Chelsea: Dancers, are you following someone else’s dream or your own? Who do you think you need to be in order to be successful in the dance industry? I know those are hard questions, but hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea. Today, I sat down with Susanne Puerschel to talk about breaking down some negative beliefs that are probably not serving you, and instead finding your path to your own dreams. We also talked about the concepts of being a well-rounded dancer and a starving artist, both of which we see a little differently, and of course three mindset tools that are helping Susanne today that might help you too.
Susanne is a former professional ballet dancer and founder of Pointe to Rise, an empowerment society and online business platform for ballerinas and other dancers. If you're considering a ballet or professional dance career or maybe you're the one helping others along that journey, I hope you listen in!
[Motivational Intro Music]
Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and dance team coach turned sport psychologist. This podcast focuses on four main pillars: motivation, resilience, mindset, and community. Each week, you’ll learn actionable strategies, mindsets, and tips to teach your dancers more than good technique. This is a podcast where we can all make a lasting impact and share our passion for dance. Let’s do this!
[Motivational Intro Music]
Chelsea: Welcome, Susanne. Thank you so much for joining me!
Susanne: Oh, thank you, Chelsea, for having me! This has been way overdue, don't you think?
Chelsea: [Laughs] Oh, I completely agree. Yes. I’m so glad to finally have you join us on the show. Will you introduce yourself a little bit? Tell my audience who you are and what you do.
About Susanne – 1:49
Susanne: Sure, so my name is Susanne Puerschel. I am a mother of three incredible boys. I’m a former professional dancer in Europe and in the United States. I am also a business owner. I’m a co-founder. I love nature, and I am very passionate about breaking through old beliefs and systems to find new and better ways.
Chelsea: Ooh, I like that.
Chelsea: Well said. I can tell the people who have done their own marketing business world because we have a good sense of how to say these things, the short version of it, that you know what you're passionate about and you know exactly what you're trying to help with. That’s wonderful!
So, when you say that you are passionate about breaking down past beliefs and systems that no longer work, did that come from your own experience or how did that become your passion?
Susanne: So, I believe — and when I connect all the dots backwards, I’ve always been that way. I’ve always been that girl, even when I was little, that always questioned things (beliefs, things that I had to do). “Why is that that way?” And I think when the pandemic hit I really started diving into my past and more so why did I behave in certain ways, why did I never reach the stardom that I actually really wanted and also had the capacity, like, why did I never get there. And why are performing arts struggling so much? Why are we still talking about the same issues and challenges in the dance industry that I experienced 30 years ago? That’s how it all started.
Chelsea: I’ve been following you and hearing the things you say for a while, and one of the things you talk about a lot is reaching those dreams. As you said, you had your big dreams and so many of us come into this as artists with maybe it’s visions of fame, maybe it’s visions of performing on a certain big stage, or it’s visions and dreams of connecting with an audience. So, I’d love to talk about dreams.
How Susanne’s Dream Evolved – 4:02
So, start with your own dreams. Did you always want to be a ballerina or how did that evolve for you?
Susanne: Most certainly. This is a funny-ish story. So, from the age of two, basically when I started talking, I said to my parents, “Put me in ballet classes. I am going to be a ballerina, and I want to start now.”
Susanne: I was twirling around, always, in my free time. That’s all I could think of. That’s all I wanted. I left home when I was ten, you know? I really went through what some people label as sacrifices, but that was my path. That’s what I wanted, so that wasn't a sacrifice for me. It was just the natural evolution to where I really wanted to be.
I wanted to be dancing at the State Opera in Berlin, and so, I did, you know? Yeah, so that’s where it started.
Chelsea: Yes, you have always.
Chelsea: I’m trying to picture my two-year-old — I don't think she ever asked me anything specific. Did you see ballerinas? How did you know that that’s what you wanted?
Susanne: That’s a great question. I don't know how I knew. I think it’s intuition. It’s knowing. It’s when you’re at that age, you’re really still tapped into your higher self, as we call it. You're not jaded and influenced by any kind of outside needs or boxes that you need to fit in, and that’s what I kept up for a very, very long time.
