Chelsea: Hi, it’s Dr. Chelsea! Now that we are 100 episodes in, you may have heard there are four pillars to this podcast: mindset, resilience, motivation, and community. But in case you're new here, well, that’s the focus of the show. All the episodes revolve around those themes, and I chose that structure because it comes directly from my Positive Coaching Framework. To be a coach or a dance teacher who makes a big, positive impact on our dancers, you can teach your dancers to have three key mental skills that make all the difference: a tough mindset, fierce motivation, and steady resilience. And I believe that is best accomplished with a community next to you. So, the four pillars are mindset, motivation, resilience, and community.
Today’s episode is part two of the framework series. Last week in part one, I covered the three key skills of building a tough mindset. So, go back and check that out if you missed it and your dancers need a little extra mental toughness. Today, I’m gonna focus on the three skills of teaching our dancers how to be consistent and cultivate steady resilience.
[Motivational Intro Music]
Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and dance team coach turned sport psychologist. This podcast focuses on four main pillars: motivation, resilience, mindset, and community. Each week, you’ll learn actionable strategies, mindsets, and tips to teach your dancers more than good technique. This is a podcast where we can all make a lasting impact and share our passion for dance. Let’s do this!
[Motivational Intro Music]
Before I dive in, I want to remind you there is a visual for how this framework goes together. You can find it on the website for this episode: www.chelseapierotti.com/102. It can be a little bit confusing to just listen to. Maybe that visual might help. Again, it’s a Venn Diagram of sorts of the three larger pillars and then there are three subset skills of each of those. So, as I said last week, we covered the three areas of mindset which are confidence, self-talk, and learning to control the controllables. The next step to becoming that coach with a strong, positive impact is teaching out dancers the power of resilience.
Pillar Two: The Power of Resilience – 2:19
If you’ve been teaching for a while, you might agree with me that today’s dancers are different. There are some positives like their ability to watch themselves on video and get in touch with their needs and help communicate and talk to us, but the struggle I see lately is this generally-low tolerance for any sort of challenge, and for some dancers, just the need for things to stay the same. Being challenged and pushed outside of their comfort zone is more often met with shutting down and closing up rather than rising to the challenge.
Being able to rise up to that challenge, though, is a skill. It’s a skill of resilience. It’s learning how to lean into being uncomfortable, learning to trust that you’ll be okay even if you're struggling, and understanding your emotions and what they actually mean. You don't have to shut down as soon as you're scared. Yes, we need to protect ourselves, and I think that larger conversation is getting better about understanding how to do that, but sometimes we have to lean into the hard, and as dance educators, I think we can teach our dancers how to do this and when to lean in.
There are three skills to creating this foundation of resilience that I’m gonna walk through. Learning about emotional strength, learning to respond (not react), and being comfortable with the uncomfortable. Let’s take emotional strength first.
First Skill: Emotional Strength – 3:39
Emotions are not just what you are feeling in the moment, but they are also information about what you expect is coming. Think about it. You don't just experience emotions about what’s going on in the present moment. We experience emotions when we’re thinking about things in the past, and we experience emotions when we’re thinking about something in the future, too, and our body is preparing for what we think is coming.
For many of us, learning to identify our emotions is really hard. A research study once asked a group of adults to identify as many emotions as they could think of, and the average adult could list three to five: happy, sad, angry, and scared are the most common. Most of us have a hard time identifying and describing anything past that. But emotions are so much more complicated than just those four. Many psychologists believe there are six or seven core emotions, and so, that original list is not that far off, but where we get lost is the intensity of those core emotions and understanding the difference.
Think about it. When you're scared, does that really describe the whole spectrum of being scared? If you're really scared, it’s terror. If you're a little scared, it’s apprehension. For many of us, we can't tell the difference in ourselves, and we just say we’re scared either way. But then that means we don't know how to handle those two situations very differently. If you are scared to go onstage, for example, are you terrified or are you a little apprehensive? If you don't know, how do you know what to do to help yourself?
