There is something that has been going on in classrooms for the past 10 years or so. Something that we had rarely seen before in such young children. Something that we certainly didn't experience ourselves as young children in our own dance classes. There is an entire generation who don't know how to make mistakes - so much so that the very idea of it paralyzes them. We want to make it clear to every child and every child's parent - Your dance teachers WANT you to make mistakes!
Dance is like any other athletic endeavor - in order to do well one must work their body AND their brain. Dancers at the professional level make it look easy and effortless but remember that is part of the training. If you saw the process that got them to the point where they make it look that easy, you would see the hours of mistakes and frustration hiding behind the finished product. Any other athlete is allowed to grimace and grunt and look intense and fierce. Dancers, on the other hand, are required to hide all that away. It is why audiences are so entertained by dancers...they look like they are having the time of their lives on stage. However, the flipside is that a beginner student often expects to look like a seasoned performer in their first month...or first year...or first five years. That is simply not how it works.
THE CLASSROOM IS MEANT FOR MISTAKES
How many times have you done something wrong and said to yourself "Well, I'm never doing it that way again!" That is, quite simply, how the learning process works. As teachers, we are there to guide and to explain...and then explain again in a different way when the first way didn't quite work. We are also there to help make the student feel safe WHEN (not if) they make a mistake. It can be embarrassing for a student to go right when everyone else is going left but it shouldn't be so embarrassing that it causes them to not to want to try at all. That is the paralyzing behavior we were referring to at the beginning of this post. Instead of giggling about a minor setback and then trying again, many won't even try in the first place.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP?
Fortunately, there is a lot of easy little steps we can all take to help. The expression "it takes a village" is appropriate as the more a student hears and sees the people around them getting back up and trying again, the more likely they are to follow those very directions.
What can teachers do?
Teachers must create a classroom environment where mistakes are expected and not punished or made fun of. Once a student realizes that they won't be ridiculed or belittled for not automatically knowing the correct answer they are more relaxed and motivated to try again. Teachers must also support their student's parents. Teachers can't do it alone and parents can't do it alone - they must be united. Therefore, everything listed in the "parent" section should also be reinforced by teachers.
What can parents do?
Parents can help significantly because if what is being taught in the classroom isn't being reinforced at home, it makes the path to success difficult. Parents can lead by example. In your everyday life, acknowledge out loud when you have made a mistake and explain what you will do in the future to correct it. When your child comes home from class frustrated, listen and then help them make a list of the steps they can take to try to reach their goal. If they don't know what steps they need to take, reach out to their teacher for guidance. When your child forgets a step on stage or doesn't win the competition, your supportive reaction can be the key to future successes.
What can students do?
Students have to remind themselves constantly that failure is part of the process to becoming great at anything. Instead of looking at a mistake as a giant wall preventing you from reaching your goal. look at it as a stepping stone on your path towards that next goal. It is also very important to support your classmates when they make mistakes. Clap for your friend's successes the way you would want people to clap for you and encourage your friend to try again when they need to hear that encouragement. Teachers can create a positive classroom environment, but only with the help of the class.
What can audiences do?
Clap. Encourage. Cheer. BE PRESENT. A performance is a conversation. When a performer is on stage looking out at the crowd, they are quite literally feeding off of your energy. Put the phone down and be a part of the experience. If you see a performer after the show, even just a quick "you did great today!" while passing them by, can go a long way. Oftentimes a performer gets off stage and has a list of all the mistakes they made. Most, if not all, of those mistakes weren't even noticed by the audience. That quick shout of encouragement can mean a lot.
What's the big deal? What does any of this matter in the grand scheme of things?
Actually, learning to overcome past mistakes is a very important life skill.
Part of the reason colleges and employers are interested in extracurricular activities is because they are just as helpful in a child's future success as their grades and test scores. Colleges know that reaching a big goal takes discipline and perseverance and if one can show that they spent many years perfecting a skill such as dance, music, or a team sport, they are most
likely equipped with these skills.
Read just about any life story of an accomplished human being. Before they had their breakthrough moment, they can account many times they made mistakes and felt like quitting. Oftentimes, they say it's those moments where they found the strength to continue is what led them to future victories. You can be sure that it was learning from the smaller mistakes that helped these greats overcome the bigger ones.
Fortunately, the fear of making a mistake is something that can be corrected at any age. With the right support system in place, a student can grow at a pace that is suitable for them. At Garden State Dance Arts, we are committed to creating a positive and productive environment for all our students. No matter the age, level of experience, or background, we believe everyone can be successful in our classroom.