The Dance Teacher’s Secret Weapon: Expectancy

Dance Teacher Secret WeaponIt’s been one of those weeks. We all know them—toward the end of the first term, dance teachers often experience their first bouts of student burnout. Everything was great when we first started the semester, but now the students have already accomplished what they needed to get through Observation Week, and they are beginning to show initial signs of boredom or restlessness.

One of the best ways to pick up a group of dancers that is beginning to lose interest is to use a very valuable secret weapon: expectancy.

“Expectancy is the atmosphere for miracles.” —Edwin Louis Cole

Change Your Wording to Change Their Attitude

Nothing motivates young dancers like performance. With this in mind, I changed my lesson plans for the week. Instead of framing it as a technique class, I said, “Okay everyone, now we’re going to begin our preparation for the Christmas show.”

What a difference! All of the sudden, my students went from apathetic and stagnant to excited and apprehensive about what was ahead.

Give Them Chances to Perform

There is something special about allowing our students the opportunity to perform, even in the smallest degree. It can take several years of experience in the classroom and in performance to develop a love for ballet as a technical art form.

At these earlier stages (ages three to ten), students are much more motivated by the idea that they are going to be able to show their loved ones what they’ve learned than they are about perfecting their ballet technique. This isn’t a bad thing; I have been able to work with them on their second-term material as they cling to the hope and expectation that, after we’re done, we’ll get to work on our Christmas piece. They love it!

Developing the Skill of Performance

Preparing them for a performance is important. My fellow ballet teachers agree that regularly teaching young ones short enchainements in class gives them very important skills that they’ll need for the recital at the end of the year. Being able to connect steps and perform them in sequence is a foundational principle in ballet training. (See “Choreographic Advice for Teachers.”)

In other words, it’s not just that the kids enjoy learning dances to perform for their parents—they also need to learn how to perform.

On a smaller scale, you can mention to your class that you’ve enjoyed seeing their progress since the year started and that you are excited to introduce new material soon. At the appropriate times in the year, announce that the class will begin learning new dances or exercises next week. This is a great way to build interest and the desire to be there for each important class. It helps them learn to start taking responsibility for the skills they’ve already gained so they’re ready to learn more.

Grab hold of the valuable principle of expectancy and try it on your students. You’ll be surprised how things can change for you.

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