Chelsea: Oh, that’s so true. Now that you say that, I know I have the conversation with a lot of college-aged, high school-aged dancers when they're stuck, “I don't know what I want to do in life. I don't know what’s next,” and a good question is, “What did you want to do when you were in kindergarten?”
Chelsea: Again, when you said there’s no expectation, there’s no box, there’s no what you're supposed to be. You had that natural intuition of the type of thing you enjoy and what makes you happy.
Susanne: Yeah. Yeah.
Chelsea: I think it’s a rare person that knew it at that age and actually did it.
Susanne: Oh! [Laughs] Is it?
Chelsea: [Laughs] I think so!
Susanne: To put a little block in there, when I was born, I was laying in my mother’s belly with my feet completely this way. I know the audience can't see that but in a complete different angle than dancer feet should ever be.
Chelsea: Extremely flexed.
Susanne: Extremely flexed the other way, and the doctor said, “You know, we need to put them in a cast to flatten them out,” and my mother said, “No. No cast. No.” She asked, “What are the consequences,” and the doctor said, clearly, “If she does not want to be a professional ballet dancer, there will not be any kind of consequences.” In my career, my feet always have been the weakest point, meaning I broke them, any kind of injury I’ve ever had was on my feet.
Susanne: That was it.
Chelsea: How interesting. But that still speaks to the box and what you're supposed to be and people who say, “I'm not built like whatever that career choice is.”
Susanne: Yes. Yes.
Chelsea: So, can you expand on that? When you noticed that your feet — or I guess maybe I should say did you feel like your feet were a barrier to your career dreams?
Susanne: Yeah, always. I always hid my feet. They were always covered in leg warmers, and I wore those upholstered socks so I would actually have a little bump. I never had the beautiful, kitty-cat feet that we so much love to see in dancers.
Susanne: And my self-esteem around it, I never owned them. Let’s just say it that way.
Chelsea: Yeah, oh, that’s an interesting way of saying it, and I’m listening to you thinking I was the opposite. The rest of my body is — I would say I’m taller. I’m just more athletic, stronger built, not the lean, traditional ballet body, but I liked my feet. I had good arches and good feet, and so, that was my, “I can have pretty feet. If the rest of me doesn't look light and graceful, I have pretty feet.”
Susanne: Oh, wow.
Chelsea: But interesting that we have to latch onto something within our bodies of like, “But this part of me is okay, and I’m gonna ignore that part and not own it,” as you said, yeah.
Dream Advice for Dancers/Teachers – 8:22
Coming back to dreams where you were saying, at that young age, you had that intuition and knew what you wanted, did you feel like that dream was out of reach, or was there a part of your career where you felt like maybe performing at the National Opera was not an option for you?
Susanne: No. No, it never was out of reach. What was out of reach for me, because I played victim a lot when I was actually under contract that I put my power into other people’s hands, meaning I didn't look at, “What can I control and what can I do in order to advance?” It was more, “Oh, they're not giving me this. They're telling me that I can't have this boyfriend, and if I don't break up with him, I’m not going to advance and I will never dance a solo at this company again.” So, I put a lot of my own fear and my disbelief in myself into other people’s hands, and that’s where it went wrong for me.
Chelsea: Yeah, oh, that’s crazy that they would tell you who you can and can't date.
Susanne: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Susanne: I have more stories like that, but yeah, that was one of them.
Chelsea: Well, and I had some too, for sure, that felt like very weird restrictions, but that’s a new one. So, what would you say to the dancer or the teacher that might be listening that feels like they have a big dream but it’s like, “Oh, but I couldn't actually do that,” or, “It’s too much for me. That’s not possible”?
Susanne: Hmm, what would I say to them? I would start with anything is possible as long as you believe in it.
Susanne: That’s where everything and anything starts. It is in business that way. It is everywhere in the world and relationships. If you don't believe yourself that you can do it, that you're made for this, that you have the capacity and even if there are lots of limiting beliefs or limitations from your body in place, there is always a way around this.
I had a great example. It’s in my time with people that I grew up with and their bodies were absolutely not made for ballet, but they ended up being first soloist because they believed in themselves more than anybody else, and they stepped over obstacles rather than rolling in them and seeing that as a stopping point.
Chelsea: Yes, and I agree. I think there is something that it has to come from within.
