“Mom, I want to quit dance.”

Parents make tough calls.

Sometimes on a daily basis.

When you’ve put an investment of time, money, and energy into an activity like dance, helping your child make the decision to drop out (or not) may feel like it involves some of your toughest calls yet.

You want to do right by your child. Their happiness and their health are priority. To help you in that mission, I sought out the opinions of a professional who works with young people and their families.

I first encountered Chantale Lussier-Ley via a teleseminar offered by our friends at DanceStudioOwner.com. She is a mental performance consultant based in Canada who has worked extensively with dancers. You can check out her list of credentials below but I am thrilled that she took some time to talk with me about a big, big subject: what to do when your child wants to quit dance.

IMAGE A daughter has a heart to heart conversation with her mom. IMAGEDance Advantage: What are some key questions that parents might ask to uncover why their child wants to end his/her dance training?

Chantale Lussier-Ley: It’s important to identify the source of discontent. Sometimes children say they want to quit, when a ‘problem’ arises. Identifying why your child is unhappy in dance is critical to finding a solution that truly fits the situation.

Is it with the demands of the class? A potential mismatch with teacher-student personalities? Is it the style of dance that may not fit the child’s taste or preferred ways of moving?

There may also be a number of non-dance-specific factors such as day or time of day, or it could be social or psychological reasons such as experiencing feelings of internal or external pressure, feeling stressed, tired, and over-scheduled in general, fearing of failure, or wishing they were in a different class from a social perspective.

A few key questions could be:
  • I thought you liked dance. What’s changed?
  • What part of dance are you struggling with?
  • You know, sometimes, there are very good reasons to stop an activity. But other times, it’s important to work through our obstacles. What’s the obstacle here?
  • What solution do you think would make you enjoy dance once again?
DA: What can a parent/child do when the student doesn’t like their teacher?

CLL: The first thing is to recognize that a child will likely mirror a parent’s attitude towards the teacher. So the first thing I would suggest, is to check in on how you, as a parent, feel about the teacher. Are you being respectful, kind, and supportive of the teacher’s efforts and approach?

Assuming that you are, encouraging a child to find three positive things they like about their teacher, and focusing on those for a few classes, may help to re-establish a positive connection.

Asking for a parent-teacher-student mini chat may be another way to nurture a positive relation between the teacher and child, and enhance the student’s perception of the teacher and the dance class.

DA: How can a parent get to the root of the vague “my class is boring” reason for wanting to quit?

CLL: At the end of the day, learning can best occur when the level of challenge is well matched with the growing level of skill. Too easy, and a child will be bored. Too difficult, and a child may feel overwhelmed. Both scenarios may affect motivation to dance.

If it becomes apparent that the level of challenge & skills are mismatched, this can likely be addressed by asking for a meeting with the teacher and/or dance school director. Perhaps the child needs more time at a previous level, or perhaps the child needs to jump to the next one, as they may be progressing faster than their peers. In both cases, it is not necessary to quit dance.

DA: Is there a difference between quitting and letting go of an activity?

CLL: Sometimes, kids (and grown-ups) quit as soon as they feel defeated by a task, a job, or an activity that seems beyond their abilities.

When this happens, motivation to dance can be drastically impacted. In such cases, it’s important to remind kids that “failing”, not being able to master a skill instantly, is normal. In fact, being willing to try and to fail, is an important part of developing mastery in any activity, be it art, sport, or in life.

That said, children’s tastes in movement styles and in music, will change, and in my perspective it is important to give a child a fairly broad range of physical and artistic experiences so that a child can make informed choices on what they like and feel an affinity towards.

To complicate matters, it may be important to check in as a parent to make sure it’s not in fact about us. In other words, who’s doing the “letting go” may be an important question to address.

DA: Are certain types of emotional or physical conditions or stresses “no-brainer” reasons to step away from dancing? When is it okay to just walk away?

CLL: Absolutely!

