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“You’re a professional ballerina?! Wow!…So is it really cut-throat like in the movie ‘Black Swan?’”

The short answer to that question? No. That movie is a psychological thriller, not a documentary on real ballerinas. However, the ballet world CAN be highly competitive and that pressure can manifest itself in the form of some pretty unflattering behavior. But do we all eventually become murderous, self-hating, cat-fighting anorexics as depicted in the movie? Not. At. All. We ladies have bigger fish to fry.

I trained in ballet from the age of 4, and was a professional ballerina for over a decade. I had the great privilege of dancing all across the US, and in many countries around the world. I got to perform those coveted roles like the ‘Sugarplum Fairy’ in the Nutcracker and ‘Kitri’ in Don Quixote. It was pretty legit! And I believe wholeheartedly that my accomplishments came from subscribing to Mikhail Baryshnikov’s pledge, “I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to to dance better than myself.” In short, viciously comparing oneself to others á la Black Swan is short-sighted and self-defeating.

But hating another girl for being better than you will automatically make you better than her, right?? It sounds silly, but that seems to be a sentiment many people in the world share. True, you can easily spend your time focusing on your perceived shortcomings and weighing them against the rest of the people in the room. Or you can simply do the best you can with what you’ve got.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned about venturing through the competitive world of dance:

Stop giving each other ``the up-down.``

You know what I mean. You’re in an audition or at work and you see somebody incredibly pretty/talented/<insert coveted attribute here>. You slowly look her up…and…down. You size her up, and immediately start judging her. Your thoughts go from, “OMG she’s so pretty!” and somehow turn into, “yeah but I bet she’s had work done,” or, “yeah but she probably sucked up to the boss to get that job.” Here’s the thing though…who freaking cares?! Her journey has nothing to do with yours, and belittling her greatness only makes YOU smaller. So replace that childish thought with a grownup one. Mentally congratulate her (sans irony, s’il vous plaît) on that fierceness and celebrate it with her. Notice all the things that make her the awesome person she is and ask yourself if you could stand to take a page from her book. If yes, then do it. If no, then move on.

It may take time to get used to, but it’s so empowering to be a kinder person. And if it’s not enough just knowing your insides are a little prettier, hear this: The sizing-up you’re doing doesn’t go unnoticed. If somebody is being a pest in the audition process, how might people assume she’ll handle working under constant pressure all season? Just. Chill.

Clichés like, “She’s so gorgeous...don't you just HATE her?!`` are more harmful than they seem.

Even if you’re joking, that comment isn’t a very flattering shade on anybody. And as they say, there’s always a little bit of truth in a joke. Ask yourself if a part of you really does hate her a little bit for being better than you. If you do, know that harboring such emotions against somebody for their positive attributes is doing nothing but creating conflict and sadness for you. If what you’re about to say is going to come out jealous or petty, challenge yourself to reword it into a sincere compliment and then go tell her! Even if it’s not in your nature to be this way, it can eventually be. Acknowledging someone else’s achievements isn’t a sign of weakness; on the contrary, it takes great strength.

People can detect your negative thoughts and feelings.

If you’re stuck in your head with feelings of envy, resentment, and bitterness, people tend to pick up on it. Replace your ugly thoughts with beautiful ones. Positivity is a habit like anything else; when practicing good thoughts, your mind will stop going to that dark place so quickly. If you put the effort into re-training your brain to be kinder and more appreciative of people around you, that inner beauty shows. People will enjoy being around you more and you’ll have an easier time living with yourself. Plus I can 100% guarantee you’ll be more successful in life when you’re radiating warm and fuzzy goodness instead of jealousy and petulance.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in situations where I thought I was absolutely ROBBED; instances where I dared to think I ‘deserved’ a role but lost it to somebody I shouldn’t have. So how does a gal handle such tragic loss? Complain to your boss that it should’ve been you? Start a personal litany of reasons why she shouldn’t have gotten it and compare notes with friends?? No. You put on your big girl panties and take a hard look at yourself to figure out what you could have done better. Don’t obsess with the dreadful why not me?! Instead, accept reality and get busy making a place for yourself at the top. If you eventually decide you’re in an environment that doesn’t appreciate you for your efforts, take your gifts elsewhere. Keep it classy, thank everybody kindly, and move on. (I’ve done it, and it feels AMAZING. Side note: I much preferred the place I ended up.)

And OK, I realize this all sounds sort of cheesy and kumbayah of me, especially considering I’m a natural-born snark who grew up wracked with self-doubt. In my initial journey to be kinder, I had to take the “fake it ’til you make it” approach. I said nice things to people and tried to be supportive but sometimes I was really phoning it in. But it’s just like diet and exercise: you get to a place where you realize the way things are no longer works for you and decide to make a lifestyle choice for the better. This was my lifestyle choice. To be kind, encouraging, and sincere- even to people who weren’t very kind to me. To be the best version of myself I could be, both emotionally and professionally by competing only with myself. To be happier. So let’s leave the cut-throat drama to the horror movies and show the world what a REAL working woman is!

AUTHOR: Emily Ramirez

Hi, my name is Emily Ramirez. I was a professional ballerina for over 10 years and now I'm a ballet teacher, choreographer, working actor, musical theatre performer, feminist, optimist, pep-talker, mantra-chanter, husband-adorer, dog-lover, wine-drinker, window-shopper, self-proclaimed master chef, and all around lover of life. I've made it my mission to both draw upon the positive and learn from the negative experiences in life to help inspire my students and peers. The world of performing arts can be so demanding and even quite harsh at times, although it's an absolute gift to be a part of it. I believe everyone deserves to have the confidence and self-worth necessary to enjoy every precious minute of it!

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