Chelsea: And when I talk to a lot of teachers and the coaches who are like, “How do I motivate them?” At some point there is an internal it’s there for them or it may not be. So I guess I would love to dig into that a little bit, like is it something that you either have or you don't, or do you think people can learn to believe and learn to change their thoughts around, “Yes, this is possible for me”?
Training Our Minds – 11:24
Susanne: Oh, absolutely can you learn that. Yeah, I think it’s actually a vital part that should be taught, particularly in dance, from an early age on that everything starts with the mind and everything starts and ends with what you see, how you perceive your own reality and how you move around some boxes that you don't think fit in.
You know, when I did look through all of your social media, the motivation part of students is this big question that you’re bringing up over and over again. I think motivation always comes from the other person, you know? You can come in and you can feel down, but motivation is also part of discipline. We’re not always feeling like it. Mel Robbins talks about it. You're never gonna feel like starting over again. You're never gonna feel like changing your life. But what do you do in terms of discipline and setting yourself up and what kind of habits are you displaying on a daily basis in order to get to your dream? When we’re talking about dancers, we’re focusing so much on training the body that we’re completely leaving the mind aside, and isn't that — in my opinion, the mind is way more powerful than the body ever will be because the body is freely acting upon the mind’s control.
Chelsea: Sure. Oh, I completely agree. Your body will give up first. Right, your body will give up, you know?
Susanne: Yeah! Oh, absolutely.
Chelsea: And you're up to your mind to keep going. I also agree exactly what you were saying before that motivation is not always gonna be there, and we have to have the discipline in its place, right? Discipline will be there when motivation is not, and there are plenty of times we’re working towards that big dream that we need to rely on our discipline. So, I would love to hear from you either stories and conversion around how discipline has helped you and motivation has not, or what does that look like for a dancer who is trying to reach their dreams?
Discipline for Dancers- 13:44
Susanne: Okay, well, this may not answer your question fully, but I’m gonna talk from my own experience, okay?
Susanne: In school, for eight years, we’re motivated through fear.
Susanne: And when that fear tactic fell off, I had no idea how to motivate myself.
Susanne: I had no idea how to get out of that. I had no idea how to show up every day in class at 10:00 AM if it was optional. I’d been through the reins for eight long years, and this was my time to, ah, just take a breath. But what I missed was like, “Okay, you're actually starting now. This is not the end. This is the beginning.” And what does motivation look like for me, and that is why I think mindfulness and being skilled in other ways on how to turn your wantings and your needs into motivation.
Susanne: Does that make sense?
Chelsea: Yes, and I think it does answer it exactly. When we coach or we teach and motivate out of fear, it’s shutting down that intrinsic motivation in our dancers. We’re losing it. It’s killing it, and then once that extrinsic is gone, then the dancer’s left with, as you said, struggling to figure out how to do this for myself.
Chelsea: So, do you have mindset things that you have learned since then that help you now?
Susanne: Do you want all of them? Yeah.
Chelsea: [Laughs] I would love a few, yes.
Chelsea: Let’s share as much as we — I love being tangible, if we can help.
Three Mindset Tools – 15:28
Susanne: Awesome. So, I believe that, for me personally, meditation is making a whole lot of a difference because I can get very quickly into a down spiral of all the things that I don't have and can't do and don't fit in, and quieting the mind and letting my intuition speak is much more powerful for me. So I drown out the ego and let myself actually come forward.
Susanne: I function best — you know, I can work ten hours a day. It’s not a problem. We’ve been trained this way. We can do, do, do, do, but if I’m not in the right space, then it doesn't work. So, walks in nature is another part for me that is super important to be out in nature on a daily basis and really tap into that energy. What else? Writing, just having time to be creative, and thinking.
Susanne: I think creativity is one of the most important things for all artists out there to really lay into more and more and more, and I don't think that is being fostered at all. So, these are the three things: time to think, in nature, and meditation.
Chelsea: Oh, I love those. That’s great, and I agree with that, the reasoning behind all of those being I need to quiet the ego to hear your true self and your intuition, and so much of the dancers I’m hearing and I do the same spiral where when the ego is talking you're worried about comparison. “Why does that business owner have what I don't?” “Why does that dancer look like that and I don't?” And the ego gets caught in comparison and gets caught in how you rank against others and what other people think. The best way to get through that is to quiet that and go internal again, listen within.
