Ep. 137 Transcript - Dr. Chelsea Pierotti

Ep. 137 Transcript

[Motivational Intro Music]

Chelsea: Can teachers really influence how hard a dancer was working? Is a dancer's level of effort all on them or is there anything we can do to make a positive difference?

Welcome to Passion for Dance, the show for passionate dance teachers and coaches. I'm Dr. Chelsea, and it's Thanksgiving week here in The States, which means I'm taking a little time off to be with family and away from screens and work. But I don't want to leave you without another episode to help improve your dancer's mental toughness. So I decided to re-release one of the most listened to episodes on the show.

So this is episode 51 from way back in early 2022, and I talk all about the three things that we can do as teachers to encourage our dancers to work harder. I think it's been so popular for a reason. We all want hard-working dancers, and there are a few simple things teachers can do to get a little more effort from our dancers. So take a listen, and if you're celebrating this week, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving!

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[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]

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Two Sides to Motivation – 1:37

So when we talk about motivation, there's really two sides to this. So, on one hand, I want to remind all of the dance educators listening that there will just be some dancers you can't reach. No matter what you do, they will never be motivated. Maybe they are only in dance because it's a parent's dream, or because they haven't had the courage to tell their family they don't like it anymore. Or maybe they just have good friends in dance, so they stay for the social aspect, but they don't really love it. Or, what I think happens a lot, is they actually enjoy dance and are having fun, they're just not as intrinsically driven as we are. We're the ones who made a career out of this, remember?

So, as teachers, dance is a huge part of our lives, and we love it, or if we didn't, we wouldn't do this work. So, I know how hard it is to have dancers who aren't at that level. But some of them will never be that invested, no matter what you do. With that aside, there are things you can do as a teacher or a coach to create an environment where most of the dancers are hardworking and focused every day. So here are my top three.

First Way to Create a Focused Dance Environment: Make Dance Optimally Challenging – 2:45

Number one is to make dance optimally challenging. Okay, that phrase “optimally challenging” is a psych thing, but here's what I mean. You want classes, choreography, cleaning practices to be just the right amount of challenging. Think of it like Goldilocks, not too hard, not too easy, but just right. And I understand that can be really hard if you have a variety of levels in your classes. But still, that's the goal, that Goldilocks principle for every dancer. You want every dancer challenged so they aren't bored but not so hard that it's overwhelming or discouraging.

See, many dancers are motivated by a sense of achievement. If things are going well, you keep fighting. So if you want motivated and confident dancers, you want them to experience small wins and little daily feelings of success, and not just any success. It's vitally important that your dancers experience success while being optimally challenged. You see, achieving success only helps build confidence if it's done in a situation that is challenging but achievable.

Take, for example, if you were at a competition where you know you're likely to win without a lot of effort, it won't actually help build your dancers’ confidence. And I know I've seen that where studios feel like, “We're going to go somewhere where I know we're going to be really successful, and that will help them feel great,” but if they know they win without having to work very hard, and it feels like a gimme, it's not going to help. It actually makes it worse.

So instead, you want your dancers to feel successful when you are in a challenging situation so they can experience true pride in their accomplishments. This is where a mental skill like goal setting comes in. You want your goals to be optimally challenging. You want goals that are sky high and inspiring but achievable. This doesn't just mean your end-all performance goal, like your national championships or the big recitals and shows, but it's in the little training goals along the way, goals that are broken down into small steps that you set in small increments to bring more opportunities to experience success.

For example, set a goal for a core exercise, like a plank hold during warmup. Set a high but achievable goal for how long you want to hold it, and then when you get there (and it could be a few days or weeks later), you celebrate the success and pick a new training goal. Maybe how long can you balance in a first position relevé, or how long can you balance in coupé while maintaining good form. Set high goals and work for them. That small feeling of success goes a long way towards building confidence and keeps your dancers working hard.

If you have a wide variety of levels, you can set individual time goals that they track and monitor their own progress, so even your weakest dancer, who falls out of the balance first, can experience personal growth and understand when they work hard for a goal that feels lofty, that it's possible to get there and it makes the effort feel worth it.

Think of it this way. As a dancer, if the only goal you have isn't achievable for years down the line, right? Like reaching that pinnacle of your career or winning the big competition or performing a certain role, then you don't have a chance to experience and celebrate small success along the way. It's way too easy to lose motivation and not work very hard if your goal is too far away. Those big life goals are great, but the confidence boost and the motivation for that daily grind comes from the smaller sense of accomplishment on a regular basis, especially because that sense of accomplishment is in your control and not at the whim of the judges. Once you can learn to set a goal and make it happen, you're more likely to believe in yourself when you set that big life goal too.

So, if you want hardworking dancers, find as many opportunities for small success as you can using training goals, performance goals, and personal development goals. Track those goals, talk about them, revise as needed and celebrate the wins.

