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
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