As a dance studio owner of 20 years, I have had more than a handful of conversations surrounding success for dancers. The question arises as to whether natural talent or years of experience has more weight in determining overall dance success. I actually don’t think it is either of those things individually. Let me tell you more.
A STORY ABOUT STEPHANIE
I recently finished writing my book, “Your best YOU” in which I told the story of one of my former students, Stephanie. Stephanie was a budding, very eager 12 year old dancer and early on expressed her frustration to me with not being put in the front row. She wondered why she wasn’t chosen by me as a teacher/choreographer to receive that placement in my routines. I lovingly and supportively told her the truth about why she wasn’t given that opportunity up to that point. She struggled with her pirouettes and turns in general. Things didn’t come easily to her or naturally. I explained that front row placement in competitive routines is given to the dancers who execute the movement and the performance the best. I encouraged her to continue to work on all of these things as she was young and had plenty of time to develop her skills to reach her dreams of being put in the front row.
Next, Stephanie asked if I could help her to improve to gain front row access. Week after week, Stephanie practiced her turns and worked incredibly hard in every class, after class, in her bedroom, in her basement, wherever there was space to turn, to dance, to practice….Stephanie did so. Over the next three years, she worked diligently toward her dreams and got the coveted front row spot after all of that hard work.
Fast forward to when she was in high school dancing at Elite. Younger dancers were always in awe of how amazing Stephanie’s turns were and how she just lit up the stage. They dreamed of being “as talented as Stephanie” and considered her “so lucky” to be so good. Stephanie and I knew better. We knew how hard she worked to get where she was. We knew the countless hours she put it to her craft with passion and perseverance. She never gave up. She had a dream. She had GRIT.
More recently, I read “Grit” by Angela Duckworth. She defines grit as passion and perseverance for long-term goals. She also goes on to say grit is not talent, it is not luck. Grit isn’t how intensely, for the moment, you want something.
Of course, I thought about Stephanie as a perfect example of grit when I read this book and then I turned to think about all of our young dancers at Elite. I believe that dance can help children build grit for life if we, as teachers and parents, can nurture that development.
How can we do that?
Usually, dancers begin their dance journey with an interest in the art form. That interest may come from seeing a dance performance, friends talking about dance class or a parent exposing a child to the idea of such fun. That passion can grow over time as children get to wear the costume, master a new move, and hear the audience roar with applause.
And then, comes a challenge in dance. It might be that the dancer can’t “get” the move, that they don’t get chosen for a part of a dance or a “prized” spot on the floor. They might make a mistake during a performance. Their friends might be going to a school birthday party during dance class that they really want to go to instead. Here is where perseverance can be cultivated.
We, as dance teachers, see dancers get frustrated time and time again as it is a natural progression for a dancer to learn something new and not be great at it right away. How we, as teachers and parents, help children navigate the frustration will, in the end, help the dancer to gain grit to reach their dreams when things don’t naturally go their way.
Overcoming setbacks and challenges is where dancers and humans, in general, can feel most successful. Understanding our passion and working toward our goals day after day and then meeting those feels really good as it did for Stephanie when she finally got to the front row after years of deliberate practice.
I guess what I am really reflecting on and trying to share with our dance parents is this….
Let these children GROW their GRIT through dance in our safe environment here at Elite. We will support them when they are not quite getting a move, when they make a mistake in a dance, when they aren’t chosen for the part and we hope you will do the same.
Instead of immediately trying to “rescue” your dancer, instead, perhaps, help them to consider what they could do to improve how they feel or how they are performing or where they are in a dance routine so that they can feel in charge of their dance journey. You can encourage them to go to dance even when their school friends are going to the mall during that class. This support looks different at different ages and abilities obviously but I do believe that helping children to grow their own grit will benefit them their entire lives in all different life situations.
Here, at Elite, our mission is to educate and inspire children to be confident, happy and strong and what better way to do that than to help them by nurturing their passion and encouraging their perseverance when the going gets tough.
Dance is not easy. In fact, for most, it takes a LOT of time to develop skills and performance and technique. It takes years and years of training, learning, performing, practicing again and again. So, if your child LOVES dance, let’s help them understand that perfecting dance can take a lifetime and it won’t happen overnight, so it is best to enjoy the entire journey along the way. It’s also great to recognize that they might not feel like going to dance week after week but that might be just a reaction to one of those obstacles or challenges peeking at them like I mentioned above. Going to dance when we don’t want to and working through those challenges is when we see BIG GROWTH for our dancers.
Stephanie, my former student has now been a successful dance studio owner for the last 10 years. I couldn’t be more proud.
My book, Your Best YOU will launch to the general public on March 22, 2022. You can get your copy on Amazon.
Angela Duckworth’s book, “Grit” is an incredible read that has a Grit Assessment score test and many parenting tips on growing character that can be found at angeladuckworth.com.