Second Way to Create a Focused Dance Environment: Praise Effort Over Outcome – 7:02

Number two: praise effort over outcome. What you choose to praise in your dancers is one of the biggest choices and educational tools at your disposal. If you want hard working dancers, praise them for their hard work. Don't reserve the praise for hitting the skill or winning at the competition. That only makes them more likely to give up when class gets hard, and I'm not saying you can't praise them in those moments. I'm just saying don't make that the only time.

It all comes down to your definition of success. Unfortunately, it's the culture of competitive dance that success is rankings and trophies and applause. That's what we crave as dancers. You know, look at social media. Studios and teams post when they do really well at a competition, but what about when they don't? Do they post wins of any other kind? Usually not, right? We're sending a message that you only get the shout out when you win.

Instead, praise your dancers privately and publicly for effort. Express to your dancers that you are proud of them for things besides winning or besides achieving a new skill. Praise effort. If they have been working hard but haven't yet gotten that triple turn, let them know when you see the hard work. Rather than saying, “You can do it! Keep going,” you can say something like, “I see how hard you're working. You should be so proud of your efforts. Keep it up.” You're still encouraging them. You're still saying you believe in them, but it's about that dancer being proud of their own hard work and effort.

You want to communicate to your dancer that effort is what matters most. Success is in the growth and the effort. When you're successful, then you're going to keep fighting, and they should be proud of themselves. It's not about seeking your approval as the teacher. When they are fighting for their own growth and proud of their own progress, that's when they return to class with that hard-working attitude over and over again.

Third Way to Create a Focused Dance Environment: Define Success as Growth, Not Perfection – 9:06

And along those lines is number three: define success as growth, not perfection. Maybe you've heard the theme here today, but the root of motivation and confidence is in a sense of accomplishment, but we want to define accomplishment as hard work and progress, not perfection on stage. We want dancers to learn that if I put in the work, I can learn something new. I can trust myself to set goals and accomplish them. That makes setting new goals and continuing to work hard, even after a bad day, a lot easier. So as the coach, be strategic about your language. Focus on areas of progress and growth.

Now, a question I'm often asked is what if they actually aren't making any progress? So sure, it's easy to celebrate progress when there really is some, but what do you do with a dancer who isn't putting in the work and isn't growing? Well, in that case, I always try to be direct with them, and, as you know if you're a longtime listener, I want to be concrete for you and give you real things you can say and do. So here are some ideas of exactly what I might say in that situation.

Say a dancer, you know, makes a mistake on stage, doesn't hit their turn section, and you know that they've been putting in lackluster effort lately. I might say something like, “Okay, so you didn't hit that turn on stage. Let's look at this as an opportunity to learn. Where would you like to put your efforts next week?” You're putting it on them and letting them know that there's room for growth. “I believe it's possible, but you have to be the one to do it. Where do you think we should focus?”

Another great tool along this is if they're not putting in the effort because they just can't do it yet — like, a lot of times they are trying a new skill, but they're not going 100% because they're scared of it and they've never done it before, and I'll say something like, “When you think you can't do it, just remind yourself that you can't do it yet.” That yet, at the end, makes such a big difference. I might also say something like, “You can do it. It's tough, but I know you can do it. Let's break down the steps of how to get there.”

These are just a few ideas of what I say to the dancer who is struggling and then not putting in the effort because they feel like they're struggling and not making any progress. Notice how you're still encouraging them, but you're putting the source of motivation squarely in their hands. When they decide what to focus on next, and they know you're there to help them if they feel defeated, it's going to go further than just being positive and encouraging, or it's going to go further than punishment for that matter.

So remember that this is the long game. It's not going to magically motivate them overnight, or completely change their mood in class that day, but if you keep repeating these messages of growth over perfection, if you keep celebrating progress and continue to present challenges, you'll see that shift in your dancers.

And a little side note here, if you want more statements, examples like these, things that you can actually pull out to say and all sorts of different scenarios, then I'll have a link in the show notes for today's episode to download a free resource. I have 23 statements and questions that encourage a growth mindset in dancers, which is really the root of what we're trying to do here.

So, to wrap this up, you ultimately create a culture of hard work by using language that focuses on growth and progress but still sets the bar high. Let your dancers know you're going to challenge them because you believe they can do it. Maybe you offer a choreography challenge or a really hard across the floor, introduce a new ballet bar combo that really pushes their musicality. You set the challenge. Let them know you believe they can do it, offer feedback on the skills to help them grow, and ultimately remember to celebrate the progress and the small wins along the way.

Remember that you can't and won't reach every single dancer. I know that's hard to swallow. I always struggle with that. But for those dancers who have even a little bit of a desire to be there, you can do these three things to create an environment that encourages hard work. Set optimal challenges, praise effort over outcome, and define success as growth, not perfection.

Thank you for listening in today. I hope this short episode helps you with your own motivation today too and gives you some more tools to keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!

[Motional Outro Music]

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