We’re all dancers here, right? So we all know of the many benefits of engaging in the practice of dance. We know about the obvious physical benefits, how our rigorous training keeps our bodies and minds in great shape. We know that spending a great amount of time with other dancers in classes and rehearsals helps develop social skills. We understand that navigating complex spacial arrangements and managing those in-the-moment quick fixes when something goes wrong in a performance builds problem solving skills.
And I haven’t even addressed the spiritual connection some of us experience when we dance, that awareness of something special taking place in an inner soul level that gives us healing, peace, joy, and a sense of purpose. I mean, the list can go on and on and on…and on.
I teach all levels of dancers, and most of my students are actually pursuing careers in other fields. So it has become important to me to leave them with nuggets of wisdom they can take with them once they leave the studio and apply to other areas of their lives.
What nuggets are those, you say? So glad you asked.
1. Embracing risks
One of the main concepts I reinforce is the importance of taking risks and pushing yourself to grow. I teach tons of hip-hop classes, and while the idea of dancing to your favorite songs in class sounds fun, you’d be surprised how fear takes over once they realize they’re actually learning stylized movement and are charged with the ever-so-dreaded task of freestyling.
As I hold their hands through each step of learning and retaining a new style of choreography and then ease them into the act of freestyling after a few guided exercises, I find that it’s still necessary to give them those extra nudges of support. I’m constantly reminding them that the discomfort they’re feeling is a sign of growth, and that if they want to leave the class better off than how they began it–which I expect, by the way—then they’ll have to push themselves to work through the discomfort.
Which brings me to my next nugget. In those moments where class turns into a support group (fellow educators should know what I mean here), I talk a lot about the idea of progress over perfection. Again, because there’s a range of skill levels in my classes, a level one course can often have a complete novice in class with dancers who have 3+ years of experience. And because they’re human, and we all do this, they compare themselves to their peers. They feel embarrassed when they don’t catch on as quickly, and they shy away to the back of the room.
2. The Importance of Progress Over Perfection
It’s in those moments, I must remind them that they didn’t all start at the same place, and therefore shouldn’t be expected to perform at the same levels. I talk a lot about not comparing yourself to others and about learning to be comfortable where you are. And wouldn’t you know, even with all of my experience and credits, I’m still learning to take my own advice in that area.
3. Not Fearing Failure
Finally, at least within the confines of this article, I emphasize to students that there is life after their mistakes. I notice that fear of failure causes students to either quit once they’ve made a mistake, or decide not to try at all. I’m sure you’ve seen it too. When it’s time to perform the combination in groups, there are always a few who completely freeze after a mistake or those who conveniently need to excuse themselves to the restroom.
So in addition to my class mantras, “Be strong and wrong!” and “Don’t be afraid to crash and burn,” I figured out a few tactics to keep the idea of quick and seamless recovery on their minds. I point out the fact that in dance, as in life, the show must go on after a mistake. I encourage them to acknowledge their humanity, and to then jump right back in wherever they left off.
Now, whether or not my students realize the “life coaching” I’m doing, or whether or not they even care, I have no clue. What I do know is that many of my students leave my courses having grown tremendously throughout the semester. I’m not talking just skill mastery either. I’m talking about growth in courage and, more importantly, in self confidence.
One of the things I find most rewarding is that as my students are learning to step outside of their comfort zones, to accept who and where they are in their own process, and to keep going after their mistakes, I am being inspired to do the same.
Just another benefit of dance. As we learn to dance fully, we are learning to live fully as well.
Shate’L. Edwards is a professional choreographer and dance educator in Dallas, TX. She is the creator of TheWorkingDancer.com, where she gives aspiring dancers the insight and inspiration they need to become working dancers.