Category Archives: Teaching

Mind Your Attitude

How do you receive criticism? Do you think to yourself, I’m perfect and they don’t know what they are talking about? Do you think, you do not know enough to possibly teach me? I see this attitude in students who know little. I see this in students who know a lot. The thing is, none of us have had an identical education. Even if we had attended all the same classes, workshops, and lectures as another, the education would still not be identical. Why? There is no way that we relate to the information in an identical way, thus we don’t internalize and use the information in the exact same way.

I love being criticized. Yes, sometimes it hurts my feelings, makes me question my abilities, and makes me wonder if I will ever feel good enough. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel this way from time to time. However, even when these defensive sentiments come up, I know it is coming from my insecurity, not my knowledge base. My knowledge base informs me that I have so much to learn. That I will never really feel like I have made it because there is far too much information to consume before I will be able to feel that way. This is okay. This is how I will get myself better. This is how I will improve my physical, mental, and emotional self.

When I ask for an outside eye to see my work, I am not asking for my ego to be stroked. I am asking to be pulled apart. I am asking to learn how to do my stuff better. I am asking if my approach may not be the best. I am asking to be pushed out of my comfort zone. I have seen others when asking for an outside opinion stop the dialogue about their piece when they receive a compliment. That is what they were looking for rather than criticism. How is that a help?

Anytime I have an opportunity to teach, I have an opportunity to learn as well. I learn because my students are having a different experience receiving the information I share. They all have different questions on how to approach the information. They have questions that come up related to things they learned previous that they are leaping off of to connect to the information they are receiving. They ask me questions that make me able to approach my own delivery of information differently the next time I teach. I get surprised by their questions all the time because sometimes I feel like I know what I know inside and out and then a curve ball question is thrown at me that makes me go through all that I know and realize that I know so little. It’s exhilarating to experience these new insights and makes me have an adrenaline rush. It makes me crave more information.

How do you approach your teachers? Do you go to a teacher who just strokes your ego? Do you go to a teacher who is so passionate about your success that they want to pull you apart and put you back together so that you are your best self? Some of us dance to feel good – to be seen and lauded. If you are looking to be the best you can be, the adoration can’t be enough. Seeking information and betterment is what drives the best. Talk to the top dancers in your community – you will see that this is what they seek and they never feel like they have made it. When you think you have made it, it’s time to retire.

Get to the Bottom of It

It has been an interesting experience being invited in to teach technique to some companies. The interesting part is the fear of disinterest in technique. Every new session seems to breed this fear and I find it fascinating that this is a concern. Technique is like a slow burn that changes and develops through the class. It is not going to be exhilarating like a fireworks explosion, but the way that the burn shapes over the hour is mesmerizing.

I haven’t had anyone complain that they are bored in class. I have witnessed many think they know more than they do. More recently, the classes I have been welcomed into have given into the discomfort, set their egos aside, and gone with the teachings of the class. This has been refreshing for me and a release of anxiety for the directors of the class that their students are most definitely not bored out of their minds. Rather, I see them more intensely engaged than in other more exhilarating classes.

It is wonderful to see the bodies and minds trying to absorb the information being demonstrated. The watching of my body’s use of the information, watching their own body not quite get the information, then return to gaze at my body to cue themselves about what they are being asked to do. I see little chatter in these types of classes which is usually a sign of external focus. The beauty of technical classes is the ability to switch that focus internally. Trying to get your body to morph and grow into a better more coordinated mass of flesh.

Often, the concepts introduced are foreign to the participants which seems to help them engage more. Walking their brains and bodies into left field then connecting the information back to home base where they are comfortable is usually a lightbulb moment on their faces which is lovely to see. When the lightbulbs don’t come on, there is usually questions that come out from the group for clarification. Questions of insight that I never see when the exhilarating classes are taught. Insight from an internal place of knowing that they are not getting the sensation that has been described to them. Insight that they don’t feel natural or look natural like as demonstrated and they want to know how they can make themselves look more like that. Those internal searchings make me elated because it is so obvious they are connecting with their body in a way they haven’t been guided or able to before.

When a mind is able to make that deep of a connection with the body, change happens quickly because the mirror becomes less of a reference point and the internal dialogue between the body and mind are able to take over. From there, the questioning of how dumb do I look is often lost as well and the room gets quiet and meditative. That quiet often translates into the dancing and these people are more interesting to watch as the show comes from a deep internal place rather than an external look at me showing.

