Sometimes it’s hard to put into words the magnitude of what we do when step into the studio. When we dance, we throw a party for our soul. As dance teachers, we know we are changing lives in every class, and we think our parents intuitively know it too when they sign their kids up for dance.
When you find the right fit in a studio, you get it. You begin to understand that dance is so much more than pointing your toes. By engaging in dance in a positive and nurturing way, we’re building beautiful human beings, not just beautiful dancers.
Yes, technique is very important. The athletic and artistic benefits of dance cannot and should not be ignored. But, it’s more than just great dancing. Dance enhances intelligence. It also develops resilience, creativity and teamwork among other important life skills.
Your dance studio is a lighthouse in your dancer’s life; a bright beacon in this dark, crazy world. Your dance school is a community of growth and learning, where children are celebrated and dancers are invited to become the best version of themselves.
This is why we dance.
Keston Meyer is a dancer with Ballet Ariel in south Denver. He performs in three shows this weekend on April 27th & 28th in Swan Lake Act III & Mother Goose Fairy Tales at the Lakewood Cultural Center. We caught up with Keston in between dancing, rehearsing and teaching to ask him our top 6 burning questions.
How did you start dancing? I started dancing at 15, after I watched a rehearsal from a local school in my home town. There was a paper posted on the window looking for guys with ‘no experience needed.’ I took my first class and the fire was started. I kept it burning ever since that first class when I was a teenager, and I’ve never looked back. The best thing I’ve found in performing is that on any given day, I could be a prince, a pirate or an evil wizard. To be able to portray that to an audience through dancing, is my favorite aspect of performing.
What do you think has been the key to your success as a professional dancer? I worked as hard as I could. I took every class possible and dove headfirst into dancing.
What does a day in the life of Mr. Keston look like on a performance day? A performance day or theater day starts with packing and preparing everything I will need from the moment I leave the house. Then I will typically start with taking a 90 minute class, followed by 5-6 hours of rehearsals and then straight to the show.
What is one of your all-time favorite dance steps- something that makes you feel like you can fly or conquer the world? A really lofty grand jeté. When you time it just right, you feel like you stop time and float in the air.
What are you looking forward to most as you retire from professional dance? To start a family.
What advice can you offer our young dancers? Work hard. Give your dancing everything you have when you’re in class or on stage, and you will never walk away dissatisfied. And… point your feet!
Elevate Dance Center is a tights-wearing dance studio in spite of the fact that it’s become very trendy and “cool” to skip the stockings. The no-tights camp is quick to label the pro-tighters as “old school.” The issue can be such a point of contention, that we once had a parent petition to get Miss Janelle and I fired from Belliston Academy because we did not allow her daughter to dance barefoot and sans-tights at a dance convention like students from other studios were doing. It was our job to enforce the rules of the studio, and we told her she needed to take her classes in dress code. Her mother complained to the owner, Miss Jeannine, and although I don’t remember the exact language she used, it amounted to, “The other kids are doing it, and my daughter should be allowed to look like them if she wants. We pay a lot of money for dance.” Thankfully Miss J backed us up, and told the mother to go ahead and take her pick of those other studios. Phew! Bullet dodged. However, that crazy mommy’s reaction is just a microcosm example of the greater dance world’s hot-button feelings on the tights-or-no-tights issue. I asked our expert EDC instructors to weigh-in, and here’s what they had to say:
Miss Janelle (Hip Hop, Breakdancing, Jazz): I like for them to wear tights. It helps make their body lines look cleaner when on stage. It keeps their muscles warm. When I was judging [a regional dance competition in another state] last month I noticed three [different] teenage dancers that started menstruating [during different dances]. You can tell they were uncomfortable on stage. Tights add extra protection for young dancers. I am 100% in support of tights.
Mr. Keston (Ballet, Turns & Leaps): I mean, it’s ballet. You should always be wearing tights. I didn’t stop wearing full-length tights until I got my first professional contract. It is an extra layer of protection for guys as well- keeps everything in place.
Miss Sara (Predance, Ballet, Tap, Lyrical): I think wearing tights is important to keep muscles warm and I think it completes the body’s lines too.
