With the rise of wildly talented ballerina Misty Copeland, the mold of the traditional ballerina has been shattered. Copeland's success paves the way for more diverse dancers and has sparked a conversation about achieving one's goals in spite of obstacles. As a former ballerina, I learned that by being tenacious and disciplined, I could achieve something beautiful.
Early in my dancing years, I was taught the "dance language," a blend of commitment, artistry and creativity that has empowered me well beyond my years as a dancer. This language has translated directly into my career and driven me to build a thriving digital agency from the ground up.
The transferable dance "language" has been seen in other former ballerinas as well. Take former New York City Ballet dancer Mary Helen Bowers, who tapped her dancing background and expertise to create her own business, Ballet Beautiful, a fitness studio inspired by her years as a dancer. The entrepreneurial venture was so successful that it garnered celebrity interest. In fact, Mary's expertise and resources were leveraged for Natalie Portman's "Black Swan" training. Strong entrepreneurial skills are inherent in dancers as a result of rigorous training, an acute attention to detail and an ability to elegantly execute a performance.
Through a blend of drive, resilience and grace - like that embodied by ballerinas - entrepreneurs can position themselves to achieve professional excellence. Following are five lessons from the dance world that can be utilized and finessed for entrepreneurial success:
Challenge the Expected & Silence Your Doubters
Misty Copeland is redefining what it means to be a ballerina. Due to outdated standards in the industry, ballerinas have typically been stereotyped as ascetic, fragile, and, particularly troubling-- white. But Misty has proven that strength, perseverance, and precision outweigh the physical aesthetic that a dancer brings to the stage. It's all about how a dancer carries her body and interprets the art of ballet - not about her upbringing or race.
By challenging industry expectations, Misty has not only become the first African American principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre (ABT), but she is reinvigorating interest in the art and inspiring underdogs to challenge the expected and pursue their dreams.
Entrepreneurs should similarly challenge conventional expectations and stereotypes. In fact, the most innovative concepts and designs are often those that break the mold. Challenge the expected and let your results speak for themselves.
Get Confident & Stay Confident
To achieve the position of principal dancer, Misty had to dig deep and channel a "why not me" mindset, similar to that of Russell Wilson who led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl win with his "why not us?" motto. The underdog quarterback--selected in the third round of the draft and only standing at 5'10''--proved that preexisting stats don't define success. Confidence does.
Entrepreneurs must attack the "game" with a similar passion and focus. There will inevitably be skeptics along the way, but it's critical to maintain a confident mindset. True potential can only be reached once doubt is cast aside.
Allow Goals to Evolve Throughout the Journey
When I was 15 years old, I practiced ballet from 3:00-7:00 six days a week. My drive and commitment to my craft granted me the opportunity to audition for scholarships for summer ballet programs--a sizable accomplishment in the ballet world. I approached the experience with excitement but without expectations. My plan was to enjoy the journey regardless of its destination. To my surprise, I won a scholarship to New York. As this new opportunity arose, I had to allow my goals to evolve and set new targets that would continue to challenge me.
As Cate Blanchett eloquently stated, "If you're so laser-focused on reaching one specific goal, you may actually miss forks in the road that lead to other opportunities." Goals are a moving target, but having a very clear overarching vision--and keeping that front and center--is key to help guide a journey that will ultimately have many winding roads and bumps. Pivot as needed; the end goal is always important, but don't let it blind you to potential lessons to be learned or other opportunities along the way.
Acknowledge Wins & Build on the Momentum
Misty began building momentum before she was named principal dancer of ABT. She headlined in Firebird, a world-renowned ballet by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky--an amazing feat and honor in ballet--and then became an Under Armor-sponsored athlete, working on the campaign "I Will What I Want." People began to take notice and the Misty train was then in full motion.
As an entrepreneur, figuring out how to acknowledge successes is crucial, but is something females tend to battle with. Take pause and recognize that one moment that puts you on the map and share them. Capitalize on the wins and leverage them to cast away doubts that may arise about yourself or the business and utilize the momentum to grow, grow, grow.
Work as an Ensemble & Contribute to Others' Journeys
In a ballet production, there are graceful lead roles that captivate the audience's attention, but the supporting roles bring the whole show together into a seamless and alluring production. For example, the Nutcracker wouldn't be the same without the Nutcracker's soldiers, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier; the classic piece we've come to love is only as powerful and elegant as the characters that comprise the entire ensemble.
Entrepreneurs must utilize their resources and glean insights from those around them, as the entire team is integral to success. Additionally, once you've made it to the "lead role," it's important to take pause and guide those in "supporting roles" on their own journey.
Misty had many mentors to point out her successes and guide her, such as Susan Fales-Hill, and now acts as a mentor to aspiring dancers, such as Makeda Roney. Mentors are crucial for achieving a higher level of mastery and dexterity with one's craft, as well as helping to see the bigger picture and stay on track with goals and aspirations.
The dance "language" is embodied in the skills I've honed over the years and is inherent in the entrepreneur I am today. Similar to how ballerinas can transfer these skills to entrepreneurial pursuits after their careers in dance end, entrepreneurs can draw from any experience--athletics, schooling, past jobs--and tailor and transfer those learnings to their entrepreneurial journey.
Ask yourself: why not me, why not us, why can't we be the greatest? Let aspiration and vision be your guide and crush doubts along the way. Like the tenacity, discipline and grace required to realize a beautiful ballet production, commitment, creativity and expertise are essential attributes to inspire employees, produce elegant and innovative results for clients, and drive a successful business.
As Misty inspirationally stated, "You can do anything you want, even if you are being told negative things. Stay strong and find motivation."