Have you ever watched a student make a mistake on a combination, which quickly morphs into falling apart? Or have you ever been late driving to the studio and the person in front of you is driving below the speed limit and you get totally pissed off? How about when a student feels down because they hear other students laughing and thinks it’s directed towards them? These are all typical scenarios where something happens that creates an emotional reaction that influences how a person feels and ultimately performs.
One of our goals as teachers is to help our students become better learners. We try different training methods, suggest various visualizations and imagery, and help them understand how to improve their technique, which includes helping them traverse their emotions which can strongly influence learning.
New Day New Possibilities
I’d like to talk about two ways to help students become more resilient and adaptable in their dance training. Adaptability means being able to more rapidly learn new skills specifically in response to a changing environment.
This is a good skill for a dancer to have! The truth is every class is different from the day before, even if you do exactly the same movements in the same sequence. How they slept, what they ate, their energy, what interactions they had that day can all influence their behavior in class. This is the first important piece of information to share with your students. They shouldn’t expect class to be the same from day to day.
Teaching from a somatic perspective can be very helpful for this. How did your feet feel during the demi plié? Did you shift your weight? Notice your spine’s response to pressing against the floor. These are examples of cues a teacher may give to guide their student’s attention.
In other words, you are helping them to be present and awake to what is happening in the moment. Very important! We want them to respond to what is happening in the present moment instead of being in their head about how they goofed up the class before or worrying about the triple pirouette that is coming up. They have agency over what is happening right now – not what might happen in the future or what has happened in the past.
As they non-judgmentally check in with their body more often they will notice patterns in their sensations and feedback and learn to trust that feedback. They will know when they are on their leg, without needing the teacher to point it out. They need to learn to listen to the feedback from their body and their movement. I’m making a big deal out of this because many beginner students just ‘do’ or ‘copy’ the movement of the teacher without much awareness of what’s actually happening in their body.
Ask simple questions – what did you notice? Jump loudly… now jump softly… what was different in your alignment between those two times? Teachers can help guide those students into increased awareness.
That brings me to the next perspective I want students to understand.
Learn to let go and start over!
Our students are not going to stop having emotional reactions to the world around them. (Nor us teachers:) The challenge is how long are those reactions going to influence your choices and behaviors.
You notice that you have a few dancers getting frustrated as they are working out a new combination. Acknowledge it then redirect their attention to shifting their focus.
- “I see frustration…that’s okay… let’s all shake it off… what could you do differently next time?”
- “ Excellent – you figured out what didn’t work – before you go again can you visualize the combination in your head? Note where you can’t see it anymore and work on that part of the combination.”
- “You have to practice these skills over and over again – that’s how you become a better dancer – that’s right – let go of your disappointment, frustration, anger… and let’s start over!”
In other words let’s decrease the time spent in emotional reactions by acknowledging them, making them okay, but then shifting their attention towards the present moment and starting again.
Learning to let go more quickly from emotions such as frustration, disappointment, or jealousy doesn’t mean they don’t care or aren’t serious about their training. Far from it. Being able to decrease the time spent in emotional reactivity increases their adaptability and responsiveness to what’s happening. This allows for more rapid learning to occur. This is a skill that is useful for any dancer, both inside and outside of the studio.
To your success,