by Lauren Lombardi
As we move closer toward Thanksgiving, we see reminders of gratitude everywhere we look. November is a time to reflect on all we are grateful for. Most times, we can all use those reminders to take a moment and absorb all of the good around us. As dance teachers, how can we instill this practice in our students?
It starts with the simplest acts of modeling. Modeling is the most powerful tool we have as mentors, coaches, and teachers. Teaching students to feel and express gratitude is one of those life skills we can develop alongside the plies and tendus, so during class be sure to thank students for working hard and sharing their love of dance with you. Thank colleagues for their help and support, creating a thankful environment that your students will see and internalize. Consider having parent appreciation night or dancer appreciation week at any point during the year. This could be as simple as a hot chocolate or coffee bar in your waiting area, or sending home goodie bags or hand written cards with students at the end of class.
When students see you expressing your gratitude, it becomes the norm. With younger or newer students, sometimes it takes explicit teaching in the ways of how to behave like a student in a dance studio. We often take for granted that students know to thank teachers at the end of classes, or after receiving feedback or corrections. We see some students neglect to do so and assume they are not grateful. Take the time to teach your students how to be a proper dance student. That includes thanking teachers for their commitment and care.
Different classes can practice gratitude in different ways. In ballet, explain to students that the reverence at the end of class is a way to show gratitude for ourselves and for one another. At the end of other classes, such as jazz or contemporary, take a moment during cool down stretches to invite dancers to express gratitude to themselves for giving class their all, or to their bodies for enabling them to express their emotions through dance. During team rehearsals, dancers can write down statements of gratitude about another team mate that can be shared in a way that works for that age group (student read vs. teacher read; anonymous vs. signed).
I once took a contemporary class where the teacher ended by turning off the lights and having everyone improv lying down, backs to the floor. She told us to close our eyes and imagine that we could not use our bodies in the way that we had just done for the past hour. She had us imagine that we could not lift our backs off of the floor, and asked us to move other parts of the body with as much passion as we did in the previous combination she gave. She asked us to dedicate the movement to those that cannot move like we can. When she turned the lights back on at the end of the song, almost everyone was in tears. It was one of the most influential improv cues I have ever experienced. We are so lucky to be able to participate in the gift that is dance, and being able to pass that on to our students is truly special.
No matter the season, invite these opportunities for gratitude into your studio.
Thank you for following our blog, and for all that you do for your dancers!