Miss Harley (Jazz): Tights always made me feel confident and comfortable [while I was dancing].
Miss Shelli (Acro): They are fine right now with what tricks they are working on [but we may need to reconsider them for Acro as the kids progress in difficulty].
Let’s examine both sides of the coin from a broader perspective of the international dance community where this is an ongoing debate. (The following quotes are taken from dance instructors and studio owners across the country, however they were pulled from conversations from closed networking groups and are listed anonymously to protect privacy.)
“What would be a pretty step or trick otherwise looks sexual without adequate coverage. As an Acro teacher, I am very careful about putting kid on stage in just a leotard, hitting split lines and balances. It’s gets inappropriate quickly, and can have the potential to sexualize children. I just watched a community performance with teenagers wearing only leotards and doing balances and tilts, and the audience of adults were either very uncomfortable or watching intently…It’s a slippery slope.”
“As a teenager, it did make an impact on my emotional development feeling so exposed because that’s just ‘what you wear’ and my point is – shouldn’t we be making costuming choices for our children based on what is most modest and appropriate for them individually rather than on what everyone else is doing?”
“Once upon a time when I was training and going to college for dance…tights were a rule. The light compression helped improve circulation to your legs and feet (there have been studies where this is proven…same reason I wear compression socks as a runner). It was also thought to be part of the “uniform” and make class professional.”
“As a studio owner, dance teacher, and mom to three girls, it’s tights all the way. In a perfect world, we should all be able to appreciate the beauty of a dancer’s body, and if body parts happen to pop out, it should not be an issue because it’s all beautiful…. HOWEVER, we don’t live in that world. We live in a world loaded with sickos and perverts, and those out there ready to post pics and exploit a child.”
“When I was in high school I always said “no way” when an instructor brought up not wearing tights. I don’t know why, but tights were just a barrier from my body to the audience. I think part of it is that I never heard someone say “you’d look great without tights” or “you’ll still be beautiful.” Now, every time I bring up not wearing tights, or even wearing shorts instead of leggings, I have a lengthy conversation with my dancers about it and how they feel about wearing them (or not) on stage. The choreographer should be in tune to their dancers’ level of confidence and comfort. There is a difference between choreographing for professionals and choreographing for young girls who have very fragile ideas of their bodies.”
“This will be a conversation that will never end – can we agree it is up to the choreographer and hopefully based on costume and body types, they make the right choices. If you don’t use tights, please make sure your dancers are trimmed, glued and don’t show anything they don’t want us to see. I love seeing the muscles they work so hard on developing without tights, but I also use tights depending on the costume and dance genre. Let’s let everyone make their own choices and support each other.”
In summary, the list seems to go something like this:
- Clean body lines
- Warmer muscles
- Added layer of coverage/protection
- Builds confidence and comfort on stage
- Hygiene! Tights provide a light barrier between our skin and everything else in dance class. Besides the fact that we want to keep from spreading our sweat, open scratches and/or odors around the room, we also want to keep everything from touching us as well.
- Protects dancers’ modesty
- Finishes the look in a costume
- Looks more innocent, especially on curvy dancers
- Light compression improves circulation in legs
- Completes a dance school dress code, adding to the professionalism and uniformity of dancers in class
- Lessons the probability of a wardrobe malfunction
- Filters the look of the leg- hides distracting imperfections- bruises, ashy skin, body hair, cellulite, etc.
- Dancers who don’t wear tights typically must and/or choose to groom excessively- trimming, shaving, gluing, applying self tanner, using tanning beds- to look good and feel comfortable on stage. This is unnecessary for young dancers and can lead to greater questions about beauty and body image.
- Dancers in a dance school are still in training. They are not professionals and should not be subjected to the life of a professional dancer yet. There’s plenty of time for that later.
- Old school, outdated
- During certain lifts or Acro tricks and partner work tights can add slip and take away from grip.
- Modern, Contemporary and Acro dance styles should never use tights.
- Dance tights aren’t inclusive enough. Now the manufacturers are getting smarter and offering tights in several skin tones, but that has not been the case for long.
- Filters the look of the leg- there’s not a thing much more beautiful than a dancer’s muscular leg in motion. Dancers work very hard for their muscles, and seeing the engagement of the correct muscles while dancing highlights fabulous technique.
