Role model or Mentor? Who chooses which one we are and when?

According to my wife, I seem to always write about things that I struggle with myself. This has been one of those things. But as I have delved into the differences between these two roles over the years, I’ve come to realize how important a question it is to ask. What I’ve determined is, as dance educators, we are all role models whether we like it or not. Just like the celebrities that our students follow on social media, they are watching us and modeling our behavior. But mentors, that’s a different animal altogether.

When I was younger and just starting out as a teacher, I felt the pressure to try and mentor every student. I wanted to be that teacher they could come to for guidance, advice or just a kick in the butt when they needed it. But I came to realize (and maybe not quickly enough) that not all students are looking for a mentor in the dance studio. Sometimes, they just want someone to teach them how to dance; and that’s OK too. I can do that. Learning how to discern what each student wants or needs is a process; but it isn’t up to us to determine what that relationship is. Sure we set boundaries both personally and professionally, but we aren’t the ones to decide if we are a mentor or not. That is completely up to them.

So what exactly is the difference? I Googled it…that’s what we do nowadays right? LOL. At the core of it lie the words consent or permission. Anyone can be a role model; but mentors are chosen. Let’s take a deeper look.

ROLE MODEL: A role model is a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated. Now, if you really take that in, we could apply it to our jobs in a few different ways.

  • Dance role model: This one is pretty literal in what we do and we are automatically put in this role just by being at the front of the room. We literally are teaching our kids how to dance like we do. Our strengths will be their strengths and our weaknesses will be their weaknesses (unless we are self-aware enough to help correct them in those we instruct). It is our job to model proper technique and provide them with information and knowledge to help them execute movement safely and correctly.
  • Personal role model: This one is dependent upon the amount of exposure your students have to you. For example; if you allow them to follow you on social media, they are seeing more of you than if they are just in your classroom for an hour a week. If they are your neighbors, they are seeing WAY more of you than that. How we live our lives in front of them WILL impact their behavior and what they find to be acceptable social behavior. So if you want to live your life your way, keep a safe social distance from them. (Had to get that in there since we are living in the world of social distancing re the Covid-19 epidemic). If you like to go out and party with your friends drinking and dressing provocatively, that is absolutely your right. The problem is, your students may not recognize the difference in your ages as prerequisite for such behavior and begin copying you at a young and influential part of their development. As a result, it can put them in situations that they are not prepared to deal with. So if this is an important part of your life, create a student friendly profile and don’t accept students to your more personal pages that you share with your peers.
  • Professional role model: How you do your job and the types of jobs you take will be a template for how your students conduct themselves when they enter the workforce. It will influence what kinds of jobs your students will take and create a model for their work ethic. It also influences their level of commitment to their training. If you take a teaching job, and then send a sub in every other week because you are gigging out or auditioning for another job, it says that this job isn’t important to you so neither are they. So why should they take it seriously? If you show up and are checking your phone every five minutes, you are not modeling focus or commitment to what you are doing in that moment. Demonstrating professionalism and passion in the studio will instill the same behavior in your students.

As a dance teacher, we are afforded a different level of respect from our students than they sometimes give their school teachers or even their parents. We are someone who, in some cases, has been where they want to go. We have knowledge they want. We contribute to a passion that, in many cases, their parents have no comprehension how to even talk about. It puts us in a position in their lives to effect and influence young minds in very important times in their lives. It essentially gives us the means to directly impact the path a student takes and even establish thought patterns that impact their well-being. It’s an important role we take on whether we want that responsibility or not; so it’s essential that we take it seriously.

MENTOR: There are a few different definitions for this but they all come down to a few key words: An experienced and trusted adviser. In my opinion, that second qualification, trusted, is the one that really defines the role of mentor. It is the one that tells me who chooses when that role is assigned. In order for someone to become a mentor, someone has to put trust in them. Person A needs to seek guidance from Person B and trust that the motives of Person B are pure and selfless so as not to be self serving. Person B could claim to mentor Person C, but if Person C doesn’t want any help from Person B, they are a nuisance, not a mentor. What does someone need to have in order to truly be a mentor? In my opinion:

  • The consent or permission given by the person being mentored for you to take on that role in their life.
  • Experience that is relevant to the goals of the person being mentored.
  • A self-awareness that allows the mentor to help others circumvent self-made obstacles and avoid mistakes they themselves made.
  • A passion for sharing their knowledge and a sincere desire to see others succeed beyond themselves.
  • Brutal honesty tempered with the ability to read those they mentor to know how to present that truth.
  • The strength of mind and character to ensure they are maintaining a proper mentor/mentored relationship and not allow it to descend into therapy or cross other personal boundaries.
  • The willingness to acknowledge and remove themselves from the role when they are no longer welcome or beyond their own ability to help.

