By Angela D’Valda Sirico of Dance Teacher Web
From time to time, teachers ask me how they can get their students to dance “full out” in class and rehearsal. This is a universal problem with students today. Often their perception is that they are truly giving it their all when we, as teachers, can see clearly that they are not. So what to do about this problem? It is a dilemma because we all know that unless they dance full out both in class and rehearsal, they are not going to improve or become stronger and unfortunately will probably not realize their full potential. Ten years ago, students were different in that they were very often willing to work like maniacs to achieve a higher level. Not so much today! Of course there are those individuals who are driven to excel, but on the whole, they are few and far between.
We live in a society where children are given “Participation” awards for mediocre or less effort, so it is not a surprise that in their minds, if they only give a little, they will still be rewarded. Naturally, the end result of this mindset is very average work. I had two of my students tell me this past week that the step or exercise that I was giving them in class was “hard”. My reply to both them was that of course it was hard, and that in order for them to progress, they needed to learn steps that were hard. With hard work, those steps would become easy, and it would then be time to move onto to other “hard” steps. Stepping stones in the learning process!
I have tried a number of different tactics, because you just don’t know which one will strike the right chord. Two tactics, in particular, have worked well for me. The first of these tactics is rewarding hard work in a way that all of the students can see. It might be by giving the student a prize, or by putting their picture and a description of their accomplishments up in the lobby of the studio or school. It just needs to be some visible sign of recognition for the student’s excellent work habits. Be creative: you know the likes and dislikes of your students and what excites them the most. Perhaps you give them tickets to a show that they want to see. It really doesn’t matter what the reward is, just something that will make a statement to the other students.
The second tactic that has worked for me is to film their class or rehearsal and then have them sit them down to watch it. Children today are so used to looking at everything on a screen that it seems to make a bigger impact when they can actually see some of their less-than-energetic work. I have had good results with this method because, as we know, it is very easy for students to tune us out if we are talking, but they love to see themselves on video. It is also easier for us to point out the good or not-so-good things that they are doing this way.
The other challenge that we, as teachers, are presented with on a daily basis is to keep our students mentally alert and inquisitive- this is not an easy task! Ask them questions, demand answers and give them projects, no matter how small, where they need to come back to you with information on something related to their dance training. Again, reward the students who actually take the time to investigate and learn whatever they were looking up. Don’t just accept a computer printout that took them two minutes to get and no time to learn; get them to communicate to you and the other dancers about what their investigations have shown them. Make it fun and even get a little friendly competition going!
Teaching dance today is more of a challenge than ever before to keep the dancers motivated and eager to work. Most of the messages that they are receiving are not positive, and the only hard work that is encouraged is the skill to pass exams at school. Other than that they are constantly shown that as long as you show up you will be praised- something very opposite to what is needed to excel in dance or sports worlds, or really in life in general!
Be creative, and find ways that work for you and your students. Keep it positive and show them that, if they put in the time and the hard work, the light at the end of the tunnel is within reach.