Ep. 126 Transcript - Dr. Chelsea Pierotti

Ep. 126 Transcript

[Motivational Intro Music]

Chelsea: Hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea! Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast, where we talk about mindset, motivation, and resilience in dance. Today, I get to talk about all of that with a special guest. You may have seen him on social media lately. He is inspiring the dance world by documenting his return to dance.

Miller Daurey is a former professional team dancer who quit dance at 19, just when his career was really taking off. He has a new docuseries called Back to Great where he explores returning to dance training three decades later and all that entails. We talk a lot about his message that it’s never too late to go back to something you once loved. He turned the tables on me a few times in this episode by asking questions that really made me think, which I love, of course.

We talked about the mental toll of the new culture in LA of filming for social media at the end of class. Personally, I love watching those videos, but it’s certainly interesting to explore the mental cost of participating in those videos in a space that’s meant for learning. We also talked about our identity as a dancer, comparison and perfectionism, creating a safe class environment, and importantly, how you show up for yourself.

I’m so excited to share this conversation with you. I left inspired to return to a childhood love, which I’ll share at the end, and I know Miller will inspire you too. Here’s my conversation with Miller Daurey!


[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: Hi, Miller! Thank you so much for joining me. I’m excited to talk to you.

Miller: Hey, Chelsea! I am also excited as well, and I’m just honored that you invited me on this show. Let’s do this!

Miller’s Dance Background – 2:07

Chelsea: Yeah, let’s do it! Absolutely. Will you share a little bit about your dance background? Tell us a little brief intro of your journey.

Miller: Yeah, of course. I started at 14. I don't know if that’s considered early or late. Maybe for a boy it’s a little bit kind of average? I’m not sure. And I had always loved dancing though. Long before I was training, I remember being in talent shows in elementary school and choreographing my own routines and stuff like that, having no idea what I was doing. But it seemed to be that people thought I was good, and I had rhythm, and I never jumped into class until about 14 probably because I was maybe nervous of stereotypes and labels that boys, especially in the early eighties, probably were experiencing.

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: And then I just jumped into class. I was actually at a restaurant with my family and kind of grooving at the table, and this family was nearby. This is maybe a very LA story. They were like, “Where do you take classes?” I’m like, “What?” I was like, “I don't take any classes,” and they said, “Well, you should because it looks like you do!” And that’s how it started. They recommended Debbie Reynolds Studios, which we all know is super iconic and just what an amazing experience to have that be the first place I began training. That’s really when it started.

Then my career, by 16, I was doing TV and commercials, and it all kind of snowballed, and I won awards and booked jobs. After high school, I had an agent, all of that. Then at the ripe old age of 19, I said, “I think I want to focus on acting, really, more than dance.”

Chelsea: Okay.

Miller: I’m sure there’s much more to the story, but that’s basically it. I just really cold turkey left dance.

Chelsea: Wow.

Miller: And I’ve returned three decades later. Here we are!

Chelsea: Yes, ah! It’s like something not quite so subtle but like, “I just came back! Three decades later.” [Laughs]

Miller: [Laughs] Right.

Chelsea: “No big deal.” But that is why I originally found you because you started sharing your journey in this back to dance and what this has been like, and I resonated so much with it. So many of the things that you have to say that I had to reach out and check in. So much of what you say is immediately inspiring but then always made me so curious to want to ask you more.

Miller’s Return-to-Dance Story – 4:31

So will you share a little bit about that return-to-dance journey, why you came back and then why you decided to document it? Thank you for doing that, but that’s a lot to be that vulnerable.

Miller: [Laughs] Oh, thank you. I think just as a creative and as an actor and a screenwriter, there are always ideas, you know? I’m sure you, as well. Everybody, it doesn't matter who you are, I feel like maybe it’s a very LA thing, but people are always talking about, “Oh, my god, I have the best idea for a screenplay.” “Oh, my god, this would be the best TV show ever,” you know, that kind of thing.

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: And I always was thinking of ideas, and one of them decades ago was is it possible to return to something and be great again at that thing. Then I was like, “Oh, wow, and for me that would be dance.” Now, ideas, they come, and they go, but this one never left me. Around 40-ish, I was like, well, if I do this idea that has never left me, there must be a reason for it. It maybe should be really any day now because it’s dance, so it’s not like returning to playing the violin where it probably is not as physically taxing. So that kind of inspired me.

A couple of years ago I was like, “Okay, this is the time. It's all or nothing. Let’s just jump in.” Just being a creative and having been on YouTube, really an early settler since, like, 2006/2007, the idea of creating my own project and editing it and just being on camera and all of that felt very natural. I think that basically is it with the intention of inspiring others more than anything. I want to do this, and my why — because this is a question I think that’s important to ask is what is your why.

Chelsea: Absolutely.

Miller: For me, it’s about inspiring others. It’s not too late to go back to something and maybe even be great again. And even if you're not great again, who cares! It’s about the love of the art and the passion.

Chelsea: Yeah, oh, that's so true. I think we often are afraid to be beginners again. Just in general in life we’re like, “Oh, I’m an adult. I don't want to learn something new because then I’m a beginner and I look silly or I will be judged for it,” and I think returning to something you used to be good at is a whole other level of being a beginner again.

