Training VS. Education: Why they go hand in hand

So after another competition season over, I’m left with a deep feeling of unease regarding the future of our art form. Not because I feel as though we’re doing a BAD job TRAINING the next generation, but because I feel as though we’re not doing a THOROUGH job EDUCATING them.  What is the difference you may ask?  Think about history.  If all they did in history was made you memorize the dates on which events took place, they would be TRAINING you to memorize those dates and events.  If they explained what happened, what caused it to happen and how it has effected our lives today, then they are EDUCATING you to ensure that you actually learn from the choices and events of the past.  I hope you can all see the innate value of the latter and why it is SO IMPORTANT to educate our dancers rather than just train them…but back to competition.  I’m going to break this down into a few parts so that you can start to approach your work with focus and the purpose of not just training your dancers, but educating them so that it sticks.  I apologize in advance as I do have a tendency to go on tangents, but hopefully they won’t stray too far from the mark.

CHOREOGRAPHY

As I watch competition these days I often see the same dancer doing 3 or 4 solos doing the exact same turn or leap series in all of them.  The movement rarely changes in style or vocabulary and the emotional context of the piece changes very little from one piece to the next.  Nor am I seeing a consistent attention to transitions or any kind of movement vocabulary moving through space and engaging footwork in the musicality of the piece.  The perceived value has become in how well can you execute the tricks.  Well sure…they give us something concrete with which to deduct points if not executed properly.  
Notice I said DEDUCT…not add.  Keep in mind that you start each routine with a perfect score.  With each flawed attempt, you actually lose points for not executing something perfectly.  As you tire out from trying to execute 60 tricks in 2.5 minutes, your score diminishes to something almost embarrassing at times and you feel your dancer deserves more.  Not to mention, it’s virtually impossible to make anyone feel anything while executing 15 fouette turns.  
Believe it or not, the reason we give those babies that diamond or platinum or whatever high medal they get is because they are adorable, make us laugh or whatever.  They make us feel something.  If you can take a song, costume it appropriately to compliment the character of the piece (we’ll get to this next) and live through it rather than just execute tricks, you will find a deeper understanding of the art form.  Communicate something.  Have something to say with each piece. Even if it’s just about having fun, create MOVEMENT that communicates something so that you can connect with your audience and find a deeper fulfillment in your own creativity.  
Here’s a big one for me. If your movement is inappropriate for the age of the dancer, you WILL LOSE POINTS!  There is no reason for an 8 year old to bend over and bring her hands up her legs while giving me the eye.  There is a vast movement vocabulary out there that allows young dancers to discover their movement capability without over sexualizing them.  If you’d like more information about the sexualization of young dancers in the industry, (which in my opinion is a HUGE issue) I suggest you visit https://www.ypad4change.org/  They are doing amazing things to protect young dancers within their training and I hope you will read and take seriously what they discuss. 

COSTUMING

While I can see that many studios are paying large sums of money for unique and custom designed costumes, I do not see how it adds to a dance to put a 4 year old in a bra and underwear with rhinestones and have her strut around without tights on.  How is this beautiful design creating a mood or pulling us into the world of the piece?  How does it contribute to the movement?  Does it inspire you or help you make new and exciting movement choices or is it simply pretty?  Did you consider ALL body types in the class before choosing the design?  How do the dancers feel in the costume?  When they try it on, are they trying to cover up because they feel uncomfortable?  One of the most interesting pieces I saw this season was a simple black leotard with a long red skirt.  The skirt was used in so many ways.  It was moved up to the neck to make it look like a dress and it was taken off to be used as a prop and put back on but all choreographed beautifully and seamlessly.  The costume supported the movement and the concept and yet was appropriate for the dancers.
Here’s is another point to consider:  While you may feel as though the competition room is a controlled environment, most of them don’t require any kind of entry fee or verification of relation to be there.  So you just don’t know who is in the room or why. How do you want your children to be seen?  As a father to be, I know that I want my daughter to be seen as a little girl and to find confidence in the human being she is, not by displaying herself as an over sexualized adolescent before she even understands what that means.
Another issue we run into is that quite often these costumes are built in September and, as kids are want to do, they grow and by the time competition season rolls around they don’t fit properly anymore.  Last weekend alone, 3 girls almost came out of their bra tops.  The simple solution?  Add material above and below, even if it’s a nude mesh, and it will help to keep the costume in place as well as cover up gratuitous wardrobe malfunctions.
Next, I have to mention the trunks no tights trend.  With all of those heel stretches and tilts angled right toward us, I felt like I was watching an adult film. Tights…PLEASE!  Also, angle those tilts* and heel stretches so their torso and pelvis are flat to the audience with pelvis in alignment (no tucking the pelvis under) or angled slightly upstage downstage (head and torso downstage) so we can see the alignment and not their pelvic region.
 *TECHNICAL NOTE: When executing a tilt, the dancer should feel as though the leg is coming to their ear, not their eye.  If it’s coming forward to the front of their face, they are tucking the pelvis.  This puts unnecessary stress on the hip flexors which then causes them to tighten and shorten causing the dancer to lose flexibility and in many cases contributes to injuries down the line.

