I’ve joked once or twice about having a secret ego. But I really do have an egotistical side, as I’m sure most people do somewhere on the spectrum. In terms of dancing, I know I’m getting better. I know I’m getting stronger. I practice and work hard and I can see and feel the improvement. This alone isn’t ego. It’s a matter of self-evaluation and self-worth.

Ego is wishing everyone else would see it too.

Total honesty, as a child I thrived on validation in the form of grades and GPAs and awards. Of course, in time I grew up and learned, amongst many other things, that the real value of life wasn’t placed in a trophy. Still, seeking validation is a hard conditioning to break, because at its base validation isn’t bad. It’s positive and it feels good. But seeking validation is a dangerous habit. It can lead you to a place where you’re trying to make yourself look better instead of be better. It can hurt the people around you as you downplay and one-up others’ achievements. It can even hurt yourself and your self-esteem when the validation you seek doesn’t come.

What makes my ego a “secret ego” is that I want validation but I don’t seek validation. I want my hard work appreciated and noticed, but I’m not shoving it into others faces or put myself in situations for it to be noticed. I’m not fishing for those compliments. Because I’ve done that before. Everything I said about it being a dangerous habit is from firsthand experience. And I learned the hard way that it was making me an awful person to be around.

So what does this have to do with dancing? Well, quite a lot. When I first began dancing, being just at the beginning of my path when everyone I met was better than me, there was no room for ego. Not if I wanted to learn and get better. And learn and get better I did. So now these days I meet several people who are just starting on their path, or not as far down that path as I am. Or maybe started from a different path.

But what does ego have to do with them? Well, nothing actually. That’s the funny thing about ego. It really has nothing to do with anyone but yourself.  But your ego will tell you it’s about them. Particularly when it’s them getting asked to dance. Being singled out in class. Getting the praise you once got. And those thoughts start to invade: What about me? Can’t you see I’m good too? Why won’t you ask me to dance? Can’t you see I’m better?

Fortunately, I always catch myself before going that far, but it’s an easy trap. Slowly, you start to fall down an increasingly slippery slope. One that hurts no one but yourself as you rack up these perceived slights. But if you don’t get it in check soon, you might find yourself “needing” to retaliate to “regain your position.” And now you’re not just dancing with ego, you’re dancing with arrogance: that need to force a superior opinion of your worth onto and at the expense of others.

I know I have an ego. I know because these thoughts have invaded my head. I know because I’ve been hurt by my ego as my favorite dancers pass me over. But I hope, in my dance life, I’ve never slipped so far as to hurt someone else with it. What helps keep me in check is the wonderfully inclusive environment of my studio where the beginners and the pros are friends along with everyone in between: that each skill level doesn’t clique together. It helps that there is always someone better than me close at hand. It helps that I recognize the difference in “learning it first” and “learning it better.” It helps that I love beginners. I admire the courage it takes to into a class as a blank slate and the insane amount of effort it takes to start from zero. Especially when everyone around you is taking zero for granted as a matter of course. But they persevere regardless. Of everyone, they’re the ones that most humble my ego.