Miller: So true. So well said.

Chelsea: Yeah, what it takes to be okay with that. It’s a lot.

Miller: Mm-hmm.

Chelsea: So it is inspiring that you're sharing it, for sure.

Miller: Thank you.

What’s Changed in the Industry – 6:55

Chelsea: So will you share what’s been different in training now compared to when you trained as a teenager? I guess both do you learn differently, do you approach class differently than you did before? Even specifically (it’s me so it’s the mental aspects), are you more nervous, are you more understanding of yourself, more reflective? What is your learning process like now?

Miller: Oh, my gosh, more nervous. Way more nervous. I’m sure that might even just be an age thing, you know? It’s interesting. I pride myself on being a spiritual person and being so chill in my life, and I handle the trials and tribulations with ease, and I think my friends and family would agree. But in dance class? No. I don't know what happens. It could be to your point where you said earlier about beginning again and remembering the dancer I was. I’m sure there are many elements to it. It’s hard to tap into my teenage brain because it was so long ago. I do not remember the struggle that I am currently experiencing.

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: I don't remember thinking of choreography being complicated. Now, of course, things have changed so much. So would my teenage self be able to pick up choreography as it is today? As I often talk about in my project, choreography now is taught much, much quicker. It’s much more dense. There’s far more movement in less counts. There are also so many more counts of eight than I remember it being. And so, yeah, there are just many variables I am sure. I remember always needing to be in front in dance class to learn the choreography. That has not changed. I for sure am still that dancer. I’ve got to be almost on top of the teacher. I have to see all of them to really take in the choreography. Yeah, I'm not sure if that answers what you're asking.

Chelsea: No, it absolutely does, and I think the learning part and trying to think about your teenage brain is interesting because it could be, like you said (it probably is both) that the world has changed so much in choreography and how we teach class, how we go about class is different. But then also, I think we’re just not aware. 16-year-old you was just not processing and worried about stuff. You're just like, “All right, I’m in class!” Now, our adult brains just look at the world so differently.

Miller: Yes, and there are so many new, obvious changes to the classroom, cameras being one example. So that wouldn't have been a thing for my teenage self, that stress of having whatever I’m doing pop up on social media maybe or whatever or being performance-ready in 40 minutes and class shutting down to be on camera.

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: I do remember being — and this might be vulnerable to admit, but I always remember being competitive with other male dancers.

Chelsea: Mm-hmm.

Miller: I don't know. Do you remember your dancer self? Were you competitive with other females in class?

Chelsea: Sure, with specific ones, yes. There’s always the few. The ones that are better at the thing that I’m most self-conscious about.

Miller: Mm. Yes, and I think I’m definitely better at that now because I know that we all have a place, we all have a path, and there’s nobody who is — and that comes with age, with maturation, with wisdom. And so, I’m definitely better, but I’m not gonna lie. I still for sure see dancers who are picking up choreography fast and maybe they're, without exaggeration, a third of my age, you know?

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: Then I’m like, “Wait, Miller, you’ve got to put this into perspective here.” So yeah.

Chelsea: Yeah! But that ability is huge. Like you said, I think it does come with maturation and how many teenagers, comparison is the biggest mental roadblock in their dance journey.

Miller: Yes.

Chelsea: And to even at least be able to acknowledge, “Nope, there’s comparison. I don't need to do that. Check back with where I am,” I think that shows a lot of growth and what I wish teenagers would be able to do now that’s just so hard.

Miller: It really is. Yeah.

Chelsea: Are you aware of what you do to stop comparing? Is it just that reminding yourself of, “No, this is my journey”?

Miller: Yeah, it is sort of like this is just unimportant. I mean, let’s look at the big picture here, and I just kind of tap into — this may sound corny — but the universe and whatnot. Even in dance class, if I’m feeling nervous before I might be on camera, I just check in with the reality of the situation. “Okay, it’s just dance class. It’s not the biggest thing in the whole world.” 

Chelsea: Yeah!

Miller: Even though, in the moment, it kind of feels like it. But I’m constantly, even with my spiritual work, reminding myself and I check in with myself. “Okay, this is not a big deal,” and then remembering to breathe through it. That’s the most important thing, too, because it’s just breathing sounds so simple. But it’s not. Remembering to breathe when the stakes feel like they're high. That’s a thing too. Reminding myself they just feel like they're high. They're not.

Chelsea: Right.

Miller: It’s not a big deal, and yeah.

Chelsea: Yeah, oh, I agree. Such good mental skills techniques that you've just found in yourself that work. Breathing is huge. It’s simple to say to do. It’s actually not always simple to do. [Laughs]

Miller: Yes.

Chelsea: Make yourself slow down and really do the deep breaths. And then being more present in what’s actually going on is another really great skill that you're saying of, “Where am I actually? What’s the real scenario right now?”

Miller: What do you think? I’m curious. I think sometimes the hardest thing is to remind yourself in the moment — or not even remind — to remember to do the thing, you know?

Chelsea: Yeah.

