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Chelsea: Can you relate to this? You are cleaning a competition dance routine, and you have to give the same correction over and over again before your dancers actually make the change. Or maybe they listen well, and you get a lot done, but when you come back to class the next day, it’s like you never accomplished anything and have to start over. If you are a studio teacher or a dance coach, I bet you can relate. And if you want dancers with more focus in class or more personal accountability, there is one mental skill that dancers need first.
Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast, the show for passionate dance teachers and coaches. I’m Dr. Chelsea. My mission is to change the dance industry by creating happier, more successful dancers through positive mental skills training.
Maybe you’re frustrated right now because dancers aren't taking corrections or are just going through the motions in class without much drive or purpose. I get it. I’ve seen it in studios and school teams all over the country. So let me show you how working on one fundamental mental skill may be the solution to your biggest headache right now.
Once I tell you all about this skill, you’ll want to give your dancers the opportunity to reflect and journal on a regular basis. So to help you with that, you can grab your copy right now of 46 Different Journal Prompts for Dancers. The link is in the show notes wherever you're listening right now, or you can go to https://www.chelseapierotti.com/journal. I promise you'll understand why soon! So stick around while I share the one foundational mental skill your dancers need to work on right now.
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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!
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Story From a Coach – 2:08
I want to share a short story from a coach I was working with who told me her team had a huge aha moment once I talked to her about this foundational mental skill. See, coach reached out to me to work with her dancers because she was frustrated with their lack of focus during practice. They were easily distracted, and it felt like they couldn't retain corrections or apply feedback without hearing it multiple times. They just weren't taking accountability for their role in the process.
So, as coach and I were talking during our pre-workshop meeting, I asked her to tell me about how her team warms up. She said she is usually off dealing with administrative stuff, answering some emails, talking to the school treasurer, trying to get 50 things done in 10 minutes. So it was a tradition for the dancers to circle up around a captain, follow along through some basic static stretches. I asked if they talked to each other during warm up, and she said, “Sure, they need a few minutes to wind down after school, and they like to be a little silly together before practice really starts.”
After hearing her tell me about this, I knew right away which mental skill they were lacking and one way the dancers could see immediate improvement because the skill they need to work on is self-awareness, and it starts with warmup.
Using Warm Up to Practice Self-Awareness – 3:21
Now, the coach in me completely understands the need to get other things done in warm up, let a captain take over, let the team even decompress a little before practice, but the sport psychologist in me is telling you that’s setting you up for a bigger headache later. When dancers are distracted during warm up, besides the physical implications that you're not properly prepared, there are big mindset consequences as well. You can use warm up to practice self-awareness. So let me explain why and how you can help your dancers practice right away.
See, having a sense of awareness is the first step to being in control during high-pressure situations. You have to know what’s going on within yourself and around you if you're going to be able to manage your emotions, regulate your nerves, make those butterflies in your stomach get information and help you. If you want to make sure you're in a positive mental space when it’s time to perform, that all starts with awareness.
A lot of us really struggle with awareness, especially teenagers. It’s just not a skill we regularly practice, but the expectation is that we’re good at it, that teenagers and dancers in general can hear your feedback, understand if and how it applies to them, adjust their mindset, focus, adjust how they're dancing. But none of that will happen if they aren’t aware of what’s going on in their own mental space first.
Self-Awareness is the Foundation – 4:45
Think of awareness as the foundation to your mental skills house. Without that solid foundation, you have nothing to build on, and the other mental skills, like focus, positive self-talk, and confidence, will be much harder to achieve. Many of us are asking dancers to use growth mindset and talk positively to themselves before they go onstage or are asking them to just brush it off when they make a mistake. But those are more advanced skills that are simply impossible without self-awareness first.
In order to build strong mental skills, dancers have to be able to check in and understand what’s really happening with their own emotional state, their own arousal state in their body, their self-talk and be able to adjust.
So, think about yourself as a teacher for a minute. If you walk into a class and you're not having a good day, maybe your stomach doesn't feel well, you're grumpy, not enough caffeine, too much caffeine, you're just not feeling 100%, but you have to go teach. Do you just plow through? Maybe you do. That’s what we’ve been trained with the “show must go on” mentality. But what if you were able to pause and pay attention to what matters and notice how you can change your mental state before class. In order to pivot like that, you have to be aware of what’s truly going on, where your thoughts are in order to shift your mindset and be a more effective teacher.
That’s what I’m asking you to think about for your dancers as well. Rather than just having them plow through that negative mental space or pretend like everything’s okay or make sure they can take in every correction they ever receive, we have to think about where they are in order to receive it. Are they ready for it?
Developing Awareness Starts in Practice – 6:24
Developing awareness starts in practice. It will apply to performances and competitions later, but it has to start in classes. Use warm up as a time to practice just simply being aware of your body and your breath. Without talking to others and using a more dynamic warm up than the one I was talking about earlier, so that you're physically warm too. Use that time to be present. Consider how different it would be to be fully present during warm up. Paying attention to your breath. Noticing sensations in your body as you're stretching. Thinking about what you want to focus on in practice or setting an intention for class. If we want dancers to stay present and be aware of their own thoughts and feelings during a 90-minute class, we can start by challenging them to do at least that through warm up.
