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Chelsea: Have you ever looked at another dance teacher who you admire and just felt jealous or had the thought, “How can I compare myself to these top people in the industry whose career I wish I had,” and then use that comparison for inspiration, or if you get trapped in that sense of, “I’ll never get there.” If you’ve ever had these thoughts, you’re probably a passionate dance teacher or someone who also gets caught in a comparison trap.
Well, welcome to Passion for Dance, the show for dance teachers and coaches. I’m Dr. Chelsea. My mission is to change the dance industry by creating happier, more successful dancers through positive mental skills training, and I’m also someone who gets caught in the comparison trap often. As a young professional dancer, I was devastated when an audition came down to me and one other ballerina and the other dancer was cast in the lead. It destroyed me for weeks, and maybe you’ve had a similar story in your dance career or as a teacher.
Here’s the thing though. Comparison doesn't have to make you feel so isolated or feel less than or stuck. Comparison can be a source of inspiration. So let’s talk about the red flags in your life that come up when comparison is holding you back, so you know exactly what to look for and what to do when comparing yourself to other people’s getting in your way and how you can help your dancers deal with it too!
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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!
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My Experience With Comparison – 1:56
When I think about my own journey as a dancer, there were definitely times comparison clouded my thoughts and hurt my motivation. Then, as I went into teaching years later, comparison would come up again, and I would admire another teacher and just say, “Ugh, I wish I could be like her.” I would think, “I’ll never have as many wins as that coach,” or “Her choreography is always so much better than mine. I should just stop trying.” Have you ever had those thoughts of comparison just creep in?
Sometimes it shows up in that sense of feeling stuck or behind. If you think, “Other teachers have a more established career by now than I do. I’m just scraping by,” or “Other coaches have created this legacy and excellence, and I’m just trying to get my dancers to be accountable and work hard.” Sometimes comparison shows up more emotional. We get those bubbling up, red hot emotions when maybe your face turns red, your heart rate creeps up, and you are sure that other people can see the steam coming out of your ears. That’s how I felt after I was beaten out for that lead as a dancer.
A few weeks before that, the director led me to believe I had earned the role, only to see the call sheet later that week with another dancer in my role. I started fuming. I remember thinking, “I work so much harder than her. I deserve this.” I was on my own little personal rampage. I don't know if you've ever taken a dance class when you're really mad, but that day I was sharp and precise but also pretty rigid and terrible because all I could think about was the dancer in front of me at the barre who stole my role.
The Comparison Trap is a Normal Experience – 3:26
Of course, now as a mental skills consultant, I hear from so many teachers and coaches that are experiencing similar feelings as adults of being unworthy and just not good enough. Feelings of being less than or passed over when you deserve it or feeling judged.
So what I want to say to you now if you have those thoughts is that getting trapped in comparison is a normal experience that so many passionate dancers deal with. Now, the level of intensity is different for everyone. Some personality types are more prone to it. But regardless, you are not alone if comparison is a big part of your experience and you're sick of it.
Signs Comparison is Holding You Back – 4:04
So how do you know if comparison is holding you back? How do you know if these thoughts are really getting in your way and they’re something you should challenge and work on? Well, here are some signs that comparison is holding you back. Notice if you have any of these symptoms or maybe you have dancers who are dealing with it too.
Do you link your self-worth to something outside of you? Do you only feel like you're worthy if you are winning or if you get certain compliments from different people or you are recognized in the industry? Is your self-worth attached to other people’s opinions? Another red flag is if you have a lot of negative or what I call unhelpful self-talk, those negative thoughts of, “I’m not good enough. I’ll never be there. He’s so much better than me.” That negative self-talk that can get stuck in a loop. The feeling of being behind, that someone else has got a more advanced career than you do or is moving faster than you are. Sometimes it looks like that feeling of just being self-conscious or judged.
It also can show up as an attitude of ingratitude, where you lose sight of being grateful and kind of have more of those ugly emotions that can come up and get in the way where you lose that sense of being grateful. Again, for some it comes up as those big, hot emotions where you are experiencing more anger, more frustration than as normal.
Does any of that show up for you? Maybe it’s the unhelpful self-talk or feeling stuck or self-conscious. Maybe you’re not seeing the good anymore, not feeling grateful or just having those big, bubbling hot emotions. Can you tell when it’s there and what might have caused it?
I believe the first step to dealing with comparison is the first step to improving a lot of mental skills: we have to be aware of our own thoughts and emotions. I will admit it wasn't until my thirties I realized that my darker days, my most unproductive days, my days when I was in my own worst self-pity parties and negative thoughts were at their strongest was when I was caught in comparison. Once I finally became aware of what was triggering it, I could begin to battle the negative side and embrace comparison as a source of inspiration.
