The world of ballet, with its classical music, costumes, and pointe shoes, may not initially seem like it has anything to do with running a business – much less a consulting firm focused on manufacturing. However, I would argue that as an entrepreneur there is much to be learned from ballet. So much so, that beyond my typical weekly classes, I’ve invested the last two weeks in a dance intensive. (Three days a week for five hours a night.)
So let me take you past the stage and the lights and show you what you can learn from this performing art that can make you a better entrepreneur.
1. Creativity – The first thing that comes to mind when you think of any of the performing arts is creativity. We are all born creative, but lose touch with that part of us as we grow up. Ballet allows me to tap back into the creative side of my brain. During our intensive, one of our instructors would have us pair up and improvise dance sequences without speaking. Talk about learning to be creative! But, here’s why you as an entrepreneur should care: creativity can be nurtured. The more you practice being creative, the more creativity you will have. This will benefit you in how you approach your branding, your marketing strategies, even how and what services you offer. Creativity helps you establish your unique selling position and stand out from the competition
2. Discipline – The balance to creativity is discipline. Ballet is steeped with tradition and structure: the five feet and arm positions, the eight classical body positions, and on and on. Think about it, if I asked you to picture a ballet dancer in the dance studio, I would bet you are imagining a woman in a black leotard, white tights, skirt or tutu, and her hair in a bun, right? It’s discipline. If you want to dance and dance well, you must be disciplined to stretch, to practice, to get back up when you fall, etc. Similarly, as an entrepreneur, if you want to launch and grow a successful business, you must be disciplined to push through, to do the work, to be consistent, and do the things you don’t always want to do. Dancers do not always want to stand at the barre and practice pliés, just as entrepreneurs don’t always want to launch QuickBooks and update their books. However, the discipline in these foundational activities has a big impact on your success.
3. Balance – Ballet is built on the ability to balance. Turns, jumps, and poses all hinge on the dancer’s ability to balance. This is what I learned that helped me most as an entrepreneur: balance is an active effort. When a ballerina is balanced on one foot, she is not standing still. Every muscle is engaged and making tiny adjustments to maintain that balance. There were many times over the last eight years when I felt out of balance between running a business and family demands. However, through ballet, I learned that everything doesn’t have to be perfectly in “balance” and never changing. In reality, I am in balance when I am aware of the ebbs and flows of the demands of my business and family and make the necessary corrections. Balance during the summer months for me looks different than balance in the fall or spring. This is what keeps everything from crashing down
4. Graceful – If you’ve ever seen a ballet, I’m sure the word graceful came to your mind at some point. A well-trained ballerina appears to glide and leap across the stage gracefully and effortlessly. What ballet has instilled in me, and was reinforced daily during our intensive, is a ballerina makes effort look graceful. Ballet is actually a very demanding and challenging activity, sports medicine professionals will tell you it’s tougher than football. Surprised? It’s because ballerinas make effort look graceful. They dance on the tips of their toes (painful), hold their leg up for incredibly long stretches of time (again painful), and dance combinations that would leave others gasping for oxygen all with a smile on their face. This is what I strive for as a business owner. I want my clients to see a well-prepared, service delivered with confidence, that exceeds their expectations – regardless of how many late-nights, trips to the printers, or technology malfunctions we’ve encountered.
5. Accept Help – If you want to get better at anything, you know you must be willing to accept help, advice, and correction. Yet, for some reason, we forget this when we become entrepreneurs. There is this myth that we can do it on our own – the lone wolf syndrome. I succumb to it myself the first few years. What I learned from ballet – especially these last two weeks – is if you want to get better, you must be willing to accept help regardless of the source. If you ever flip through the playbill at a ballet and read the dancers’ bios, you will notice that they will list whom they’ve trained with. During our intensive, we had guest teachers come in to teach classes and the other dancers were all very excited to be able to learn from them. Each teacher brings a different style to the studio. For me personally, the intensive was a huge challenge, I’ve only been back dancing for two and a half years and don’t know all the French terminology. I was incredibly grateful for the 16 and 18 year old girls who have been dancing for 10+ years. They helped me with the terminology and combinations and celebrated my successes with me. As an entrepreneur, to succeed, you must surround yourself with others who will help you and cheer you on; but make sure you are open to wise correction.
6. Challenge – Ballet constantly challenges you. I’m not sure you ever get comfortable in ballet as you are always working to improve your extension, to jump higher, to get one more turn. I think this is why I love studying ballet. One of my favorite sayings is “Comfort is death on the installment plan.” Ballet challenges me to take calculated risks, to stretch myself, and push through. As an entrepreneur, we hit points where we know what we’re doing and everything is running smoothly and we can be lulled into just staying in that comfortable place. The risk is we can get lax in our delivery or lose our competitive edge. By doing things that challenge – even scare us, we continue to grow personally and professionally.
Confession time: during the second week of our dance intensive, one of our classes with a guest instructor was such a challenge for me, during the break I almost broke down in tears. I didn’t understand all the words he was saying and even when I did I couldn’t seem to make my feet and arms do what they were supposed to. I wanted to quit and not go back to class – I’m not going to be a professional ballerina anyway so what would it matter. Somehow, I reminded myself that first I am not a quitter and second while it was really hard, it wouldn’t get any easier if I just gave up. With the help of the other dancers, I managed to get through the remaining three hours of class. The next night, class was a little better and I recognized a couple more words. Life lesson: sometimes life is just really hard, it’s okay to cry; but then pick yourself up, get some help, and keep moving forward. Failure is not when you fall down, it’s when you refuse to get back up.
7. Nourishment – So this may not be a word you think of when you see ballet – unless you think, “Man those girls are tiny, do they ever eat?” Actually, nourishment is important as a ballerina. You need to make sure you’re feeding your body the right foods to have the necessary strength and stamina. What in the world does that have to do with being an entrepreneur? As entrepreneurs – and especially Naptime CEOs – we can become so focused on working in and on our businesses and taking care of our families that we forget to take care of ourselves. Yes, sometimes we forget to eat or simply eat what the kids didn’t. More importantly, we forget to feed ourselves emotionally, spiritually. Why in the world, with my crazy schedule and all the demands I have in life, do I carve out time each week to take ballet? Why would I put myself through a two-week dance intensive with 17 teenage dancers? Because dance feeds my soul. You can’t continually pour yourself out to others without refilling yourself. For me, ballet is one of the ways I nourish myself so I have the strength and stamina I need for the other demands in my life.
So what about you? Here are a few questions you can ask yourself.
What can I do to add more creativity into my day?
What part of my business do I need to be more disciplined about?
What does balance look like for my family and my business at this point in time?
Have I surrounded myself with others who can help me?
Am I open to receiving that help?
Am I stretching myself or have I become comfortable?
What activity feeds my soul and is it a part of my daily/weekly life? If not, how can I change that?