- Professional dancers rarely wear tights, and we should be preparing our kids for the “real world” of dance.
I believe there are valid reasons both for AND against tights, and I wholeheartedly agree with the inclusion argument. However, during my dance training I experienced the many benefits of using tights. As a dancer with a professional dance team, we still wore tights while performing. As a parent, I recognize the fact that nobody wants to see children who look remotely unclothed. And now as I come full circle as the owner of Elevate Dance Center, I strongly believe the pros to wearing tights absolutely outweigh the cons. EDC will continue to mandate tights as part of our uniform for Ballet, Jazz, Lyrical, Turns and Leaps and other classes as necessary, and hopefully now you feel educated and equipped on why tights matter for our school.
Thanks for reading, and never miss a chance to dance. -Miss Dena
What do you think? We’d love to hear your comments.
After reading the book Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss, I decided to answer his questions for myself. Below are my answers to his final five. How would you respond to these same questions? We’d love to hear your answers!
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
In the last several years I have begun the practice writing of a new year’s reflection on the past year. I am a big believer in goals, and I always spend time during New Year’s Day thinking about where I want my life to go and what I want to do with my next 365 days. However, I only recently began the practice of writing a reflection while looking back on my calendar and goals for the previous year. This has really helped me see my progress in life. It’s easy to take a quick look at what’s still on the goals list and say, “Well, I didn’t hit that target!” But, when you sit down and pay attention to all of the things you DID do, it is invigorating and breeds motivation for what’s to come.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world?” What advice should they ignore?
A dear friend once gave me great advice about raising children, and I think it applies here too. He said, “The best advice I can give you about raising your children is to politely listen to everyone else’s advice, and then do whatever you want to do anyway.” Advice is never in short supply. I would also add, “Don’t give a second thought to the advice of people who aren’t where you want to be in life.” If you want to make money and travel the world, then don’t listen to the advice of Broke Uncle Joe Who Never Left Town. Seek mentors and advisors who not only have your best interests at heart, but who are also out there living the dream. And finally, go with your gut. Your intuition is a power tool and should not be ignored.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
“Never give up.” I think that’s a romantic, archaic notion. I do believe you have to fight for your dreams and go after what you want in life, but sticking around just so you won’t be called a quitter is not necessarily a best practice. Sometimes you need to quit things- jobs, relationships, environments… the list goes on. I think the secret lies in knowing WHEN to quit something and when to persevere, but the idea of “never giving up-” that’s a bad plan.
In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realizations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?
I had a major a-ha moment when I read Shauna Niequist’s book Present Over Perfect, and she said, “I’ve realized one thing that makes it hard for me to disappoint people is my tendency to overestimate how close I am to someone, and then how imperative it is that I don’t disappoint this dear, dear friend.” This is me to a tee. First of all, I hate to disappoint. Secondly, I want to be liked. People often ask me for help because they know I am reliable, creative and a generally great teammate. Sometimes I’m asked to run a race. Other times it’s volunteering for something at my kids’ school. However I’ve learned that with every yes I give, it has an equal and opposite no to something else. By saying yes to the school function I’m being asked to plan, I might be saying no to time with my kids and husband. It used to feel weird to say no to something when I didn’t really have a calendar conflict. I mean, my schedule is open. Why can’t I help? But, I’m learning to cherish the empty space on my calendar, because that seems to be where the magic happens. Niequist goes on to say, ” Picture your relationships like concentric circles: the inner circle is your spouse, your children, your very best friends. Then the next circle out is your extended family and good friends. Then people you know, but not well, colleagues, and so on, to the outer edge. Aim to disappoint the people at the center as rarely as possible.” That last sentence brought me so much clarity and has become my compass. I will always disappoint people when I give them a no, but now I aim to disappoint the people at my center as little as possible. With this simple tool, life is better and much less complicated for me.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)
I make lists. Often I brain-dump a list and then I will re-write the list in a more organized fashion. Many times I will fold a paper into four quadrants and organize the larger list into four separate mini-lists with the titles: urgent/important, urgent/less important, not urgent/still important and not urgent/not important. When I do this, I realize that the things I’m overwhelmed about are often down on the not urgent/not important list. I turn my focus to the urgent/important list and let the things on the other lists marinate a bit. I won’t forget them now because they’re on the list, but I don’t need to spend any mental energy on them just yet. This almost always eases my mind and brings me back to prioritizing what needs my attention most. It’s an excessive amount of list-making for sure, but the simple act of writing my mental clutter down in an organized way instantly calms my stress.
