Handling Disappointment Successfully
by Emily Bufferd
Disappointment in dance is inevitable; somewhere along the road, you’re going to find yourself in a room where you’re metaphorically and/or literally just not what they’re looking for that day. It can feel personal, it will probably feel sad and potentially discouraging, and it can cause a stomachache of defeat like no other. How we honor and handle these upsets is important, and how we guide our students in dealing with them is absolutely imperative.
As an adult working in dance, I get emails saying ‘no’ nearly every day. Quite candidly, ‘yes’ emails are far more elusive than the ones that are often a moment of feeling my feels and then moving forward. With that said, if I allowed every ‘no’ email or conversation to defeat me, then I would have thrown my hands in the air, quit dance, and moved back to the warmth of my hometown in South Florida long ago. Tenacity is part of the game, and the ability to feel disappointed for a few minutes, a few hours, or even a few days (when it was a really gut-wrenching ‘no’) and then get back to work with the acknowledgment that what is for me will be for me, is almost a required skillset the same way we have to stretch our feet and knees in battements (yes, dance kids… you have to do that!).
As an Educator working with young dancers, guiding my students through moments of upset is a different battle. I spoke with a dear colleague, Pamela Levy (Director of Steps Youth Programs at Steps on Broadway) who brought this topic to the forefront of my mind about how she helps guide her students through a few different scenarios. I appreciate the kindness in her approach and hope in working with our students, we can all find as much compassion and love in difficult moments and conversations.
- When a student comes to you upset over a rejection, what is your first inclination of response?
Oftentimes when a student has experienced rejection they are quite upset! My first response is to let them know that they are ok, they will be ok, they are strong and resilient, and that there are many different paths to reaching their goal. I then try to relay my own and other's experiences with “failures” or not getting something I wanted, but how then there were many times that was a good thing because I ended up in a place or direction that was better for me. I do make sure I give them the space to be upset. They need time to digest the news and to absorb what I am saying to them.
- Do you ever let a student who you feel a certain program is a reach for know in advance that you feel their acceptance is unlikely? If so, how do you approach that conversation?
I like to take that on a case-by-case basis. For some students, attending the reach audition can be inspiring, and they can handle the possible rejection. If it is really out of their reach and they are going to struggle during the auditions, I try to redirect them to an audition that will be better suited for them. If they still want to attend then I let them know that they are not yet ready for that program, and then try to outline training goals to prepare for the next year.
- How do you handle the circumstance when one student is accepted to the program but their fellow classmate is not?
Dancers are frequently comparing themselves to others. We do our best to discourage that practice, but it still happens. So when a student is accepted into a program and fellow student is not, the self-doubt for the student who did not get in is intensified. In this situation, it is important to help the student recognize their personal strengths, and also to understand that everyone arrives at their destination at different times. Sometimes I try to direct them to stories on social media that I’ve seen posted by principal dancers that are quite helpful...Isabella Boylston has posted about not getting into ABT’s SI the first year she auditioned, and Lauren Lovette has shared some heartfelt posts about following one’s own path.
I’m very grateful to these dancers who share personal and moving stories that are helpful for younger dancers to see!