TECHNIQUE

This is where the “Why” comes in.  I felt like I spent the past 6 weeks watching jump after kick after turn after bad tilt after parallel supporting leg heel stretch in second etc etc etc. I saw very little dancing and a whole lot of tricking. I believe in my heart the teachers have said turn out, use your plie, align your pelvis etc etc etc…however if it’s not sticking, I have to believe it’s because they are not being educated in the WHY they must focus on these things.  Good technique has been developed over centuries of training not just for aesthetics, but because it supports the health and well-being of the dancer’s body.  It lengthens their dance life span.  The focus on technique should be about preventing injury as well as helping them to execute those cool tricks they want to learn.  Muscling through something is rarely the right approach, especially if it becomes a habit that could lead to a serious, career ending, injury.  For example:
That lovely tilt I mentioned above.  The supporting leg should be turned out before ever engaging the extension.  Why?  First and foremost is the health of the knee on the supporting leg.  Think about where the energy is going when they execute that extension.  It heads straight to the pelvis.  Because of how the legs are being stretched, the pelvis is being pressed through between the legs to increase the level of extension.  This causes the energy of the supporting leg to move in that direction.  If the leg is in parallel, the stress of that goes right to the inside of the knee; stretching the ligaments that keep it in place.  Eventually, there is likelihood of a tear or just severe instability from over stretching all of the ligaments that hold the joint in place.  When you turn the leg out, you are simply stretching the hamstring of the supporting leg in opposition of the hamstring in the working leg.  You maintain stability by sending energy down through the supporting leg and out through the top of the spine opposite the energy you are sending out through the pelvis.
I could give several more examples, but that is for another post.  My goal here is to help you as teachers understand WHY it is important to educate your dancers rather than just train them; and WHY it is important to focus on the details.  It is the dancer’s health and future in your hands.

VERSATILITY

Very few groups came on stage and demonstrated a well rounded dance education.  They had one style of one genre (and yes style and genre are different things) that they did very well, and everything else was barely adequate or below average.  This is somewhat of a paradox to me because parents consistently say to us that they put their kids in so many different activities because they want them to be well-rounded; so I ask, for those kids whose focus is on dance, why are we not helping them to be well-rounded within the context of their passion?  Why are we holding on to them so tightly and forcing them to train in one place where, while they might get amazing contemporary training, the tap and ballet may not be so strong.  So why wouldn’t we want them to have a strong ballet background?  It can only make them a better dancer more capable of executing our contemporary work.  Getting a good solid tap foundation can only increase the dexterity of their footwork as well as deepen and perfect their musicality.  Why shouldn’t we want them to get the best they can get in our region; even if we can’t provide it.
Our job as teachers is to guide our students to the best possible future we can offer them, even if we can’t provide it to them.  We must let go of our own ego, pride and fear and push them in the direction that is best for them.  One day, they will thank us.  One day they will think back to the tipping point; that one decision that set them on the right path, and they will remember that we  were a part of it.
Jason Marquette
Director
MPower Dance workshops
Passion for Dance, Technique for Life
Advertisements

Movement vs. Gesture and Why The MTV and YouTube Generations Don’t Know the Difference

Definitions:

Movement – an act of changing physical location or position or of having this changed.

