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Cultivating Ballet Zen For Everyday Life

April 15, 2016

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Ballet teaches a negotiation between effort and ease that goes well beyond the graceful engagement of muscles and bones. Here’s how to cultivate poise in the face of challenges both inside and outside the studio.

1. Realize it’s ALL “practice”.

Our lives are filled with what we must do again and again. In ballet, we start every day with pliés. But dancers understand this repetition as an opportunity for grace. Doing the same movements day after day hones the awareness, strength, and discipline that ultimately frees us to the joy of the dance! Try to see your repetitive tasks, whether physical or emotional, as possibilities for practicing greater attention and fluidity with what is already familiar. Learning to do this with what you know instills good habits that will serve you well for dealing with the unexpected.

2. Take a closer look.

By consistently exploring the details of that mundane little plié, dancers gain a healthy respect for its singular utility and beauty. Looking more closely at what we usually take for granted is often the first step in an “ah-ha!” moment that leaves us more appreciative, aware, and better able to cope with whatever comes our way.

3. Practice “serene effort”.

Ballet technique definitely involves strength, but the ballerina’s grace emanates from the calm and discipline with which she tempers and shapes her strength. In other words, grace relies upon intention about when and where to apply mindful and measured force. And exerting ourselves in a calm and focused way promotes steadiness in the face of complexity and challenge.

4. Come home to your core.

In ballet we come back to our core muscles (our physical center) and our postural principles to find balance, endurance, agility, and power. The same holds true for our “psychological body”–staying centered in your experience and aligned with your basic values will keep you steady and adaptive through stressful situations.

5. Stand on the leg you’re standing on.

Ok, this may sound obvious, but a dancer most often loses her balance because she hasn’t fully committed her weight onto the leg that’s holding her up! This can occur because of anxiety about falling or anticipation about moving to the next position. The secrets of finding our physical balance closely mirror what we need to do in order to cultivate equanimity in our lives more generally. In both cases, letting go of anxiety and anticipation allows us to feel the present moment and better utilize what is available to support us. Ultimately, “balance” flourishes when we practice present moment awareness.

6. Listen to the music.

One of the most glorious aspects of doing ballet is the music that inspires our feelings to travel through our muscles out into the world. Listening to the music allows dancers to move with greater rhythm and ease as they express themselves through movement. Outside the studio, the flow of life around you is a lot like music. Being attentive to its tones, tempo, and textures allows you to move more rhythmically with your surroundings to create maximum ease, joy, and self-expression.



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