“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined” With Christine Shevchenko and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

At the end of the day it all comes to what you really want. If you desperately want to be great at something or change something in your life, then you have to instill the appropriate habits into your routine. Bad habits are really hard for people to get rid of and most people just […]

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At the end of the day it all comes to what you really want. If you desperately want to be great at something or change something in your life, then you have to instill the appropriate habits into your routine. Bad habits are really hard for people to get rid of and most people just give up. I think that when you finally find that discipline , the result is so incredibly rewarding.

As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewingChristine Shevchenko.

Christine Shevchenko, a principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre since 2017, is one of the brightest stars in the world of professional ballet. The youngest winner ever of the Princess Grace Award, this multi-awarded artist has focused her extremely strong work ethic and dedication to perfecting her craft. After immigrating to the United States as a small child, Christine discovered her passion for ballet and began the pursuit to reach her lifelong goal of becoming a prima ballerina in her dream company.

To learn more about Christine, please visit her website: http://christineshevchenko.com/

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

My journey started at three years old with rhythmic gymnastics training at an Olympic reserved school in Ukraine. Ballet classes were required and that was my first introduction into ballet. My family was well immersed in the sports and arts world. On my father’s side you had the gymnasts and on my mother’s the musicians, singers and actors. My family moved to America when I was seven. At the age of eight I decided to do ballet full time and my mom enrolled me into the Rock School of Pennsylvania Ballet. I studied for eight years at that school, receiving training in both Vaganova and Balanchine. My parents ended up getting divorced a couple years later after I started my ballet training, and my mom became a single mom. She took it upon herself to give me the best life that she could. She did everything in her power for me to have the best ballet training when she recognized my talent/passion for it. To this day I’m still in awe of her capabilities. I became the youngest Princess Grace Award recipient at age 14, won the Gold Medal at Moscow International Ballet Competition, won Bronze at Jackson, Mississippi International Competition and won the George Zoritch Talent recognition award . At age 17, I joined American Ballet Theatre’s Studio company, and a year and four months later joined the main company. I worked my way through roles in the corps, and then soloist roles and finally was promoted to principal dancer in 2017.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high-level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.

You know I can’t really pick out one person or thing that inspired me to become a high-level professional athlete. I just found such a deep love and passion for ballet that it was all I could think about. It was all that I wanted to do. When I was four years old my mom took me backstage to see the Sleeping Beauty ballet. I stood in the wings completely hypnotized by such a beautiful and magical world.

Of course, I was inspired by watching great dancers on video from current and past generations. I used to watch ballet videos daily when I was a student. I learned so much from them.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Absolutely. The first person is definitely my mom. She was my rock. She stood by my side, protected me, encouraged me and gave me the biggest support anyone ever could.

The second people in my life were my coaches who I worked with privately. They became so invested in my career. I would take a bus home to Philadelphia from New York on my days off and continue to work with them throughout my entire company life. I believe a great support system or even that one encouraging mentor is so crucial. Especially in a high stress performance lifestyle.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

A mistake I made that was interesting/funny or possibly even terrifying for a second was during my debut performance of “Kitri” in Don Quixote. At the end of the ballet I come out for my last solo with a red fan. Right at the beginning there’s this quiet moment when I run out to center stage, pose and flick the fan open. Well, the fan slipped out of my hand and went flying. I quickly had to pick it up and run to start my variation.

The take away I got from that was- “always wear the attached wristband“.

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?

The best advice that I can give is put the work in. Anything is possible if you work hard for it. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, good days and bad days, but I continued to work hard even when I felt discouraged. I wasn’t easily given my titles and awards, it was a lot of grueling work.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Well, sadly due to the Coronavirus a lot of things got postponed or cancelled. I was supposed to have a few debuts this spring season that I was really looking forward to performing. At the moment I’m teaching some live classes on social media/virtual summer programs and hopefully will inspire people during this unprecedented time.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

Before a high stress situation, which is a live performance for me, I try to prep as best as I can. Before a big performance I try to make sure my body and muscles are well taken care of. I’ll get massages, see the chiropractor, do cryotherapy, sauna, steam and Epsom salt baths. I’ll make sure to get plenty of magnesium to prevent muscle cramps and fuel my body with good food and vitamins. The second thing is I make sure I’m well-rehearsed and solid with the piece or ballet I have to execute. Feeling under prepared is the worst feeling in the world for me. I need to feel 100% ready when I get out onstage. The third is I like to get to the theatre really early before the show. I listen to good music, get my hair/makeover done and head to the stage where I can test out my pointe shoes and get used to the space. Of course, there are times where you’re thrown on stage last minute because someone isn’t well. In those situations, I just remember how blessed I am to do what I do, that I’m living my dream and bringing joy to all of the members of the audience. How many people get to do what I do?

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?

I don’t have specific breathing techniques, but I find that taking big deep breaths when I feel nervous helps a lot.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

I usually like to be in my own zone and will listen to music on my headphones while warming up. I don’t like to talk or socialize much right before a performance. I’m pretty quiet, mostly thinking about the choreography and getting into character.

How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?

I’m very body conscious. I take care of it extremely well. Before performances I get massages done, go to cryotherapy, sauna, steam and take Epsom salt baths. I make sure to eat really good quality foods as well as vitamins. I also will amp up my magnesium to prevent muscle cramps.

These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?

Ballet is all about creating good habits. It’s all about discipline. The second you start slacking on working out or taking care of your body you quickly start losing it, and gaining it back is so much harder. If I didn’t apply the habit of training on my days off, doing additional body conditioning once or twice a week, taking care of my body or eating right, I definitely would not be where I am today. There have been days where I just felt extremely lazy, but I would force myself to get up and work.

Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

At the end of the day it all comes to what you really want. If you desperately want to be great at something or change something in your life, then you have to instill the appropriate habits into your routine. Bad habits are really hard for people to get rid of and most people just give up. I think that when you finally find that discipline , the result is so incredibly rewarding.

As a high-performance athlete, you likely experience times when things are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a mind state of Flow more often in our lives?

Yes, it’s true, most of the time I’m in a state of flow. I think that an important part of achieving that mental state is doing something that you love, that you are passionate about. Something that you’re willing to give all your focus and energy to that makes you happy in return. If it’s not your job, then finding some sort of project on the side that gives you that feeling of joy will help.

Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.

I don’t have specific meditation practices but being able to clear and focus my mind is very important. When needed, I will try to find a quiet space and concentrate on my breathing and being mindful.

Many of us are limited by our self-talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?

Whenever I have a bad day and negative thoughts pop into my head, I like to do something soothing. Taking a bath, listening to calming music and maybe even a glass of wine helps. Tomorrow is another fresh new day, a new start. I try to let the bad day go and look forward to the next. Negative thoughts are inevitable. Another great thing to do when that happens is exercise. Exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy. Go to the gym, a workout class or a jog outside. It’s a win-win.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Thank you. I try to be helpful and inspirational to all dancers achieving the same dream. I love to give them advice, coaching or whatever they need to become successful. At the moment I’m newly involved with the IRC charity, which is a charity for refugees. My family left as refugees from Ukraine when we came to America so it’s very close to home for me.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

Yes, that quote is “ Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined”. — Henry David Thoreau.

It resonates with me because that is exactly what I did. I continued heading in the direction of my dreams despite all the obstacles and challenges. I’m living the life I have imagined.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

So, this is pretty ridiculous, but I’m obsessed with the show “Shark Tank”. I would love to have lunch with the sharks or with Mr. Wonderful!

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