March-April 2015 | On My Mind


Words from the publisher

I’ve been in the dance education field for a long time, and over the years I’ve noticed some changes, particularly in regard to student performances. Long before the current generation started dancing for awards, generations of young dancers performed for something quite simple: applause.

Back then the teachers’ and students’ objective was to entertain, not to be better than someone else. Nursing homes, community events, and talent shows were the performance venues of the day. It was not uncommon for students to dance on the grass at a county fair, or for 18 dancers to squeeze onto a 15-by-15-foot dance floor at a nursing home or senior citizen center. The dancers were far less technically proficient than they are today, yet they were skilled entertainers. Part of the teachers’ educational objective was to instill in their students the “show must go on” mindset, even under the most awkward performance conditions. Pulling off a performance with as much professionalism as possible was a win back then.

Photo by Mim Adkins

Today students are competing in state-of-the-art facilities with special lighting, extravagant sound systems, and even huge media screens similar to those used by professional entertainers. Yet in many cases the students lack the ability to entertain, especially when they’re performing for non-dance audiences.

When the “stage” is a 15-by-15-foot floor, teachers can’t choreograph a piece for 18 dancers that has them doing eight pirouettes followed by a grand jeté followed by four different leaps. Nor can teachers send their students into a nursing home to perform a dance based on the kind of depressing subject matter that appeals to many tweens and teens today—unless, of course, they expect not to be asked to return.

I am not suggesting that we go back to the “good old days,” but I do hope to encourage dance educators to teach their students that dance, as a performing art, is entertainment. In order for students to understand and appreciate that fact, teachers need to offer them a broad spectrum of performance experiences. Yes, of course expose young people to the spectacular performance venues at competitions—but also create opportunities that teach them that seeing a smile on a senior citizen’s face is a reward in and of itself. Yes, rent a big venue for your high-tech recital—but also teach your students to dazzle small audiences by dancing at your school’s open house or other events.

Sophisticated dance events have much to offer your students, but they’re only one approach to performing. Take away the curtains and the lights and the fancy costumes; take away the lure of the awards. Teach your students that the essential part of performing isn’t nailing eight pirouettes, it’s connecting with an audience. It’s making them smile, get a lump in their throats, or nod in recognition. Once your students understand that, they’ll realize what a gift applause is.

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.