Pushing Through

Professional athletes have physical jobs. That means we are active a lot of our working day. This is an amazing part of the job. It keeps us in shape. When we are done at “the office” we don’t have to worry about hitting the gym.

The downside is making sure that we don’t burn ourselves out physically. It can be easy to say yes to every interesting project that is offered. It can be easy to want to keep pushing through even though our body is saying stop. The hard thing about being a dancer is that we have to usually keep working even if we are not feeling 100%. If you are sick and have to miss a day of learning choreography in a group setting, it can feel like letting the group down because you know you will be behind the next time a session is held. Sick can mean injury, physical ailment like the flu, or even just battling the need for a personal day.

There has to be leeway built into our schedules so that we have time to let our bodies recover from the joyous activity we put it through. This means building our performance, rehearsal, and teaching time into a schedule where we give ourselves recovery days. The normal workforce gets two days off in a row. This is important for a mental and physical break from the desk. For dancers, it is important for allowing healing time and catchup time in the non-work part of our life.

Sometimes we feel the need to be martyrs in our dance careers. Be the one who never lets anyone down. Who sacrifices for the greater good. This is all dandy until you have a physical breakdown as a result. The more experienced you are in your career, the more this is mandatory. An aging body (really anything past 25 years old) is going to need increased care to maintain a professional athletic career. Making choices of the types of choreography and partnering we do with students is important. At the end of the day, our body is our money maker and has to function well not just today, but for the foreseeable future.

It can be daunting when students ask for tricks that can put your body at risk. They may have seen you do amazing things with a professional partner and want to have you do the same with their body. The difference is that professional partners really take care of each other’s bodies because there is an unspoken rule to that effect. If one professional hurts another, there is huge guilt that goes with it because we know that any injury can be a career ender. Also, the professional partners are usually well educated in the tricks they do which reduces the injury risk.

Overall, athletes need to put their bodies first. When it asks for rest, give it rest. When it asks for a push, give it a push. Make sure that you are providing for your body in the most careful way possible – engineer your nutrition to support your activity level, engineer your schedule to allow for non-athletic time, engineer your social life to give you balance, engineer your students to allow for reduced injury risk. Your career will thank-you 🙂

Competing Dancing

I understand that dance studios are a business. There is going to be competition for patrons. There is going to be competition for the community’s dollars. This is the nature of business in America. As such, people will try to undermine each other – charge less, offer more hours, offer a greater variety of classes – to get a leg up in the industry. There is going to be good hearted competition in any industry and there will be nasty competition to offset that.

Competition breeds options. That is a great thing. Competition also can breed segregation. This especially true if restrictions are placed on what other dance industry businesses can be solicited by the patrons of one dance business. Patrons include students and teachers. I understand that there is an attempt to control chaos within the business. You want to know that those that are yours are truly yours. However, that restriction can increase the grass is greener on the other side mentality. As I’ve told you before, if you tell me that I cannot do something, I’m going to try to do it. I like to get as much information as possible as to why things are as they are, especially when a boundary is placed on me. I have found that boundaries are often enforced out of fear.

In the dance industry, this fear grows for a number of reasons. Allowing patrons to see that there are other options that might suit them better at another business is a common one. Allowing patrons to patronize other businesses dilutes the business you get to keep for yourself. Allowing patrons to patronize other businesses may have those patrons realize the weakness in what your business offers. Fear holds people back in so many ways. I see it in business frequently. Holding patrons back out of fear will actually hold you back as well.

So much energy ends up expended on the silliness of fear when it could be better used. It could be used to expand your skills as a business owner. It could be used to expand the talent patronizing your studio in the form of students and teachers. It could be used to get a marketing edge. Rather than putting bars on your students’ and teachers’ windows, how about you take out the windex and clean those windows so they can clearly see what dance can do for them. When was the last time you looked at this aspect of your business? Spending that fear energy on researching and developing the delivery of this to your patrons would be a far more efficient and effective use of energy, brain power, talent, and time. In the end it would also be better for anyone patronizing your business. Be innovative rather than fearful. You will see how much happier life will be.

I wanna get better!

