I am often brought to uncontrollable tears by watching dancers and their ability to exhibit such enviable grace on the dance floor, making even the most difficult ballet moves look like fluid motions. I grew up with two older brothers, so I was more likely to climb trees than dance. (Not that I didn’t enjoy spinning around on my four-poster bed with a microphone-brush in my hand, but the thought of anyone witnessing my clumsiness makes me feel flush even now!) When my daughter was two-years-old, she began dressing in tutus and could not get enough music and dancing, so I realized rather quickly that we had a twinkle toes on our hands and enrolled her at a local ballet studio. She’s now been dancing for nearly eight years, and we’ve learned a lot about grace in dance – on and off the dance floor.
Grace in Class
Grace with Instructors -- Feeling criticized is difficult, and we’ve all been there, but it’s our job as parents to teach our children how to respond to that criticism. I remember one time in particular when my daughter mentioned that one of her instructors was especially hard on her during a ballet class. We (my husband and I) reminded her that her instructors want her to succeed and know exactly what she’s capable of. We also discussed that many of her instructors have been training her for several years, and they most likely start looking at their dancers and loving them as their own kids after a while. Just like we as parents get frustrated with our kids when we feel they aren’t listening or aren’t living up to their full potential, their instructors feel the same way. It’s not because they want to pick on a student, it’s because they love that student so much! When your dancer is given a correction, it’s important that she responds appropriately:
Never disrespect an instructor. This means no talking back or eye rolling.
Make the correction. If it’s a correction that your dancer struggles with and feels it’s something instructors are constantly picking out, encourage her to practice at home.
If your child does make the mistake of handling the criticism poorly, encourage her to apologize to the instructor outside of class.
Grace with Other Students -- Just as it’s important for our children to be graceful with instructors, they need to be graceful with other students. Unless an instructor wants a student to demonstrate something to another dancer (or the entire class), the teaching should always be left up to the instructor. It’s not a child’s responsibility to correct another dancer, and the other dancers will not respond well to someone in their level doing this.
Grace with Themselves – When your child makes a mistake during a class, rehearsal, or performance, she might feel embarrassed or angry with herself. It’s important that our children understand that it’s not only normal to make mistakes, they help us grow. Concentrating on a mistake only forces our focus away from improvement. The sun provides us with light and warmth, but if we stare at it, it affects our vision and we can’t see well for a while. We should never stare directly into our mistakes. It’s also just as important that our children see our own blunders. You may feel like your child thinks you’re a big goof, but she secretly holds you in very high regard. Tell your dancer stories about your failures and mistakes. Show her your ability to laugh about them and what they’ve taught you.
Handling Casting Disappointments with Grace
There are times in just about every dancer’s training when she feels disappointed over a casting. Whether she didn’t get a part she was hoping for, or she was cast in the same role in Nutcracker for the fourth year in a row, it does happen. As parents it’s difficult to see our children experience this type of pain, and we might even feel as if our children were slighted, but we need to help our children figure out how to deal with their (and even our) disappointment in a healthy way. It’s important that we not only prepare our children before a cast list comes out, we need to prepare ourselves for their possible disappointment as well.
It’s okay to be disappointed. Can you imagine hoping for a promotion at work, but then being told you’re not allowed to be disappointed if you don’t get it? It’s an unrealistic expectation, especially one to have of our kids. However, it’s not okay to express disappointment through anger, callousness, or jealousy.
If your child doesn’t get the part(s) she hoped for, tell her to take a few moments to be disappointed, but then she should adjust her focus to finding the positives in the role(s) she was given. Not only should she find the positives in her own role(s), she needs to find the excitement in her friends’ roles, even if they were cast in a part she was hoping for. More than likely she’s also not the only one disappointed, so it will be important for her to encourage others to realize the benefits of their roles. This type of encouragement is contagious and will help create a fun, loving environment.
Remind your child that all productions are a team effort, and all of the parts are important.
Urge your dancer to congratulate the other dancers who did get the role she hoped for. If she had been cast into that part, she would want her friends to be happy for her, not angry that they didn’t get it.