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The Ego Will Go: Why your mindset matters to your dance development and safety

When I was studying dance education as a graduate student, I was often encouraged by professors to reflect on "teachable moments" from my time as a young dance student. No matter how many years I teach or take class, I still discover many of these moments, but there are a few from my time as a young dance student that will always stick in my memory. As unfortunate as it seems, moments when I personally endured an injury or where I was an observer of another dancer being injured all turned out to be impactful learning moments. Many of the instances that I can recall involve lack of awareness on the part of the dancer, whether myself or another. Lack of awareness and/or understanding had occurred in one or many areas of the following: technique, physical ability, focus, comprehension, coordination, etc. There are many factors that can relate to our ability to learn, even more come into play when that learning becomes physical embodiment of movement. Reflecting on these times of injury reminds me of where my focus and intent should be when I train myself today and when guiding young dancers.

Petite Allegro is no easy task. Combinations can quickly become complicated, even more so with involvement of multiple beats between jump landings. It takes great control and strength for a dancer to manage the height, pace, and swiftness of the jumps. Their difficulty and intricacy are not to be taken lightly, something I understand and can guide my students to develop through their training. It was not until the evening I was introduced to jette batu that I learned this important lesson.

My ballet teacher was preparing to demonstrate the new step to our class, after describing how it was nestled into our petite allegro combination. A fellow dancer in class had decided she already understood the step and would show it to the class. Before anyone could protest, she jumped into the air. By the time she realized she would not be able to complete the beat successfully, it was too late. I watched as her foot bent in a horrific way, one I had not understood to be possible. When she began to cry and scream in pain I realized… she had broken her foot. That was the day I learned not to try and execute a complex movement before I had allowed a teacher to guide me through it. I also learned about the complex role ego can play in training and class participation, something I was able to study more in my dance education and psychology studies. Most importantly, it was a wake up call to how important safe training practices are in dance education and training.

There is a level of vulnerability and trust that a dancer must experience when learning or embodying movement. Ignoring the ego, and being vulnerable to the acceptance of guidance to new understanding allows for learning. Allowing a teacher to take on the responsibility of guiding you safely and whole-heartedly with your best interest at heart takes great trust. These are two areas I focus on developing when I first begin working with new dance students. I also must remind myself to be vulnerable to the knowledge my students offer, ignoring my own ego, and trusting in their passion and process for dance as a teacher.

One of the teaching concepts that remind me of the importance of mindset and psychology in dance education and training is that there is a great difference between getting a student to consider what they are doing instead of being consumed with worry about how well that do it. We focus SO much in dance on the product of learning and embodiment of movement, especially in the dance settings that are most commonly experienced by young dancers. It is vital to comprehension and successful learning for dancers to take time to realize the "what", "why's", and "how's" of their movements. This understanding is the goal I have for my dance students so they may extend their careers in the field, clear of injury and able to exceed their performance goals.

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