February 2016 | On My Mind

Words from the publisher

There are many ways to evaluate a dance school. We might first think of the merit of the faculty or training. Or we might consider the awards won; the number of students who move on to the professional world; the quality of the customer service, organization, and professionalism; or other factors.

Photo by Mim Adkins

Photo by Mim Adkins

To me, though, quality is reflected most in the atmosphere and spirit of the community created within the school, especially among the intensive dancers. Instinctively, at a performance or in the classroom, I can feel whether (or not) the kids get along with and respect each other. Competitiveness or jealousy aren’t simply inward emotions felt by those who possess them—the actions, emotions, or distractions that they can create usually seep out to affect the classroom and sometimes an entire school.

It is hard for me to write about this topic because I think that we are responsible for the positiveness within our communities. From my discussions with teachers, I know that we often blame any lack of community on parent meddling or use justifications like “The kids today aren’t as dedicated as they once were.” Such excuses make it easier for us to convince ourselves that the chaos is a 21st-century thing, outside our experience and control. It isn’t.

We need to talk with our students and encourage them to speak with each other on a personal level. Here’s an easy way to incorporate acceptance and respect into our curriculums: sit on the studio floor in a circle and allow each student to voice what they admire most about the dancer to their right. Let them share their goals—dance or personal—with each other. Bring up a piece of choreography that they’re performing and ask them about their feelings when they dance it full out. The topic doesn’t matter: it’s about the dancers’ opportunity to be up close and personal with each other. Kids who can relate to each other on a personal level will be more respectful of one another.

And if the only performances that our students participate in are dance competitions, then it’s probably a good time to unite our dancers—our community—for a cause. Produce a benefit performance for a charity or say “yes” to the request to perform at the children’s hospital. These events build morale while helping our dancers and their parents realize that dance isn’t only about the awards.

When it comes to the parents, I’ll put it this way: make them partners, not adversaries. Be receptive to their questions and concerns and respond in a professional and friendly way.

I believe that we can and should take responsibility for creating an atmosphere where jealousy and competitiveness seem old-fashioned rather than 21st century.

DSL publisher Rhee Gold has owned a dance competition, presided over national dance teaching organizations, and founded Project Motivate. His book, The Complete Guide to Teaching Dance, is in its second printing.