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Intangible quality helps RN thrive as dancer and nurse

Monday September 24, 2012
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Ballet and nursing are surprisingly similar, both grounded in art and science. I believe those who are successful at either are born with the ability to make a difference in all the lives they touch.

You can teach the legal and moral implications of a nurse’s actions and the various positions of a ballet dancer. You cannot teach someone to genuinely care or to have effortless grace because those emotions come from within your soul. Those familiar with the physicality of both ballet and nursing can grasp the underlying, relentless passion in both endeavors. It is the X-factor that distinguishes someone as extraordinary.

Ballet is my escapism. Nursing feeds my mind, while ballet fuels my soul. The confident, poised, gentle-hearted person I am today is a result of the intense ballet training I received during my childhood.

Growing up, I had an obvious talent for dance. I was naturally thin, with long arms and legs, eccentric spinal flexibility and graceful hands. When I was 12, after I had outgrown my local dance studio, my parents took me to an open audition at a Russian ballet school in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

I was nervous as I settled in at the barre, engulfed in a sea of black leotards and pink tights. The instructor, Fleur, was an older French woman with prominent wrinkles and a gray bun. She did not move to show the combination but stood tall, holding her walking stick and reciting words I had never heard before. I tried to keep up as my leather ballet slippers kept squeaking against the floor. Fleur banged the walking stick constantly, commanding: "Stand straight, tuck under, turn out, no sickling … ."

Being humbled is an odd thing. It is scary and frustrating. I blamed my previous dance teachers after that session. I blamed my ballet slippers. I blamed Fleur for not seeing how good I was.

But I soon realized: What good is being the best of mediocre? I watched the advanced class spin and leap across the floor as the delicate sound of pointe shoes rumbled into an extravagant roar. It was beautiful and whimsical. This, I realized, was my dream.

It took a lot of hard work, dedication, talent, blood, blisters and tears, but I did get to the advanced class. The Russian ballet instructors saw my potential and drew it out of me with tough love and honesty. "An elephant can stand on one foot," they would say. "Why can’t a beautiful girl?"

As an adult, I can reflect on this amazing experience with an educated and insightful eye. In being accurately assessed for skill and then challenged, I was given an important foundation on which to grow. My success was completely in my hands, and the instructors were there to guide me with their knowledge and experience. They never held my hand or sugarcoated anything; they allowed me to fall in the most literal sense.

From my experience, learning comes from being appropriately challenged. I feel stagnation reverses the learning process because when one is comfortable, he or she becomes sloppy and unfocused, and makes mistakes.

I recently obtained my master’s in nursing education. I want to watch the metamorphosis that occurs over the course of an undergraduate’s BSN program. Freshman students will feel as I did standing at that barre, lost in a sea of hopefuls and overwhelmed with a new vocabulary. They will get frustrated and blame their high school teachers, noisy roommates and me for not seeing how smart they are.

However, I will not be Fleur, standing there with a walking stick. I will stand there with a warm smile and a humbling memory of feeling the same way. I will be a support person who challenges and encourages those first leaps and turns when such progress may seem impossible to achieve.

I will bring my passion for nursing and share my own experiences because I am not perfect. My students will not succeed in everything the first time around. They will stub their toes and feel defeated at times. However, when it comes time for them to graduate, I will be off to the side watching the beautiful and whimsical reality of their hard work come to life. •


Nicole Filippazzo, RN, MSN, is the manager of Patient & Family Centered Care at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.Write to editor@nurse.com or post a comment below.