Oh, For the Love! Motivating Dancers by Getting Back to the Heart of Your Why
Let’s face it, we aren’t always on the top of our game as dance educators. Or more commonly referred to as being “on your leg”.
Many of us have responsibilities outside of the studio. Families, other jobs aside from teaching, community outreach, illness, injuries, etc. Take a moment to think about all of the things that can affect you.
Now, take a step back and look at a bigger picture. Your student picture. Kids today are facing so many challenges that society thrusts upon them on a daily basis. Challenges that range anywhere from dealing with a student bully to adjusting to living between two homes. From struggles with anxiety and depression to navigating the waters of sexual orientation.
Dance comes from a place of love. Yes, early on in a child’s years they just may love to jump around to music, having no idea where dance may take them at the tender age of 3, but the key word here is...love.
A friend of mine recently asked me “How do you as a choreographer and teacher motivate your dancers when it seems they are overworked, stressed, dealing with things outside of dance, unmotivated, etc?”
My answer is...how do YOU deal with being unmotivated as a dancer and educator yourself?
Allow me to provide some ideas to help you and your dancers get out of your head and back into your heart.
I recently discovered that one of my young students has a school teacher that is not particularly kind. As a result, the child has developed a bit of anxiety and mistrust in teachers. It is imperative that we as teachers approach each class with the understanding that the dance room should always be a safe space.
While providing the foundation in technique for your students, also allow for a time in each class where they can be free to interpret a movement in their own way. This has been proven to be especially receptive to younger students around the ages of 5 to about 7 or 8.
By allowing them to move freely, to be as silly or as serious as they want to without judgement you are building trust and creating an environment that aids in combating anxiety that they may have in other areas of their lives. The “freeze dance” game is a fan favorite in class.
You may not be able to control their outside forces, but the dance room, with your help, can be a place of refuge that they can take with them long after the class ends.
If you currently have your students journaling, I highly encourage you to do so. If you have students that only take one class from you, do this once a month. If you have students that take multiple classes a week, have them journal once a week. This is one of my favorite things to do with students in the Pre-Teen or Tween age group. At the start of the dance season, I provide each of my dancers with a composition notebook and pen. Take the first or last 10 minutes of a class and have your dancers sit around the dance room to write. Provide them with a “Topic of the Day” to use as a writing prompt.
Another idea with this is to spend some time going over dance vocabulary. Start slow, and build their list of definitions throughout the year, so by the end of the year they have a solid grasp of the fundamental and most commonly used vernacular.
Something else you can do is give them a history lesson. Choose an artist that has helped shaped dance over the years. Play a video of their work, and have them write about how that makes them feel when they watch it. It is important that we continue to teach about the legacies that came before us. What is not shared is lost.
Journaling helps to take all of our jumbling thoughts and unwind them. If we can help a student untangle things by writing them down, it will help them to release whatever frustrations they may be having. Getting them out of their heads and back into their hearts.
Slow and Steady
One of the best things you can do for your older dancers is to force them to stop what they’re doing and BREATHE. The same above rule applies to how often I recommend doing this.
Create a playlist of soft, contemporary music, dim the lights if possible (or turn out the lights and set battery operated candles all over the room). Have your dancers lay on the floor and conduct your stretching regimen from there. Provide them each with a jar of organic soothing creme and have them work it over their calves and through their feet. Do this for the length of an entire song on each leg.
Ask each of them to give you a song to add to your playlist to use during this time, so that their favorite song will play at least once during the class, triggering the Big Four.
If you would like a list of writing prompts for your journaling students or song/stretching suggestions for your meditation de-stress class for your older students, let me know in the comments and I will put them in future posts!
Everything is a work in progress. We, as human beings, are works in progress. These are just a few suggestions that I highly encourage you to try. Being empathetic to what others are facing outside of the studio, whether known or not, will go a long way in helping both you and your dancers on the journey of finding your way back to the love.