Over the years I have become more of a councillor than a dance teacher. The “I can’t” mindset has become a gloomy cloud hanging over so many children’s heads. It hinders their progress with every single half embarrassed/half fearful attempt at something new. As it progressively creeped its way in to my classes I would catch myself being their personal motivator instead of their dance teacher. And for those of you who believe they are one and the same, they mostly aren’t. Everyone has their days, and yes I work hard to motivate every child through them however it is not my job make people want to try to the best of their ability. After reading a fascinating article, which I referenced at the end, I realised that this issue is, in my opinion, generational and global. Essentially the article discussed a new toy that has been developed to teach children how to fail. Isn’t failure part of every day life. Doesn’t it happen so often that its inherently etched in to the daily comings and goings of every single human being? Well, in 2017, it appears it is not. This speaks volumes about the climate we have created for todays youth. Here is my take on the toy, society and how it relates to dance culture.
This “failure toy” has been designed to teach children from the age of 6 how to fail by actually exposing them to failure through 3D puzzles. The creator Ben-Ari explains that “It involves frustration and patience: how do I creatively communicate to someone else who can’t see? The toys have us looking at self-assessment and self-reflection.” It claims to improve skills such as creativity, adversity, problem solving and communication. To show the economic importance of developing a person’s ability to preserver through failure Ben-Ari states there is research showing that companies can become 50% more profitable by continually engaging in this type of learning. As a business owner I 100% agree. My staff, all of whom are required to work autonomously and are constantly challenged to think outside the box, have greatly contributed to creating a wonderful and dynamic atmosphere which ultimately creates a more profitable business. Studio owners this really applies to you. And we all know that your goal is to turn your passion into a living, if you haven’t done that already.
I really understand the challenge with mindset these days since my son is 9 and dealing with this at school. I am witnessing first hand the coddling and failure avoidance and let me tell you it really seems to be damaging children and their ability to be the best they can be. Teaching children outside of the school system I get to see and feel the result of children so afraid to fall, try something new and ultimately put themselves out there that it makes creating beautiful dancers quite difficult. And since I have been teaching for 19 years, I have been able to watch the children from each generation change. Situations that were never a big deal are now massively detrimental to a child. For example, learning how to battement (kick your leg for those none dancers) is tough at first. Classical battements require square hips, touchpoint’s engaged, brushing through the foot, strong, well placed arms and upper body, and flexibility in both the front of the supporting leg and hamstrings; however if one of these things are missing there is potential to fall or simply have an unattractive looking battement. Since I had difficulty with my flexibility growing up I often kicked so hard I would knock myself out from underneath me. This is quite common for learning dancers. I use to see plenty of minor well earned and much needed falls throughout the learning process. Now when I teach battements the fear of falling or looking bad at first, which is inevitable, is so prevalent that it takes me 3 times as long sometimes to teach it. I always provide such a safe learning environment and still these children bring their fears to class like a pair of dance shoes…. they never leave home with out it.
Why am I so afraid for these children? Well, because polarisation between successful and and unsuccessful adults will continue to grow and much of it could have been avoided. How can I say this? I see children walk through my doors who have so much natural ability that is squashed by their poor attitude towards failure. Children who could have otherwise been successful find comfort in always playing it safe and ultimately limiting their opportunities. However, children like my son for example who is not handed anything, not praised for doing very average things with average outcomes and who is consistently placed in situations that are uncomfortable will develop the skills needed to go for what they want and stop at nothing to get it. This helps create winners in life. I recall one of my many talks to my previous senior students who often struggled with failure and I posed a very absurd but relevant question “Would you be ok if you had a bugger hanging out of your nose all day and no one told you?” It was an overwhelming NO of course not. Who wants to look ridiculous?! That is exactly what we are doing to our children if we do not tell them the work they are producing is not great; Even if they tried their hearts out and will be incredibly disappointed. Instead educators, parents, family and friends are making them believe that they are better than what they are. Inside you are most likely thinking the truth and making decisions based on that truth but telling them something completely different. For example, a dancer not getting the job after an unsuccessful audition is often shocked because they walked out thinking they nailed it. A student who has a realistic view of their abilities and has faced failure understands when they deserve something and when they have failed. This also and MOST IMPORTANTLY gives them the opportunity to fix it. As adults we have the opportunity to let the children in our lives know they need to work on that Whitney Houston ballad instead of telling them “great job” while we subtly plug our ears. Think of giving constructive criticism in the same way as wiping our children’s noses; we want our children to represent themselves in the best way they can. In order to do this they need to know something is wrong or needs improvement in order to fix it. Not being completely honest with the children in your life is so unfair in my opinion; So misleading; And so destructive because when the time comes that someone who is not invested in that child’s (now possibly adult’s) well being tells them they are not good at something they will be shocked and instead of trying again they often retreat because they haven’t had the opportunity to develop coping skills. These people will be left behind because let’s face it we all have our own issues once we are adults and usually do not have the time to give them the skills that they should have developed during childhood and early adulthood. I know as a business owner I refuse to take on an employee who is too sensitive, unable to think for themselves and is utterly devastated at every little piece of “constructive criticism’; and I promise you it is always constructive with a purpose for betterment. Ultimately those who can fail, learn and move onwards and upwards will most often be successful adults while the rest will wonder why they did not get the promotion or job of their dreams and seem to make excuses for their lack of personal and professional success.
Dance is an extremely hard path like any other sport especially if you want to make it your career. It is also important to understand that not everyone will become dancers and not everyone wants to be. Where the issue lies is when a child “thinks’ they want to become a dancer but is unable to bring the mindset needed to be successful. Then the excuses start flowing sooner or later when they did not reach their goal. As I said in the beginning, my role has dramatically changed from strictly dance to mostly councillor. This is hard for me since I really really just want to teach new things to students who are willing to simply give it their all. That’s literally how simple my dream is. Unfortunately as the years go on children lack the coping skills needed to fail that I was once accustomed too making my job infinitely harder. I really agree that children need to be taught this and agree with Ben-Ari and her vision. However it is so sad to me that we are leaving skills that should be taught by parents and teachers up to a toy. Ben- Ari says “When you know how failure works, you know how you work with failure,” and adds, “We’re in a stage of failure abstinence right now instead of failure education.” Amen sister!!!
Parents, educators and dance teachers who would like a great resource that will help address this issue please visit the amazing Philipa’s website StageMinded. She is amazing and has developed some incredibly useful tools that will help students and adults reach their potential.
If you would like to read the article here is the link. https://ca.finance.yahoo.com/blogs/insight/toy-that-teaches-people-how-to-fail-holds-powerful-potential-for-corporate-world-162051399.html