5 tips to get more out of your dancers
As dance teachers, we are always looking for ways to improve our dancers. We want them to be the very best they can be, but achieving that is easier said than done. There are so many things to consider, technique, musicality, discipline, performance skills, self-belief…..the list can seem overwhelming. However, there are two simple words that can make a mind-blowing difference to your dancers – Growth Mindset. Before we get to the 5 simple tips to help you get more out of your dancers, tips that can truly transform your dancers, let’s first recap what Growth Mindset means for dancers.
Growth mindset for dancers – the research
Carol Dweck’s research on Growth Mindset stresses the importance of emphasizing effort over ability. In her study, two groups of children were given a simple IQ test. They all did well but the kids were then praised in one of two ways. They were either praised for their intelligence – “you must be really smart at this” OR they were praised for their efforts – “great job you must have really put in a lot of effort”. Then, the kids were presented with a second test but given a choice. They were told they had the option of choosing a harder test that would give them a great opportunity to learn and grow. Alternatively, they could choose a test the same as the first one which would mean they would surely do well on it. 67% of the kids praised for their intelligence chose the easy test while 92% of the kids who were praised for their effort chose the harder test. This is really quite astounding and you can see already the implications this has for kids both in the studio and at competitions.
“People always say I’m really quick at picking up choreography but this seems really tricky. I don’t want to try it because I might not get it right and then everyone will think I’m not quick at all. I think I’ll say I’m not feeling well or I’m just going to be silly so people don’t notice I can’t do it. Maybe I’ll ask to go to the toilet.”
But wait…there’s more!
After the second test, the kids were given a third test which was at the same difficulty level as the first easy IQ test. The kids who were praised for their intelligence actually did worse on the third test. In fact, their scores dropped by 20%. Meanwhile, the kids who were praised for their effort raised their test scores by 30%. This is a 50% difference in performance, just though a few simple words of praise! Pretty exciting right!? Carole Dweck explains why this happens. “The child or adult that hears: oh you think I’m brilliant and talented. That’s why you admire me — that’s why you value me. I better not do anything that disproves this evaluation. As a result, they enter a fixed mindset, they play it safe in the future and they limit the growth of their talents.”
Obviously, when it comes to how to get more out of your dancers, we want to avoid this fixed mindset. Instead, we want to promote a growth mindset. Dancing with a growth mindset means that dancers are willing to take risks, they are willing to operate outside their comfort zone, to try new things, and to persist when things get hard. These are EXACTLY the kinds of dancers we want in our studio! The good news is that there are concrete actions that you can take to promote a growth mindset and get more out of your dancers.
5 ways to get more out of your dancers
This may seem obvious but there is more to praise than first meets the eye. To really get more out of your dancers, it is vital to pay attention to the words you choose when praising them. According to Carol Dweck, it is important to focus on effort over ability. In the world of dance, we are rather smitten with natural talent and comments about it are hard to get away from. “Oh she’s got such great feet,” “or “she’s naturally flexible”, or “he’s got such beautiful lines”. I’m sure you hear comments like this every day and maybe even say things like this yourself. It can be a process to retrain yourself but it is oh so worth it. The difference in my students has been phenomenal. When praising your dancers, always seek the effort, the work. Here are a few examples.
2. Growth mindset activities to get more out of your dancers
Words are hugely important and backing them up with specific growth mindset activities supercharges your words. Hang posters around the studio that emphasize the importance of effort and start regularly including some growth mindset activities for your dancer. You can find a wide range of Growth mindset for dancers resource packs here. These are specifically designed to help you get more out to get more out of your dancers. There is a range of posters, activities, and ideas to help your dancers connect effort with achievement, to help them to push past their comfort zone, and to help mould them into truly coachable dance students, To help you get started enter your email below to download this free growth mindset for dancers printable.
3. Remind your dancers of how far they have come
When I watch my dancers master steps or skills that they previously struggled with, I am elated and I quickly jump in to remind them of how far they have come. In fact, when we are first learning something new and they are struggling, I often say something like “ahh in a few months, we’ll look back on this and think, how did I find this so hard?” When the day comes that they are beginning to master that new step, I remind them of the day we first started working on it. Even better, if it is something like flexibility, I always remind myself to grab my phone and take a quick snap of their starting point. I later make a before and after collage. It is incredibly powerful for dancers to see concrete evidence of their effort and commitment.
4. Teach your dancers to set dance goals
Teaching your students to set dance goals is like a magical elixir when you are aiming to get more out of your dancers. Not only is it a valuable skill for their dancing journey but it is also something they can take away and apply to all areas of their lives. You can find some great goal-setting resources for dancers of all ages here. This pack is designed especially for dancers and helps to scaffold the process of goal setting for dancers.
5. Give your dancers teaching opportunities
When dancers become teachers it really helps reinforce the effort required. It enables dancers to see how skills build up step by step and when they see younger students improving and developing they can relate it to their own training. Student teaching or assisting is great for this purpose but there are many other mini teaching opportunities that you can implement in your studio. When I know there is a class of even slightly older girls waiting in the hallway to go into their next class I will often throw open the door and invite them in. The younger children are delighted and it helps them as much as it does the older girls. I quickly divide the class into smaller groups and hand them over to the older girls to work on whatever we are learning. For example, when I am teaching my beginning ballet students the polka I will invite the older girls in each week to work with their young charges. The results and rewards for all involved are immense.
There are many more ways, large and small that you can utilize a growth mindset to get more out of your dancers but this gives you a great start.
You can find more Growth Mindset resources for dancers here
and some more great articles here