Dancers spend a lot of time chasing perfection. We never arrive there, because the standards keep changing and getting further away. More dangerously, our personal standards of perfection rise more sharply than reality. I am a true believer in “a man’s reach exceeding his grasp,” but first we have to clarify what we’re reaching for.

I remember doing performances that I felt had been mediocre at best, and there were others that I felt had gone well. Then there were others that left me devastated. However, about 98 percent of the time, the audience’s response (or my Director’s!) didn’t match up with my own assessment. In every performance, I had tried my very best, so it was never a question of just phoning it in. I think I always wanted the audience to feel what I was feeling, but sometimes I felt I had fallen short. That’s the tricky/wonderful/scary thing about art. You have to just put your whole heart out there and accept the fact that the audience will feel what they feel.

As I have gotten older, it has become so much clearer to see that it’s not always how you perform that’s most important; it’s how you are received. For the artist, a bad performance will be changed, tweaked, or eventually forgotten. But to someone in the audience who saw you at just the right time, it will be remembered forever.

Have you ever been to an art show, seen a painting that won a blue ribbon, and thought, “But I love that other one over there so much more!”? Obviously, one or more of the judges picked up on something that spoke louder than any other painting. Perhaps a judge saw a technical flaw in the one you loved. Perhaps you missed the flaw because you were focused on the content of the painting and how it made you feel, and perhaps the judge felt the same way about the one that won the blue ribbon. Flaws are not true flaws if they are overlooked for the wonderful expression.

One of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous paintings is of a small room with a bed, small table, and a chair. Art students are taught about the unrealistic proportions, but van Gogh was going for the feeling in the heart. It’s a coveted, valuable piece of art.

The Iwo Jima memorial is a beautiful, patriotic statue in Arlington, Virginia. It’s famous for the passion, victory, and emotional response people have when they see it. However, there’s an extra hand on the flagpole that’s missing its body. It’s not the only piece of art with an imperfection like that. But everyone loves this very famous statue.

The quest for more refined technique will always continue, because artists want to be as articulate and fluent as we can in our language. However, it’s crucial that we remember what and why we are speaking first.

Always strive towards improvement, but don’t destroy your future by belittling your past. The beauty, magic, and mystery of the art speaks for itself. The dancers are merely the tools, and whatever happens onstage that day happens. It’s exhilarating and life-giving, and unexpected events that happen onstage only add another dimension to the story being told. They never take away from the quality of the artist, but the artist’s response to the unexpected is what shows the true character within.

Dance on

Robin Conrad Sturm is the primary ballet instructor and Executive and Artistic Director of the Northern Virginia Dance Academy and the Asaph Dance Ensemble. 

Robin recently won InsideNoVa’s Best Author in Prince William honors and also writes a blog. Contact her at Northern Virginia Dance Academy: or call (703) 330-5227

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