“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.” ― Carol S. Dweck
I remember being a freshman dancer – the only one in my ensemble – looking around at all the older, more experienced dancers in the room and feeling the weight of my insecurities mixed with a strange sense of intimidation, competitiveness and exhilaration. I don’t think that I could have given language to that desperate concoction of emotions that ruled me at that time and I certainly struggled to reconcile those feelings for many years to come.
That internal struggle for finding my confidence probably was evident to the adults in my life but I don’t recall ever being coached out of it. I was a shy child (hard for those of you who know me now to believe) and struggled to make friends and connect with others.
As a dance teacher, I have witnessed that same kind of insecurity in students. It momentarily causes me to flashback to that 14 year old anxious part of myself that constantly was sizing up who else was in the room and whether or not I measured up. I would be so hard on myself that sometimes if I could not do something correctly the first time, I would let fear of the judgment of others hold me back initially from trying again to master the challenge.
In a dance class, there can be a wide spectrum of individual student confidence – and lack of confidence – that will influence the emotional dynamics between dancers. I can read that energy no matter the age of my students – whether adults or teens. The body language is the same when we make ourselves small and play smaller than what we are capable of. Emotional collisions in the classroom are inevitable when we feel intimidated and feel like we are “less than” everyone else. This is true in life just as much as in the classroom – and the consequences can be serious with lost opportunities, perfectionism, and loss of trust due to cutthroat behavior between dancers.
So how do we transition from seeing ourselves as not enough to knowing that we each are a work in progress? Embrace a growth mindset that is focused just as much on the process of learning as it is on the outcome of that learning. Here are a few key ways to do it:
- It’s not about perfection. Embrace and accept mistakes…and let them go. Including your own.
- Keep it in perspective. Many learners who enjoy dancing are not in class to become professional performers. They are there to enjoy being in their bodies – which can influence their daily quality of life to be happier, healthier people.
- Challenge learners just beyond what they believe they are capable of – and then support them in their learning. That is the sweet spot in your instruction. As Carol Dweck describes it, “Don’t judge. Teach. It’s a learning process.” Make that possible in your tone, language and in your expectations.
- Use language to support a growth mindset. “You can do anything you set your mind to” was a phrase I said to my children when they would initially fumble as toddlers in figuring out a skill. I can see evidence of that wisdom in them to this day.
- Stay humble. Be the person who is constantly learning and you will set a tone for those around you to remain humble as well.
Tremendous joy and pride ignites in class when learners work towards mastery and achieve it and are then ready to take on the next challenge.