Parents help competitive dance live up to its potential
Just because a pursuit is artistic, does not mean it is immune to the same negativity that can sometimes permeate the competitive sports atmosphere. We’ve all seen the screaming parents on the sideline at sporting events. But you know, offending guardians in the arts have their own label…. Stage Parents!
Though there are plenty of stage parents outside of competitive dance, the sport-like atmosphere of competing can bring out the worst in some. Still, just like sports, competitive dance has great potential to motivate students and increase self-confidence in young performers, plus there’s the opportunity to broaden minds and discover a variety of dance styles or modes of expression… The list goes on, for there is certainly much that can be gained.
A parental approach which supports and encourages the positive aspects of an experience is the same, regardless of the activity or discipline.
I’m still new at parenting. Yet, I’ve already found success in applying some of the principles below with my toddler. Consequently, I’ve found they are fundamentally good guidelines in teaching and in leadership/management roles, as well. If you are the parent of a competitive dancer, I encourage you to share your own thoughts, views, and advice below this post.
“As a parent, how do you encourage and reinforce the positive aspects of competitive dance?”
By supporting and building the self-reliance (confidence) of dancers with your actions
Approval – Dancers need to know that their 100% effort equals your 100% approval.
- Show interest in the process not just the product. Learning to dance is an endeavor that takes time and perseverance. Learning and performing choreography is only part of that process but it easily becomes the primary focus when students are competing. Ask your child questions about what they are discovering about movement, about the art form, about themselves throughout their training. This keeps performance and competition in its place (where it belongs) as just another part of the process.
- Be aware of what you are communicating. We convey, with our bodies and with our actions, perhaps more than we could ever say with words. Showing that a mistake is not a big deal, that you are proud of a child’s efforts, that opposing teams are not the enemy, that not receiving a trophy is an opportunity rather than a disaster, that teachers and judges deserve respect is important. Action and reaction speak volumes.
- Appreciate their achievements – I’ve written about methods of praising achievement before in Appraising the Value of Praise. The article explores the difference between praise that describes the accomplishment rather than evaluating the child for succeeding (or failing) at a skill. It also offers tips for being specific when you offer praise.
- Discuss mistakes and ways to improve when your child is ready. Immediately following the performance is not the time. The appropriate time will depend on your child. However, when the moment comes, remember that discussion is key. Begin with a question, not with your solution. Listen. Help them to assess and learn from their mistakes rather than give advice on how they can be better.
- Resist joining ’em when you can’t beat ’em. It can be frustrating when teachers, other parents, and students around you or your child behave inappropriately or negatively. It is natural for parents to want to jump to their child’s defense when he/she is mistreated or unfavorably affected by the actions of someone else. When dealing with negativity, don’t stoop to a similar or lower level to deal with it. Instead, regard this as an opportunity to model and teach your child about appropriate and positive behavior. If your child’s safety (physical or mental) is at risk, approach the offender with calm (take a breath before choosing your action) and with respect, and consider removal from the situation if it is in your child’s best interest.
- Recognize that not all hurts require a Band-Aid. As mentioned above, parents feel compelled to protect their children. Sometimes parents will stop at nothing to find ways to fix a problem or just make their child’s hurt or disappointment go away. Often what the child needs most is someone to help them put things in perspective and learn to accept things they cannot or need not change. (also see Trust below)
Trust – Dancers need to be able to trust you and learn to trust in themselves
- Nurture trust in abilities – The goal is to raise an individual that can do for him/herself the majority of the time – sew elastic on her own ballet slippers, communicate effectively with teachers or peers, stand up for himself, be on time, etc. When you do things your child could do for himself, you undermine her self-trust.
- Be reliable – Children need to trust that you’ll always be there to offer them support when they need it. They need to trust you’ll not embarrass them by reacting negatively to a situation in front of friends or teachers. They need to trust that you’ll be consistent in upholding your values and priorities. They need to trust you’ll listen to their thoughts and desires. They need to trust that your dreams for them won’t overshadow their own dreams.
Truth – Dancers need you to be realistic
- Encourage them to do their best, not be the best. The truth is, there is no such thing as “the best,” just varying degrees of capability. Wipe the idea from your mind that a child could, would, or should be “the best” if only _______. Help children to focus on learning, growing, refining their skills so that they can best themselves.
Help them to remain focused on goals. Competitors that focus on winning or receiving a medal/reward lose perspective. They may push hard until they are awarded or surpass their competition but lose their motivation once they’ve done so. Competitors that focus on self-improvement (as an individual and/or as a a team) by setting both short-term and long-term goals experience continual success. They push themselves to succeed because even those small achievements are thrilling to attain. Parents can talk with children about the goals they’d like to set for themselves, about the goals their teacher has mentioned, and help them celebrate and even document their achievements.
- Keep it real. The truth is that no one is good at everything. Mistakes are inevitable. You really can’t win them all. Nobody is perfect. Winning an award, a trophy, a scholarship is not something you can control – your own performance is. We learn more from failures than victories. Not everyone will become a professional dancer. Dreams and goals can change. Sometimes you just don’t get what you want. Often, meeting goals takes time, patience, and determination.
Mariangela, a dance mom who is keeping it real, offered a great piece of advice in her guest contribution here at Dance Advantage: “Be sure to love your child unconditionally. It’s easy to judge and criticize when we invest a lot of our time and energy (and money) into something. At the end of the day, they are your babies, your child before anything else.” Read the rest of her insightful article here.
Like a flower that continues to grow when all is against it, even negative environments have spawned beauty. But only the hearty survive. To grow a garden of children that value dance as an art form, value themselves and those around them, and flourish not only in dance but in life, requires that adults (teachers and parents) make every effort to provide favorable conditions. It doesn’t happen just because the potential is there.
I have written this post in response to a blogging contest run by Liberty Mutual’s ResponsibleSports.com. They are offering prizes but, more importantly, I felt the topic was relevant to Dance Advantage readers. I hope you find this post equals the standard of the others here. I was pleased to find that ResponsibleSports is really an excellent resource which provides parents with tips on how to talk with children and with coaches, and offers tools to accentuate the positives in team sports. Their materials most certainly apply to dance and I encourage you to visit and check it out for yourself!
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world. Read Nichelle’s posts.