Gesture – a movement of part of the body, especially a hand or the head, to express an idea or meaning

 

Judging dance competitions is one of the many ways that I supplement my income.  I spend weekend after weekend trying to pass on a little knowledge and maybe some techniques and approaches to help teachers help their students continue to grow as artists.  But in the past 10 years, I’ve noticed a trend. Nobody dances through space anymore.  There is no movement vocabulary. It’s all gesture.  Dancers walk on stage, create beautiful shapes with their arms, execute little ticks or flicks of the hand; and then kick, or turn, or run and leap. They then walk to a new place and do some combination of the same.  In many cases we’ll even see the same turn sequence 3 or 4 times in the same routine.  It has dumbfounded and frustrated me for years now that dancers don’t know how to carry their weight through space with any kind of suspension or musicality. They walk or run on the beat with little to no intention or purpose other than to execute gestures at another place on stage.  In some routines, they don’t even bother to do that.  I’ve seen some dancers spend their entire routine within a 12 foot by 6 foot area.  I just couldn’t figure out what caused this change.

Today, it hit me like a sledge hammer.  I was sitting in my barber’s chair and, as usual, they had this Russian music video channel playing on the TV.  As I watched a group of music video dancers through the mirror, I noticed something.  They didn’t move.  They basically stood in one place and posed on each count, occasionally doubling a beat or dropping down for a different level but they never changed their location.  And then I had an incredible realization.  Easily 70% of the choreographers in dance studios today have been raised on MTV and YouTube.  Many of them may have never had the opportunity to see a live performance on a stage beyond their high school musical or dance recitals.  They’ve never been to the ballet to see how beautiful it is to watch a corps de ballet move across the stage executing a progression of movements that physically demonstrate the instrumentation in a piece of music.  They’ve never seen a Broadway musical to see the grand images of dancers moving over, under and around set pieces executing character oriented movement infused with dynamics, back phrasing, syncopations, levels and all.  Their exposure has been limited to music videos, YouTube and So You Think You Can Dance.  They’ve been learning to choreograph for the stage by watching choreography intended for a screen; and they don’t realize that they are very different animals!

First and foremost, consider the most basic difference between the two venues: the field of vision available to your audience.  When choreographing for film, the director wants close ups, pans, and fast cuts.  They can have multiple cameras shooting at the same time to grab different angles. They choose what the viewer sees.  So in order to really see the choreography, it needs to be fairly stationary.  If it’s moving through space, it’s difficult to sync up two shots; not to mention that it’s nearly impossible for the dancer to hit the exact same mark for every shot when they are doing multiple takes creating all kinds of editing headaches.

When choreographing for the stage, each audience member gets their own angle from which they can observe whatever they choose!  As a choreographer, you have to move the audiences’ eye to follow the story rather than the camera showing you what you need to see.  You have to acknowledge all the angles and be aware of showing the greatest number of audience members what is important.  You have to fill space and create movement that expresses beyond a small rectangular screen; your dancers have to communicate a football field away to the back of the top balcony!

I’m sure there are much more detailed treatises out there about the differences of which I haven’t had time to research yet myself.  But this one major difference should be enough to inspire some research on your own!  Movement is essential to storytelling on the stage. It is how we see a character journey from one physical and emotional place to another in search of the resolution of that journey.  Gesture is merely an acute emotional expression within individual moments of the journey.  So as an audience member and adjudicator, I pray you will start to consider these concepts and explore your art as you approach your work next season.  Create movement and let the gesture enhance it with emotional context.  Don’t let gesture be your only means of communicating.

 

Jason Marquette is the Owner and Co-Artistic Director of MPower Dance Workshops.  Our primary mission to educate young dancers through in-studio workshops, intensives and conventions on how their training is preparing them for success in life.  Our secondary mission is to promote positive change in the dance community, both educational and professional, through thoughtful discussion and debate.  For more information about our events, email info@mpowerdance.com.  For information about our NYC Summer Dance Intensive taking place August 15th – 19th, check out www.mpowerdance.com/NYC_Summer_Intensive.html

 

#alwaysevolving #dancecomes1st #NYCDance #SummerIntensive #dancechangeslives #growinyourart #neverstoplearning #neverstopthinking #payingattention

How Do We Define a Master Teacher?