These are all important qualities required to be a mentor, but the first one to me was the most important. The CONSENT OR PERMISSION GIVEN BY THE PERSON BEING MENTORED FOR YOU TO TAKE ON THAT ROLE IN THEIR LIFE. Without that consent or permission, you are putting yourself in a position to be disappointed, alienated, frustrated and exhausted. If a student doesn’t want that level of investment from you, and you keep trying to give it, you will be disappointed and they will feel resentful of you for making them feel guilty for disappointing you. Nobody wins. So if that’s not what they want, then fill the role they are paying you for. Teach them to dance. That doesn’t mean that, in the course of instructing them, life lessons won’t or can’t be shared. It just means that you can help them more by setting a good example and being a positive role model in their life. When they are ready to be mentored, they will reach out to someone who can give them what they need.

Quite often, the topics I write about are a means to help me clarify my own opinions. More often than not, what I think when I started writing evolves multiple times in the course of writing it. I’m grateful for this venue to share my thoughts and evolve my own paradigms. I hope it’s useful to you and that you will share your thoughts below. I seek clarity in all of my writings and I can only gain that with varied perspective from you the reader. So share away. Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings and hopefully we will cross paths soon and talk about them.

This blog is an extension of the work I do with MPower Dance Workshops.  MPower is an in-studio convention, regional convention, and week long national intensive designed to show young dancers how their training is preparing them for success in life.  We use carefully curated themes for every event to give students a lens through which to view their training.  We provide them with tools and techniques that will grow their technique and artistry, but also their mind and their relationship with themselves.  We have even created an annual goals journal that is designed to break down the process of goal setting into manageable steps so that they can focus on tasks rather than be overwhelmed by the enormity of a goal.  If you’d like more information, please visit our website at  http://www.mpowerdance.com or email me at info@mpowerdance.com.

Feel free to share this blog with your dance family, or any family at all.

Responsibility: Where does it lie?

A student observes a class at MPower Dance Workshops NYC Summer Intensive
They’re watching and listening. What are we showing them?

For many years, I’ve been talking to young dancers about their responsibilities to themselves and their growth.  I’ve been telling them to choose carefully what they watch, read and listen to.  I’ve been expecting young impressionable minds to make mature choices about how their own develop.  And while teaching the skills that develop self-awareness are essential to helping kids realize they have a choice about who they are going to be, the REAL responsibility lies upon the heads of those creating the content or giving them access to it.  The reality is that the entertainment industry isn’t going to stop making these films or producing these songs. They make a lot of money as a result and they aren’t going to do anything that prevents them from making a profit.  So who is has the responsibility of ensuring young minds aren’t adversely affected by mature content?

Think about cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol.  These are all things that we, as a society, agree that are harmful to our children.  That without the life experience and ability to make good decisions for themselves, they run the risk of doing real harm to themselves by consuming them.  They are all substances that are regulated by the government to help ensure that our youth are not given access on their own.  However, while there are rating systems in place for movies and explicit lyric stickers for music, they are played on the radio, they can see them on YouTube or download them from iTunes and Spotify with absolutely no oversight.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that the government should start regulating the entertainment industry.  I’m saying it’s OUR responsibility as adults to be aware of what our kids are listening to and to be discerning about what we expose them to. I say discerning because sometimes we can be fooled by what we are hearing. Violent content, lyrics about drinking or promiscuity are framed as empowering and now it’s seeping into the dance world.  We see “heels” routines or tap companies on TV and Social Media exuding sexual energy and call it empowerment.  Even songs that seem to be about empowerment are often times sending the wrong message about what real personal power is all about.  They are giving us a warped message about relationships and power dynamics and how to achieve success by manipulating others.  It sounds empowering, but it’s really just shifting the narrative.  Empowerment is equality.  It is about understanding consequences and knowing one’s self enough to make the choice as to whether they are ready to deal with those consequences.

As a new parent, the way I see responsibility has shifted dramatically.  It’s no longer just me saying, “I’m uncomfortable seeing a young girl dance that way, in that costume, and to that song.”  I’m now saying, “I refuse to allow my daughter to dance that way, in that costume, and to that song.”  And when I see some of the things I see judging dance competitions, I wonder where is the adult advocating for that dancer’s childhood?  If the choreographer chose a song, a costume, set mature and hypersexualized choreography on an 8 year old, how many people had to consciously ignore all of their senses as well as their sense of right and wrong to allow that to happen?   A whole lot.

