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.

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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

ROI of a Dance Education

How do you put a price on investing in personal growth? This is a question that many of us ask every day. We ask because we don’t always see a tangible ROI (return on investment). But personal growth isn’t tangible. It can’t always be seen or touched. But it can be felt. It can be heard. It can be experienced.

I was just in Fort Myers, FL teaching last week. I was teaching a private tap lesson to a girl who has a good deal of natural ability. She could be quite good. But she doesn’t trust herself. She doesn’t believe in her mind, and therefore in her heart, that she knows what she’s doing. I spent a good deal of time convincing her, and saying to her teacher in front of her, how good she actually is. How much potential she had. That she just needed to trust herself more. She cried. Hearing that someone else believes in us and that we are enough, when we ourselves don’t believe it, can be very difficult to hear and accept.

This, to me, is the greatest downfall of great humans. The obstacles we create in our own minds are the only obstacles that we cannot overcome on our own. Anything life puts in front of us, we look at it, grin with determination and conquer it. But the stuff that we put into our own heads always seems insurmountable. If we learn to conquer these things, these thoughts, that essentially become the death of our dreams and ambitions, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished.

This is what dance does. By accomplishing super human feats of physical strength and grace through a process oriented training experience, we learn that there is nothing we cannot overcome. We stop saying I can’t and start saying, I’m gonna figure that out if it kills me. We stop saying I’m not good enough and start saying I’ll try again tomorrow. We stop saying I’m not strong enough and start doing push ups. You want to know the greatest ROI you will ever get for your child? Put them into dance classes. Let them discover their true potential by accomplishing something new every week. Let them discover problem solving, communication and creativity by exploring movement in a safe and nurturing environment. The return isn’t about a career. It isn’t even about money. It’s about living a life with eyes, mind and heart wide open so that they can experience everything this universe has to offer. So dance with us. We’ll teach you how to live.

P.S. I received a message later that evening from that student’s mother thanking me. She said that her daughter got a confidence boost she needed. I don’t know how long term an impact I will have had, but I know that I got her moving in the right direction.

 

(MPower Dance Workshops is an in-studio convention experience inspiring a shift in the culture of dance training by making clear connections between dance training and success in life.)

Trust your village.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” But have you really thought about what that means? It’s not just about people. It’s about a shared values system and respect for your neighbors. It’s about being responsible for how your actions effect everyone else in the village and how the village acts as a whole to support the individuals that make it up. When you choose a dance studio, it becomes an essential part of that village in your child’s life. The instructors that your child is training with were chosen by the studio owner/director that you have entrusted with your child’s education. That word, TRUST, is so important. We see Dance Moms and So You Think You Can Dance and we develop expectations (quite often unreal expectations) of what our child is capable of. It is not about whether they will grow up to be the next dance superstar; it is about whether they are getting an education that is preparing them to step out into the world and thrive in whatever avenue they choose to walk down. Trust that the people who have spent their lives training and educating themselves in this art form have your child’s mental and physical well-being in mind when they say that your child is or is not ready to move up to the next level. Trust that it isn’t personal and the last thing they want is to demean or diminish your child’s sense of self-worth or image. We live to encourage and empower your child to be the best dancer and human they can be. Let us do what we do best, but be involved. Ask them what they learned. Ask them about what challenged them and why. Ask what they can do better but don’t forget to ask them what they accomplished. They need to recognize those tiny victories to understand that life and success is a process, not a product. Let us be a part of your village. It’s why we set ourselves on this path.