Breathwork in the Moment – 12:51

Miller: You know, remember to breathe. So do you have any tips and tricks for that? Because that can be really tricky in the moment.

Chelsea: Oh, it’s so hard in the moment, and I think it’s something that you practice at lower stakes, and then the more you do it, the more you’ll remember it when it’s higher stakes.

Miller: Yes.

Chelsea: But I think the problem with these mental skills is we’re like, “Okay, I’m gonna do this breath work,” and then we wait to try it until they're ready to film class. It’s like, no, try it when you have something small that’s not even about dance that you have to send an email that makes you a little nervous to send. Like, “Okay, I’m gonna do some deep breaths and then go do the thing.” Just slowing it down, practicing when it’s not actually a big deal so that it becomes more automatic of this is what I do when I feel my body start to panic is I go to the breath, and that will start to happen even if you're not mentally like, “Oh, calm down. I need to remember to breathe.” You just start to do it. But we wait for the big thing rather than practicing it when it’s smaller. 

Miller: Yes. Yep, and I think it’s repetition too, more than anything.

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: I mean, I had a moment in class, early last year in my journey, where I really felt like the result of it was PTSD. I was doing really, really well, and so much so that when we were in groups, there were dancers pushing me to the front saying, “I need to watch you,” and the choreographer placing me in the front, and I did not feel nervous. I felt very confident, and then the choreographer was filming, and literally almost immediately the choreography once we, you know, five, six, seven, eight, it just went away. It evaporated. I could not get it back, which is very interesting because some people will say, “Don’t walk off the floor. You've got to push through,” but sometimes it really does go, and we can't get it back, and then you're like, “Am I gonna be injurious to others?” So I had to walk off the floor, and that moment for me was very scary later.

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: It was confusing in the moment, and then it was scary later, and I think I had some PTSD. The only way I’ve learned to combat that is just to show up, just to keep going back. They say god forbid you're in a plane crash but everybody’s okay, you should get on the plane immediately because you never will again. Same thing with maybe whatever it is. For me, that’s true with a dance class. Just gotta keep showing up, and it’s the repetition.

Chelsea: Yeah, that’s great advice. I think it is when something scary happens, the old adage of if you fall off the horse you get back up, and it’s that same idea that you have to get back into it, and if you can't yet jump back to being filmed but you can get back to class, like you said, just show up. Even if it’s a smaller version, do the thing because the more you hold back from it, the more you spiral over how scary it is, which I think actually leads to what I wanted to dig into a little bit (maybe we already went there) about perfectionism. I think it just haunts most dancers. I know I struggled with it a lot. So many of the dancers I talk to, there’s that need to be perfect even if it’s class, but then again you add the camera to a class, and that’s a whole other level. Then onstage, in general, competitions, performances, auditions, that “if I can't do it perfect, I don't want to do it.”

Perfectionism in Dance – 16:21

So, I guess, first, would you call yourself a perfectionist? Does that resonate with you?

Miller: It does. [Laughs]

Chelsea: [Laughs]

Miller: I’ve got to admit. We’re recording this in Virgo season, and I happen to be a Virgo, and that happens to be one of the traits inherently of a Virgo, so I definitely relate to being a perfectionist, yeah.

Chelsea: Yeah, how does that show up for you as a dancer?

Miller: It’s funny because now that I’m older and wiser and all that, I do think I care less. It shows up for me mostly when I’m less in rehearsal mode and learning the combination. When we’re at the point of being in groups and then most especially when the camera shows up in the room, I become a little bit of a crazy person, I guess. But here’s the thing. I don't even know if maybe perfectionism is part of it, but I feel like there’s this fear for me too of just forgetting the choreography, and so, do you think that’s an element of being a perfectionist?

Chelsea: For sure because I think perfectionism at its core is a fear of failure.

Miller: Mm.

Chelsea: I think that’s what it is, and so, that fear base is a big part of it and being able to understand that that’s really what it is. It’s not that you have to be perfect. It’s that you're afraid to not be perfect.

Miller: And it’s so funny too because intellectually I’m so aware (as we all are probably, right?) that there’s no such thing as being perfect.

Chelsea: Uh-huh.

Miller: And I have seen choreography live on dancers in one class so differently and look so frickin’ great, you know? Someone is going so kind of smooth and chill in the movement, and I was like, “Oh, my god! I didn't even see the choreography in my head like that. That looks amazing. Oh, my god, that person right there? They're super just energetic and hype and big about it, and it looks really great.”

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: So there’s no perfect. It’s just different. Different styles, different interpretation of movement, and yet somehow it’s an interesting thing how we can be intellectually aware of something and yet living it is a different experience completely.

Chelsea: Yeah, it is, and I think the first step to dealing with that is that awareness of I know better, and then here I am in class letting that come up. I don't want to be that dancer. Going back, you said earlier your why is so important, which of course I love, and then also that’s your identity. Like, “I don't want to be the dancer that holds back or is too scared or doesn't give my all.” If you pride yourself on being a dancer that’s gonna give full effort in class, then it’s the awareness of, “Oh, there’s that thought. That’s not helping me right now. That’s not who I want to be.” But the awareness is the first battle. Just knowing that that’s what’s happening.