I’ve been struggling with this question for some time now.  I see posts about “Master Classes” from studio Alumni who are coming home after a year and a half of college. I come across websites from companies offering “Master Classes” being taught by 12 year olds from Dance Moms or 17 year olds from SYTYCD.  Webster’s defines a master as “a person eminently skilled in something, an occupation, art, or science.”  Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe mastery involves the mind as much as the body.  It’s not just being able to perform the art, but being able to effectively teach the proper technique to execute movement in a way that is healthy and safe; to be able to help a student achieve the next level of mastery themselves; to inspire and motivate a dancer to challenge themselves and overcome obstacles.  Now, not everyone is as great a teacher as they are a dancer.  And not every amazing teacher is a phenomenal dancer.  But being a master of the physical art does not a master teacher make.

I’m almost 40 years old.  I’ve been tap dancing for 35 years and studying and training in everything else for 28.  I’ve got a college degree, have had a decent professional career both as a performer and choreographer and I’ve been teaching on and off for over 20 years; full time now for 11 years.  I still, to this day, have a hard time calling myself a “master teacher.”  I call my classes workshops or have myself called a guest teacher.  To be honest, I suppose it’s not really up to me to decide if I’m a master or not, but I can guarantee you that the folks I spoke of above are definitely not.

So here’s the question.  How do we define a master teacher?  What criteria do you feel delineates a MASTER TEACHER from a guest artist?  At what point in one’s career can the transition be made?  What event or time frame of experience qualifies us to make that shift?  We must find a way to separate the people who have given their entire lives to their art from those who are just beginning.  Those who have experienced all aspects of what it means to be a dancer from those who are still figuring out how to get started. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter and I hope that going forward, we can use the phrase Master Class sparingly.  It should be reserved for those teachers who really are masters of their craft.

Jason Marquette is the Owner and Managing Director of MPower Dance Workshops; an in-studio convention designed to show young dancers how their training is preparing them for success in life. Our NYC Summer Intensive is a 5 day event from August 15th – 19th. It’s focused on helping dancers accept and love where they are in their personal journey through life and the art of dance so that they can overcome the obstacles directly in front of them and reach their full potential.  For more information, visit our webpage at:

http://www.mpowerdance.com/NYC_Summer_Intensive.html

#dancecomes1st #NYCSummerIntensive #summerdance #honortherealmasters #respectthejourney #mpowerdanceworkshops

Working with intention

I was rehearsing with a group of students last week. I’ve been working with them on this routine for competition since September, and it had been one of my most trying experiences with a group of dancers in many years. I try to keep in mind that the rehearsal schedule has been less than ideal. One hour once a month until a few weeks ago when I had a two and a half hour slot with them. But even so, students were consistently absent, they obviously hadn’t even thought about what I’d taught them in the previous rehearsal because I had to reteach it every month. We finally finished the piece but it wasn’t an easy process. Complaints about notes I was giving about changes I’d made weeks ago. Constant talking when I’m trying to give a note or make corrections. Absolute laziness in the execution of movement…the list goes on. My first reaction is to blame myself. Am I not hard enough on them?  Is the choreography too difficult? Did I not teach it well enough? Initially, perhaps I could answer yes to those questions. But once you’ve gone over something for the 5th time, you expect the students to start to take some responsibility for the outcome of their destiny. I know that sounds super dramatic. It’s just a tap routine for competition right? But I realized something as I was finishing the last rehearsal. These kids are just kind of flailing around the studio with, what seems like, no objective. It was confounding. So I asked them, “What is your goal for this routine?”

They looked at me like I was insane. “What do you mean?” One of them asked.

“Just what I said. What is your goal?”

One girl replied, “To get a platinum.”

I laughed and asked again, “what is your goal?”

They kept throwing out answers they thought I was looking for.
“To win.” “To get better every time we do it.” “To have fun!”

