One of my biggest pet peeves as a dance teacher is when I see students go “half-at” things; particularly dancers with talent and facility. I often sit back and think to myself, did I ever give off this kind of blasé attitude when I was training? No. I didn’t. 100%, without a doubt, no. I wouldn’t have even thought of it. It never even crossed my mind to lean on the barre, not be dressed properly for class, sit down, yawn without covering my mouth, talk or intimate a combination by marking the turns or any other movement without being told it was OK to do so. I also certainly never rolled my eyes or so much as lifted an eyebrow because something being demonstrated was challenging. But, now as a teacher I see it time and again and it makes me wonder, how do we change that energy and teach our dancers that the vibe they give off as a student is a direct correlation to the vibe they give off as a dancer?
Here’s the thing when dealing with young people. A lot of times they are unaware of the habits and energy they project. It is our job alongside teaching technique and choreography to bring it to their attention, that etiquette and the effort required of them. This goes for beginner through advanced. As I’ve said in many blog articles before, whether they go on to be professional dancers or not is not the point. These are skills they will take with them in any profession they pursue. Learning to be physically and mentally present, professional and respect the space they are in and the art they are doing is important. Dancers need to come in ready to learn and put forth a work ethic that they are cultivating at these tender ages.
Discipline and sweat are not bad words. Working hard and challenging yourself to push beyond your limits is not punishment. Working through sore muscles and minor injuries isn’t torture. Repeating choreography and dancing full-out each and every time is not unreasonable and it should be the expectation set forth. All these things produce progress, advancement, increased skill, artist development, thick skin and the understanding that sometimes there is just a right and wrong way to approach things. It shows commitment and dedication and how much effort you are willing to give of yourself in class and rehearsals. Ultimately, for the serious dancers you do have in class, it will decipher who is cut out for this business and who’s not willing to put the work in.
Again, these are lessons that they need to be taught. It may not even be behavior on their radar. So, discuss it with your students. Set the precedent and be transparent. Don’t expect anything less. And, don’t be afraid to set the barre high and demand a high expectation of them. Don’t be afraid to push the envelope. Young people will rise to the challenge and are capable of more than they are often given credit for.
Remind them it’s not OK to mark movement unless you tell them. Everything should be done at 110% each and every time. Why?-Explain that that’s how they are going to get better.
Remind them sweating, breathing hard, sore muscles, bruises, cuts, floor burn, etc. go with the territory. Teach them the difference of dancing ineffectively and how to dance properly and care for their bodies so they approach movement correctly and avoid serious injury.
Remind them something as simple as their posture in class when you are saying something or demonstrating says a lot about their attitude. Are they standing straight and focusing on you or are they slouched, leaning on the barre, looking down at their nails?
Remind them if they are not early for class, they’re late. Punctuality is key. They should be stretching, shoes on, ready to go. Not doing this when you’re standing there waiting for them, ready to start class.
Remind them, their attitude towards how they take class, take direction and apply correction is more important than their talent. Nobody wants to work with a dancer without these core values. Technique will improve. Attitude sometimes does not.
Remind them that their facial and body expressions are very telling…and….. you can see each and every one! Being disrespectful to you and the art form is simply not OK. Nobody should be rolling an eye, batting an eyelash, huffing and puffing or giving off an annoyed body gesture because you asked them to do something again, you gave them something challenging or are changing things multiple times. Yes, they may be tired but it should be a “good tired.” A tired that makes you walk out of class feeling accomplished and exhilarated that you achieved what you did.
Remind them that you are there to help them. Be sensitive to the fact that they are still kids and teenagers. Sometimes when something is difficult or there is a lack of self-confidence, it’s easier to check out. It’s your job as teacher to be keen to that. Make every effort to not jump the gun and write a student off as lazy. There is usually a reason behind the behavior. Talking with your students and creating dialogue can often alleviate the problem. Again, simply bringing it to their attention will alert them as to behaviors they weren’t even aware of.
Remind them, this is tough love but it is love. You want them to be their best. Dancer and teacher is not a one-sided relationship. What you give out to them is what they should be giving back to you. That’s what makes a great dance class or rehearsal. It's what helps you inspire each other and achieve great things. Make sure they understand where all these lessons come from and that your ultimate goal is for them to succeed, be the best they can be and give of themselves fully and completely with consistent commitment, passion, hard work and dedication. That’s where the true love of dance comes into play and separates artists from the rest……
See you in the dance studio,