What Charlotte The Spider Knows About Nurturing Champions


Anyone that’s ever felt a little emotional (or, outright sobbed) during a telling or re-telling of Charlotte’s Web knows it is a heart-warming yet bittersweet story about a little girl’s love of animals and also the friendship between a wise spider and a young pig. But, as Leah Singer writes, “[Charlotte’s Web] is also about words and the difference storytelling can make in people’s lives.”

This is the front cover art for the book Charlotte's Web written by E. B. White. The book cover art copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, HarperCollins, or the cover artist.

This is the front cover art for the book Charlotte’s Web written by E. B. White. The book cover art copyright is believed to belong to the publisher, HarperCollins, or the cover artist.

If you’re not familiar with E.B. White’s classic children’s story, Charlotte’s Web is about a small pig, a runt, in danger of being slaughtered because it is “very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything.” A young girl named Fern convinces her father to spare the pig, who she names Wilbur. Fern loves and nurtures Wilbur but his life is once again in danger when he is sold to her uncle. It is Charlotte, a barn spider, that ultimately saves Wilbur’s life. Charlotte weaves a series of words into her web – “Some pig.” “Terrific.” “Radiant.” “Humble.” – which the farmers take as signs of Wilbur’s greatness. Word spreads of this remarkable pig and he becomes too famous to kill.

Wilbur is entered into the county fair and, though [SPOILERS ahead] he does not win first prize, he wins a special award for being extraordinary. Knowing that Wilbur is now beloved by all and his life is for certain no longer in danger, Charlotte finally gives in to her own death but not before leaving her egg sac in the care of Wilbur who returns with it to the farm, where he welcomes and befriends Charlotte’s children and future generations of spiders for years to come.

Through Charlotte, we learn a lot about coaching young dancers to greatness.


When it comes to nurturing champions, Charlotte knows:


That words matter and that the story you tell can save a life.


In the book, Charlotte makes a choice to re-write Wilbur’s story. At first she’s just tricking the minds of gullible humans on behalf of a little pig who is scared and defenseless but Charlotte does see something special in Wilbur. Maybe it’s just that he is willing to see beyond her “bloodthirsty nature” but helping Wilbur gives Charlotte’s life purpose and makes her feel good.


“…by helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”.


Where would an “unlikely ballerina” like Misty Copeland be without her first supporters and mentors who chose to see beyond the obstacles of not only her early life but the color of her skin and instead speak of Misty’s potential to rewrite what could have been her story? Not all dancers are as famous as Misty but I’d guarantee that, if asked, every single person in the dance world could give you the names of teachers whose words changed their lives.


"Barn Spider" by Dave Fletcher is licensed CC BY-ND 2.0

“Barn Spider” by Dave Fletcher is licensed CC BY-ND 2.0


That ordinary dancers become extraordinary the same way gifted ones do.


Wilbur blushed. “But I’m not terrific, Charlotte. I’m just about average for a pig.”
“You’re terrific as far as I’m concerned,” replied Charlotte, sweetly, “and that’s what counts.


Wilbur doesn’t start out as anything special. He is a common runt and even he doesn’t believe he is anything more. It takes time, hard work, and Charlotte’s steadfast belief in him but, by the end, he is truly a magnificent, “completely out of the ordinary” specimen of a pig. Wilbur can barely handle all the praise he receives.

I don’t think Charlotte foresees all that Wilbur eventually accomplishes but that doesn’t matter. She always plans her messages one word at a time. Who can truly predict which students will go on in dance, and which won’t? Who knows what the result of your influence will be? A perfectly average dance student becomes exceptional the same way a gifted student does… one step at a time.

That the way a student feels is as important as their skill.