  1. The Choreographer –  The choreographer is the first line of defense in a child’s artistic life.  It is the choreographer’s responsibility to consider the age of the child when choosing the music, the costume and making movement choices.  They must find a way to merge their artistic voice with appropriate choices for the dancer.
  2. The Studio Director/Owner – These children rely on you to ensure that you are providing a trained and experienced staff that will teach them how to move in a healthy way.  Their safety is priority one.  But it’s not just about good technique and sprung floors.  It’s making sure that their environment is nurturing and appropriate; that they aren’t being trained to seduce with movement at 8 years old.  It is the SO’s job to oversee the content their students are being exposed to because in the end, the work represents YOUR BUSINESS!  Do you want the reputation that you are training exotic dancers?
  3. The Parents –  YOU ARE THE LAST LINE OF DEFENSE! If the choreographer makes a choice and the director doesn’t see anything wrong with it, that doesn’t mean it is correct.  You must know when to advocate for your child.  You must know when to step in and say, “I’m sorry, but I feel that this is inappropriate and I won’t have my child exposed to it.”  YOU HAVE THAT RIGHT!  There is no reason a 6 year old should do a booty drop, send their hips up and rub their hands up their legs….ABSOLUTELY NO REASON!  I beg of you, stand up for your child.  Listen to the music and watch the video; see the costume on your child BEFORE THE RECITAL OR COMPETITION; have them show you the dance ahead of time.  You have the money, so you have the power.  You can walk at any time and take your money with you.

Below are some fun facts to consider that go along with what we’re talking about.

  1. Music –   This child will probably listen to this song over 300 times in the course of a dance season.  Do you really think they aren’t absorbing anything from it?  There is so much amazingly uplifting, inspiring, fun music out there in ALL genres.  We do not need to have a 7 year old dancing about love or loss of love (what do they know about romantic love?) or murder (Two can keep a secret if one of them is dead?  Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen little ones dance to this) or partying (7 year olds go to Chuck E. Cheese.  Not much boozing or raving going on there during normal business hours).  Listen to the lyrics, watch the video and consider how it might be interpreted by someone that young EVEN IF YOU THINK THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND!  In some ways that’s even worse.  Y.P.A.D. (Youth Protection Advocates in Dance) estimates that over 80% of all kids will watch the music video of the song they are dancing to, and only about 6% ask their parents’ permission.  That’s huge.
  2. Costuming – So much has changed since I was a kid and there are trends normalizing in the dance world that, for me, are not exactly OK.  However, you have to know where your line is.  You wouldn’t let your child go to school or outside to play in a bra and underpants, so why is it OK for them to go on stage in it?  Honestly, it’s rare that these costumes do anything to support or enhance the piece. It’s usually just really sparkly.  There is no reason for any dancer to wear a costume that gives the illusion of nudity with just a little applique covering the important parts.

I asked a question in the title of this installment.  The answer?  Well, everywhere; in everyone.  We all have a responsibility each and every day to show the youth around us what kind of behavior is acceptable in a civilized society.  We demonstrate it with our words, our actions, our REactions and even by what we choose to accept and by what we find unacceptable. We teach them boundaries (or a lack thereof) by our willingness to follow through on punishments regardless of convenience.  They learn in so many ways and they continue to learn into their early to mid 20’s.  Wait…WHAT?!  Is that right?  Yeah…they are still learning even when they go to college.  So the whole, “You should know better” thing is kind of a loaded statement.  Could a reasonable adult look at a decision and see the possible end results and make a mature decision to avoid negative consequences?  Absolutely.  But while a teenager may be able to see the same negative consequences, they also think, it sounds like fun.  You only live once.  It’s only wrong if we get caught.  Etc. Etc. Etc.  They are more driven by the pleasure centers of their brain than the logical center because it hasn’t fully developed yet.  That’s part of being young right?  Sure.  They are going to make mistakes and we are going to help them see the error of their ways.  But the things that we allow to go into their minds last way beyond college.  Their self-image will be heavily influenced by the music they listen to, the relationships they are exposed to and behavior that is demonstrated by their parents and mentors.  If they are hearing stories about their dance teachers going out and partying and listening to music in the studio that talks about drugs and violence, it normalizes it for them and increases the chance that they will exhibit this behavior when presented the opportunity.

  1. So what is our responsibility as a parent, teacher, community member?  First and foremost, listen.  Hear what they talk to their friends about.  Insert yourself when you hear an offhanded comment that is sending them down the wrong path.  Pull them aside and have a talk about what you heard.  They may lie to you and say, oh I didn’t mean it or it’s an inside joke, but in the end, they got the message.
  2. Next, choose what you consume around them.  Your tastes will influence their tastes and what they consume will have a lasting impact on their understanding of relationship dynamics, healthy self-image and influence their value system and how they judge personal success.
  3. Make sure the people they are spending time with are enhancing their lives and leaving them with a positive self image. Ask your kids what music they listened to in class and what the teacher talked about.  Ask them about their friends and what they talk about.  You have the power to subvert negative influences, but only if you are engaged and willing to listen, all the time.

I am by no means an expert at parenting, or even teaching for that matter.  I’m just a concerned citizen of the world hoping we can help our kids do better than we did.  But it starts with an understanding of the young mind and communicating a system of values that you believe will lead your children down a path to success…whatever that means for them.