I hear people say this regularly: “I want to take my dancing to the next level”. I hear it from some people on a weekly basis. Then I see no change in their dancing. Is it because there is no will? Is it because they just enjoying making it seem like they will change? Is it because they like the attention of someone telling them they can do it? All these are definite possibilities and likely not the whole story.

The will to be better has to be present. Saying you are going to do something and not doing it is not going to get you to the end point you keep mentioning. If you have the will though, you can find a way. Sometimes you just need to be pointed in the right direction. I remember being at a cross roads about a decade back (yes, I am aging myself here). I had the option to stay in the city I was living or move on to a different city. A bigger city with shinier dancers and opportunities than I could currently see. There was a lot of soul searching that was done to figure out what I needed and what I wanted, I had the opportunity within my own community – if I sought it. I would have to help myself though. No one in the business was going to do it for me or try to prevent the door from hitting me on the way out.

Though dance is a world of beauty, there are a lot of ugly people in it when you dig deep. It can be cut throat. It can be two faced and just plain mean. At this cross roads, I had to take off my blinders and see that there ware a lot of people that were happy to misdirect me with a sprinkling of a few that actually wanted me to succeed. I had to pay close attention to my interactions with the good and the bad to really discern with whom I could align myself.

Once I aligned myself with those who would do me good rather than harm, my dancing changed. I could not only see my shortcomings more clearly as I had people around me who were truthful about where I was at in my dancing and where I could go. I could also see those around me who were monsters and suddenly I didn’t care if they saw me make errors in my dancing. I didn’t care if they watched me during the learning process. Their opinion no longer mattered to me and I had this sense of freedom that I had never had in my life.

So how does this relate to advising how to take your self to the next level? I suggest you do a bit of research before you invest with anyone. Watch the teachers in your community. Pay attention to how they dance, their technique, their freedom, their energy level. Take a look at their flock as well. Everyone ends up with a brand stamped on their dancers whether they realize it or not. The brand can be that they all only know the same 10 moves. It can be that they are very grounded. It can be that they are flashy with no substance. It can be that they progress slowly, but have amazing results at the end of their journey.

I also suggest to take from teachers who are hungry for students. They are going to give you their best as they are trying to build their flock. Those who are established and haven’t much extra time in their schedule, are not likely to be able to give you the attention you need simply because of a lack of time to accommodate you. Those ones are teachers that I treat myself to when they get an opening, but I want a hungry teacher for my regular training who is as invested in me as I am in them.

Once you have yourself aligned with the right people, that is where the journey begins. It will take hard work. You will not be able to just study with them once per month and expect quick changes. You will have to put in the time when they are not in your presence. This time will involve putting into regular practice what you learned. It will take self-analysis to watch to see that you are incorporating the information correctly. It will take breaking apart what you already know and inserting the information you learned into it. Progress takes discipline to train your body into new things. It will happen. You have to believe and have patience with yourself.

Who Is Right?

When teaching dance, I am often asked if what some other teacher said about a way to do a certain move is correct. I always find this an awkward communication because the person asking is usually looking to find fault in someone who taught them previously. I do not believe that there is a 100% right way to do each movement in dance. This seems to be a shocking answer when I give it.

How can it be that there is not a 100% correct way of doing something? Let us look at that. How many bodies are designed exactly the same way? None. How many people learn in exactly the same manner? None. How many people have learned from the exact same combination of teachers? Once you have been around the dance block for a while, not very many.

There is something we have to understand. There are different ways to accomplish good results. Each teacher will have a different way of teaching something. Each teacher will have a different background of knowledge. Each teacher will have a different understanding. Each teacher will have a different way of conveying information. The same thing applies to each student.

Within each genre of dance in my community, there are multiple schools of thought from multiple professionals who have taken the lead in their genre. My advice to those asking the awkward question of who is right is to find the teacher who helps you to dance in a way that feels and looks best for you. The person who may be regarded as the top teacher in your community may not make any sense to you. They may have a huge following of students who get what they are trying to convey, but that may not apply to you. That is okay.

Your job as a student is to learn. One thing you have to learn is who is best suited to teach you. If you find a teacher offends you every time you learn from them, you will not be comfortable attending studies with them. If you find a teacher who is asking your body to do something that you cannot do and is putting you at risk for injury as they are not respecting your boundaries, you will be tight when you are trying to dance because your body will go into a protective mode.  If you find a teacher who does not communicate with language at the level you understand, you will feel unintelligent.

