The first day of dance class: The students come in, quietly put their bags down, then walk to an isolated part of the room to start stretching. Some just stand there. It's as if their bodies are just stuck in the space in a standing position. They look around at the other dancers. Eyeing this, eyeing that, eyeing her, him, me. They have no idea what the class will be like.
As teachers, we know if you're going to get these students to dance, and we mean really dance, you have to make them feel comfortable in three different areas:
1. With themselves
2. With their classmates
3. With that inner voice that tells them, "You can!" and "You can't!"
Start the class off with a light, flibbertigibbet mood. Get them laughing. You want your students to know that you are approachable. Then, lay down the rules: No gum, hair pulled back, no loose clothing, respect yourself, your fellow dancers, the art and the studio space. Then, the number one rule: You are not allowed to say, "I can't do that." [We have them sign a contract, aka "dance promise," that they will follow that specific rule, and we have the right to hold them accountable].
Now they are ready to start dancing, but really... that just means they are ready to start building confidence. And you have to be ready to hold them accountable.
As their teacher, you know that your students learning to appreciate themselves is key to their reaching the next level.
Kristin Beckwith of Boston Ballet said, "Teaching students to see and appreciate themselves is as important to me as teaching a pirouette- and you can do that by teaching a pirouette."
So we start: Dance move by dance move. Watch your students become more and more confident.
1. With everything they do correctly, show how excited you are in their ability. Reiterate and stress the importance of their role in the process: "Do you realize what you just did and that you did it perfectly?" They always respond to this with a huge smile.
2. When they do something incorrectly, make them laugh about it (to shrug it off, and try again). We say something like, "Well, now... that was terrible. BUT you get to try it again!" They always laugh, and try again.
3. Ask students to demonstrate. Pull them out from the crowd to have a "moment." This becomes an internal, personal goal of each student. Do it right = become a demonstrator.
4. Tell their parents if they do something fabulous in class. Share with them their child's successes, and make it a big deal! "Mary-Kate did a double pirouette today! It was beautiful and amazing!"
5. Give hugs and high fives. You are with your students on this journey. You are pulling for them, and you want them to know that.
6. Track their progress, vocally. "Wooowwwww Elizabeth! You couldn't do that last year! Remember last year? It looked pretty rough... yeah... but this year! Look at you this year!" Making students laugh at their past blunders makes them realize how long of a journey it has been and how far they have come.
7. Comment on things to encourage: Hard work, cute leotard, hair style. Students are experimenting, and they will do so in drastic changes throughout the year (with make-up, hair styles, colors, dance bags, leggings, cover-ups). Compliment. It always feels good to feel noticed and cute.
8. Give them space. Sometimes they are having bad days, and they just want to dance and leave. Allow them the space and quiet to do just that. Trust they will work through their struggles.
9. Pay attention to matters of importance in the classroom. If you know confidence/gossip/insecurity is a problem... pick a song and choreograph a dance that will help put their emotional struggles into physical movement. It also opens the conversation about tough subjects.
10. Listen. Listen because their stories/problems/issues/awards matter.
When a child has a strong self-concept, they are unstoppable. They can accomplish anything, inspire anyone!
When you bring a child to opportunities, you are opening their world. When you teach a child to take advantage of opportunities, you are giving them the key to everything.
When you share in the experience with your child and your students, you are showing by example why everything in this world needs compassion and a moment and the chance to succeed.
When you give your child the space and time to grow, they will surprise you with the conclusions they come up with on their own.
Confidence is a force, and it's contagious.