Truth be told, I didn’t know the right answer at the time. I just knew that they didn’t know either. So I responded with this.

“You need to decide what you want the end result of this experience to be, and work with the intention of creating that result. You cannot achieve the goals you’re talking about here with the level of effort you’ve given thus far. At this point, I’m out of the equation. It’s up to you to determine how well you will do. The work YOU do from now until your competition will determine your outcome.”

They heard me and some of them even looked a little scared. The idea that they were responsible, not me, had never occurred to them. It’s as if they thought that simply showing up would get them the result they expected. That, just because they were dancing my routine, they would win. If they had gone on stage the next day, I promise you, they wouldn’t have even shown up on the radar for a gold let alone a platinum.

The question is, how do we get them to care about the outcome and take responsibility for it? Or better yet, how do we help them to choose a desired outcome that is in line with what is really important in the big picture?

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m never actually satisfied with not knowing the answer so I continued to dwell on it. Almost a week later it occurred to me what the goal actually should be; which consequently, answers the other two questions as well.

The goal should be that we know the choreography so well, we’ve practiced and drilled every step and transition, so that the movement is no longer an obstacle in our ability to perform and enjoy the experience of being on stage. Does that mean they’ll ever do it to the point where they can’t grow in their performance? Probably not. But if they do the work, making adjustments and fixing issues isn’t such a stressful thing. They need to understand that the WORK is FUN. Challenging ourselves and conquering those challenges; seeing what we are capable of is FUN. And then, taking that work and giving it to an audience is FUN. And who doesn’t like to do things that are fun?!  But it’s never fun when we get on stage and know that we are unprepared and not at our best. That’s stressful. It builds anxiety, creates regret, destroys self esteem and leaves way too much to chance. The desired outcome should be to be able to enjoy what we are doing. To look back at our performance and be proud of what we did on stage. If that’s not the case, then we haven’t done the work.

So as teachers, how do we help them attain a goal that they aren’t even aware of? Preemptively, we can ask them how they’d feel if the performance they just gave in rehearsal was the performance they gave on stage. It gives them a chance to really evaluate where they are, set a goal for where they want to be, and then start working to get there. We can also wait until after the performance and do our post mortem self and group evaluation. What did I/we do well? What could I/we have done better? What is my goal for the next performance?

As adults we have learned that our results are dependent upon our own work and effort, not the quality of what is given to us. Any salesperson will tell you that you aren’t selling a product, you are selling a relationship to the product or brand. Getting students to take ownership of the outcome of their efforts, good or bad, it’s an essential part of their growth as human beings. Stopping the finger pointing and forcing them to look in the mirror when things don’t go as expected is the key to changing one’s circumstances and increasing their ability to live a happy life.

I appreciate feedback and thoughts. This is an important conversation about teaching work ethic to a generation of dancers who have everything they want at their fingertips. How can we get them to invest in themselves enough to invest in the work?

This is one of the many questions that MPower Dance Workshops addresses in our in-studio conventions as well as our NYC Summer Intensive. Setting and achieving goals is the focus of the five day experience happening August 15th – 19th of this year. We hope you’ll bring your dancers to experience this truly unique and powerful dance training experience. With free seminars for parents and teachers, there will be something for everyone. You can get more information by visiting http://www.mpowerdance.com/NYC_Summer_Intensive.html

Email info@mpowerdance.com for any additional questions.

#summerdanceintensive #danceinnyc #mpowerdanceworkshops #dancechangeslives

 

Changing Our Values Regarding Competition

As a competition judge, giving awards is one of the best and worst parts of the job. Seeing the look on a young dancer’s face when they get the medal they earned is either rewarding or devastating. It seems that there is an expectation that they will take home the highest honors just for showing up. While showing up is a big part of success, what you do in preparation and execution is the final determiner of how successful we really are; or in this case, what award we get. As a teacher, an adjudicator and someone who has made a life of educating young dancers, the last thing I want is to discourage or destroy a young dancer’s confidence in their ability to love and pursue dance as a way of life.  However, quite often, I feel as though they are coming into the situation with an unrealistic expectation of the outcome due to an unrealistic view of their level of ability and mastery.  We build them up to believe they are the best dancer on the floor, and in one brief moment, their world is shattered because they got a bronze instead of a platinum. All of a sudden, they want to be a scientist instead of a dancer. That’s not a bad thing, but we have created a circumstance that has allowed the opinion of a panel of 3 people to determine the remainder of one person’s life. That’s not acceptable. Building confidence doesn’t come from gushing over a child and telling them that they are amazing at everything they do and should go pro. It comes from recognizing weaknesses,helping them to overcome and strengthen them through proper training and guidance, and then celebrating those little victories.