Finding the right mix in a teacher is harder than you might think. We get attached to our first teachers and it can be difficult to try others. In divided communities where some teachers preach they are right and everyone else is wrong, it can make you feel like you are cheating on your teacher by visiting another’s class. The best teachers I know give their students freedom. They are confident that they will attract those that benefit from their services. I want to teach and learn with those with whom I have synergy. Though dance at higher levels is an investment of work, it is supposed to be enjoyable. Evaluate how you feel in the classes you take. Take a few classes with other teachers in your genre. You might be surprised at how wonderful someone else’s approach is for you and see there is more than one right way.

Type A or Type B?

I admire those in my field who are at the top of their game – those I see as leaders and game changers in their own realm. How did they get there? They definitely didn’t maintain the status quo in their work. They broke rules and pissed off people. They did so because they had a vision that was different than what everyone else was trying to achieve.

There will be those who want to follow the rules. We need these people. They are called employees. They are the worker bees that take orders and carry them out without question. They tend to be loyal to an organization. They seek normality in their life and want to be able to go to work and come home and not think anymore about it. They often see problems that are unsolvable. These are dancers who work for other dancers. 

The innovators are those who break the rules. We need these people too. They tend to be labelled geniuses in their field. Often they are bored with a hint of rebellion. Sometimes called les enfants terribles. Tell them they can’t do it and they will make it their goal to prove you wrong. They can be flippant and like to change things up often, whether it be their job, their project, their living situation, partners, etc. They often have itchy feet. These are my favorite people. Every week, they seem to be living a different life. These are the dancers who open their own schools and companies.

To the worker bees, these people are scary. They are unpredictable from day to day. Their opinions change in an instant when new information is received. They tend to be on the cutting edge of their industry and help push that edge forward into the future. I have heard these people labelled immature because of their lack of stick-to-itness. I whole heartedly disagree with that one.  They can’t subscribe to a flawed philosophy when they know there is a better one available somewhere. That is innovation, not flakiness.

They look at the world differently. They see solutions for the problems others can’t solve. They bring new ideas to the table. In the dance world, they find a way to bring masterful and ground breaking art to the stage. They take what others already know and break it. They create schools with a new philosophy in dance. They create companies that express something the community has not seen before.

They are inspired by those who have already done. They know that re-inventing the wheel is going to be a waste of time. So, they study from the greats to whom they have access. They glean as much as they can from those people then put their own spin on it because they believe it can be done a different way while still having a basis of historical theory. We all started from somewhere. Someone had to train us to be the dancer we can be. We have a choice to advance our industry or coast and just follow what others are doing. Either choice can be satisfying. So, decide what kind of dancer you want to be and be it.

Big Question 5

Do I partner with someone whose reputation is not the best in the community for the opportunity to continue my career as I get older?

Being a mature dancer can open doors. With maturity, I can bring a track record. I can show dedication to the art. I can show that even sometimes when I stray, I still like to come back home. I can bring a wealth of knowledge. I can bring technique. I can bring experience from other shows. I can show you what I know because I have taught what I know. I can tap into training resources. I can open up my connections for you to tap into as well.

Being a mature dancer can close doors too. With maturity, I can bring intimidation. I can bring prejudices against me from previous projects. I can bring my biases about how things should be done. I can bring social stigma about my age when put up against younger dancers. I can bring limitations due to years of physicality.

I think whether the doors open because of my maturity falls mostly on my shoulders. If I am being self-conscious about my maturity, I will project that to those with whom I am working. I often find though that younger dancers I work with look at me with shock and admiration when they find out how much more senior I am than them. Apparently, I continue to not look my age neither aesthetically nor physically.

Getting back to the original topic of partners . . . when it comes to finding partners, I know what I bring to the floor. I know that there aren’t many partners my age kicking around, so I am dancing with men my junior. Some will not consider a partnership with me because of this. As long as I can keep up though and a chance is given, all is well. I do not think that I have to compromise with someone whose reputation is undesirable unless the partnership brings something to my life that is not available elsewhere. In life, I have choices. I also have the opportunity to sit back and see how things play out.  With that in mind, I still have many years left to attract into my realm the partners and projects for which I am looking. I am thankful everyday for this.