That’s why I wanted to bring this up today because it took me so long to realize my worst days were rooted in comparison. Maybe they're not your worst days, but maybe if you can see that connection where you have a harder time showing up and being the best teacher you can be, and you realize that maybe there’s some comparison that’s going on underneath that, once you notice where it’s coming from, you can start to shift.
Ask Yourself These Three Questions – 6:55
So if any of this is resonating for you, if you're like, “Yes, I definitely compare myself to other people and feel stuck, if you're caught in the comparison trap, ask yourself these three questions. I encourage you to pause and journal about it. If you're listening to this while you're multitasking, as I know most of us do, think about coming back to this in an evening journal. But ask yourself these three questions.
- What makes someone a good dance teacher?
- What makes a teacher successful?
- What is my definition of success?
Everyone will probably have somewhat different answers to these, and that’s the whole idea. When you know your own definition of success, it shifts your perspective. It’s easier to see someone else’s success and then notice that success isn’t actually a threat because it’s theirs, it’s not yours, and that’s okay. When you know how to decide for yourself when you're successful, other people’s success is a separate thing that doesn't impact you. It’s their journey, their progress. It doesn't impact your journey and your progress as a teacher. It’s likely true that someone you're comparing yourself to is good at something you feel insecure about. I’m gonna let that sink for a second.
It’s probably true that the thing that triggers the worst comparison in you when you feel judged or less than or unworthy, it’s about something that you feel insecure about. But you're also probably good at a lot of things that also make someone a good teacher and something that others admire in you, and you don't want to forget that. When we’re in a comparison trap, we tend to only compare the thing we’re not-so-confident in with somebody else’s best thing, and we forget to look at the reverse. What is the thing that you're really good at that other people look to you for?
Maybe you're good at giving dancers feedback or breaking down a skill to help explain it, but someone you admire always comes up with these unique training ideas that seem so creative when they design a class, so you feel like you're not good enough because that aspect is harder for you. But that’s why we have to pause and consider what success means because maybe your definition of a successful dance teacher is someone who gives really good feedback or is really good at breaking down a skill to explain it to their dancers. If you know you're good at that and that is part of being a successful teacher, you can remind yourself of that and hold onto it when you start to compare yourself to another teacher who has a different talent. That's why we have to pause and consider what success means, what it takes, and define your success and your journey.
If you don't consider your own journey as independent from everyone else, it’s easy to let comparison get really dark and negative, and that’s how I felt when I lost that role as a teenager. First of all, that word. That was my thought: I lost the role. I had done something wrong, and her success was a threat to my career. I was thinking, “Why her and not me? What does she have that I don't? I work harder, and I deserve it.” Of course, that dancer also worked incredibly hard, right? This is my teenage brain going down this horrible cycle. I’m not proud of that teenage me and my dark comparison thoughts. It was ugly. But it’s also normal. That’s how I know comparison was holding me back from being the best possible dancer. I was feeling huge negative emotions bubbling up. I felt judged and not at all grateful for the great role I did receive. I know it held back in my training as we worked through that show.
How to Address Comparison as a Teacher – 10:38
So how do you as a teacher address comparison when it comes up for you? Because again, if this is resonating with you, it comes up for so many of us. But what do we do with it? Well, first, you notice what it is. What emotion is really happening? Are you jealous? Why are you jealous? Are you disappointed? What are you disappointed in exactly, your work ethic, your progress, or what? What are your thoughts and emotions telling you about your sense of success?
A lot of times we’re disappointed in an outcome. Someone else got a job. Someone else won. Someone else got this compliment or this online praise, and we didn't, and we’re actually kind of just disappointed that it wasn't us. But what are you disappointed in? Someone else posted something that wasn't about you? Are you disappointed in your work ethic? Probably not, right? If you know that you were living up to your definitions of success, it’s easier to see someone else’s public praise as, “Yay, good for them! That’s exciting.” It doesn't have to hurt you.
Once you have a sense of what you’re actually feeling, also consider this: how can I take inspiration from this situation? See, it starts with noticing what’s happening, then acknowledging the negative thoughts and emotions, and then deliberately deciding to shift your perspective. Take action.
One great way to help you shift is to celebrate your wins and any progress you’ve made with your teacher friends. Use other people’s progress and success as a source of joy and inspiration. Share and celebrate together. It’s not like a pie where one person’s achievement means they took a slice of pie and now there’s less to go around. You're not going against them or competing for a piece of the same pie. Share and celebrate. Make that the norm.
Even if you are in a situation where you really are directly against someone, like your choreography is competing against them or you both apply for the same job, their success is about their journey; your success is about your own. You can still celebrate their success and yours. With the choreography example, celebrate the effort you put into your choreography and the beauty of the routine in front of you. Notice your own growth since you started choreographing and each piece you make helps you grow. You don't lose out on that progress because someone else is also a good choreographer.
