Dance as Life Lessons: Team Work

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by Mary Naftal

These days we are so used to hearing about the importance of coming together as a community in whatever sense we can. Bringing people together has become a focus, and it is important for so many reasons. Very often the way in which we hear about people, especially children, coming together is through a team. Dance and Performance Teams can be so critical in teaching children about what it truly means to be a team. As dance educators we have an opportunity to give our students a deeper understanding of how to come together and truly support each other. 

There are multiple parts to treating each other as true teammates. One that I feel is critical to bringing together a team is respect. Respect that extends not only to your teachers, but to your fellow dancers and to yourself. We teach respect for each other and our teachers through requiring that all missed classes are made up within two weeks (outside of injury, illness, etc.). Performance Team dancers are often also part of our Teacher Training Program and looked up to by the younger dancers in the studio. The way our Performance Team members conduct themselves in the lobby, in their classes, in their attendance is a reflection of their dedication to dance, and to their team. 

I also stress the need for teammates to support each other. Although they may compete with each other at points for parts, after all is said and done they are teammates, and it should always come back to that. We ask that for competitions our dancers remain in the audience to cheer on their teammates that are performing solos, duos, or trios, and that they stay to see the younger/older team dances. We also have them run through their dances for each other at certain rehearsals not only so they are familiar with everyone’s dances, but so that they can see the progression, development, and everything that their fellow dancers are bringing to the team.

Teams need to come together through pride as well. I’m sure every one of us has come across a situation where dancers from outside your studio have had a myriad of opinions on how good, talented, etc. your team and dancers are in comparison to them. We as educators need to help build up our students to make sure that they understand that the only opinion that matters is the one they have of themselves, that the only dancer they are competing with is the dancer they were yesterday. Social Media makes it harder to instill confidence and pride in our students. Helping them to learn how to support, encourage, and really cheer for each other, and to do some humble bragging about themselves and their team will bring them together and can be something that fosters better mental health and support systems for them in the future.

Finally, we build team bonding time into every practice and rehearsal. We play games, answer silly icebreaker questions, and generally get to know each other and spend quality time together. By the time we are all in the team hotel decorating our doors and getting ready to take the stage, the hope is that we are there for each other in every way we can be, and that is one of the most powerful gifts that our love of dance can give us. 

Mary Naftal

Mary Naftal is the owner and artistic Director of Dance Connection in Islip, New York. With over 40 years of teaching experience, Mary holds a degree in Early Childhood Education from Long Island University. Her work as an arts educator has been recognized with an inclusion in "Who's Who Among America's Teachers" and being named a "Teacher in the Spotlight" in Dance Studio Life Magazine. She is a long-standing member of Dance Educators of America, and a member of the National Dance Education Organization and the New York State Dance Educators Association.