The Main Concern:
Every teacher strives to make an inviting and fun learning environment for their students to work hard and be their best. It’s not an easy job. There’s a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time. Sometimes I wonder, “does teaching dance make any difference for these students?” Let me tell you a story that helped me answer that question.
It was just another day…
Last week I was going through the routine of teaching a variety of ballet, tap, jazz, and contemporary classes. At the end of the last class, we led the students in a structured improvisation where the students got to dance however they wanted according to set guidelines. First, they started by only moving their toes. Then they slowly progressed to moving the rest of their body, focusing either on their elbows, knees, hips, wrists, or head to initiate movement as they explored the space around them. The students knew this was a judgment free zone and if anyone laughed at what they saw another person doing, then we would never do improvisation again. The exercise went well, so we moved on to a set combination for them to perform in groups, using the same feeling of expressiveness they discovered previously to perform the steps. Each group was instructed to go into improvised movement after they completed the combination.
There are moments in a teachers career where we think, “This is why I do what I do”, and this was one of them. I saw one shy student, that typically stood in the back, present herself with a new sense of confidence when it was her groups turn to perform the combination. It looked like the world had disappeared around her. She allowed herself to use what she had learned in class to express her herself instead of trying to imitate other people in the class. She went for it and nothing was going to hold her back. What I saw touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. It was truly a special moment.
I would love to see my students go on to become amazing dancers. However, what’s more important to me is that my students will able to use what they learn in my class to be themselves and bring beauty to the world around them. Many of us are trying to figure out how to navigate this world in the body that we were given, especially dancers. We are constantly told about our imperfections and what needs to be improved. While I give corrections to my students for how to properly do the given steps, I want them to learn they can accomplish great things with what they were given.
To answer my question…
YES, dance does make a difference for these students. Dance is a language that can lift the spirits of both the audience and the participants. Just like the English language, students learn vocabulary and how to properly carry out phrases. My goal as a dance teacher is for my students to learn they have what it takes, use what is taught in class, and “speak” through dance to express themselves.