7 Habits of Highly Successful Dancers

June 6, 2021

The dance industry is overflowing with artists who have hit the big time, left their marks and made their wildest dreams come true. But how did they do it?

You’ve likely heard of the best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. Well, we thought it was high time we applied this concept to the dance industry. What seven habits do the pros maintain that help them stand out above the pack and reach their goals? What rituals aided their success? Here, seven dancers whose careers are #goals share what’s in their secret sauce. (You may be surprised to hear what truly makes all the difference!)

1. They know their weaknesses, and problem-solve to work around them

Take Ballet West principal dancer Beckanne Sisk: “I’m on the slower end of picking up choreography—it always takes me longer than others,” she says. “On top of that, I tend to be so in-the-moment when I’m onstage, that when I start to think about what I’m doing, things go wrong.” To help herself manage these compounded hurdles, she’s worked out a solution. “Before every entrance, I quickly go over everything in my head to be sure I’m solid. That way, I’m prepared,” Sisk says.

When dancers humble themselves and recognize the skills they lack, they’re able to take steps to solve them, ultimately making them better artists and individuals.

2. They have routines that foster gratitude and allow them to live in the present

“Ever since I read Twyla Tharp’sThe Creative Habit, I’ve established a daily routine,” says Brittany Parks, whose credits include dancing for Beyoncé. “I practice it because it gives me peace of mind. It’s not about committing to a bunch of things each morning, but rather trying to do a few things that help me settle into my day with openness.”

Part of Parks’ morning routine includes a guided meditation from the podcast The Daily Shine that she says helps her stay present, rather than worry about the next job. “I’m 32, and I’ve been in this business since I was 19,” she says. “I’ve been blessed to go-go-go. But somewhere after Beyoncé and ‘Glee,’ I was too worried about what was next. I had to pause for a moment and realize, ‘Girl, look at where you’re at!’ ”

This practice of mindfulness and gratitude allows her to embrace her time as a dancer, rather than rush through it. Veteran dancers appreciate that when we release ourselves from worry, we can more fully enjoy the opportunities that come.

3. They don’t make excuses

While successful dancers prioritize their mental and physical health, they don’t withdraw when it’s time to put in the work. They understand the power of discipline and commitment.

“I’ve made a habit out of not making excuses,” says “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 10 winner Fik-Shun. “I train for one hour, every day, no matter what. Anytime I feel like I don’t want to, I tell myself, ‘No excuses. If you don’t put in the work, you stay stagnant and get left behind.’ A lot of the time, we wake up tired and not wanting to do stuff, but if you make a daily habit of working toward something, you’ll reach your dreams.”

4. They break big dreams down into small, attainable goals

“Keeping your eye on the big dream you want to achieve is amazing, but it can also be overwhelming,” Radio City Rockette Danelle Morgan says. “I break things down into smaller goals that will help me reach the big one. So, for example, if my goal is to be a Radio City Rockette, I know I will need to do a double pirouette and eye-high kicks in the audition. My smaller goals will include perfecting my kicks and my pirouettes. As I master them, they bring me closer to my big goal.”

True pros don’t shrink at the thought of climbing mountains in their careers. They simply take it one step at a time until they reach the top.

5. They practice improvisation

Dancers often discover their unique voices through improvisation, and subsequently use the practice to challenge barriers.

“I improv at least once or twice per week—sometimes daily,” says Martha Graham Dance Company principal Xin Ying. “That has been part of clearing my mind and body, and breaking old patterns of movement. It’s a good training tool. I tend to put the things I don’t like to do into my improv. Reverse turns are something my body doesn’t do naturally, so I try to do that more. That has been helpful, because part of dancing is using your mind to conquer your body.”

6. They cross-train

Dancers who maintain long careers understand that cross-training is an essential component of avoiding injury and staying in the game. Whether it’s to avoid imbalances in musculature (like when the right leg does 30 battements per show and the left leg turns into a noodle), or simply to strengthen the core for beautiful lifts and turns—highly successful dancers exercise.

“You absolutely have to maintain your fitness,” says Artem Chigvintsev, “Dancing with the Stars” pro and Season 29 mirrorball champion. “The gym is a must.”

7. They lead rich lives outside of dance

“I believe making and prioritizing time to have experiences outside of performing is really important,” says Melanie Moore, “SYTYCD” Season 8 winner and Broadway performer. “I’m often asked to play characters when I dance, and if I only eat, sleep and breathe my performance, I won’t have much real-life experience to pull from. Take pieces about love and heartbreak—if you’ve never experienced either, it’s going to be so much harder to manufacture those emotions.”

“I was 19 when I did ‘SYTYCD,’ and at the time, I prioritized work so much, I never let life in. Over time, I’ve come to learn that careers are long. It’s OK if you miss an audition for a vacation from time to time. Those experiences will enrich your life, and new opportunities will come,” Moore says.