Miller: Yeah, it’s true. And I’ve had these moments that feel very intimidating and really kind of maybe not scary but embarrassing a little bit? Where I’m in a class, and I’m learning the combination, and I have the first three eights pretty darn good, but there are eighteen eights, and it’s maybe in a certain class that is moving quickly, and I don't have the rest of it. I may have a slight idea of where it’s moving. Okay, over here it’s going a little bit to the right. Now we’re going a little bit down. But maybe I’m lost. So then is it perfectionistic if I decide to sit out of being in groups because the majority of the combination I really do not know? Or do I get up there and just kind of stick it through and, I don't want to say make a fool out of myself because it’s nobody else’s class, it’s my class, right? I mean, it’s all of our classes, but I’ve got to show up for me in my class. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Chelsea: Yes, I do. I think there’s not an easy answer.

Miller: Yeah.

Chelsea: It’s that fine line of because it is class, that’s the time to try and to get through the first three eights and then feel the block and end up marking through it, seeing people, trying to get it back because, like you said, it’s your class, and if you don't get through the whole thing, that’s okay. But also, if you have this past experience where that is so triggering to all of a sudden I don't know the choreography, forcing yourself to do it, you may not be there yet, and that’s okay. Stepping aside is the safe thing in the moment.

I guess here’s the caveat. If you can still be nice to yourself on the side. If going to the side is still like, “Okay, I got the first few eights. Next time I’m gonna keep going to make sure I get five or six of them. I’m making progress. I’m coming back. I’m just not ready yet.” But if you go to the side and you're like, “Ugh, god, I suck at this. I should have more than that,” then it’s your avoiding.

Miller: Yeah, it’s that self-talk in class.

Chelsea: Yeah. Yeah!

Miller: I put up a video recently on my Instagram where I was kind of talking about this and how in this one class (this is rare for me for anybody listening), but early on in my journey, there were some classes that were very, very tough, and I chose to leave, to walk out if it wasn't just serving me. And then I had to be okay with that, and then some people left comments. It’s really cool to get feedback from the dance community, and some people saying, “Wow, that’s just so mature of you to walk out. That is the definition of self-love. You know what you need in a class and what works for you, and you had to do what was right for you and honor that in the moment.” Then other people are like, “You’ve just got to stick with it. You've got to push through.” I think there’s probably a time and place for both, and maybe it is just a moment-to-moment, class-by-class experience.

Chelsea: Yeah, I think so too. I think there’s also a difference between class where that is its entirety of its purpose, and then if you were learning choreography for a job. You're clearly not gonna walk out. You're gonna figure it out. That’s more where the dancer-perseverance mind comes of the-show-must-go-on kind of mentality, but then class is still class, and that’s when you're allowed to mess up. If you are reflecting on why, if you figure out, “Okay, why did I not pick it up today?” or “Why did I make that mistake?” or “Why didn’t I have full focus today?” As long as you're learning from that, you're good!

Miller: See, it’s funny that you said that about the difference between class and the job because I feel like the classes where maybe I may have been unkind to myself or I did walk out felt a little bit like a job because, in these particular instances, class did shut down early, I was told, “We’re gonna film today,” so you know that is to be expected. There is this element of it feeling like a set.

Chelsea: Yep.

Miller: It really does.

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: And that’s a very interesting thing, too. Obviously that was not a thing way back in the day either. I was thinking the other day — I’m always trying to psychoanalyze myself in class and all of it, and because I disappeared from dance for so long, the return, having it be so jarring in regard to cameras, for me is really like a night and day 180, a true shock. I think even dancers older than myself (and I’m in my late forties) who have been dancing all along, maybe they weren't in class hardcore training, but they came and they went and they experienced, they got to be part of the introduction of cellphones in the early 2000s where maybe a teacher with really great quality would film once from the back. And then they got to experience smartphones and then social media and that gradual, incremental change in class. And so, maybe if you're a dancer growing up in this world or just having never left, the change was probably so slow it kind of almost feels somewhat maybe normal now to them. To me, in my brain, it truly was like 100% a night and day experience. 

Chelsea: No, I think that’s actually a really astute understanding that it felt like a job because in your past dance experience, that is what a job does. You have a more professional video production happening. And since you’ve lived that, you're like, “No, that’s not what this is supposed to be,” and that disconnect is hard when you haven't done it.

Miller: So much. I mean, sometimes I’ll say, “Being performance ready in 40 minutes,” and people will kind of laugh, “Ha, ha, ha that’s funny. Performance ready,” but in my brain, that’s not funny because what I know about being on camera as both a dancer and actor is always and only when you're performance ready. It’s not when you've learned the choreography 40 minutes ago, you know?

So for people who are used to this on-camera, in-class mentality of that, they don't think of performance ready in the way that I do. When I go to an audition as an actor, for example, in the audition room I am performance ready, you know? I’ve worked on the material enough to be confident. That opportunity does not happen in dance class, and so, I really have to — and it’s still a journey, and I’ve gotten much better — just let go, really let go and have a different standard for myself.