This blog is an extension of the work I do with MPower Dance Workshops.  MPower is an in-studio convention, regional convention and week long national intensive designed to show young dancers how their training is preparing them for success in life.  We use carefully curated themes for every event to give students a lens through which to view their training.  We provide them with tools and techniques that will grow their technique and artistry, but also their mind and their relationship with themselves.  We have even created an annual goals journal that is designed to break down the process of goal setting into manageable steps so that they can focus on tasks rather than be overwhelmed by the enormity of a goal.  If you’d like more information, please visit our website at http://www.mpowerdance.com or email me at info@mpowerdance.com.

Feel free to share this blog with your dance family, or any family at all.

How our reaction to criticism limits growth; both ours and our students’.

I’ve been judging AND choreographing for dance competitions for about 13 years now. Being on both sides, I’ve become very aware of my reactions to the critiques I receive from other adjudicators. If they didn’t like something or it doesn’t communicate to them, I feel that little sting in my chest and I retreat to, “Well, they just don’t get it…” or “They clearly have no training in tap”. And of course my students come right along for the ride. And why shouldn’t they? That’s the example I’m setting and it validates their performance as adequate and therefore they must have been unfairly scored. And then I hear myself saying similar things while critiquing the routines of other choreographers/teachers and I have to wonder what they are saying about me. Are they having similar reactions? I imagine so. I picture them huddled around the laptop getting angry or laughing at something I said that was useless to them. And it occurs to me that we might all be missing the point.

I have come to realize that by being defensive, I wad missing an opportunity to see my work through the eyes of a complete stranger. To understand what it is to see a routine for the first time and set what actually sucks with people. It made realize that I think we all need to step back and analyze critiques, not comment by comment, but as a whole picture. A complete experience as reflected back to us by a specific individual on a specific day. Certainly some of the silly comments like “work girl” or “so cute” or “stay on your toes” (when something is clearly choreographed flat foot for style and dynamic) can be ignored; but even someone with no background in dance can have an experience of our work and give us an honest impression that can inform us as to how successful we have been in communicating our message. AND THAT IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT! Getting unfiltered feedback so that we can achieve our goals as artists and teachers.

If we can’t set aside our ego for 10 minutes in order to listen to 3 critiques and receive those perspectives openly, then why did we bother listening in the first place? Why bother even attending the competition? You are literally putting your work on display to be judged; so why do it if you can’t accept the opinions of those you paid to give them to you? Why take the risk of hearing that you’re not as good as you think you are if you’re not willing to accept that opinion or do the work to get there?

And, beyond that, what are you teaching your students? If you’re not willing to hear and accept the opinions and perspective of the judges, why should they? And why should they accept any criticism from anyone INCLUDING YOU?!

Now, does that mean we should seek out and internalize every opinion willing to be offered? Goodness NO! Seek the opinions of people you respect that you know can be honest with you. My mentor has always been a wonderful trained eye for me. Studio owners I’ve worked for, with decades more experience than me, have given me wonderful nuggets of perspective to help me lift my work to new heights.

But do I allow parents to influence my work with their belief that there should be more tricks or higher level skills in a routine? That’s a big fat no. I choreograph each routine for the dancer in front of me using their strengths and leaning on their experience to create a context they can relate to and present their audience. A parent with limited understanding of the technical and artistic requirements of creating and teaching a routine to a young dancer is not in a position to offer an educated opinion. However, their money may make them feel empowered to insert it anyway. So listen. That doesn’t hurt anyone. But their criticism is usually based upon their desire for their child to overshadow or beat another dancer; not to develop their technique in a healthy and progressive manner. So is that criticism/opinion valuable and something to be considered? Probably not. Is it valid for a parent to ask questions inquiring as to the choices made in the choreography? I don’t see why not. As long as they are approaching you with the desire to learn, why not educate the parent as well as the dancer?

On the other hand, is it valid for a judge to say, “this routine seems a little below this dancer’s skill level and I’d like to see them challenged more with certain skills…” Sure. It’s a valid statement but it doesn’t mean it should dictate our work. First of all, they have no idea what it took for you to get that dancer to where they are seeing them that day. That child may have struggled terribly with the choreography you gave them at first; but through mutual dedication and hard work, you and that dancer created the illusion of ease that gave the judges the impression that they were working below their level. THAT IS AMAZING! But it doesn’t mean that your dancer was ready to execute the set of skills that judge was looking for. It just means you are ready to start approaching them with that same work ethic and attention to detail.