To be fair, this takes practice. It’s easier said than done. It’s not that your thoughts won't wander. Of course they will. No one has that kind of focus. But it’s about being present and noticing when you're drifting or noticing what you might need in that moment to be better. Realizing when you’ve wandered and then come back. Notice when your hamstrings feel a little tight, so you can pay extra attention and warm up safely. Practicing self-awareness during warm up every day helps make it easier and smoother, and that will translate to your long classes, those long convention days, competitions, and performances.
Increase Awareness by Reflecting After Performance – 7:48
Another great way to develop awareness is to simply talk about it more. After a performance is another great opportunity for reflection. Talk about what went well in the performance, if they experienced any stress before or during. Talk about what their self-talk was like. What’s that script in their head? Was there anything they enjoyed about the performance?
Asking dancers to pause and reflect after a performance helps increase awareness because they have to pause and notice how they're doing in the moment and see if there are any adjustments that would help them in the future. The more you do that, the easier it is to be aware of things in the moment, like the unhelpful self-talk that can be changed quickly. Practicing it after a performance is usually an easy first step, because ideally, we’d like them to do it before a performance and be able to make the necessary adjustments before they take stage.
If you haven't noticed yet, one of the best ways to practice awareness is to engage in regular self-reflection. Journaling prompts at the end of class, talking through a performance and your thoughts and emotions around it, setting intentions during warm up are all great ways to be more present and increase self-awareness. When you work on this consistently in practice and in class, and even during low-stakes performances, it will translate to not only more focused practice where they're able to receive corrections and get more done, but also greater awareness at competitions as well.
Awareness: The Key to Joy – 9:14
If you're looking for dancers who are enjoying themselves more at competitions, awareness may be the key. Dancers who are too focused on the result of a competition or the outcome of an audition aren't able to focus on each routine and each moment as it comes. We can't ask our dancers to switch styles (do a solo, then a small group, then a big production), all while being so focused on how things will rank at the end.
Of course, that’s not what we want. Instead, we want to help them focus on the basic skill of being aware of the present moment (how they feel, having helpful thoughts, working positive connections to their teammates and their teachers). We want them to enjoy what they're doing and be present in it. Sometimes dancers will say they feel like a competition went by too fast or it just felt out of control, they're just bouncing from one thing to the next. Or I’ve heard from ballet dancers who feel like the whole show went by in a blink, and they were so worried about having a good performance, they don't remember any of it. This is why awareness matters. It’s not just about being able to perform our best, it’s also about enjoying your performances too.
Awareness of Unhelpful Routine Behaviors – 10:22
When you practice being more aware of yourself and your surroundings at a competition, you can become aware of routine behaviors that might be hurting you too. Do you always rush through warm up before a solo, but you do better when it’s a group? Do you always forget to drink enough water or assume an energy drink will carry you through? (Teachers, I’m looking at you.) Being more present and aware helps us learn from each performance to see how our thoughts and behaviors are helping and hurting us. So we make adjustments and grow before the next one.
Maybe I’m teasing a little about the caffeine, but our dancers do it. We do it. We just get into these patterns of what we think helps us be ready or what we think we need in the moment without being aware of what we truly need to be our best.
Being more aware of your nerves or more aware of the unhelpful negative self-talk is that first step to learning how to change those nerves, change those thoughts, and help put yourself in the right physical and mental state to perform your best. You have to practice dealing with adversity, but if you're not present enough to know what’s going on, you certainly can't do anything to influence your own experience. It all comes back to awareness.
Awareness is About Responsibility – 11:34
Ultimately, awareness is about responsibility. I hear a lot from teachers who wish their dancers would take more responsibility, be more accountable for how they're showing up. It has to start with awareness. That allows you to take ownership of what’s happening, recognize where you're at, release negative self-talk (or whatever it is that’s in the way) and refocus. That’s what we’re usually hoping our dancers will do in class or at competition. We want them to recognize when they're being down on themselves or letting their frustrations get in the way, so they turn it around. But the ability to shift their mindset has to start with being aware of what the current state is.
I hope this inspired you a little bit to consider your own level of awareness and has shown you why it’s so important to talk to your dancers about it too. If we want to be more focused in class, if we want to be able to apply corrections, shift out of negative mindsets and other powerful mental skills, we have to first learn to be aware of our current state of mind.
Practice cultivating that awareness, and one of the best ways to start is to keep a journal. Talk about how you feel when you're at your best. Talk about stressors. Have dancers reflect on what they need from you as their teachers, what distractions are getting in their way, talk about their teammates, their levels of confidence, their ability to focus, how they can relax, and more.
If you’d like some help coming up with prompts, I’ve got over 40 ideas for you to use. I know coming up with what to write about can feel daunting. You have enough on your plate. It’s the last thing you need to think about before class. It’s so much easier when it's all laid out for you. So you can download the journal prompts at www.chelseapierotti.com/journal. Click on the link in the show notes below as well. It’s right there, ready for you.
So when you go about the best of your day today, try and pause and be aware of your present thoughts and feelings just once. See what shifts for you. The more you practice, the better you will be at self-awareness, which opens all the doors for the more advanced skills like controlling those nerves, improving self-talk and confidence. As always, thank you so much for listening and being a part of this community, and keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!
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