Keep your eyes focused on her, but don’t wonder why she looks so great. There’s no need to wonder, because I know the answer. She looks amazing because she is amazing -- and she has put in the work to get there. Now, stop comparing yourself to her and instead develop yourself as an artist, because you are just as amazing! So give her a heartfelt round of applause, then get back to the studio and get to work. You’ve got magic to create.