When you're scared, your body takes that information and is guessing that whatever is about to happen is going to take a lot of resources, and so, your body’s ramping up to do it. We get jittery. We have those adrenaline spikes. Our body’s preparing for battle. But as dancers, we need to learn to be aware of our emotions and correctly interpret them based on the context. Maybe those backstage nerves are just a sign that I’m a little apprehensive, I’m more excited, right? Very different than having a dancer decide they’re terrified.
As a coach, we can help our dancers build more emotional strength by talking about these emotions, understanding the variety, normalizing them, and at its most basic form, helping them identify what’s really going on. If you realize the intense emotion you are feeling right now is just your body preparing for something it assumes to be challenging, you can use that information and say, “Okay, yeah, my heart is beating out of my chest, but I’m not actually terrified. It just means I’m prepared. I’ve done the work.” There’s no reason to be that intense in the moment. It’s much easier for a dancer to control that pounding heart if they identify, “I’m a little nervous. It’s okay. It’s normal. I’ve got this,” instead of what tends to happen is our emotions control us. We assume that adrenaline rush is the sign that we’re terrified and now we have to protect ourselves by quitting, giving up, or not trying.
Again, it is a skill to be able to understand the greater range of emotions in ourselves and others, but I think we can help our dancers do that. And think of the added bonus to this when you’re asking your dancers to perform with a specific emotion or maybe change emotions throughout a routine or a show, they can better accomplish that. They can identify and bring forth their emotions and their performance. As artists, I think having a deeper understanding of the range of human emotions and what it looks like in us not only makes us more resilient, but it makes us better performers.
Second Skill: Learn to Respond and Not React – 7:10
The second aspect of building a steady resilience is learning to respond and not react. When you are in a heightened emotional state, you just react, and then that’s where things get out of control. When we’re faced with an unpleasant feeling or there’s a lot of negative self-talk going on in your head, “I can't do this. I’m terrible. What if this happens,” you can either ignore those icky thoughts, you can fight back, or you can accept and reappraise the negative thoughts. I’ve talked about negative thoughts a lot, and that’s a bigger topic, but briefly here, most of the time we react to a negative thought by ignoring it and stuffing it down. Just like as dancers we tend to ignore physical pain when it shows up, we tend to ignore any sign of emotional pain, too.
Other times, we fight directly against it and try to talk ourselves into believing we’re wrong, like, “Oh, there’s no reason to be so emotional right now,” or, “That negative thought is wrong. Just stop thinking that.” Instead of ignoring or pushing back, being able to not react immediately, but instead intentionally respond to the negative emotion or the negative thought builds resilience. We learn how to stay strong and stay steady. So, it’s one of the reasons I’m such an advocate for journaling. You take the time to pause and write down what you're thinking, and that allows for time in your head so you can reappraise what is this emotion, really, what am I really feeling, and develop the ability to respond intentionally and not just react when it happens again.
When you have the thought of, “Ugh, I’ll never be as flexible as she is,” rather than ignoring it or fighting back and saying, “Stop that,” say something nice: “That’s not helping.” You can pause and try to notice, like, “What emotion is really going on?” Like I was saying, sometimes this is a reflection after class. “Was I jealous? Was I tired? Was I just distracted?” Understanding how you really feel when that thought came up and intentionally responding to the negative thought teaches you to respond more positively or constructively every time which builds your resilience, so the next time you look at the person next to you and think, “Oh, I’ll never look like that,” you have a response ready to rely on that allows you to quickly regain focus and keep working hard in class.
Being able to intentionally respond and not react is also key to preventing burnout. If you zoom out a little bit to kind of the big picture rather than just thinking about a negative thought at one time, when you’re experiencing burnout, you're usually overwhelmed and exhausted, and there are a lot of negative emotions happening, but this resilience allows you to see those negative emotions for what they truly are, how intense are they really, and then you can address the source of that faster and with much more intention rather than stuffing it down until it all blows up and you can't be the coach you want to be.