Class vs. Being Performance Ready – 25:52

Chelsea: Yeah, I don't know that either one of us can answer this because we didn't grow up with it, but do you think this new getting performance ready quickly style of class is helping the current generation of dancers be more prepared to have jobs, or do you think it’s hurting them because it hurts their ability to take class?

Miller: I’m sure it’s an amalgamation of things. Probably pros and cons. I can see why it’s an asset. I can see why it is a hindrance. I think it’s both.

Chelsea: Yeah, same. In my head, I was like in some ways, okay, yeah, now when I get a job, I’m more familiar with that process, but then if you can't truly let go and just be in class, I think that’s a disservice to an athlete as well.

Miller: Yeah, 100% yeah. And just knowing that you have that safe place to mess up because we only really get better, obviously, when we just screw up, and if we’re not given the opportunity because that perfectionistic thing is built in because you know you're gonna be filmed soon, are you kind of almost plateauing because you don't feel free to be really bad? You should be okay with being really bad, but how can you be when there’s a camera on you in two minutes?

Chelsea: Absolutely. Oh, that’s something I preach to dancers all the time, and coaches and teachers, that you have to create an environment where the dancers feel safe to mess up and to learn, and it has to be a part of the environment that that feels okay to mess up.

Miller: Yes, I love that, and the feeling safe and the actions over words. I mean, I have been in classes where the teacher will start by saying, “This is a very safe environment. This is a place of love,” and then 40 minutes later, you're not dancing for 20 minutes because they're calling out groups, and I’m off to the side thinking, “Well, this doesn't feel very loving to me.”

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: So I think it’s the teacher really understanding, not just saying it’s a safe place, but providing through their action in making it safe.

Chelsea: Yep. Oh, I so agree. There are times where we’re learning the words, we’re getting the language around a lot of this, and so, people are parroting back the language, but if your behavior doesn't match that, then you haven't truly learned it and integrated it. That’s powerful for a teacher to think about their actions. If you say this is a safe place, is it really? And are you ensuring that for your dancers?

Miller: Yes, and maybe for that teacher in the example I just gave, maybe they thought they were providing a safe place because in their mind X, Y, and Z means safe.

Chelsea: Right.

Miller: And then it becomes a conversation, I guess, well, what is safe according to the general population of dancers?

Chelsea: Right. Yeah, oh, very true, and being clear about what that means. Yeah.

Identity as a Dancer – 28:44

I want to shift a little bit to talk about identity because I’m just excited to share with somebody else who had one identity a long time ago and that might have changed, because that’s how I feel. There are not a lot of us who kind of tried to do that, but because I am someone who identified as a dancer. I did the pro thing. I had the dancer. And then when I retired, I was like, “Okay, I’m no longer a dancer,” and I had to shift that identity and letting go of that was really hard. For myself, I went through this rollercoaster of, “I’m a dancer. I’m not. But then if I’m not, what am I?”

So I guess I’m just curious about your perspective. Have you always identified as a dancer? Is that an important part as it shifted?

Miller: It’s interesting. So to throw it back to you for a second, if I may —

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: — when you say it shifted for you and it was really hard, what does that mean? Because I’m sure you would agree that you are always a dancer. So when you say that, do you mean just for career purposes?

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: Something that you are pursuing? That dance is no longer a thing?

Chelsea: I think that’s actually it. When you say that we understand it’s you are always a dancer, I didn't. I think when I originally left the professional ballet world, I was like, “Okay, if I’m no longer onstage, I’m no longer being in that role, then I’m not a dancer,” and that I think is exactly why the identity shift was so hard because it’s such a huge part of your life. It’s not all I am, but 19-year-old me felt like this is all I am, and if that’s gone, I have this gaping hole. And then part of the rollercoaster of coming back to, “Okay, but I’m actually — just because I’m not onstage doesn't mean I don't have that dancer part of me still.” But I guess I didn't know that at 19.

Miller: Interesting.

Chelsea: So for you, you felt like you always knew it and it wasn't such a transition for you?

Miller: Yeah, I think for me it’s less about maybe what I’m pursuing, what is paying the bills, and just what I am at my core. Even just for example, as an actor, I didn't pay my bills as an actor really that much, but I always called myself an actor. I am an actor. Whether or not I was working as an actor or even in class, “I’m an actor,” and same thing with dance. I think it was just always part of me, and I always identified as a dancer, to a degree. I understood that was part of me, but I probably didn't introduce myself as a dancer to anybody ever in my entire life until this return to dance journey. All of a sudden, I have almost maybe relabeled or reidentified myself maybe.

Chelsea: Yeah!

Miller: I guess maybe because I’m putting all my eggs in this dance basket, and it’s just super important to me, and I’m just kind of going all in. So now I very much, ironically, maybe identify as a dancer more than I ever have.

Chelsea: Oh, I like that, and I think I love that you turned this on me because now I’m being reflective, and I have to share back, too, that I think identity when we’re younger is more based on outcome or physical demographic kind of stuff. You just identify with what everybody else sees.

Miller: Yes.

Chelsea: And then as we get older, if I were to tell you my values, I have clear values that are actually more about my identity now, that it’s not about being a dancer. If one of my values is being a learner, then that’s who I am, and that says more about who I am than the fact that I’m onstage or not.

