Like many other people all over the world I have been watching some of the winter Olympic Games being held in Sochi. What a thrill it is to watch these athletes who after training for many years show us just how far the human body and mind can go with enough knowledge, determination and passion. I just happened to be watching two time Olympic gold medal winner, Shaun White as he tried to go for his third gold medal in the halfpipe event which involves balancing on a snowboard and flying up many feet in the air doing fabulous twists and turns that seem to defy gravity. Unfortunately he ended up coming in 4th place and I am sure he was extremely disappointed but I was so struck by the way he handled his defeat with such graciousness and sportsmanship that it inspired me to think about all the ways that we as Studio owners can help to train our dancers to deal with failure and defeat in a positive and gracious manner. This is especially important when it comes to dancers who compete.

How often, if you do go to competition have you seen dancers up on stage during the award ceremony with disgruntled expressions on their faces? Of course it is only natural to be disappointed if you do not win the highest medal or trophy but isn’t it more important to know that you have done your best and perhaps it just wasn’t your day for whatever reason?

I think it is up to us and our dance teachers to instill in these young people the value of hard work and the understanding that even though they may have put in the time, they just were not the best on that particular day. What a great role model Shaun White is to any young person involved in sports or dance. Did he sulk and avoid the competitor who won the gold medal? No, he went right up to him and gave him a big hug and some obviously encouraging words of congratulation and then the next morning appearing on international TV with a smile and positive words for all. I’m sure in his heart he probably just felt like scowling and slinking away, but he didn’t. He demonstrated that he was a person of excellent character and totally supportive of his fellow competitors.

So what can we do to train the young people who come in to study dance at our studios to have good sportsmanship? The first thing to establish is that there is a good feeling of respect and camaraderie between the dancers. Even for those who are not perhaps competing. Encourage your dancers to watch each other dance and to applaud loudly for each other. I always tell my dancers to applaud other dancers in the way that they would like to be applauded. None of that lukewarm, milk toast type of applause, but something that is genuinely encouraging to their fellow dancers. If your students don’t understand the meaning of respect for their classmates they are not going to be able to give outsiders any respect. Encourage your students to talk to other dancers at a competition and to wish them good luck or to congratulate them. To accept their awards graciously with an enthusiastic smile even when it is not the award that they wanted. To not cry or have other out of control actions and drama in front of others, save that for the reality shows and the privacy of their own homes! Above all to always behave like ladies and gentleman.

Very often when a person is in a competitive environment jealousy will raise its ugly head, especially with a group of teenage girls! Recognizing it and dealing with it as quickly as possible always seems to be the best method. Usually jealousy arises from insecurities, in my experience once the offender understands that we think they are valuable to the group that has a way of dying out. Sometimes just reinforcing a person’s worth to them makes jealousy unnecessary with a fellow dancer.

It is also important in this goal driven society to help your students understand that it is alright to fail, it’s not comfortable and it probably doesn’t make anyone happy but if they can learn something positive from each failure be it big or small they will be able to propel themselves a step further forward to success each time things don’t go their way. No need for pouting, bad attitudes or mean words just an understanding that it is one day in time that just didn’t go their way. Those students who are perfectionists will find it hard initially to swallow this philosophy but once they understand that it is the journey towards the goal that is important not only getting there, they will find it easier to change their negative thoughts and actions to positive ones.

Promoting good manners, restraint and showing our students how to overcome setbacks to their dreams and plans is an important part of their education both as entertainers and people and yet another life lesson that we instill in our students to help them navigate the sometimes disturbing waters along the way. To be like Shaun White is to be a person of integrity and humility in a difficult moment. In this day and age of superstars who behave badly Shaun White was like a breath of fresh air!