There’s no denying that dance can be complicated. It’s an art and a sport. It’s both a team event and an individual event. Plus, typically scored by technical elements but also by personal preference. These contrasting elements can make dance nuanced and difficult to understand.
Whether you’re a parent, teacher, friend, or teammate, it’s vital that you support the dancer in your life as much as possible—building them up as they progress in the art.
As someone who grew up in an ultra-competitive, stressful, and oftentimes negative environment, I want to give others the tools to support and motivate their dancer in a positive and healthy manner. These tips will be from the lens of a teacher to a dancer role, but many of these supportive techniques can be applied as a parent or friend as well.
Try the compliment sandwich technique.
When giving criticism to a student, consider the “compliment sandwich” approach. Start with something positive, add in the critique, and end with another positive. For example, if a student is struggling to remember choreography changes, consider a statement like, “Chloe, your facial expressions and performance is great during the sections where you’re confident with the routine. Towards the middle of the routine you seem to be off by a few eight counts, be sure to focus on that this week. However, I noticed you remembered the choreography change from last week. Keep it up!”
With this approach, you’re starting with something positive (the performance), suggesting an area for opportunity or growth (not staying on timing), then ending with a positive that’s usually a struggle (remembering choreography changes.)
Don’t focus on prizes or awards.
Even if a dancer nails a routine, the judges may not like the costume, the choreography, or the music choice. Rather than focusing on the outcome, try to emphasize tangible goals, then reinforce those during class.
There will likely be times when your dancer places first, but at some point, someone else will score higher, and that’s okay.
Encourage your dancers to find someone they aspire to be like while reminding them that there are likely younger dancers who look up to them too. The focus should always be on improvement and having fun, not what place they receive during a competition.
Ask your dancer questions.
Young dancers are impressionable and every moment in class counts. Some students may find dance as an escape from a stressful home life. Others may find passion in dance because they can express their emotions better through movement rather than words.
Do you know why your dancer is there? Do you know what style of dance is their favorite? Do you know how they learn best? Understanding why your dancer is there, what they enjoy, and how they digest information will ultimately make you a better instructor.
Supporting your dancer by showing interest in them will benefit everyone in the end. By taking personal interest in your student, you end up being more than just their teacher. You are now a friend and role model which is needed and important.
Highlight lessons that transcend the studio.
Use your platform as a dance instructor to not only teach technique and choreography, but other life lessons that students will take with them after their dance days are over.
Dance can teach you how to be graceful, confident, collected, and tough. It can also teach independence as well as the importance of teamwork. Don’t forget to highlight these things.
For example, if your student is struggling to get from a double to a triple pirouette, remind them that this will take patience. Explain that while it might be a challenge, they are displaying confidence to take their skills to the next level. These are life skills they can also implement in their personal life outside of dance.