5 Life Lessons Ballet Taught Me That I Use Every Day

by Emma DiGiovine
The CW

I'm a 24-year-old female who's obsessed with being active. I've always been that way.

When I was a kid, I tried my hand at every sport: soccer, field hockey, softball, you name it. Nothing ever seemed to stick.

And then, I found ballet.

My mom was a successful ballerina when she was young. She was the one who introduced me to the sport.

Throughout middle school and high school, I took ballet classes six days a week at a prestigious studio in Manhattan. When I was 15, I performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in NYC with the American Ballet Theatre.

When it came time for college, I had to choose between pursuing performing arts or an academic career. I chose to focus on my academic career and majored in journalism.

I definitely made the right choice in pursuing my academics, but I learned valuable lessons as a ballerina that helped shape who I am.

Here are the five life lessons ballet taught me:

1. Hard work should be done with a smile.

Ballet is a sport, trust me. Between the blisters, bunions, pulled muscles and cracked toenails, I assure you it's not for the weak. It's a total body workout in every sense.

What makes it so different from every other activity is you have to make it look effortless. The whole point of being a ballerina is being graceful, beautiful, light and airy.

Imagine having to lift heavy weights while looking graceful and effortless, all the while a smile plastered on your face. That's what ballet is like.

Something interesting happens mentally when you're a ballerina because of the need to look graceful while enduring physical pain.

You learn there's beauty that comes with hard work, and you become the art you create. This translates into other areas of your life.

I welcome hard work into my life, and I do it with a smile on my face.

You learn there's beauty that comes with hard work, and you become the art you create.

2. There's always room for improvement.

Ballet is very complex. There's always a new move to learn or a new lift to try, and you can always be better.

Maybe your arabesque is too low, or you need to work on your stage presence.

For me, it was being born with a naturally “tight” body. I didn't have the supple muscles and naturally arched feet many ballerinas have, so I had to constantly work on them.

I had contraptions in my house that helped me point my feet, and I paid for Pilates classes with private instructors to loosen up my muscles.

I can't even begin to describe the satisfaction I felt when I achieved success and my progress was acknowledged.

In life, there's always room for improvement. We can always be better, faster, stronger. Whatever we set our minds to, we can accomplish.

I thank ballet for teaching me this at such a young age because it's something I've been able to carry with me through middle school, high school, college and now, adulthood.

3. Competition should be fierce.

If you think football players are competitive, you should see a group of aspiring ballerinas placed in the same room looking to be chosen to perform on a world-renowned stage.

As a ballerina, you're forced to become acutely aware of yourself and your body. There's no time to be self-conscious, and no time to question your abilities because you're only given one shot to prove yourself to the judges.

They don't care about the work you put in to get there, they just care if you're perfect. You have to speak with your body because they care about how you move and how you stand out in a crowd.

That type of competition is fierce.

You're going to be faced with many competitions in life, and how you handle the heat determines the outcome. Being a ballerina taught me how to handle competition with confidence.

4. Stage presence can make or break you.

As I mentioned before, ballet is all about beauty and grace. What separates a true ballerina from a “dancer” is a quality called “stage presence.”

The best way I can explain stage presence is by asking you to imagine a stage full of ballerinas. Out of all of the dancers on the stage, there will be only one who draws you in, who forces you to pay attention to her without her saying a word.

She is the one who has stage presence. It's an innate ability to connect with an audience on unspoken level. It's all about powerful body language.

When I was a ballerina, I was told my best quality was stage presence. It has to do with passion, expression and the ability to separate yourself from a crowd.

My mom and grandma used to cry when they watched me dance the adagio (a slow, emotional style of ballet). That's how powerful and effective stage presence can be.

Stage presence is a special quality to have. I live my life with it every day, and I have no doubt it has helped me succeed on multiple occasions.

Hold your head high in the face of adversity, and connect with people on another level. Trust me, they will pay attention.

5. Teamwork is just as important as individuality.

Ballet is very unique in that words are never spoken. You don't have coaches yelling at you to get back into position when you mess up (unless you're in class, in which case, you totally do).

When you're on stage performing, you have to trust your fellow dancers and rely on one another's cues.

If you're dancing with just one male partner, it's a give and take. He has to watch your every move, and you have to trust him entirely with your body.

Life is also a give and take. At work, you have to learn how to handle your co-workers and how to work together to accomplish your goals. You have to be able to trust them.

The same goes for romantic relationships. Your SO will not be perfect; everyone comes with flaws. Learning to accept these flaws will make you a better, happier person.

Go see a ballet. Pay attention to the dancers for there is a lot to be learned.

Remember that with every elegant, seemingly easy step they take, there was hours of preparation to make it look that way.

When was the last time you dedicated that much time and effort into something just to make it look simple?