Let’s take an example. If you’ve ever watched American Idol (I tend to watch the auditions and then once they go to L.A. leave it to everyone else) the people you always think of an talk about are the devastated singers that Simon Cowel destroyed with callous and heartless critiques. You can literally see their world shatter on camera in front of millions of people when this man, who is at the top of the food chain, tells them that they should never sing again. Ever. Not even in the shower. But how can this be true? Everyone in their family has told them all their life that they were amazing! They should sign a record contract! They could be famous!  Of course they said that. They love that child and want them to love themselves and believe in all the possibilities within them. But instead of saying to them, “OK. Singing is your dream. I think you’re great, but let’s take you to a professional singing coach and see what they think. It can’t hurt to learn more and be the best you can be.” we simply keep building them up to believe that they are already where they need to be. Then when they get in front of someone who really knows the art form and that belief isn’t verified, their whole life unravels. The future they laid out in their minds disintegrates and they are left with nothing but a giant devastating whole in their soul.  Dramatic right?  But that’s what it feels like to that person.

With this in mind, I am calling on dance teachers and parents everywhere to make a shift in their behavior towards their children in regards to competition. I believe that we can give them a realistic view of where they are in their training and mastery of the art form and use the experience of competition to continue to build upon what they learned before. By doing just a few simple things in the postmortem company meetings, we can continue to grow our dancers with a healthy mindset and build their confidence through thoughtful action.

  1. Honest Self-Evaluation: Ask the following 3 questions
    1. What did I do well? – This gives the students an opportunity to take credit for all of the hard work they’ve put in to date. Recognizing these things also helps them to realize that these habits are strong, and while they shouldn’t be ignored going forward, they don’t need as much focus or attention going forward. They should continue to support them in the future.
    2. What could I have done better? – It is essential that dancers have a realistic understanding of where they are in their training. Stephen Covey said his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People  that, “You can’t get anywhere in Chicago with a map of Detroit.”  It is essential to know where you are in order to get where you want to be. It is also important to recognize that we always have room to grow, both as people and as dancers.
    3. What is my goal for my next performance? – This question helps to create a mindful plan as to how to improve upon our weaknesses and put focus on growth, rather than just regurgitating the same performance over and over again and getting the same results.
  2. Listening to the critiques with an open mind and addressing the specifics of the critiques with sincerity and respect when deserving. We all know that sometimes we get a critique and we just can’t believe what we heard. It was unintelligible or seemingly disconnected. But understanding that someone saw that in your performance can inform you as to what is missing from it. There was a disconnect for your audience; and while you will probably never get your point across to everyone, if you hear it more than once, it’s something to look at. Also, making sure your students are open to criticism ensures their ability to grow as an artist and person. Protecting them from it just delays the inevitable and when they come to New York and go to a hundred auditions and don’t get a callback, it will have the Simon Cowel effect. How does that really prepare them for success?
  3. Watching the performances of other students “at our level.” Quite often, students can’t understand why they didn’t place in competition when they gave the best performance of their lives. I don’t ever recommend comparing yourself to other artists. I believe that we can only ever be better than the person we were yesterday. However, seeing what others are doing can inspire and push us to challenge ourselves beyond our current level to reach a greater potential. It’s why sports teams preparing for games watch tape of other teams. It lets them see their strengths and weaknesses and plan for success.