Miller: Yes, I love that.

Chelsea: But huh. Okay, well, thank you for turning it on me and making me think through that. That’s interesting to think about. I talk about identity and values all the time. But I hadn't really thought about that from 19-year-old me.

Miller: So cool.

Chelsea: Okay, one other thing when I was looking through your Instagram that really connected with me was talking about routines and how much your daily routines were important in your life, and they're important to me, but it’s not something I found until later as well, and I love listening to other people’s routines and what works for them, and I just think they're really fun.

Miller’s Routines – 33:00

So you seem to really have a lot of routines that really work for you, and then you’ve also shared every once in a while, “Okay, I’m out of routine! This doesn't work now.” So do you like your routines? How do they serve you that you stick with them so much?

Miller: Well, it’s the whole interesting thing, right, about social media and image and how much is really true when you're watching people’s things, and if I’m posting, “I’m going to bed early,” and I posted that a couple of times. Am I really going to bed early all the time? Because we tend to post when things are, I don't know, better or we’re more productive or something.

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: That’s just an interesting sidebar just on the whole social media thing, because you're right. I definitely have a routine, and it’s crucial, I think, for mental health to have stability and discipline in that way, whether it is sleep, which is arguably the most important of all the things, more important than diet, exercise, all of that. If you don't get good sleep and you don't honor it, then you're not in a good way for sure.

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: So yeah, I mean, it’s really important to me. I don't stick with it all the time. I’m pretty good with sleep though, but I just mean in general. I definitely slip here and there, and I think it’s just human. I'm much, much better when I have routine. Like right now, I have been meditating very early in the morning.

Right after I get up I go outside and it’s still dark out. This morning there was a full moon. It was super cool. I love that. And so, these guided meditations, this is part of my routine, and having structure in my day, I just feel like makes me the most productive and just happy. Yeah, I don't know if that answers it exactly.

Chelsea: No, it totally does! I appreciate your honesty, and I think maybe that’s why I’ve resonated with the routines on social media is because we do share when things are going well, and sometimes being vulnerable about when we have those bad days, but I also will talk about my own routines, how valuable they are. I put my professor hat on. I’m like, “There’s so much research to routines!” But then I’m certainly not perfect at them myself, you know? If I get out of a routine, sometimes it’s really hard to get back to it, and even though, kind of like we said earlier, intellectually, I know it helps me. I know I feel better when I do it, and yet, getting back to it is really hard.

So maybe that was the selfish question in me for you is as someone who also knows your routines serve you, when you do fall away from it, do you have ways that help you get back to it or help you kind of reset?

Miller: It’s just understanding, I think, where maybe you are feeling off and why you are off, and for me, I always have some sort of a self-help, self-development book that I’m listening to and reading a physical copy of, depending, and just taking in all of those positive things when I feel a little bit out of alignment, because Jen Sincero who wrote You Are a Badass

Chelsea: Yeah! Love that book.

Miller: — I love her, and she often talks about going to the spiritual gym, which is very true. We don't think about that. I mean, there are some people who think, “Oh, you’ve read a couple books about meditation or abundance mindset or something, and then, “Oh, you should be good,” but that’s not how it works.

Chelsea: Yeah!

Miller: Hopefully, you are aware that it’s just like going to the actual gym. You don't just work on your biceps and then like how your biceps look and think, “Cool, I’m good now! I don't need to go back.”

Chelsea: Right? Yeah.

Miller: So, I think of it as the spiritual gym, and as long as I have some aspect of that happening in my life at any particular time, I’m good to go. Just trying to keep it in forward — I think repetition and keeping a streak alive is really, really helpful. I’ve heard so much debate and conflicting science on how long it takes to — 21 days to a habit. I’ve heard all that kind of stuff debunked. But I will say, just with my Instagram for example, I have posted every single day since I went public on my account, which was in mid-March. I have not missed a day. That is a streak, and that is me being like, “Oh, my god! That just feels important,” right? I don't want to break the streak, and there’s something about that and that momentum that allows me, just even in that one capacity, Instagram, whatever, that makes me honestly show up every day to it.

Chelsea: That’s true. Oh, I like the streak, the sense of it, because that’s part of it, and then if you do have something happen where you break a streak — I have the same thing. I haven’t missed a podcast week. This is episode hundred-and-twenty-something, and I hadn't missed one when I got to 110. And then I had to record, and I completely lost my voice. I had absolutely nothing. I had to cancel my lectures for university. There was nothing. I was so upset at first, like, “No, but I’m gonna miss a week!” I was mad at myself for not being ahead and all the things. And then I had to have kind of the human conversation of, “You know what? It happens. I’m just gonna tell my audience that this is what happened, and I’ll be back and start the streak again.”

Miller: Exactly. And you still, though, showed up. You still showed up. It’s not your fault that your voice went. It wasn't like you were like, “You know what? I don't feel like it today. I’ll just binge this new show on Netflix.” That’s not what happened. You showed up, and you couldn't do it. Your incentive, that was all there.

