Teaching Tips

4 Toxic Dance-Teaching Phrases and How to Fix Them


We've all had times when we've failed miserably while trying our best to communicate important concepts and ideas to our students. We are all well-meaning with hopes that our dancers will achieve their dreams and become kind humans along the way. Unfortunately, our delivery may need some honing in order to help them without causing some damage,

Here are four common phrases dance teachers often say, and four ways we can adjust them to make them constructive and productive.

Let us know over on our Facebook page what phrases you try to avoid as a dance teacher!

1. "You want to win, don't you?"

When you're trying to get your dancers to work hard and prepare for competition, it's easy to make things all about winning. This is not conducive to fostering creative dancers who are motivated for the right reasons. If your dancers' happiness is centered solely around whether they win or not, they'll quickly lose their love for dance.

Try saying this instead: "You want to do your very best this weekend, don't you?"

2. "A day off in dance is like a week off in any other sport."

This phrase is often used to encourage dancers to work hard rather than ditch class for trivial reasons. While this is effective in getting students to show up, it can take a toll on their psyche should they become injured or need to take some time off to focus on mental and emotional health. Dancers who feel that taking even a week off of dance will hurt their chances of a professional career are likely to prematurely give up on their dreams.

Try saying this instead: "It's important for you to be in class consistently, in order to make the most progress in your training. If you need to take time off for your health, we can work extra-hard together to help you reach your goals when you're able to dance again. The time will need to be put in no matter what, but don't let your hopes be dashed if it needs to be reorganized a bit."

3. "You're talented enough to do anything you want to in the dance world, as long as you watch your weight."

As much as we wish it weren't, variations of this phrase are very common in the dance world. Our bodies are our instruments, and we reside in a culture focused on traditional ballet body types. Frankly, it can be hard for teachers to not encourage their dancers to watch their weight in one way or another. Eating disorders and body dysmorphia are rampant in the dance world, and teachers can have a big impact on the way dancers view themselves. Ultimately, we need to undo the damage dance culture has done to our own understandings of body image, and recognize beauty in all shapes and sizes.

Try saying this instead: "You are all beautiful as you are. Make sure you are fueling your bodies with the proper nutrients to give you the energy and strength you need in class every day. Take care of yourselves in a healthy and balanced way, and you will be sure to reach your dreams and keep a healthy perspective along the way."

4. "This competition was political."

While it's true, politics do sometimes have a place in the competition-dance world, it does your dancers no good to think this way. Oftentimes, the dancers who won truly did so on their own merit, and if they didn't, your dancers should use it as inspiration to work harder next time. It takes something spectacular to skew a judge who's motivated by politics, so be that something spectacular!

Try saying this instead: "This competition was disappointing for us, but you did the very best you could. Now let's go home and work even harder so that with each competition you've improved, and are one step closer to reaching your goals."

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