Chelsea: I think that’s also something I was not good at as a dancer and learned much later and wish I knew then is that — you're nodding. Is that true for you, too? You learned it after being a dancer, or did you have some of that as you were dancing?
Susanne: Yeah, no, no. Not at all. I learned all of that after, and I think that started, actually, my path into self-development and getting back into the industry and understanding that had I actually had that kind of knowledge and also the awareness of, “How do I function, you know? How does my brain, how does energy work?” Then I would have actually been able to reach the ultimate goal for me.
Chelsea: Sure. Oh, yes. So, when you talk about how mind is even more important than training our body, does that fit the idea of a well-rounded dancer for you? Is that what you mean? I think you might take a different approach to well-rounded than a lot of people would say. We’d say well rounded means you have ballet training and jazz training, like you are trained in multiple disciplines. How do you feel about well rounded? I get the sense it’s more mind/body.
Well-Rounded Artists – 18:35
Susanne: Yeah, so, well rounded, for me, is that you have a good knowledge base on how you actually function. Not as in only your body, but how your mind, how your brain works, where is your past trauma coming from? What does your subconscious actually — how much does it dictate your daily behaviors and the actions and the decisions that you make? What kind of knowledge base do you have around business and technology? We talk about well-rounded artists as in being knowledgeable within the arts only, and I question that.
Susanne: Because we need to — and I am learning this as we talk, you know, that everything out there influences how performing arts are being seen, what kind of jobs you take, where your boundaries are, how you negotiate your contracts, how you show up every day in the studio. That, for me, is a well-rounded dancer or artist altogether.
Chelsea: Oh, yeah, I like that perspective. It’s not just training within different areas of art.
Chelsea: But training outside all of that as well.
Bigger Vision of Training – 20:00
Chelsea: So then what would be the bigger vision of what maybe training should look like?
Susanne: I think we should start with understanding that artists are not just creatives, and then I say just creatives. Let me back up here. So, any kind of business that’s out there is run on business knowledge and on creativity. A business does not exist without creativity, but yet, we see the arts as 99.9% just creative, and I disagree with that.
So, I would say when we’re looking at training, dancers, yes, of course, they need their training, they need to absorb their skills, but they’re their own business. So, you have to have a knowledge in marketing. You should have a knowledge in basic business models. You should know how to negotiate. You should know what kind of technology is out there. You should know how to brand yourself. You should know what you want versus, “Where do I fit in?” You should know who you are and who you want to become and not being fearful of, “Oh, my gosh, the director doesn't like me because I’m wearing this kind of T-shirt, so I’ll better not wear this and wear –.”
Susanne: That’s all such — oh, the past trauma that we’re passing on, believing that because I have been trained this way is the only way I need to train the next generation as well, I do not agree at all, and I think it is one of the reasons why we’re still talking about the same challenges over and over and over again.
Chelsea: Yes. Oh, I like that perspective a lot because I agree, and I had the similar experience of the training was just in the physical training, and then you get into the pre-professional and the professional world, and I don't know anything about contracts. I don't know anything about how to have relationships with directors, and there was a lot I wish I knew, and I think what’s hard, too, in ballet, especially in all kinds of dance, we are so young when all of this is happening. As you're saying, you need to know yourself and to know what you want, and I don't know how many 16-year-olds know that.
Chelsea: Nobody does!
Susanne: We didn't.
Chelsea: No, I certainly did not.
Susanne: No, no. [Laughs]
Chelsea: [Laughs] And so, it’s that balance, and also developmentally, you shouldn’t necessarily have a complete sense of self at 16. But yet, if that’s when you're entering this professional world or are working on those dreams, that becomes this hard conflict of you're still trying to figure out who you are, but you're so young, and it’s like you need to learn it fast. But I think to your point, we’re just not even talking about it. It’s just like, “Figure it out behind the scenes,” rather than, “Let’s make this part of the conversation.”