Dancers, I think you have the hardest part of this. While the choreography is a big part of the equation, it is literally you up there being judged. They are looking at every line of your body; the facial expressions you are making; costuming; they are pulling apart your performance moment by moment, piece by piece and telling you every flaw you let slip. All the while you are up there doing something you love and live to do!It’s kind of awful when you think about it. But I think it’s important to note that you choose that every time you step on stage. Not just at competition, but EVERY TIME YOU STEP ON STAGE. So if you love it, then do it for you. If you want to be great at it, listen to those criticisms through the lens of wanting to excel in an artform you are passionate about and let it light a fire. If it’s just a great source of fun and you’re not really interested in mastering it, then choose when a criticism is valuable and when it diminishes your enjoyment and don’t let it!

Ultimately, it comes down to a choice. Does criticism put us on the defensive and entrench us in our mediocrity; or can we be wise enough to allow each criticism to offer us a perspective from which to view our work and ourselves? This is how we grow in all aspects of our lives; experience and perspective. So don’t dismiss it carelessly. Hear it, digest it, try to really understand it and THEN decide it’s worth.

This blog is an extension of the work I do with MPower Dance Workshops.  MPower is an in-studio convention, regional convention and week long national intensive designed to show young dancers how their training is preparing them for success in life.  We use carefully curated themes for every event to give students a lens through which to view their training.  We provide them with tools and techniques that will grow their technique and artistry, but also their mind and their relationship with themselves.  We have even created an annual goals journal that is designed to break down the process of goal setting into manageable steps so that they can focus on tasks rather than be overwhelmed by the enormity of a goal.  If you’d like more information, please visit our website at http://www.mpowerdance.com or email me at info@mpowerdance.com.

Feel free to share this blog with your dance family, or any family at all.

Teach your youth about their power…

I had a memory come up on my Facebook page yesterday. It was something I wrote a few years ago that I thought must have been a quote from someone else; but when I searched it on Google, I couldn’t find it. So I guess I get to claim credit for it. I do recall it coming from a conversation I had with a friend.

 

“The happiest people in the world feel pain. 

The smartest people in the world realize that it is only temporary; as long as you want it to be.”

 

That last line, “as long as you want it to be”. In my opinion, it’s the most important part of the whole quote.  It implies the ability to make change.

I’ve felt a lot of pain in my life; much of it self-inflicted.  I’ve made many poor decisions which have put me in places in my life that were less than desirable.  In the moment, it felt like life was over; that there was no way out.  This was where I was and where I’d be for eternity.  It’s hard not to give in to that feeling.  To get up each day and act to change your condition.  But when things are hard, we must make some honest and difficult realizations so that we can get beyond it.

  1. We have either contributed to, or are directly responsible for, the place we are in right now.  My grandfather always used to say, “We are the product of our decision-making.”  That’s hard to hear sometimes.  Sometimes you may feel as though the world, that person at work, your boss, your teacher…they did it to you; and in some cases, they may have absolutely acted against you.  But by removing responsibility from yourself, you are also removing your power to change it.  I read once, “Whether life is good or bad, live and act as if you have chosen this life for yourself. In doing so you can act to change it if you so choose”  That choice is at the center of it.  The POWER to choose versus being the victim of others or the universe acting upon us.  We must take ownership of our circumstances in order to change them.
  2. We can live in the Valley or seek the next Peak.  Spencer Johnson, the author of “Who Moved My Cheese”, wrote another book called Peaks and Valleys.  It’s a story of a young man who lives in a valley and yearns to reach the peak of the mountain at the edge of the valley.  The inference, I believe is fairly obvious so I won’t go into detail.  I’ll leave you to read the book yourself. What I found intriguing was the idea of choice of permanence in ones situation.  Meaning, you can choose to stay in the darkness of the Valley (the hard and sad times in life) or you can work to reach the next Peak (times of joy, light, ease and success).  You also have the ability to influence how long you linger in these places.  It is all within your power to choose.
  3. You can never go home.  Quite often in life we seek to return to a period in our lives when we were happy.  When things were simple and without pain and fear.  You can never return to THAT place again; but you can find a new one that exists with the knowledge and experience you now have.  If you have accepted the truths in the previous two sections, you have learned something about yourself and you can find or create a new space where you can be at peace with yourself.  You may live with the pain of past mistakes; you may live with heartache and loss, but you can choose whether or not you allow those feelings to paralyze you.  You can choose whether or not you will continue to relive that experience by the choices you make.  You can choose to sulk in your loss, or use the energy that pain creates to create something good. You can look inside and seek your power and act to impact your community in ways that help you see yourself in a new way.  Not that you will (or should) ever forget your transgressions, but you can know those things and know that it doesn’t determine who you are for the rest of your life.  You are a result of your learning from the consequences of your choices; you are not the choices themselves unless you don’t learn, or don’t care.
  4. Your habits and your awareness of them will contribute to your happiness. We are who we are…right?  “People don’t change.”  Not if they don’t want to or are unwilling to try.  Our image of ourselves is, to some degree, tied to how others see us.  How we actually behave towards others and how they receive it may not be in alignment with how we see ourselves or how we feel we behaved towards them.  Being able to receive that information openly, respond to it maturely, and work to create new habits and behaviors directly contributes to a self-image and public image that are in sync.  This is something I have struggled with quite a bit.  I have an amazing wife, and I had some particular personal habits that were causing her pain.  She asked me to correct them.  I wanted to very much but I struggled with it.  As a result, we came very close to separating.  It was only when our discussions made me realize I had to do something with finality, to remove the possibility of me engaging in this behavior, in order to do the right thing; and so I did.  It’s been very successful and has created other beautiful results in our relationship.  Habits are huge.  They play a huge role in our lives and relationships.  To this end, I recommend two books that I feel can help with this issue; The Four Agreements written by Don Miguel Ruiz and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.  Both are very personal contracts you make with yourself that help you establish standards for yourself; both in how you interact with yourself AND the world around you.  They have exercises and anecdotes that connect the dots in unique and powerful ways.

