Teachers sometimes forget what it’s like to be in a student’s shoes. Sure, most active pros take coaching frequently-just like their students. But when you’re at an advanced competitive level, you are already completely familiar with the jargon and have highly skilled technical abilities. It’s just not as foreign (or scary) as it can be for student dancers.
It might help us relate better to what our students are experiencing, if we could remember what it is like to learn something NEW, and try something beyond our comfort zone.
Truth be told, sometimes we wonder about our students…
How come she can’t remember her routine?
Why do I constantly have to remind him to stand up straight?
Is she really out of breath after one cha cha?
What is so hard about counting 1,2,3?!!!
Well, nothing brings us back down to earth faster then when the teacher becomes the student.
A Lesson in Humility
Recently, a friend of mine (coincidentally, also my student), planned her birthday celebration to include an excursion to an indoor archery range. I arrived with the mindset of “how hard can this be?”–as I’m sure many students do when they get to the studio.
After all, I’m a super coordinated professional athlete; I figured I’d be shooting BULLSEYES after a couple quick tips. Yeah, right….
The instructor probably felt the same way a dance teacher does when they see a new student coming in for their first lesson in flip-flops. But in this case, we were a bunch of chicks, in heels, and he was about to give each of us a WEAPON–for the fun of it.
After the safety run-down and summary of how to hold the bow and shoot, we were set take aim, as virgin archers. The moment I set up, I immediately felt the way I knew my students feel.
First, the checklist: are my fingers in the right place (are my feet in the right place), is my hand on the bow correctly (is my frame correct), is my aim straight (am I going the right direction)?
Second, the fear: what if I miss the target completely (what if I forget my routine!)
omg, am I going to accidentally shoot someone?!! (what if I step on my teacher?!!!)
All fears and concerns were put to rest when I let the arrow fly and it landed squarely, determinedly, on the target… of the girl NEXT to me. Aaahh, nothing to worry about here, I am completely average.
When the Dance Teacher becomes the Student
Well, of course, I was determined to do better (like how about hit my own target?), and the instructor gave me a few pointers. So, I took aim again, and in the moment, I again felt like my students must feel. The instructor was behind me….
Teacher: “Let go! Aaaand, release!”
Me (mentally): But I’m not ready! Are my fingers right, did I close one eye, adjust my stance?
Teacher: “Release your grip, close your eye, aaand let go!”
Me: adjusting…shuffling…mental checklist
Teacher: “You have to release the arrow..let go!……..and let go!”
Ping! Well, I guess hitting above my own target is an improvement.
This scenario could have easily been me with my student….
Me: “Ready, aaand 1…”
Student: <frozen> (mentally): did I miss the 1? I’ll just wait for the next 1, it should be here after 3…darn! missed it again!
Me: “compress on 3, so you can move on 1. Ready, aaand 1!”
Student: (mentally): ok, I’m going on 1, but I forgot to compress, darn!-my head is coming forward!-is it me, or is the song getting faster?
I took away a lot from that day.
First, it reminded me that students are training themselves mentally and physically when they are dancing, and that’s A LOT to assimilate. PATIENCE is an important quality in a teacher, and maybe sometimes we teachers forget that and expect too much too soon.
Second, I felt empowered after my archery experience! I did something different, I used my body and mind in new ways, and although I am clearly TALENT-FREE when it comes to archery, I could improve and learn with some practice.
That confidence and sense of accomplishment in myself is the same reward that students feel when they are learning to dance. And it’s my privilege to help them do that!
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