Susanne: Let me add something to this. I think, yes, of course we don't know who we are at that age, but we’re also not leaning into this, as in talking about this. I’m not expecting a 16-, 18-, or 22-year-old to know who they are, but there can be some core visions and knowledge already established if we actually talk about it and explain why it is so important. Because right now, we’re creating machines that just work. We don't create creatives that bring something to the stages that actually lure people back into the audiences that come and want to actually see individuals, you know?
Susanne: Even if you're in a core, you still can be your own person. We’re not talking about being the same as Lily in front of you; we’re only talking about matching the movements, and that’s different. I think the lines have been blurred over the past couple decades, what that means in a core, for example.
Susanne: And then, you know, we want to, “Okay, now be your own person. Now be you!” And nobody knows what that is because it never has been encouraged to be because, let’s be honest, artists don't have a voice. They're encouraged not to speak up. They're encouraged not to say how they’re feeling out of fear that they're being seen as weak or uncomfortable to deal with.
Chelsea: Right. Yes, I completely agree. And I like what you said about that different between matching motions because matching being robots and being the same person.
Susanne: Yeah. Yeah.
Chelsea: And I think those lines are blurred, and so much of dance is around, “We have to look like one, we all have to match, we all have to create this picture together,” and even if that’s the goal, you don't have to lose individuality. You don't have to lose the human under it.
Chelsea: But you do unless you talk about it. I don't know. I guess maybe then where do we go then? How do we talk about it more? How do we make that more accessible, or if so many of the people listening are dance teachers, they're in the studios right now or they're working with these dancers who have big dreams, how do they reach out to their dancers and help them start to think about it and talk about it and normalize that?
Talking About Individuality with Dancers – 25:14
Susanne: I think it starts with them, with the teachers, individually. Doing their own homework, doing their own healing, understanding who they are, what do they actually want to create, what do they want to pass forward in terms of tradition, and what do they not want to pass forward, where do we set the line, you know?
Susanne: It starts with healing their own experience and their own wounds, understanding this is not just because you're a teacher you have the power. I would sit down on a daily basis with my students and talk around, “Hey, so, what’s your perception of the dance industry? Who do you need to be, and who do you actually want to be?” That’s where I would start. I would implement meditations before you start your class and after. I would start with awareness, body awareness, mind awareness. “When does my body work best, when doesn't it work best? Is 80% of my 100% on some certain days actually enough?”
Susanne: “Will I still be seen as a good performer?” These are all the things we need to start talking about.
Chelsea: Yeah, that’s well said. I agree the teachers, we have to look in first.
Chelsea: And we are carrying our own issues that came from our growing up wherever we did in our dance world and that you don't have to be that same teacher and be intentional about what am I keeping, what worked, what didn't work, what do I need to let go of. I like that question to the dancers of who do you think you need to be to be successful in the dance industry versus who do you want to be, and acknowledging if those are different, and then helping them see that there isn’t the one vision of what this professional dancer is going to look like and be like.
How Susanne Defines Success for Herself – 27:09
So, I guess that leads me to what is success, then? How do you define success for yourself, and has that changed?
Susanne: Oh, gosh, has it ever changed? Yeah, so, for me, success in my 20s looked like, “Oh, I have the roles, I get the applause, I am in the program book, I get the extra payout for soloist roles.”
Susanne: For me success now is peace. For me success now is freedom. For me success looks like making an impact and finding my voice and speaking up about it and sharing my experience and saying, “Hey it doesn't need to be continued this way.” Success for me now looks like being loved and giving love.
Chelsea: Wow. That’s a really beautiful answer to that, and what a dramatic change from where —
Susanne: [Laughs] Yeah, right!
Chelsea: — it was versus now, but I think that’s what I see, too. As young dancers, success is very much in extrinsic and praise and reward and all of that, which is so much out of our control, and then why so many dancers are struggling in the industry and having a hard time, rather than being able to define it in your own way.
Chelsea: I like what you said for yours. Thank you for sharing. That’s really pretty.
The “Starving Artist” Mentality – 28:42
Before we go, though, I do want to ask you about the phrase “struggling artist,” because I think it’s something we’ve kind of been coming around to with what the industry still is and we’re not talking about it and we’re dealing with the same problems. Part of that is that we still say, “You have to be a struggling artist,” and that that’s expected. So, what does that phrase mean to you, and how can we change that and not have to live like struggling artists?
