She’s your every dream come true. She’s “The Sponge.”
There is one particular student that I think of when I use this term. She is not perfect. She is not there yet. But, my, is she willing to learn! She sees each and every exercise as a new challenge to become better. After hearing corrections, she actually absorbs what I’ve said and begins to use the training instantly. I can be firm with her, and she will take the firmness as fuel to push her onward.
A student who carefully listens and absorbs everything you’re saying, who is always there early to warm up for class, tries and tries to get things right in class, spends time at the barre by herself, asks pertinent questions, asks for additional information or resources, rarely misses a class, and NEVER misses a rehearsal can only be described as a star student, or as we’ll call it: The Sponge.
How could there be negatives? Well, one word of caution concerning The Sponge: don’t play favorites. This should be common sense to every teacher, but unfortunately, I have sometimes fallen into allowing myself to favor one student over the other. It can play out in different ways: allowing the student to demonstrate something, talking about the student to the other students, spending time before or after class talking to the student in front of the others, often telling the student that she can do something different in a certain combination because “you’re ready” and the other students are not. Even though she may actually be better, and all of those things are merited, it can definitely have a negative affect on your other students, so perhaps figure out a way to communicate that privately. She needs to feel validated, too, and a classroom of equality and balance between students will always yield better teamwork and better inter-student relationships.
Sometimes, The Sponge knows she is the best. Hopefully this doesn’t happen in your classes, but she can make herself bigger than the others, become boastful or push herself to the front for too many exercises. The concept that the world revolves her can weasel its way into her conscience and she can become self-involved. The others may begin to have bitterness and/or jealousy toward her that affects her leadership in the group.
Other times, The Sponge is much more humble, yet far too hard on herself. She can become too perfectionist and become very depressed when she does not live up to her own standards. Growing students are already experiencing lots of changes in their growing bodies and the emotional maturity is just not quite there yet. The additional pressure they place on themselves can sometimes tip them off the edge.
No other personality makes you feel accomplishment the way The Sponge does. You are there to impart wisdom, correction, instruction and inspiration to your dancers. When one of them finally catches on and begins to soak things in the way The Sponge does, it makes you, as a teacher, feel pretty good. You’ve helped a dancer catch the fever of dancing, and she is pushing herself to be the best she can be, all on her own. What a great feeling!
Students like this have the most potential to “make it” in the dance world. They will be few and far between, so always be sure to foster a love of dance, a hunger to learn more and the disciplinary principles they need to really reach their fullest potential. Tell them to stretch, exercise and practice at home, and they will! They will try their hardest to do something right and tend to not give up until they get there.
How Can I Help The Sponge Achieve Her Best?
One way you could help The Sponge soak everything in that you have to offer is to speak with her and her parents about private lessons. If the student truly does want to learn and you just don’t feel like she is getting enough from your group classes, she may find it very helpful to have one or more private sessions with one-on-one attention from her teacher each week. Students I have tried this with have improved by leaps and bounds (excuse the pun), and I would recommend it to students who are serious about moving forward.
She needs to know that she can do it. Principles such as consistency, overcoming rejection and creating tough skin will need to be learned in order for her to progress through the echelons of the dance world. Do not allow her to perform under her potential for any extended period of time. Of course, we all have bad days, but be especially attentive to her if she seems to be struggling.
Do your best to provide opportunities to expand in her knowledge and abilities. Be on the lookout for things like auditions for summer intensives, master classes, upcoming performances in the community, and eventually ballet companies where she could become employed. Give her instruction on how to create an audition video, head shots and a good résumé. Help her define good eating and exercise habits and encourage her to implement them.
Be the right foundation for her, and you will see these students really excel and take their careers to great heights. When a student really does soak things in, do your best to provide as much training, instruction, information and moral support as you possibly can. Her future depends on it.
Don’t miss out on the most rewarding part of teaching—fostering a lifelong career in ballet!
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