Third Skill: Learn to Cope with Fear – 10:07
The third key skill for a steady resilience is learning to cope with fear, which, generally, you do by learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable. We have to learn to be okay as we push the envelope a little bit. We can help our dancers learn to embrace being uncomfortable and make it part of your story. We can present small struggles and help them make meaning out of that struggle. There’s a reason we’re doing this. When your struggle means something, we’re allowed to intentionally respond and recover that struggle. I see it in dancers who are having a hard time learning a new skill. Maybe they're just not making progress fast enough, and they get really frustrated, and they want to give up.
If they are able to interpret that struggle as something meaningful in their journey, it becomes a part of who they are, and they learn, “I’m the type of dancer who has this roadblock, big or small, but I can handle it.” That toughness comes from a sense of acceptance, accepting who you are, what you can do, what that really means, and the discomfort that comes with all of that. Learning a new skill, experiencing those setbacks, growth, all of that feels uncomfortable, and many dancers get a little uncomfortable and shut down. But we can normalize that for our dancers. Your struggle and that sense of fear that comes up is normal, and it’s a necessary part of growth. Lean in. Don't fight it.
Back to the emotional intelligence conversation, there’s a difference between being a little uncomfortable and being in a situation that is completely unbearable or agonizing or terrifying. Once our dancers can identify, “Okay, this is hard. I don't like this. But I’m just a little uncomfortable. I’m okay,” then they can push through. If this truly is completely unbearable, then I need to stop and take care of myself. The challenge is to know the difference, and usually we can lean into the hard much more often.
We all want our dancers to be able to cope with fear. There are so many dancers who are scared to even audition for a company or they freeze onstage, or they just fall apart, but they can learn to be a little uncomfortable, notice they're okay, and keep going. Coping with fear, I’ll say, is really its whole own topic that I can dive into another time if you’d like me to, but generally, we just deal with it in one of two ways.
First, we can amplify the fear or turn up the volume on the experience. If you are standing frozen backstage, you can amplify that and think, “I’m scared. There are butterflies everywhere in my body, but that means I’m excited! This energy is good. Let’s do this!” Use that fear to build the fire of excitement and amplify it. Or a second option is suppressing the fear by diverting attention and thinking, “This isn't real. I’m not scared at all. This is fun!” Both can work, either amplifying and leaning into the intensity or ignoring it and telling yourself it’s not real. It has to match your situation and your goals.
Now, I know I said before about how it’s better not to ignore emotions, and that’s generally true, but that’s why this whole topic is so complicated and hard to master. First, we have to learn to identify our emotions and the different intensities, then we understand when we lean in and reappraise what’s going on and intentionally respond to it. If you think you're scared, but you understand, “It’s actually just a little nerves. I’m okay,” and one of the strategies for dealing with that, that works for me, is to distract from the fear, then you can intentionally respond with distraction and control it.
My point here is that if we want dancers who have a solid foundation of resilience, they have to learn how to face a small challenge, feel that sense of being uncomfortable, know there’s support around them, and push through it to feel the joy that comes on the other side once you’ve done it. That will build on itself with practice, little bits every day, until they build an identity of being that dancer who can handle anything that comes their way.
Help Your Dancers Learn These Skills – 14:17
I know these skills are easier said than done, and that’s why I do the work I do. I want to help you help your dancers learn these skills. Through Mental Skills Workshops with me, dancers can learn about a range of emotions, how to recognize them, how to identify what’s really going on and cope with it. And for competitions, we can even work together to identify their individualized performance state, that way they know where they need to be mentally and physically to be in that peak performance position, and then they know how to get themselves there when it’s time to be onstage. If you’d like to learn more about my workshops, you can go to www.chelseapierotti.com/workshop, and you’ll see more info on both in-person and virtual options.
I will wrap up with a little summary. There are three pillars to being a positive coach overall in this framework if you want to teach your dancers a tough mindset, that steady resilience, and fierce motivation. Today we covered those three mental skills of building a steady resilience, which you achieve through emotional strength, learning to respond and not react, and coping with fear.
I’ll be back next week to talk about that third pillar, creating a fierce level of motivation. Until then, thank you for being here, and keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!
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