I really hope that helps you pause and consider how you can shift your perspective from the comparison trap to using others as inspiration. Their journey is theirs. Yours is your own. As you notice your progress towards your definition of success, you can better separate yourself from others and see their success as a place of joy and celebration and inspiration for what you want next.
Helping to Shift Your Dancers’ Comparison Mindset – 13:29
Once you have a better sense of how to notice and shift your own comparison mindset, you can also help your dancers do the same.
I was working with a high school team one summer, and a coach told me they had great success the year before and had won some major competitions, but this new season, the dancers now experienced a lot of pressure to come back and be better. They started comparing themselves to each other on the team even and saying things like, “Ugh, I’m just not good enough. I’m not living up to the legacy or the expectations of the team.” They were comparing their team to their competitors. “This isn't going to be enough to win. We’re not good enough this year.”
This is a great coach, and she saw all the red flags – the negative self-talk, the big emotions, the sense of feeling stuck or judged. All of it was keeping them from practicing to their full potential. It was holding them back. Of course, that’s absolutely gonna hurt them when it does come competition time. They have the talent to repeat and do well again, so you’ve got to deal with this comparison. So of course, when we worked together, that was the focus of our conversation.
When a dancer is in a comparison trap, feeling bad about themselves, losing motivation, being negative, there are a few things you could do.
First, help bring them back to their values and their goals. What is important to them? Do they value hard work? They may need to remember that. Do they value trying new things or being a good role model? Help center them back to their values and then remind them of the progress. Someone else’s success or someone else’s talent is about them and not this individual dancer. Your talent, your hard work, your values are about you. When you can bring success back to being about just them, it’s not what anybody else thinks. Reorient them back to their goals and values.
With the team I was working with specifically who was feeling the pressure, we had to talk about what actions led to the success they had already seen, both in competition the year before and in the current year so far, and what behaviors got them to that level of success. Is there something about that teammate or team they’re comparing themselves to that they can use as inspiration. It doesn't have to be a threat. It’s just a mindset shift.
Specifically, ask your dancers the same three reflection question I said before:
- What makes someone a good dancer?
- What makes a team successful? What makes a studio successful?
- What is my definition of success?
Helping your dancers think through this and understand what makes someone successful or what makes someone good, and then notice all the things in the list that are in your control, and then you just have to do those things to work towards success. It doesn't matter if someone else is also working towards success. That’s their journey. You take what’s in your control of all the things that make someone a good dancer and work towards your definition of success.
Remember that being a dance teacher who understands how comparison impacts us allows us to better serve our students. That’s the goal. We can notice the comparison red flags and intentionally shift to a perspective of gratitude, celebrate progress, and use comparison as inspiration to move forward. This shift can help create happier teachers who are able to bring more inspiration to the classroom and teach our dancers to do the same. Again, that’s the whole mission is to help you shift your own perspective so that you are happier and more joyful and able to be there for your dancers and then teach them how to do it as well.
Comparison is often a strong negative influence, but you can help your dancers use it for good. It’s not just about squashing it down and pretending like comparison isn't a thing. It’s there, and it’s gonna happen. So use it for good. Help your dancers use comparison as a source of inspiration by having a separate sense of success and a personal, focused goal that’s about them and their progress and celebrate wins in others. See their success as joyful.
There’s that old quote that says that comparison is the thief of joy. And it absolutely can be. But it doesn't have to be. I think comparison can be a source of perspective and growth and inspiration. What is that person doing that has kind of gotten under your skin? Well, maybe they're just working really hard. But so are you, and that's okay. Or if you're not, maybe that’s that reality check. Again, what do you value? If you value making progress or you value being your best self and you need to come back to that, maybe the comparison is threatening you because you know you're not actually living up to the person you want to be, and that can be a hard reality. But it’s important to let that come up for you, think through it, and then decide how do you want to move forward, who do you want to be. What matters most is knowing your values and your definition of success and your north star and then deciding what actions you want to take to help you get there. Help your dancers use comparison as inspiration.
If this episode inspired you at all or you enjoyed this show, I hope you take a minute to share the episode with your dance teacher friends. I think many of us feel stuck in the comparison trap and yet we don't talk about it. I hear from so many teachers, especially in my membership, all the time where that is such a big part of their thoughts and they are afraid to admit it. So I just want to say you are not alone, and it’s such a strong experience for many of us.
So reach out and help a friend in your community to see comparison as inspiration. Send this to them. Send them a little note about how you see them as an inspiration and let them listen in. Let’s use this to spread more comparison as joy and inspiration.
Thank you for sharing this episode, and of course, keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!
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