I was not a competition dancer growing up. I only ever went to one competition and luckily enough, I did well. But my confidence grew because I was challenged every class to the point where I cried in frustration when I couldn’t get a step. It grew because I went home and conquered that challenge before I slept that night. It grew because I made sure that I was always expecting more from myself and when I met that expectation, I raised it.  This mindset came as a combination of differing approaches from my parents.  My father always said, “Be the best.” My mother always said, “Do your best.”  So I did my best everyday with the intention of being the best that I could be. There were always going to more talented dancers with more money and opportunities to train, but I was always going to work harder. As a result, I’ve had a pretty wonderful career. The lesson here? We have to stop “objectively” telling kids that they are the most talented person in existence and start giving them the tools and proper perspective to push forward and attain the goals and dreams they have set for themselves. Whether they reach them or not, they’ll know you had their back and supported them as pushed forward toward that dream. That’s what they really want, support. Otherwise, rather them helping them succeed, we are setting them up for a big, BIG fall that most people never get back up from.

Mantra: Your best is only your best today. Do it better tomorrow.

Jason Marquette

Managing and Co-Artistic Director of MPower Dance Workshops

MPower Dance workshops is an in-studio convention designed to show kids how their dance training is preparing them for success in life.  For more information about our workshops and events, email info@mpowerdance.com. Be sure to ask about our NYC Summer Intensive http://www.mpowerdance.com/NYC_Summer_Intensive.html

 

Failure, Schmailure

I was teaching a class recently and sharing with them one of my many observations. It’s a slightly ridiculous thing to witness that always gets a laugh but invariably, almost all of the students in the room acknowledge that it is a reality.

I call it my theory on “The psychology of the left side.” I tell them that first, I’ll demonstrate the psychology of the right side. This involves me running across the room leaning to the right celebrating and shouting to the heavens how amazing I am and that I can do anything. They all look at me like I’m a nut case. I stop and say, “Now here is the psychology of the left side.” I lean even further to my right, screw up my face in fear and oh so cautiously move to my left whining and crying about how much I hate the left side and why do they make me do this etc. This is where the laugh comes in. Some of it is about seeing this grown man cry like a child who doesn’t want to get on the bus for the first day of school, but it’s also a laugh of acknowledgement. They are recognizing, in that moment, that this voice exists in their heads. They may not have recognized it until I pointed it out, but it’s there.

The irony is that by holding back, by not applying the same aggressive approach to the left side that they allow on the right, they are perpetuating their own weakness. They are ensuring that their left side will never attain the level of strength and coordination as the right. So obviously, I encourage them to go after it. To attack the left side 10 times harder than they do the right.

“But what if we fail?” one student asked. That’s not a typo. She said f-a-i-l. I couldn’t have paid someone to cue me better.

“You can’t fail.” I replied, without missing a beat. “Failure doesn’t exist. There is only learning. The only time you fail is when you give up or don’t try at all.”

This idea, that if we don’t get it RIGHT (interesting choice of word isn’t it) the first time we have failed, is a cancer. We hear it in every aspect of society. To the point where we are actually perpetuating an acceptance of mediocrity, laziness and apathy. This goes beyond the dance studio. It’s in our schools, our communities and in some cases, even our homes. Children are taught that, if they’re not good at something immediately, they should try another activity. There is no desire or motivation to try again; to work harder and conquer the challenge. And yet, no one asks them what they learned from what didn’t work so that they can figure out what did and will work. This translates into people having 6 different jobs in a year because their first day didn’t go perfectly. It’s called “Trial and Error” for a reason and it’s up to us as teachers and parents to encourage the “trial” part; to revel in the “errors” so that they see that not succeeding immediately is a beautiful and necessary part of the human condition. It is where strength of character, growth, intelligence and true wisdom lies. It’s where they learn to anticipate problems and circumvent them rather than running into a roadblock and giving up.

I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell. Obviously there are many factors at play here and scientists are happy to debate his claim; but in his book The Outliers, he states that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to become an expert at something. While it’s natural to gravitate towards activities and skills that we have a natural acuity for, very few of us are born with perfect technique and coordination on both sides. So what do we do? We practice the side that we are good at because it makes us feel good. We hone it and master it to the point where it’s nearly flawless. And our weak side? We practice just enough so that is passable and pray that the occasion never arises where we’d have to use it. Not very practical thinking of you ask me. Of course the situation will arise and if we can’t do it, we lose the job, or the game or whatever and find an excuse to help us sleep at night. But the passionate dancer, the hungry athlete, the obsessed musician know that it is their fault and they will spend twice as much time on that weakness so that they never lose out again.