Chelsea: Yeah, that’s true. I like what you're saying, too, about routines. That it’s the spiritual gym. Going back to it and knowing that once you get in a good rhythm or once you’ve learned something that you’ve incorporated, you have to keep coming back to it and returning to it, which is good general advice. I think people, especially in the mindset stuff, are like, “Oh, yeah! I read this great book. I got this great idea. I learned something. I’m gonna use that,” but if you don't return to it, it won't stick with you. Yeah.

Miller: Yep, and you've got to follow through. I think there’s some quote about people who go to seminars, and they learn so much, and everybody leaves super excited. “I’m gonna implement all the things! It’s so great,” but less than 5% ever do it. They were all equally pumped up, but less than 5% do it. So I think you have to find what works for you to stay on point. For a lot of people, it’s accountability, accountability partners. There’s a long list of all the things that we can do to make ourselves show up to ourselves, and it’s so funny because we all want, I think somewhere deep down, to be great, and yet we are our own worst enemies. We stand in our own way. So it’s figuring out, finding out, feeling out what works for you to get to that place.

Chelsea: That’s very true. Being able to put aside the time to read the books, go to the conferences, listen to the — that’s one piece, but if you don't do anything with it, then what?

Miller: Yep, because you can be a chronic person who just lives in this world of just reading books and listening to TED Talks but not doing the work.

Chelsea: Yeah.

Miller: So you have to really self-monitor.

Chelsea: Yeah. Do you have a method that helps you? You said you always are reading something. Do you have a process for, “What’s my tidbit from this book and how am I gonna use it?”

Miller: I think it just depends on the book and what that book is about. So right now, one of the books I’m reading is Anatomy of the Spirit, which has to do with both the physical self and the spiritual self and how we heal your mind and body. So this book has a lot of different exercises, breathing and whatnot. So this is one of the books I can't really listen to on a hike or in the car because I can't do the work at the same time, so I pick and choose the books where I know I can do the exercises simultaneously.

Chelsea: Yeah, that’s good! Like actually trying it. I think that happens in a lot of books where you're like, “Okay, cool, I’ll go back and try that later,” but you don't.

Miller: And you don't. That’s the problem is you don't, and that’s what happened. How frustrating is it sometimes to be listening to an Audible, and now there are these exercises and I’m like, “Oh, darnit. This was the book.” I won't just skip to the next chapter. Somehow I feel I’m doing a tremendous disservice to the author and their process if I just say, “You know what? I’ll skip the exercises. I’ll just keep going.” No, I need to do the exercises. They're super important to me.

Chelsea: Yeah, all of that says a lot about who you are, too, that you're committed to that personal growth and the journey of it and know that it’s so helpful to you.

Miller: Are you reading? What's your process with that stuff?

Chelsea: Oh, I read all the things all the time.

Miller: All the things. What does that mean?

Chelsea: So I usually have three things going at once – one fiction, one nonfiction, and one Audible, something that’s usually an I don't have to be present, mindless, cheesy story, RomCom, true crime, something that’s like when I need to shut down.

Miller: So the Audible is mindless, you're saying?

Chelsea: Yeah, when I listen to stuff that are not podcasts. When I listen to a story, I like my mindless checkout.

Miller: Yes. Gotcha.

Chelsea: But then, yeah, I’m always reading some sort of nonfiction. There’s always some, like you said, the self-help, or in my world, something research-based too that’s taking the academic world and trying to implement it. Yeah, I think my process, I do a lot of annotating as I’m actually reading. I have to have a physical book. I have to flag it and do all of that. And then at the end of every chapter, I’ll write a short summary in my words of, “Okay, this is what I got from this.”

Miller: That is awesome.

Chelsea: This is such a professor in me. [Laughs]

Miller: Yes! I was like that’s dedication.

Chelsea: Yeah, but it’s usually just a few sentences, but at the end of it being like, “Okay, what about this mattered?” or “What about this do I want to try or hold onto or what is the take-home message?” So, on my shelf behind me, I have a bazillion notebooks of just the different books because sometimes it’ll be, at this point in my life, years later. I’m like, “What was that one? There was a confidence thing somewhere. What was that…?” And having a short thing to go back to helps me find it.

Miller: There’s that neurological benefit of hand-to-paper that’s just amazing.

Chelsea: I firmly believe in that too. Yes, science, but then also I’ve just felt it so much if I pause and write it down. And then sometimes I will actually put stuff in my calendar. I calendar my to-do list. So sometimes I’ll actually put something in there if there’s something specific I wanted to try, like I learned an exercise that I want to write a podcast episode about, I’ll time block it for, “Okay, next Friday I have a chance. I want to write the episode about this new thing that I’ve learned.” So actually putting it down of this is gonna happen. [Laughs]

Miller: Yes!

Chelsea: But it’s hard.

Miller: In the calendar. For me also, setting an alarm on my phone just to remember to do something because it’s obviously easy to forget.

Advice for Those Returning to an Old Dream – 45:08

Chelsea: Totally easy. Yes. Okay, before we leave, I wanted to ask if you had any advice or tidbits for people who are thinking about either training in dance later in life or just, more broadly, choosing to return to an old dream, an old part of you that you haven't been there for a while?