Dance and sports are sadly sometimes still spaces where “old school” mentalities of “no pain no gain” apply, and where mental and verbal abuse exist. Now this is not to say that children need to constantly receive only positive feedback, but the environment in which they learn and train needs to be a physically and psychological “safe” space.

Failing is an important aspect of development. How teachers, coaches, parents, and students in a school react to moments of “failure” speaks greatly to the culture of a dance school. A culture of excellence nurtures success by making it safe for kids to try, fail, and try again, until mastery inevitably grows.

Anytime you feel that parental gut feeling that this learning approach, or environment, is not safe for your child, stepping away from the situation is in fact the right choice. This may mean walking away from paid dance fees depending on a school’s refund policies, but your child’s wellness is far more important.

The same principle applies to physical conditions.

Is learning dance uncomfortable? Absolutely! Will there be some significant levels of discomfort as kids become more and more challenged in dance? Yes. However, some teaching approaches are not as scientifically informed as others and at times put children’s growing bodies under unnecessary stress, and danger.

Do your research about what safe stretching techniques are, what age range is considered safe for children to go on pointe in ballet, and about nutritional needs for your growing, athletic child. Speaking of nutrition, any dance school that would require your child to go on a diet, especially without guiding you and the child to proper nutritional support, would be a big red flag to me. Information is power, do your research.

DA: When is it NOT okay to quit? When should a parent enforce sticking with it?

CLL: Knowing when to supportively challenge, and when to let a child walk away from dance is never easy.

Considering my earlier answers, if things have been discussed with the child, and one is certain that the child is both physically and psychologically safe in the dance setting, then matters have to be addressed at the level of the individual child and child-in-context.

If it is a matter of the child’s changing tastes, I would encourage a parent to discuss with the child, their commitment to the class, the teacher, and their peers.

Sports and the arts are inherently social, and as such, there is a certain level of social responsibility involved. This provides a great venue to teach children about their contributions and responsibilities towards the group or the team. As a dance studio owner or parent, it may be important to make a child (or parents) realize this kinship between dance and sport.

When a child is in a safe, rich, creative, learning context, NOT quitting may be the biggest gift you give your child. In this way, you may support the development of their personal resilience, in the face of obstacles.

IMAGE Balanced metal scales IMAGEDA: What about the old pros and cons list? What are some pitfalls or guidelines for this method?

CLL: Objectivity is often help as a higher means of evaluation than subjective. However, we need to recognize that students experience dance subjectively: this means from the senses, from their bodies, and from their unique view of the world.

The pros-cons list may leave out many important factors to dancers’ experiences: social, inter and intra-personal, emotional, and even physical. After all we can’t know what it feels like to be in this or that dance class, unless we ask. And as the expression goes, asking’s for free.

Whether you are a parent, or a dance teacher, ask. Ask in a safe, open-ended way. Too often we limit the choice of potential answers by given children choice a) or b). An open-ended questioning conversation, in this case, may prove to offer more meaningful feedback from the child’s subjective perspective.

Based on what you hear, you may feel better informed to support the child who is considering quitting dance.

DA: Is the classic finish-out-the-year deflection a reasonable thing to do in most cases?

CLL: In most cases, I would say yes. From a psycho-social perspective, there is much to be gained from learning to finish what one starts. Barring the presence of any major obstacles, nurturing a “stick-to-it-ness” will inevitably help nurture a child’s sense of accomplishment, social responsibilty, and may even nurture their ability to find solutions to the obstacles they initially perceived as insurmountable.

Has your child ever mentioned quitting? How did you handle it?

If your child wanted to drop out of dance, how would it make YOU feel?