Charlotte loves Wilbur but she’s not always overflowing with praise. She sees his limitations clearly. While searching for her next word, Charlotte asks Wilbur to run, and jump, and flip. He exhausts himself doing everything she asks. When he’s finished, Charlotte concludes…


“I’m not sure Wilbur’s action is exactly radiant, but it’s interesting.”
“Actually,” said Wilbur, “I feel radiant.”
“Do you?” said Charlotte, looking at him with affection. “Well, you’re a good little pig, and radiant you shall be.


Charlotte acknowledges that Wilbur is eager and willing and realizes that a pig’s natural abilities aren’t everything. Not to mention, they are completely different from her own abilities. She sees that the way Wilbur feels about himself is absolutely essential in helping him become all that he can be. Later, people take notice of the “interesting” things about Wilbur.

Your students are their own kind of dancer. They need you to guide them and challenge them even though eventually they will go their own way. Positive praise when your students show enthusiasm and effort builds their confidence but so does validating them – show them that their feelings and thoughts (who they are on the inside) matter.


That people (and pigs) live up to their descriptions.


“When Charlotte’s web said SOME PIG, Wilbur had tried hard to look like some pig. When Charlotte’s web said TERRIFIC, Wilbur had tried to look terrific. And now that the web said RADIANT, he did everything possible to make himself glow.”


Over time Wilbur transforms into the pig that Charlotte says he is. He’s always been a sweet little pig but “good food and regular hours were showing results.” Wilbur goes from a weak, lonely, uncertain runt that no one wanted to a healthy, strong, and confident pig that “any man would be proud of.”

“Say what you want to see” works for work ethic as well as pointed toes. It’s not that you need to make things up about your dancers that aren’t true. When you have a seed, you water it because you know the potential for growth is there if you do. As you work with your students, regularly sprinkle them with recognition of the growing potential you see in them.


"Piglet" by Jim Champion is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

“Piglet” by Jim Champion is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0


That encouraging humility brings handsome results.


“Wilbur was modest; fame did not spoil him.”


The other animals worry that all the attention might go to Wilbur’s head but it doesn’t. In the back of his mind, he knows the fate he’s escaped  – it haunts his dreams a little – and he knows he would not have gotten far without Charlotte. “During the day he is happy and confident” but, when faced with his biggest challenge, he still wants Charlotte with him.

When they attend the county fair, Wilbur’s owner has a special crate that says “Zuckerman’s Famous Pig” in gold letters and his wife fusses to make Wilbur look good with a buttermilk bath and clean straw. They believe his fame and looks will win him the prize. But Charlotte sizes up the competition and though there’s a bigger pig, she knows exactly what Wilbur’s got that that pig doesn’t… she writes HUMBLE above Wilbur’s pen. Charlotte’s word is true and it serves Wilbur well — everyone has something nice to say about it him.

As a mentor to your students, you can help them see their best qualities. The rest of the world tells your students that being a winner means you must be “Instafamous” or look and perform better than everyone else. But when you let dancers know with your words and actions that humility matters, they win.

That the work you do every day is a miracle!


Though it is remarkable that Charlotte is able to understand and weave human words into her web, Fern’s uncle fails to see it as anything special. Fern’s aunt hints at the idea that perhaps it is the spider that is extraordinary and not the pig but Charlotte’s role is soon forgotten in all the excitement over Wilbur. That’s okay by Charlotte. She cares only that her plan works and that Wilbur is saved. When Fern’s mother becomes concerned her daughter is spending too much time talking to animals, she consults the family doctor. They end up chatting about the writing in Charlotte’s web and he has this to say:


“When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.”
“What’s miraculous about a spider’s web?” said Mrs. Arable. “I don’t see why you say a web is a miracle – it’s just a web.”
“Ever try to spin one?” asked Dr. Dorian.


Like a spider’s web, not everyone appreciates everything that goes into teaching dancers and the “ordinary miracles” you perform every day. Your reward isn’t the point or the purpose for doing what you do but when they do come, the rare moments of recognition are all the sweeter.


"spider web" by Alan Reeves is licensed CC BY 2.0

“spider web” by Alan Reeves is licensed CC BY 2.0


That you are never too small to leave a legacy.