As I mentioned in the opening of this blog, I’ve had a good deal of pain in my life; and I take responsibility for almost all of it.  Choices I have made have ended relationships, lost me friends, and left me without certain jobs that I let define my career and value.  They took me out of a place where I felt happy, strong, confident, able, powerful even in some ways.  But none of it was real because none of it came from me.  It was all based on something temporary, impermanent.  I think, in some ways I’ve been trying to get back to that feeling I had then, but I can never go back to that place.  That bridge is gone so now I’m having to redefine my mission; create value in myself that comes from me; not some place I worked.  It was in one of these dark times that I created MPower Dance Workshops.  I’m now using the medium of dance to help kids not fall into that place by teaching them thought processes that will help them to make strong choices; to let their decision making be based on a moral compass and focused goal setting so they can get where they want without having to fall to the depths that I have.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I needed to experience those things to be where and who I am today.  I needed to feel that pain and everyone needs the pain they feel in life to prepare them for something greater in their lives.  But I believe in learning from the mistakes of others as much as learning from our own; and while I may not share the intimate details of my life, I can help young dancers create powerful and life affirming thought processes that lead to good, strong choices to lead them in the right direction.  Part of that journey is learning to redefine what feelings and criteria are an indication of success.  My wife is a wonderful source of that for me.  She helps me to see the good I do and value I bring to other people’s lives.  While it’s a slow acceptance of this new joy, I’m finding it a little more each day.

P.S. While I may mention books in my blog, I receive no benefit from doing so.  They are simply texts I have read and found value in.  I do not recommend taking any one book and making it your life “Bible”.   I believe it is important to read as much as you can and absorb and incorporate the elements of each theory to the degree it serves you.   There is no one recipe for success and happiness.  Those two aspirations can only come through a careful curating of knowledge from multiple sources and then applying that knowledge so that you can live your best life, day in and day out.  But remember, helping our kids to learn these concepts is the ultimate goal.  Translating these messages into learnable moments for them so they can retain and live them.

This blog is an extension of the work I do with MPower Dance Workshops.  MPower is an in-studio convention, regional convention and week long national intensive designed to show young dancers how their training is preparing them for success in life.  We use carefully curated themes for every event to give students a lens through which to view their training.  We provide them with tools and techniques that will grow their technique and artistry, but also their mind and their relationship with themselves.  We have even created an annual goals journal that is designed to break down the process of goal setting into manageable steps so that they can focus on tasks rather than be overwhelmed by the enormity of a goal.  If you’d like more information, please visit our website at http://www.mpowerdance.com or email me at info@mpowerdance.com.

Feel free to share this blog with your dance family, or any family at all.

How media (social or otherwise) is skewing our students’ perceptions and making our jobs harder.

I’ve seen several conversations in several social media groups lately about how students are “learning” difficult, technical dance skills by watching videos and trying them out in their rooms.  If you’re like me, you just shook your head and let out a huge sigh of disgust.  That’s because you and I know that, at the ripe old age of 12 – 19 (although there are exceptions) we do not have the experience, knowledge of anatomy, or eye for detail to break down a complex series of movements into it’s core elements in order to safely, and correctly, recreate that skill without instigating a litany of bad, or even dangerous habits.  So how do we fight this battle?  How do we convince our students that, while another dancer their age and skill level is making a specific movement work, it may not be/probably isn’t being executed correctly and they need to trust us that we will teach it to them when they are ready?

I talk about this a lot in my classes and workshops…process.  Whether we want to admit it or not, we all wanted to skip over the work and get to the doing when we were young.  We all just wanted to throw that turn or bust out that leap without really understanding what we were doing.  We just wanted to DO IT!  The difference is, now these kids have footage at the tips of their fingers, literally, almost every minute of the day.  So how do we combat it?  I say we don’t.  I say we use it to our advantage.