Susanne: Mm, well, let me start with that the starving artist phrase was first mentioned over 250 years ago by a poet called Henri Mürger. He wrote about four writers that were struggling financially and struggling in every possible way to keep afloat in their life, okay?
Susanne: And he romanticized this term that these people had given themselves completely up for the art.
Susanne: And this is something that we’re still seeing in the industry. The starving artist mentality is romanticized, that, “Oh, you're giving everything of yourself. You're sacrificing everything for creating for others,” right?
Susanne: But this is coming out of a romantic period that is no longer applied to where we are now. I believe that it starts with every person in this industry questioning the starving artist mentality. Does it really mean that I have to starve and have four other jobs in order to be a part of a company or really do what I love to do, because that’s not applicable. There are so many examples out there where people live their dream and actually make the best money they’ve ever made in their lives.
Susanne: And it really starts with everybody’s own belief to break through that and then asking, “Okay, so, what could that look like? What if I wouldn't have to live paycheck to paycheck? What else could I do, versus just trading my time in a restaurant after the shows,” you know? I think that’s where we need to start looking into — and I hear this over and over and over again and from educators, from artists, from big organizations, even from people in society: “Well, artists just don't make money.”
Chelsea: Right. Yeah.
Susanne: Nobody asks why, why is that, and is that still the truth? Why do we accept this? So, stop accepting these old stories and start finding a new way into where and how you want to live your life.
Chelsea: Yeah, oh, that’s wonderful advice. I love that sentiment because we do, I think, still talk about that or teach young dancers, “You can do it, but know that you'll never make a lot of money.”
Chelsea: Or, “Know that you’ll never really be successful in a financial way.” Or when people talk about, “Well, you better go to college because you'll never be able to have — so you have a real job when you're done.”
Chelsea: And both going to college versus not is not in the question, and how much money you're making — yeah, it’s still very much that conversation, that it’s going to be a financial sacrifice to be an artist.
Susanne: And what I’m saying is these old stigmas that have been passed on from generation to generation, we’re seeing that they're slowly falling off, and I really encourage everybody that’s listening to really look at those beliefs and questioning them and really asking the seven whys.
Chelsea: It comes from conversation and, ultimately, it’s not that there was a right answer for your path to success, whether it’s companies, apprenticeships, college, there are so many ways to go about your path, but it’s you finding your path and not going off what everybody is telling you is the right thing or your expectations around it. And I think that’s something that you and I seem to really align on is it’s about looking inward and understanding what you want and not what others are telling you is the right thing to do. So, you know, those listening, we’re not telling you what to do. We’re telling you to look inside and think about what is right for you.
Susanne: And also understanding the power of many versus the power of the few, right?
Susanne: Because if you’re looking at how organizations really work, you have a team of 7 or 10 people that tell you what to do in a company of 40 or 50 artists. If you just look at number-wise, if artists would actually stop the fear and stop believing in that the power is coming from above, we would already live in a completely different industry, I think.
Chelsea: Yeah, oh, I agree. That’s the vision, and we will keep talking about it, and we will keep educating, and we will keep fighting for it.
Chelsea: Absolutely. Before we go, will you share where people can find you and the kind of work you're doing in our dance industry?
Susanne: Yeah, of course! So, Instagram @pointe_to_rise. That’s where you can find me. You can also find me on TikTok @torise. LinkedIn, my name. Those are the sort of three main platforms you can really find me. And go to our website: www.torise.io. You can sign up for our newsletter there. Yeah, tap into the community!
Chelsea: Yeah, I’ll make sure all of that is linked for anyone who’s listening. Is there anything else you’d like to share before we go? Your last words of wisdom for people who are looking for those big dreams?
Susanne: Yeah, understand that everything and anything you want is in your own hands. There may be obstacles in the way, and there may be people that tell you no, but that’s just a redirection. So, stop putting all of your energy into other people and start focusing onto yourself, you know?
Susanne: Point at yourself to rise up.
Chelsea: Wonderful. That’s very well said. What a wonderful way to wrap this up! Thank you so much, Susanne, for being with me today. I really appreciate your insight, and thank you for sharing your thoughts with all of us.
Susanne: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you for having me, Chelsea!