Though she is small, Charlotte works extra hard to do her very best on Wilbur’s behalf and Wilbur never forgets her work and sacrifice. No matter the lengths you’ve gone to support your dancers, no matter how intricate the web you’ve woven, like Charlotte, you probably fade into the background. But your students remember and, just as Wilbur carries Charlotte’s egg sac back to the farm, your students carry forward the things you’ve taught them. They spread them, share them, and often pass them to future generations.

Your students may not become famous or win in every competition but if you help them as Charlotte helped Wilbur, they become winners – ordinary dancers who succeed, who go on to live lives that are remarkable in their own way and, in the process, create your legacy as a teacher and dance educator.


8 Great Links for Dancers In Training

Here’s what we’re sharing with you from our unique vantage point online, a.k.a the front row…

  • 8 links for dancersFinding “Neutral Foot”
  • The history of… tap dancing
  • Dancers & their Ballet Bags: A Visit to Ballet Black
  • How to Take Audition Photos of Your Dancin’ Boy
  • 10 things my cats have taught me about ballet
  • A father’s influence
  • When Should You Dance for Free?
  • From Competition To College

Want more links to read, share, or put to good use? Follow @danceadvantage on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest. [Read more…]

11 Ways To Create A Positive Atmosphere In Your Dance Classes

Today’s guest post is by belly dancer, teacher, and DanceCostumes.com writer, Erica Rhodes.

As you may have noticed, Dance Advantage is POSITIVELY focused on getting your dance year off to a great start. So, be sure to check out the related reading links within the article.

There are many reasons students walk in to take their first dance class, ranging from a love of the art to trying something new. Many dance students find that learning to move their bodies helps develop a more positive self-image. It’s not surprising, as learning to feel comfortable in your own body can often times can carry over to all aspects of life.

When students feel good about themselves in dance class, they enjoy their experiences more. This increases student retention and can inspire your class size to grow. You, the instructor, can enjoy knowing that you’re giving back to the community, when your students begin to experience a change, not only physically, but in mind and spirit too.

How can instructors help students think more positively about themselves?

IMAGE A belly dancer poses with arms above her head, a confident smile on her face. IMAGE

Photo courtesy Brendan Lally Photography; dancer: Letitia, Ammara Dance (www.ammara.ca)

Words of encouragement and a positive atmosphere go a long way. Here are some suggestions to help instructors foster a healthy self-esteem in their students:

  1. Give students plenty of support and encouragement. For many new students, dance is challenging. It can be frustrating when even the most basic moves seem much too difficult. Reminding students that everyone had to start somewhere and even the best dancers in the world faced challenging movements when they started out, as well.
  2. Be free with your compliments. Everyone loves to hear good things about themselves and their skills, especially when trying something new. Make sure to compliment every student , even if it’s not during every class. This can be a great mark of their improving skills.
  3. Eliminate negative talk about bodies. While constructive criticism can help students improve their skills, negative criticism is very damaging to a student’s self-esteem. This is especially important with negative self-talk and negative body talk. Comments like, “You’re so thin!” and “I’m so fat!” can have an effect on the whole class. It’s not just the student that is being spoken about or the student talking about themselves that feels the judgment, but the whole class may feel the need to compare themselves to that person. It’s better to avoid those judgments all together.
  4. Keep criticism upbeat and positive. Delivering all criticisms in a positive tone helps encourage students to improve their skills, but also takes away the sting of feeling like they just don’t get it. The easiest way to keep things constructive is [Read more…]

Sunday Snapshot: Mr. Curiosity

[Photo] Dancer Austin Meiteen in Dance Institute's Mr. Curiosity, photo by Rene Michaels

René Michaels has been a featured photographer on Dance Advantage’s Sunday Snapshot before. His work speaks for itself but I’ll add that he is a warm and personable guy I had the good fortune to meet in person while he was shooting a competition in Houston.  René is an Austin-based photographer with a talent for action photography and he always manages to capture really great moments, like the one above.