Miller: Well, I mean, I would just say you've just got to jump in and do it, you know? If there is a voice somewhere in the back of your head, even if it’s just little but you hear it, and you're kind of considering going back to a past love, a past passion, to jump in. There’s a reason that is happening is all that I will say, especially if it’s from your childhood. There’s so much research. I’m sure you must know better than I do, but there’s so much research about listening to songs from your youth and doing things (maybe like roller-skating) that you did when you were a kid, and just all the feels that it gives you, the serotonin and all of it. So even just that alone.

Like for me with dance, wow, the first time almost makes me emotional thinking about it. My first dance class back and doing the warmup, I was like, “Oh, my god. This really does feel like home. This is so beautiful. This is just like me doing a little neckroll thing, and wow, it feels so great!” So, for anybody who is thinking about — and maybe if you're not thinking about going back to something that you once loved, maybe this is something you're listening to to inspire you to think about doing so because I think you’ll be better for doing it.

Chelsea: Yeah, I appreciate you saying that. That’s very true. If you loved something as a child, usually it’s not as encumbered by the real world. You loved it because it was intrinsic. It was a natural part of what you loved before the rest of the world told you what you were supposed to be like or should do and allowing that to bubble up and come back is really powerful. And then not being afraid to be a beginner again and just going for it.

Miller: Yep. Is there anything aside from dance that you did when you were younger that you haven't really attempted in decades and miss a little bit that you might want to go back to?

Chelsea: Oh, you're having fun turning this on me. I appreciate it!

Miller: [Laughs]

Chelsea: I like it! It’s good! What have I loved that was not dance-related that I haven't done? I don't know. That’s hard. I want to sit and think about it. Going with my gut reflection, the thing that came to mind first was time outside. I live in Boulder, Colorado, so mountains. I spent a lot of time as a kid because my parents valued it too, on just going on a hike for an hour, being outside, camping, and I think this current phase of busy, busy, busy, achieve, do all the things, I don't go back to that. And so, maybe it’s not necessarily to achieve, although little things of like I live with — I don't even know how many 14-ers are in my driving distance, and I’ve never done one.

Miller: I missed that. What?

Chelsea: How many 14-ers. How many 14,000, the peak, the highest you can climb.

Miller: Oh! I’ve never heard that expression before. Okay. 

Chelsea: Yeah, so sorry, that’s such a Colorado thing for me to say. 

Miller: [Laughs]

Chelsea: It’s like the literal top of the mountain, right?

Miller: Wow.

Chelsea: And they're hard to do physically, but it’s something that I think younger me just loved. I love nature. That’s still true. Just walking outside and being around that, and I maybe should return to that or take on a goal. Now you're making me think about the goals. I’m such an achievement person too. It has to be a goal. I’m not good at just, “Go on more walks.” I’m like, “Go on a walk why?” Like what am I doing with it?

Miller: Well, maybe this is a time to not think about maybe the why so much and just do it to experience it. If that was the first thing that popped into your head, I feel like that is very telling.

Chelsea: Yeah, you're right, and I think that says a lot about why your decision to document and share your journey is so powerful because it’s letting people be like you can go back to something that you haven't been at and just do it and have fun with it. So thank you for sharing that and being so open with it! You are inspiring so many!

Miller: Yes, of course.

Chelsea: Will you share, before we leave, where you find you so people can listen in more about your journey?

Miller: Of course, and thank you for saying all of that. So @backtogreat is my handle, all one word (@backtogreat) everywhere, all the places. YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok is mostly where I am. YouTube, just so people know, that’s where you would experience my journey in longform, episodic, you really can appreciate the struggle, the story. Instagram and TikTok are shortform, obviously. It’s clips, and yet somehow, though, especially with Instagram, I’ve been able to really, in ways I never even imagined I would or could, I’ve been able to get the story across pretty okay, but if you really want the chronological, then you've got to go to YouTube, and I think hopefully I am serving people in all the places in different ways.

Chelsea: Yeah, I think you absolutely are. So thank you so much, Miller. I really appreciate your time today in sharing with us!

Miller: Of course, thank you! It was so fun! I appreciate you. Thank you!

Chelsea: It was really fun!

[Motivational Outro Music]


Hi dance coaches and teachers! If you are a dance educator, it’s important to make sure you are on my email list. It’s only for educators. It’s where I keep you all updated on my mental skills workshops, the Relevé Membership, and even some special trainings coming up that are only available inside the membership. My email list is where I provide extra resources for dance educators and tips to help you and support you through this teaching journey. If you're listening and you're a coach or a studio teacher and you think you might ever want to learn more about helping your dancers with their mindset, building their resilience, and motivating them, please join my list to make sure you get the inside scoop!

So here’s how to get on. You go to www.chelseapierotti.com/email and sign up! There’s a link in the show notes of the episodes as well. Again, that’s where I’ll announce special opportunities like the one coming up soon that’s only available inside Relevé. But mostly, it’s where I provide more support and resources to help you with your dancers. So go join in at www.chelseapierotti.com/email and let’s work together and make a more positive impact on our dance industry!

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