  1. Create a list of the hardest elements you can think of; turns, leaps, acrobatic tricks etc. and then create a graphic that breaks down all of the fundamental skills they must master before learning that very difficult movement.
  2. Next, establish for yourself a syllabus of sorts; a breakdown of what skills dancers will learn when and publish it for them, they’ll have an established timeline that they can follow and see where they are in the process.  This way it doesn’t seem like a never ending journey.
  3. Have them search for and bring in videos of dancers doing the element they are working toward and watch them as a class.  Be prepared yourself with videos of professional dancers executing them correctly.  Evaluate them together and compare and contrast.  Help them to see why the videos they are watching and trying to emulate might be counterproductive or even dangerous!
  4. Have them self-evaluate throughout the process.  Take advantage of technology and record them.  Then they can compare the core technique of their execution to the evaluation you did with the other videos and see their progress as they go.
  5. Celebrate each success in each step of the journey.  Don’t wait to celebrate for the final success.  Getting that single pirouette to sustain at the end and controlling the descent is a HUGE SUCCESS!  It’s the third step in learning a fouette turn!  That’s amazing!  Make them celebrate it!

If they are focused on mastering the core elements of the more complex movement (and realizing how difficult even those are) they will begin to understand the importance of process. It may not be fun, it may not be instantaneous and it may be a lot of extra work on our part, but isn’t that what we’re trying to instill in our students?  If we’re not willing to slow down and do the extra work, why should we expect that they would want to?

Dance is such a beautiful microcosm of life.  It really does give us a way to understand every aspect of our existence if we pay attention.  Teaching process is core is to helping our students understand that life happens in steps.  Each day prepares you for the next and every experience we have and lesson we learn sets us up to navigate challenges down the road.  MPower Dance Workshops’ in-studio conventions, intensives and touring Un-Conventions are all designed to highlight this truth.  Our themed events help dancers focus on the process so they can become more aware of their habits, both physical and mental, in order to overcome obstacles and achieve success in every aspect of their lives.  Our instructors are passionate about educating the mind of the dancer as well as training the body.  Be sure to visit our website at www.mpowerdance.com to find out more about us.  Our 2018 NYC Summer Intensive takes place August 6th – 10th.  We hope you’ll encourage your dancers to join us for a truly unique experience.

 

When did dance become a job…for the students?!

I’m struggling with this question.  I’m trying to understand what has changed since I grew up dancing.  Now, I’m certainly aware of the fact that not everyone I danced with loved it as much as I did and they certainly didn’t go on to make it career.  But I don’t remember them hating being there.  I don’t remember anyone ever actually verbalizing their dismay at being there.  Maybe there were one or two who felt this way but if they were that miserable, generally they found a different activity and quit.  Most of them, no matter what career they went into later, loved being there and really had fun with the work.  Many of them have brought their kids to dance as a result of their experience!  But maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe I’m suffering from nostalgia of my own experience or maybe I loved it so much, I was blinded to the misery of others out of the fear of being infected with it myself.  So has it changed?  Or am I just remembering how I felt, not what the reality of the situation actually was?

I asked the question this week; How many of you say, “Ugh, I have to go to dance tonight”?  Sadly I wasn’t surprised.  It was about 90% of the kids in the company.  In my heart I knew this was the case.  I could see it in their faces every time I walked in the room.  But the younger group just below them, they still come in eager and hungry and playful.  So what is happening in that one or two year transition between middle school and high school?  What is making them dread walking in that room and actually doing something for themselves? Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like this everywhere.  I teach at a couple of different studios and at the other one I’m at weekly, I never have that feeling of dread as they cross the threshold.  They come in and start practicing, immediately trying to remember the step from the week before.  So what is the difference?  Why does one group hunger for the experience and another despises it?

There are any number of factors to consider and I admit that their are much smarter people than I out there that ought to be sought out to do this research.  I am simply reacting to my observations.  The two studios are in different states, located in areas of  different economic strati; although the economic status of the actual clientele of each studio runs the gamut.  The politics and racial profile of the area of one tends to be a little more diverse whereas the other is a tad more homogeneous.  Ironically, the studio with the more diverse clientele has a more homogeneous teaching staff while the studio with the more homogeneous clientele has a more diverse staff.  So I can guarantee there is no level of discrimination at play in either place.   Both studios have competition teams that do well when they compete.  Both have thriving recreational programs that provide quality and caring instruction.  Both attend competitive events that offer classes and workshops.  But one group of kids definitely values the experience more than the other.  Both are located within an hour to an hour and a half from New York City and have easy access via public transportation.  In reality, they are almost perfect test cases for this kind of research; most things being equal.

So I begin to wonder where the difference lies?  Is it at home?  School?  What is being put in the minds of one group that devalues this experience so much compared to the other group?  It’s hard to say without going into the homes, riding in the cars to and from the studio, sitting in the classrooms at school.  There’s too much data to which I don’t have access.  It’s exasperating though; having lived the life I’ve lived and having seen the positive impact dance has had on MY life as well as the lives of thousands of dancers (professional or otherwise).  It’s incredibly disheartening to see this group literally hate that they are spending this time essentially locked in a room doing something that they don’t see any value in committing themselves to mastering.