The snapshot is from a performance piece called Mr. Curiosity, set to the Jason Mraz song of the same name. It is a contemporary dance choreographed by Dane Burch of the Dance Institute in Austin, TX that explores the curious search for love. The photo perhaps best reflects the lyric “I’m looking for love this time, sounding hopeful but it’s making me cry,” as performed by the group’s male dancer, Austin Meiteen, pictured above.

“From my perspective as a dance photographer, it’s about capturing the passion in the moments during a routine that translates the music visually to the audience through dance. A picture is worth a thousand words.” Of the young man in the photo above, Rene adds, “Austin does a great job of transferring his passion visually in this shot.”

I selected this photo from an incredible array of submissions (from René and many other talented photographers) because Austin’s face is just priceless. This is definitely a committed young performer. Austin is 10 and has been dancing since he was 5. As a competitive dancer he has accumulated 8 national championships, including 3 national champion solo titles. He dances approximately 12 hours a week and adjuncts with 2 hours of tumbling training. His father Geoff adds, “He has many wonderful teachers, but his high level guidance and tutelage is under Ms. Linda Holland, owner of the Dance Institute.”

Mr. Curiosity is performed by thirteen, talented youth aged 10 through 13. The dance is described as a beautiful, sweet number that pushed the dancers to grow in not just their technical abilities, but also in their ability to express emotion through dance.

You can submit your photos for inclusion in the Sunday Snapshot feature at Flickr.

DanceStage.com Creator, Colby’s Long And Winding Road

ColbyColby is 22 years old and grew up in Palmer, Alaska. He’s got a passion for dance, interests in business, web-design, and sports. Like many young dancers, he’s got a lot on his plate as he tries to define his career and who he is. I believe I first encountered Colby on Twitter and he’s always been professional and courteous. His path in dance and (I hope he won’t mind my saying) in life has been somewhat indirect. While it’s awesome to see a driven and focused career materialize, the truth is, most dancers I know have traveled a long and winding road. So, I thought it would be interesting to represent that and talk with Colby on the blog.

When did you start dancing, Colby?

I started dancing at the age of 13 because my sister was dancing at a studio and mentioned high school girls! [laughs].

Girls… Check! What about dance or the process of learning motivated you to continue?

I noticed right away it was what I really loved to do. I stayed with the same studio for about four-and-a-half years, studying in ballet, tap, jazz, and a little bit of breaking. The more I danced the more I enjoyed using it as an outlet for my emotions and to release all of my energy, whether it was to relieve anger, or to relieve the stress of my next test coming up, or just a pick me up if I was having an off day.

My motivation to continue was fueled by the ever increasing challenges and the fact that I was tackling those challenges successfully. My confidence continued to grow the more I danced. Also, attending a few live performances of professional companies and just seeing this whole new culture intrigued me.

Did you have support as a young man in dance?

I have always been and always will be supported by my family. I’m very blessed to have all of them. When I became a freshman in high school it became very difficult because I joined the high school cheer team too. This was in a smaller town where guys didn’t really cross that plane at all. I was given a hard time by a lot of people that were supposed to be my friends. Some of it was even worse than just minor teasing. At one of the football games I had a potato thrown at me while I was cheering. Needless to say, I found out who my true friends really were. The further I got into high school the more it became “ok” but in the beginning only my close friends and family really supported me. Actually, to be honest not many girls had a problem with it. It was mainly just the guys that did.

You had a full scholarship to study dance in college but, after a year, left to join a pre-professional company. What about the college dance experience was not what you expected?

The training wasn’t as well-rounded as I had anticipated. The program’s focus was jazz and ballet. A good thing, but I was expecting a more balanced variety. Even though they had hip-hop and tap classes, they were at a beginning level. That was a bit of a disappointment as those happen to be my favorite.