Big Questions 4

If I want to push my dancing further, do I stay with a coach that I have been loyal to for many years or do I upgrade to the shiny new coach turning out eye catching competitors?

This is a tricky question. There has to be a reason that you stayed with your existing coach. The reasoning for this has to be assessed. Did you stay because you did not know better? Did you stay because this is who all your friends go to? Did you stay because you were afraid of change? Did you stay because you love the way they coach? Did you stay because they make you feel good about yourself every time you hit the floor?

Change is not an easy thing for most people. It takes us out of our comfort zone. This can cause panic and fear causing the brain to try desperately to put on the brakes and keep you in your regular pattern. Some people thrive on change and enjoy the thrill of it.  You have to acknowledge that changing coaches will push you out of your current knowledge base. This is how you grow and you have to be prepared for this. If you are ready for this, it is time to start your search.

First off, let your current coach know that you are seeking an outside opinion on your dancing so that they do not hear it through the dance gossip line that you have been associating with their competition. If you are in a large enough centre, you should have options for coaches. I would start by interviewing them. This can involve a goals conversation as well as an assessment of your current dancing state. You also want to know how much time they have to invest in you. If their schedule is full up and they take you, you will not receive the attention you need and not achieve your goal in switching coaches.

Having someone new assess you will quickly show you whether you are prepared for the change. It will also show you how well you accept criticism from someone else’s view point. You may go through all the coaches in your city and realize that the one you have is your best match. That is okay. If you have not burned bridges with your current coach, you should be able to return to them without issue. You will also likely return to them with new appreciation and they will likely work harder to accelerate your dancing as well because they know you are hungry to grow.

If you do find a coach that seems to be a better match, it is time to get the relationship built. They will want to see that you are committed to learning their methodology. You have to put previous opinions on the movement out of your head so that you can absorb as much as you can from this new coach. You will never lose what you previously invested in yourself. You may actually need a hybrid between the two methodologies in the end. In the end, you will always be a stronger dancer, even if you decide to go back to your original coach.

Take some time to assess where you are at with your dancing. When you started, you had goals. Have you achieved those? What are your goals for the next year? Do you have the right coaches, teachers, and adjuncts in place to get to where you want to go this year? Being a dancer requires a team approach. Make sure you have a solid team working with you to accelerate you toward achieving your goals this year!

Big Questions 3

This is a continuation of answering the big questions that have crossed my path in the dance world.

Do I change to a school that has been the competition for the school I attended for a decade?

This is another question that boils down to loyalty versus protection of your best interest. When you strip away your emotional attachment to a dance school, it can be seen that dance schools are a business. Admittedly, they are often not solidly run businesses based on common business practices. However, the owners have created the school to create a livelihood for themselves. No matter how much passion the owner has for dance, the school is still a business. It may have started as a passion that they figured they needed to share with the world. The best way was to create this place that would allow them to do so. This means that they want to keep their staff stable which means discouragement of teaching for other businesses. It means trying to keep business stable as well which means discouragement of learning from teachers at other businesses.

Some schools are more loyal to their students’ best interests than others. If you are part of one of those, that’s great. I do wish there were more of them around. Some schools want to withhold some information to be able to keep their students wanting more. It’s a good business strategy. Keep that carrot slightly out of reach and the bunny will keep chasing it. If a dance school can be more abundant and provide the students with all the information they have, it would be better for the students. In doing so, it would also push some members of the teaching staff to seek more knowledge to be able to keep a cutting edge of knowledge that keeps them ahead of other schools. Unfortunately, it is human nature to not push so hard. Coasting is easy. Cutting edge takes discipline, effort, and money.

If you are in a school where you feel like they are withholding information that can help you get ahead, you have your answer if you are wanting to move forward with your career. If you can tap into a teacher or a school who was not raised in their dance by the same community, or has at least ventured out for training beyond what the rest of the local community has, you will gain new information. Your local schools may not be able to give you everything you need, especially if you are in a smaller centre. There are usually teachers who had been founders of your community and they have often been around for a long time. Take advantage of the fact that they are accessible. Often these established teachers, though maybe not as trendy as others, are a wealth of knowledge and experience. They have foundational information that transcends genres and trends.