Back to the group to whom I had asked the question…I asked another one.  “In your minds, what is preventing you from taking your dancing to the next level?”  Luckily, I’ve fostered a relationship with these kids that allows them to be brutally honest in these conversations.  The answer I got wasn’t something new to me.  “To be honest, I feel like in order for me to take my dancing to the next level, I’d have to give everything in my life to it; and I don’t plan to make this my career so I’m not willing to do that.”

[Sidebar]

Coincidentally, this is actually the reason I left the other studio I teach at several years ago.  There was never a conversation about it but it was SO CLEAR to me that this was the case.  They didn’t see dance as an option, so why give your whole heart to it?  I was teaching a group of dancers with so much potential, I couldn’t wait to teach them the next routine.  I was creating some of the best choreography of my life for them and they were coming at it like average dancers and never really fulfilling their own potential let alone that of the choreography.  It was frustrating for both me and the directors of the studio that they weren’t taking advantage of what I was giving and we made the mutual decision that it wasn’t worth their money and my sanity to continue.  I returned 2.5 years ago to work with the next group of kids and it’s been a great experience thus far.

Back to the current situation…I said to them, “You guys are missing the point.  There is joy to be had here.  There is joy to be had in giving over to movement.  It’s not about how you’ll use it, it’s about allowing yourself to feel joy in your ability to express yourself in this way.  You are treating this like you’re making a living rather than just living.”  I explained, as I have so often before, that it’s about habits.  It’s about establishing a habit of excellence in every moment that makes life easier in the long run.  But, with these dancers, I think it may be a losing battle.  They have closed their minds to seeing what they can actually gain from the experience. Years from now, they will most likely look back and see parallels, but by then, they will probably dismiss them or point fingers at a teacher for not pushing harder or blame all the work they had to do at school…never accepting responsibility for the fact that, in the moment, they never gave themselves to the experience.

When a teacher is with dancers for years and years, the students take for granted that their instructor will always be there…much like they do their parents.  In many cases, they see their teachers as surrogates and don’t listen to them any more than they would their own mother and father.  It’s like the adults in the Peanuts cartoons.  Wah wah, wah wah wah wah. A teacher’s expressions of frustration over them not working to their potential are seen as admonitions rather than expressions of desire to see them achieve the greatness they deserve.

Normally this is where I go into a spiel about my company MPower Dance Workshops and how it tries to answer these questions and solve the problems.  In fact that is why I do it and what I hope it will achieve over time.  And to be honest I did write one.  But before I let you read it, I want you to know that it always comes from a sincere desire to improve the experience of dance training for dancers of every level, demographic and professional aspiration.  I want you to know that I’m asking myself some really important questions:

  1. Why can I go to a studio for a day and inspire those dancers so much, but I can’t get the students that I have taught for years to want to be as great as they can be?
  2. What is my mission statement for my role as a dance instructor and what are all the parts of that?
  3. Where does the student’s responsibility end and mine begin?
  4. What can I say or do new in order to help my dancers see the value in committing to the moment they are in when they have been hearing me say it for years?

These are things I have to evaluate each week before stepping into the studio.  What can I do today to inspire greatness?!

[Sidebar #2]

As I finished this post, I shared the basic contents with my mentor and we had a really interesting conversation about it.  He explained to me that at the core of what I’m talking about is gratitude.  Gratitude is learned through hardship, having to provide for one self or through comparing one’s experience against that of someone less fortunate.  Perspective and life experience helps to build gratitude.  Unless it’s being taught at home, it is extremely rare to find a young person that understands or expresses it.

And now, the spiel…slightly modified:

MPower Dance Workshops is an in-studio guest training experience designed to help overcome the issues discussed above.  When we come to a studio for the first time, the theme of the experience is called Right here, right now.  We make it clear (and come back to it over and over throughout the day) that this moment is the most important moment in your life.  That being in this room right now, you are giving yourself something special and you should be mentally present for that and gain everything you possibly can from it!  The phone, the crush, the drama…it will all be there when you leave…but right now it’s about YOU, HERE, GROWING so that you can make the choices in your life that will bring you to where you desire in life; rather than being a slave to the events that happen to you, you can choose!  We encourage them to carry over the lessons we teach them through the year in all aspects of their life; to know that they don’t need a specific venue or person in front of them to push them there…they can create it for themselves by being their best versions of themselves each moment of every day.

If you’re interested in bringing MPower Dance Workshops to your studio, please contact our Owner/Director, Jason Marquette at info@mpowerdance.com or by calling him at (267) 243-0442.

 

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

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