It is by conquering the challenges of our WEAKNESSES that bring us a real sense of accomplishment and confidence and a deeper appreciation for what we had to do to get where we are.

Dance didn’t come naturally to me. I was born to play soccer. But learning to dance taught me how to face a challenge head on and conquer it. How to not rest until I had the answer. That obstacles were NOT insurmountable. They were only a delay of the inevitable future I had determined for myself. That experience has prepared me to face diversity and consequences head on in order to have the wonderful career I’ve had to date. None of us would be the people we are if not for the daily challenges this art form presented us. It’s why we are so resilient and can overcome poverty, injury, personal tragedy and many other of life’s challenges. So here is my suggestion, spend a month working only on the left side. Don’t add a catch step in so that turn or battement can be on the right. Let’s train our students to stand up, face challenges head on stop fearing what they aren’t good at YET. Remind them how many times they had to try before they mastered a particular skill to get it to the level it is now. The things that are easy today, were a challenge yesterday. We can never let our students forget that.

No more resolutions…

The holiday season tends to be a time when we look back over the past year and reflect on everything that has happened in the last 12 months.  To evaluate choices in our personal and professional lives and make more choices about how we want to live the next 12. It brings up many mixed emotions and thoughts.  Satisfaction with progress made; regret at things left undone or goals unachieved; excitement at the possibility of a new start.

It is this idea of beginnings that I’m intrigued with.  This idea that we have to wait for January 1st to start making better decisions or that it somehow will be easier to make a change.  According to Forbes, just 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s Resolutions.  So why do we still make them?  Because we’re hopeful.  We want to believe that by setting a goal, we can live a better life.  There is truth in that.  But goals alone are not enough.  Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”  So we make our resolutions and we try in earnest to keep them.  But how many of us actually create a plan to execute in order to make it happen?  Probably the 8% of you that actually achieve your resolutions.

What does this have to do with teaching dance?  Everything.  We want to grow our business.  We keep saying we want to double the number of students we have.  Great!  How are you going about reaching a new audience and introducing them to your business?  We say that we want our students to be more competitive and develop better technique.  AWESOME!  Did you require an additional ballet class a week and hire a qualified ballet teacher?  WHY THE HECK NOT?!  If what we’re doing isn’t working, we have to try something else.  If what we’re not getting desired results, then we must find a way to create them!  New marketing strategies, new faculty, additional classes, workshops, master classes…etc.

Personal responsibility has always been a revolving topic of conversation in my family.  My grandfather always used to say, “We are the product of our decision making.”  Quite often being on the other end of that statement meant that we had made a choice that brought us to an undesired consequence.  But like he said, we had no one to blame but ourselves.

Being responsible for our undesired situation isn’t easy.  It means that we have to acknowledge responsibility for our misery. It’s so much easier to point at something “out there” and say that studio on the other side of town is the problem. Or that the students don’t work hard enough or they just don’t care.  Well, when did that start?  What is that studio doing that you are not?  Why can they get their company kids in the studio 6 days a week and you’re having trouble getting them in 3 days?  Commitment starts at the top.  We must demonstrate it in every interaction in order to get that same commitment out of them.

So instead of setting a goal for the year, make a plan.  Decide what you want and develop a strategy to get it.  If you want more students, advertise your strengths and seek visibility in your region.  Create opportunities for your students that they can’t get anywhere else.  If you want your students to develop better technique, adopt a syllabus that will strengthen weaknesses and find the right instructor to teach it.  If you want your students to be more passionate, show them how passionate you are about them and their development.  We are all effected when someone invests in us.  But when we live in a state of waiting for people to give us what we want, we will remain in that state…waiting.

Stop waiting, start acting and create what it is you want for your business and your students.  Don’t set a goal for the year, set a goal for the class, for the week, for the month and then take immediate action to create that reality.

Remember, “A goal without a plan is just wish.”- Antoine de Saint-Exupery