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Is perfectionism unhealthy?

By Tonya Goodwillie

Sept 2023


We hear lots of dancers talk about being a perfectionist and at first glance it seems normal. Ultimately, when you want things to be perfect; you care about the results and are trying hard to get there. However, perfectionism can be taken to the extreme and can affect our well-being and our overall happiness as both a dancer and a human.



Perfect doesn't exist and sometimes perfect isn't interesting either. Especially in the dance world, perfect is unattainable as it is an art form. We all approach movement differently, we all have different vessels (bodies) to carry out the movement and we all have our own emotional connection we bring to the movement.


Researchers define perfectionism as:

1. The relentless striving for extremely high standards (for yourself and/or others) that are personally demanding, in the context of the individual. (Typically, to an outsider the standards are considered to be unreasonable given the circumstances.)

2. Judging your self-worth based largely on your ability to strive for and achieve such unrelenting standards.

3. Experiencing negative consequences of setting such demanding standards, yet continuing to go for them despite the huge cost to you.

Having goals and high standards is great and they drive us to achieve and find success. However, if the goals are either unachievable or only achievable at great cost it makes it very difficult to feel good about yourself. This is when perfectionism is unhealthy. Unhealthy perfectionism can actually make it difficult to achieve your goals. It can also lead to worry, stress, anxiety, and depression, among other potential negative outcomes.



So what to do?

1) If you consider yourself a perfectionist, based on what you read above, come to terms with how it might be affecting you and challenge your beliefs about it


2) Create obtainable goals - baby steps as well as realistic goals. A beginner dancer should not have a goal of getting a perfect triple pirouette right away, instead mastering alignment and the shapes first and then starting with a single. These are obtainable and will create positive feelings upon each successful step along the way. Also note that all of our bodies are different and not everyone will be able to do extreme flexibility shapes. We can work towards muscle flexibility but if someone's hip or lower back joints will not allow them to complete a scorpion extension then we need to admit that is unobtainable without creating severe injury to ourselves.


3) Pay attention to how you feel. If you find yourself getting hard on yourself and experiencing a lot of negative self talk, check in with your goals and your perfectionist tendencies. They might need reevaluating.


4) Get rid of the idea that you have to do something perfect on the first time! It's rare and when it happens it's fun to experience, but dance is a process and we learn as we go. NO ONE ever always gets movements right the first time, even the most amazing professional dancers that we look up to!


5) Growth Mindset!! Being ok with mistakes and understanding that we can learn from mistakes. Honoring a mistake as a piece of information that we can apply in order to improve the next time.


6) Enjoy the journey! What is the bigger picture? You want to be a perfect dancer... and then what? Be stressed from all the pressure and eventually quit something that originally brought you joy?!?! What about if we keep the joy of dance at the forefront and by having obtainable goals, we can keep adding to our joy along the way from the celebration of those goals and keep our spirits happy at the same time? Doesn't that sound better?


Below is copied from CCI Health. More can be learned HERE too if you want to dive into it.

If you have set extremely high standards for yourself and you keep pushing yourself towards reaching them, what kind of pressure are you putting on yours


elf? It is likely that you would be constantly feeling on edge, tense, and stressed out. What’s more, being a perfectionist is not just about doing your best but doing even better than before, and often pursuing a higher level of performance than you can reach, which leaves you feeling that even your best efforts aren’t enough.

This excessive drive to excel is self-defeating as it leaves you little chance of meeting your goals and feeling good about yourself, judging your self-worth based on your ability to achieve. It is like

‘putting all your eggs in one basket’. This makes you particularly vulnerable, as not reaching the standards you set for yourself (which may be unachievable) results in you feeling like a failure. If achievement wasn’t so important to how you judge yourself, then maybe not reaching that high standard wouldn’t be so bad, and making a mistake or slipping up occasionally – which everyone does - would be acceptable.


Don't despair if you feel like you are experiencing the negative effects of perfectionism. It's good to recognize it and start somewhere. Make an obtainable goal for yourself to start to recognize the symptoms when you are falling into old habits with expecting yourself to be perfect.



SIDE NOTE - Your teachers do not expect you to be perfect either. We were all once dancers ourselves so we KNOW that 'perfect' in dance isn't real. We want you to learn, improve, work hard and most of all, be happy!


So here's to loving dance, appreciating the journey, having goals and being kind to ourselves!!


"Perfectionism is internalized oppression." - Gloria Steinem


“Perfectionism is a dream killer, because it’s just fear disguised as trying to do your best. It just is.” - Mastin Kipp





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