 

IMAGE Chantale Lussier IMAGEChantale Lussier-Ley, PhD (c) is a registered member of the CSPA. She has nearly ten years experience as a Mental Performance Consultant with athletes and artists. Notably, she has recently worked with the 2012 gold winning IIHF world champion U18 Canadian Women’s National Hockey Team and the highly competitive Ottawa Senators’ Women’s Hockey Junior (InterAA) team. She has also worked extensively with dancers, consulting for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School’s Professional Division (2002-2004) and the Professional Contemporary Dance program at The School of Dance (2005-present). Herself a graduate of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Professional Division Teachers’ Training Program, Chantale is a professional member of the Cecchetti Society of Canada with Associate Diploma teaching certification and Advance Cecchetti (ballet) with over 20 years of dance, teaching, and performing experience. Since 2009, Chantale has taken a seat on the National Committee of Physical and Health Education Canada’s Dance Professional Advisory Committee. Currently in her final year in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, her doctoral research was conducted at the 2008 Canada Dance Festival and was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. A part-time professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Arts, Chantale teaches a course on mental performance for the Arts to musicians and actors. Equally at ease working with grassroots, developmental, elite or professional contexts, Chantale enjoys bringing her own creativity to her work on the mental elements of Excellence in sport and the performing arts. For more information, please visit www.elysianinsight.ca or e-mail Chantale: IMAGE chantale AT elysianinsight DoT ca IMAGE

 

Nichelle (admin)
Nichelle Suzanne began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. Nichelle holds a BA in dance and is an instructor with more than 17 years experience. She covers dance performance in the Houston area as a freelance writer and balances daily life as a mom to two young children. In June 2012, Nichelle presented the whats, hows, and whys of blogging on a panel at the annual conference for Dance/USA, the national service organization for professional dance, to better equip artists and companies for engaging their audience and new readers through online communications and content.
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Comments

  1. As a teacher, when it’s one of my older (11 and up) kids, I always ask parents to set up an appointment with me and the student. Sometimes they are just not enjoying it anymore and are still coming because they don’t want to let me or mom down. 9 times out of 10 they want to quit because a friend moved up a level or a friend went on pointe or a friend was given a certain part in the Nutcracker, and they did not.

    This is my favorite sort of conversation with my students. I get to remind them how unique they are, how special they are. I tell them that everyone develops at a different rate. I point out some of the challenges they have had the past year and they always nod and laugh. Julia, you grew so fast this past year, your mind and you body aren’t always communicating, are they? nod-giggle. Olivia, you are such a smart girl and yet I see you watching your friends for the choreography that we’ve worked on all year. I know you know it, but you need to trust yourself. smile-roll eyes-nod. Then I help them set goals. My goal is to help you go on pointe this year. My goal is to help you gain the core strength you need to move up to the next level. At then end of the conference I ask them if everything I said made sense. Did it seem fair? How do they feel about the goals we set?

    When teachers take the time to explain it to them, kids understand. They really just want to know that they aren’t invisible, that we care about them, that we are paying attention to them. Usually, they come back to class and work harder than ever because now they have a goal.

  2. I am a dancer and I want to quit dance because people at my studio are telling the owner that I am mean and talk about people when I don’t and all of my Friends get moved up and favored and I get stuck with the people that aren’t as good it makes me feel like I don’t belong and that I can’t do anything to make them see I AM GOOD what should I do to tell people about this?

    • Hi Chelsea,
      I think your first step is to consider the way you are thinking (out loud, or to yourself) about fellow dancers who “aren’t as good” as you. If any of that attitude toward your peers is “leaking out” through your words OR actions in or outside of class, this could be a primary reason your instructors don’t see you as someone ready to move up and forward with your dancing. There’s a saying that goes,
      Beginning dancer: knows nothing.
      Intermediate dancer: knows everything; too good to dance with beginners.
      Hotshot dancer: too good to dance with anyone.
      Advanced dancer: Dances everything. Especially with beginners.

      Advanced dancers (those who are advanced in ability and those who are advanced, as in moved to the forefront) don’t worry so much about their peers and placement, they are too busy focusing on how to better themselves.

      Perhaps what you wrote above is just coming from a place of hurt, especially if wrongful accusations have been made about you. But if you sincerely want to know what you need to do to advance at your studio, you should make an appointment with your teachers and ask. There’s some advice here that may come in handy: http://www.danceadvantage.net/how-to-talk-and-be-heard/

      Best of luck to you, Chelsea!