There was also more drama than I expected, things seemed disorganized at times. To their credit they had a whole new staff but we were offered only two weekends of performances for the whole year.

All in all, I wouldn’t give up that experience because good or bad, every experience helps you grow. College helped with technique. There was a more personal atmosphere than I had envisioned. There was good talent which helped me to push myself harder. There was time to focus on my dancing completely. When you are not in college and working, you never get as much time as you want.

In what ways did training with a company suit you better?

The pre-professional training broadened and is still broadening my views on hip-hop culture. Everyone in the company was putting their free time into what they loved so there was less drama (more professionalism). The training and performance opportunities kept us pushing the limits of our potential. Sharing your love for what you do with an audience, hopefully inspiring or entertaining them – that’s what it’s all about.

Putting It Together

Colby’s primary project right now is DanceStage.com, a social network for dancers. I’ve contributed some of my posts to DanceStage.com (which I rarely do). They sit among some really useful articles, as well as contests, and other features which we’ll chat more about below…

DanceStage.com Advisory BoardTell me about DanceStage.com and what prompted its creation.

The idea for DanceStage started while I was in college. As I researched for dance assignments, I had the thought that things would be easier if there was a collection of info on dance all in one spot. I told a few friends, we partnered and off we went on it. They have since had to bow out due to time constraints or personal reasons, so I have managed to start taking it on myself. The goal is a social network that is a dancer’s one-stop shop, but I have to build it one step at a time. So, I’ve started with the social network and I am building from there.

Social networks have exploded in the last two years. What has been most difficult about carving out a space online?

The difficult thing about carving a space online is you have to constantly evolve as the internet is constantly evolving. Another hurdle is becoming recognized. You could have the coolest site in the world but if nobody knows it’s there it doesn’t do anyone any good. You just have to be dedicated and persevere long enough to get your name out there.

You’ve partnered with Showstopper to present the Future Stars of America contest. How are winners chosen?

At each Showstopper regional they take the highest scoring group and give them DanceStage’s Future Stars of America award. Their video then gets uploaded to the site and they are a contestant. Once the season is over and all the regional winners are up, DanceStage’s selected judges narrow it down to a top five. These top five are reposted and the members of DanceStage can vote on their favorite video once a day for a week. At the end, the video with the most votes becomes our new Future Stars of America winners. Showstopper has been great to work with and very supportive.

Dance Advantage on DanceStageYou have a section for classifieds, a forum, users can create customized profiles, and you’ve added new articles. What’s next, what can users look forward to?

DanceStage will soon be coming out with a whole new look. I will be tightening up the features already in place and adding new ones. It will be a great change and I am excited for it. That is my primary focus right now. Some features that are in the back of my mind for the future are a dance history section, a more customizable profile, maybe some interactive games, more contests (small and large), hopefully an online store (for DanceStage apparel and other items), and when the new site comes out I will have a Suggestion Form on every page so that I can deliver what the users want.

Okay, big question. Do you have any thoughts for other 20-somethings trying to make their way?

For anyone trying to establish themselves, I would say do what YOU feel is right for you. Don’t let other people persuade you. Sometimes they are doing it to try and protect you or help you, but only you can decide what is best for you. Whenever I have a decision to make, I call my mom, my dad, a sister or two and ask a few friends. I am very family oriented. My parents did a great job raising me and my sisters had a large impact on me as well. I take into consideration their different perspectives to make my choice. Then I decide, given all these different points, what is the best option for me. Not everything I’ve chosen has been the easiest but I regret none of the choices.

I also can’t say enough for working hard. But not only work hard, work smart. Back in high school, we trained less often than the teams we competed against so my coach used to say that, instead of just working harder, we had to work smarter to make our time more valuable to us than their time was to them.

Thanks Colby!

Do check out DanceStage.com and their YouTube channel, where you’ll find those Future Stars of America entries.

Have you taken your own long and winding road in dance?

Tell us about it in the comments!

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