How Incentive Programs for Physical Achievements Can Have a Negative Impact on Dance Students
An example of a bulletin board about goals from Pinkadots Elementary
You've seen them. I know you've seen them. I literally just saw two in a Facebook group for dance teachers.
Ice cream parties. Prizes, Eternal glory on a bulletin board in a studio. In what is intended to be a positive reward system for students that stretch and push themselves to achieve more, dance teachers often arrange incentive programs for students for meeting their physical goals, such as getting down in their splits. Students are enticed to stretch at home in front of the TV, before and after class, and anywhere and everywhere, and push themselves little by little to get their name in shining lights. Seems like a great way to help kids move forward in their dance careers, right?
But what about the kids that will never be able to do splits?
I, in fact, was one of those kids once upon a time. Thanks to the art of genetics, I have short tendons throughout my legs, causing me to be less flexible than the average person. I spent my childhood in physical therapy, leg braces, and ballet class correcting my walking so that I kept my heels flat on the ground. Exercises like plié helped me significantly. For example, I constantly needed to focus on pushing my heels into the ground when doing jumps like échappé and changement. Ballet was beneficial to me in this way, and I am grateful that I was able to take these classes as a child.
Splits were always my biggest challenge in ballet class. At first, there were only one or two girls that could bend in half right away. These girls had genetics on their side. My teachers would tell me to "just keep stretching", and stretch is what I did. In front of the TV at home. On the playground during recess. But, as research shows, there is a limit to how flexible a student can become even with proper stretching practices. As time went on, more of my friends ended up sliding right down to the floor. Eventually, I was the only student still pitifully struggling while my friends whipped out splits as naturally as walking.
To say this took a toll on me psychologically is an understatement. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but I cannot stress enough how this affected my self-esteem as a child. How was I ever supposed to be confident and beautiful in ballet class when all I could think about was how pathetic I looked not even getting close to the floor in my splits?
Looking back on this as a dance teacher, I've been thinking about ways to avoid repeating history and create a positive atmosphere for all of my students. If we truly believe that all children should dance, then we have to make our classes inclusive and enriching for all of our students. We cannot only celebrate those that achieve the stereotypical goals of dance. Thinking even further, if we can't even accept that some children have slightly different bodies than others, how can we ever expect to welcome students that have actual disabilities or challenges? If what happened to me, a child with a slightly abnormal set up, can happen so easily, then certainly our classes are at risk for being non-inclusive.
It's time to go back to the drawing board and think about how we can improve our practices in order to meet the needs of all of our students. Every dancer is different, and it's time we start reflecting on the flaws in our own training and experience and acknowledging that things could be better for our students. Think about what you value as a teacher, and how you can practice what you preach.
Bulletin boards and other motivational tools can be great ways to help your students achieve their goals and improve as dancers. I don't mean to criticize teachers that have used "split boards", as I understand that their intentions are likely pure of heart and only meant to help their students. However, it's important to hear stories like mine (as I'm sure there are many far worse out there) and consider new practices to help reach more of your students. One way you could do this is to help students set their own realistic goals and reward them when they've met them. These goals can be anything from landing a double pirouette to getting over their stage fright and performing in your end of the year recital. These goals would be unique to ever student and as a teacher, you should be able to guide them to what is realistic. You could use a bulletin board, sticker chart, a journal, etc. to help students track their own progress. Students may still be stuck in the norm, however, and feel inferior if their goal isn't something that is as valued in the dance world. Be sure to treat every achievement as that- a valuable achievement- so that students don't get discouraged this way, either. You could also simply celebrate students you see improving by posting about them on your board or social media!
There is a time and place for competition, but a dance classroom should be a safe learning environment where all students can learn and grow. As dance teachers, it is our responsibility to celebrate our students achievements and find their strengths. Whether our students are flexible or not, there are plenty of beautiful ways a student can succeed in dance class, and it's time we celebrated those things, too.
Visit my Undergraduate Portfolio to check out my research project!
Welcome to my blog!
News & Events
9/18 Follow my new Instagram just for my dance things!
12/23 I was one of NDEO's Guest Bloggers this year! Read "Teaching is a Vocation. Not a Fallback" on their Behind the Curtain Blog!
9/27 I will be presenting my research at the National Dance Education Organization National Conference next week! See my research project by clicking the button below!
4/15 While working on PMA's production of The Addams Family, I got to combine my two favorite styles of dance (ballet and musical theatre) for "The Moon and Me"! Watch my talented students dance by clicking the button below!
2/20 I am choreographing PMA Theatre Guild's Production of The Addams Family! Come see these amazing high school students perform at Presentation of Mary Academy in Methuen, MA April 13 & 14! Tickets available at the door.
2/20 I am stage managing BSU's Dance Kaleidoscope this year! Show dates are March 29-31 at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, MA. Come see this student choreography showcase!
11/5 I will once again be dancing in a BSUDC concert! Tickets to WinterDance are now available!
8/24 NDEO's National Honor Society for Dance Arts has published one of my articles in their newsletter! Read an updated version of "Audition Advice" here:
5/16 Interested in learning about movement concepts? Visit Becca's new Educational Dance website!
5/8 BSU Dance Company's Dance Kaleidoscope 2017 is now on Youtube! You can watch my performances by visiting the VIDEOS page!
4/23 I recently performed for the residents of Allerton House in Hingham, MA! You can watch part of my performance here!
Amesbury Children's Theatre presents...James and the Giant Peach Jr, featuring choreography by me! Click for tickets!
2/8 My piece "Barefoot" is now available to watch online! Click to watch!
2/5 Happy to say I have been cast in BSU Dance Company's Spring concert Dance Kaleidoscope! I will be dancing in 3 faculty choreographed pieces, including excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty in which I will be dancing the role of Lilac Fairy! Show dates are March 31-April 1 at Bridgewater State University.
Click the button for more info!
1/15 Ballet with Becca is now on Facebook! Click to visit the page, and be sure to like it while you're there!
1/14 I am happy to say I will be attending artEmotion's summer intensive in June! I will be dancing in the one week artEmotion Adult Program. If anyone would like to join or audition for any other artEmotion program, visit their website!