  3. Hi, My daughter is 12 and she is on the competition team at her studio. I think she is overwhelmed a bit this year because of her school work (struggling a bit in one course) and increased required dance classes. She’s been saying how sad she is and her big fear suddenly is performing on stage. She had a few times last season where she was so anxious before performing in a competition that she started hyperventilating and now I think she wants to avoid it to avoid that horrible feeling. I think if she had her way, she would stop now to avoid performing. I just decreased her classes to the minimum required 5 classes, but even when we woke up this morning, she said out of the blue that she didn’t want to dance anymore. I told her she’d have to get through this year because she made a commitment to her team and the choreography is already finished. They’d have to change it if she quit. You can’t push my daughter too much because it just makes her anxious, but she really is a very good dancer for only dancing since she was 8. I would really hate for her to quit. I know she enjoys the actual dancing, but she is so petrified of performing and she’s so tired between the 3 hour class days and then homework (and she’s type 1 diabetic), that I’m really confused on what I’m suppose to do. Have any hints on how to make her feel that she can get through these performances? I feel like, right now, the only solution that would make her happy besides quitting at the end of this season, would be to take less classes, but because of the 5 class minimum , that’s impossible. It’s like all or nothing.

    • Hi Sarah,

      What about taking a break from competition? It’s not quitting, she may rediscover her joy in dancing, and it will give her some time to focus on school work, which I find is often particularly stressful for kids this age. I feel that the emphasis on competition is just way too strong. If it’s possible to be at this studio and not be on a team, go for it. If not, I’d consider a new studio. In the real world of dance (i.e. anywhere beyond the studio environment), technique, artistry, learning the craft of dancing is way more important than how one places/performs in competition. And really nothing is more important that the love and desire to dance if one is to continue to make it a part of her life.

      As for the remainder of this season, I think it’s important to see commitments through. But when it becomes a health (body or mind) issue, I feel as a parent all bets are off. I can’t assess her health for you. Still, your description to me sounds like a pretty stressed young lady – it may be something you want to discuss with her doctor or other health professional and consider his/her opinion before deciding whether she should push through or pull out.

      Good luck to you both!

  4. My daughter has been dancing since she was three. She is about to turn 13. Last year she danced her first solo and she placed first for novice solos in her age category.

    This year, she wants to be her last year. She understands that she can’t quit halfway through the season, but she is adamant that this will be her last year. She is an awesome dancer. She has many friends that she has made through dance that she will not have access to once she stops dancing. They will continue to dance and because of time commitments, they will drift away. I just don’t understand what she is thinking.

    My heart is breaking. There is nothing that I enjoy as much as watching her perform (unless it is watching my son play hockey!) I truly believe that she wants to quit as a part of that whole pushing mother away thing that teenaged girls do. She is definitely pushing me elsewhere as well.

    Even though from time to time, I fantasize about how much extra money I will have when I don’t have to pay for monthly dance tuition, costumes, choreography, and competition fees, along with bowing to every whim that our dance teacher has, I’m having a very hard time. I know in the end, it is not my decision to make — I can’t force her to continue in dance — but I don’t know how to reconcile this knowledge with my feelings. It brings me to tears just to think about it.

    Any advice or insight would be really appreciated! Thanks.

  5. Heather says:

    Hi I’m heather and I have been dancing sense I was three . I am now turning nineteen this year which means I have been dancing for sixteen years. My dancing class only had my friend and I in . Now my friend has quite and I’m not to sure what I must do. I’m not a person that would enjoy dancing by myself . I have experienced it a few times and I must say it’s been a very quite ,boring and awkward . My mom says I must not quite because I only have two exams left . But that still means 4 years by myself . I have thought about quitting a lot through my dancing year but for some reason I would tell myself one more term and then just end up staying for the friends. I’m not a great dancing so I only just pass but it does make me happy . Obviously If I have done it this long must have been for some reason. Have no idea what to do ? But quitting just seems like the best option .

  6. Hi! My daughter is 10 and decided not to go the route of being on the “dance team”. That being said…12 of the 15 in her class are ON the dance team. As time goes on, she comes home more and more upset as she feels she is an outcast by the kids on the dance team. They ignore her and are just blatantly excluding her from conversations to bullying her in between dance classes. My daughter is SO done with this and wants to quit. The recital is the 2nd weekend in June…so her father an I are seriously considering letting her quit under these circumstances.

    The “dance team” girls automatically get their own lockers and the “non-dance team” girls are not allowed to step into the locker room! In my eyes, this is teaching the DT girls to automatically view the NDT girls differently….possibly sending the wrong message to kids.

    Anyway…I’m fed up and don’t want to subject my daughter to bullying in her extra curricular activity. The girls are very mean and rude to her and lately she just bursts into tears the second she jumps in the car.

    Please please let me know your thoughts. Last year we almost quit because we planned a trip to visit relatives over a holiday and booked our flights. Later we found out the recital was scheduled that particular weekend we were going to be away. We immediately shared this news with the owner. Two weeks later…my daughter came home so upset feeling as though the teacher was purposely ignoring her while she taught the others the dance.

    So all and all…I feel the management is not being done properly and these girls are obviously not being supervised in between dance acts.

    Sorry this is so long….I just need to make a decision and fast! My 10 year old is so happy at the prospect of never returning to that studio. Please advise as soon as you can.

    With much appreciation!!
    Lynn

    PS. My dancers been dancing at this studio since age 5. She just doesn’t enjoy it any longer.

    • Hi Lynn,

      If I’m reading correctly, it seems you are asking if you should or shouldn’t quit prior to the recital in June. As you know, no one can ultimately make that decision for you, but I understand hoping for a bit of validation if you’re leaning that direction. I can only offer this:

      Obligation to and respect for others in a production is a priority for me, so the decision to quit with a recital six or so weeks away would be a big part of my personal equation. Perhaps not much would need to change if she were to quit… and perhaps not – that really depends on the choreography. When quitting within close proximity of a performance, you want to be doing it because your daughter’s well-being really depends upon it, not because you’d like to ‘stick it’ to the other students or management. (That’s not to imply this is what’s on your mind, only to recognize that this too is a natural and perhaps even justifiable emotion that factors in.) Other factors include the value of seeing something through – even difficult circumstances, not allowing others bring you down or squeeze you out, and leaving a bad situation via the high ground and not a burned bridge.

      But your daughter’s overall well-being is of the utmost importance. You’ve given several examples of mistreatment and it seems like grounds for leaving but, not being in your daughter’s shoes and truly knowing her level of discomfort or despair, it’s a difficult call whether or not she can or should “stick it out” for the remainder of the year. It ALL must be weighed in the decision you make together.

      You haven’t mentioned conversations with teachers or studio owners. Not saying that it will repair the damage done at this point but, if you haven’t yet brought this up with the powers that be, you may want to give it a try before quitting. If nothing more, a calm, well-presented discussion about how your daughter is feeling about dance and about wanting to quit something she used to enjoy, and the ostracization she’s experienced, could put a spotlight on the problem and give your daughter a reprieve long enough at least to finish the year.

      I highly doubt that makes the decision easier!! But I hope it was of some help one way or the other. The very best of luck to you.

  7. Lynn, I posted above in October and since then, I did pull my daughter from the studio and it was because she was sad and stressed all the time and the tween/teen years are hard enough alone, she didn’t need the added stress of dance making it harder. She is a lot happier and it was totally the right choice. I would pull your daughter if it is hurting her mentally. It’s not worth it. They’ll manage with any changes they have to make in the routine and your daughter will be so much happier. Good luck. P.s. the studio sounds unprofessional!!!

  8. Lynn I am a few years older then your daughter and I have the exact same thing happening with bullying the thing is that I amd on the competition team so my team members disclude me from everything and I want to quit dancing but my parents won’t let me but I would let her make the desicon and see what she wants to do. maybe another studio would work if she love dance and wants to continue!

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