After reading the book Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss, I decided to answer his questions for myself. Below are my answers to the second three. How would you respond to these same questions? We’d love to hear your answers!
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it- metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions- what would it say and why?
Never miss a chance to dance.
This message is so powerful to me both literally and figuratively, and I’ve made it the motto of my dance school because of it. Literally speaking, we have so many opportunities to dance in our lives. Dancing is a 100 year skill, and we will be faced with dancing moments time and time again. In those moments you are going to need to ask yourself, do I want to be the person who gets out there and joins the party, or am I going to be the one who stands on the wall and watches? And figuratively the same questions apply. We will be face with decisions in every aspect of our life where we will need to call on our confidence, courage and optimism to step out of our comfort zone and make a move. The billboard still applies, and it’s a fabulously easy reminder. Never miss a chance to dance!
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)
In my current stage of life, I am a mother and a dance school owner. I have also recently spent time working in my husband’s office. I do not need a degree for any of these jobs. However, the best investment I’ve ever made is probably my education. I have both a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree. My education has afforded me many jobs and experiences that have been instrumental in my journey to becoming who and what I am today. Even though I don’t need either of my degrees for what I do now, I don’t think I would have arrived to this place without my college experience. Albert Einstein said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” My education is where I fell in love with the process of thinking and learning. Lifelong learning is what allows me to continue to evolve and grow, so I will forever be grateful for my education whether or not I “use” the documents I received at my graduations.
What is an unusual habit or absurd thing that you love?
I am a huge sucker for office supplies- especially pretty or colorful ones. When I was a little girl I never left home without my backpack full of school supplies- even though I wasn’t in school yet. I also LOVE reading Spanish textbooks, self-help books and business/leadership books. It turns out not everybody does that…
A dear friend gave me Tim Ferriss’ book Tribe of Mentors for my birthday. The book is the fruit of Ferriss’ midlife crisis, which prompts him to ask over 100 super successful people some very specific questions. After reading the book, I decided to answer his questions for myself. Below are my answers to the first three. How would you respond to these same questions? Share your thoughts in the comments- we’d love to hear your answers!
1. What is the book or books you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
Each of the following books is a book I’ve read over and over again, and they’re also the books that immediately came to mind.
- The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz
- Not my favorite book in the world as far as the actual writing goes, but the principles in this book have never, EVER failed me. Each time I lose my way in life, I come back to this book and discover that I’m breaking at least one of the four agreements on a regular basis. As soon as I reread the book and correct course on living out the four agreements, my harmony is restored.
- Chop Wood Carry Water by Joshua Medcalf
- I can open this book to any page and rediscover a gem. I’ve read it to my kids and my students and they all love it too. I give this book as a gift all the time.
- Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
- I have given this book as a gift to many important women in my life. I feel like this book speaks directly to the heart of all of my girlfriends and I wish I could give a copy to every one of them. It should be required reading for all men too, so they can understand the women in their lives.
- The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson
- This book was a giant A-Ha for me. The first time I read it, I was feeling stuck in my life. I felt like I couldn’t move the needle with any of my goals. I felt like l needed earth-quaking movement to make progress, but the thing I realized through reading this book is the little things don’t just matter, but they’re the most important piece of the process.
- You Are A Badass and You Are A Badass At Making Money by Jen Sincero
- Besides the fact that I think Jen Sincero’s writing style is hilarious and entertaining, she also has some really good stuff to say. I have these books on Audible and I listen to them anytime I need to be reminded of my power.
- The Bible
- It took me about three years, but I once read the bible from cover to cover. I figured it is an extremely powerful book that nations have gone to war over, so I might as well read it. I tackled it a few pages a day, and I read every word. At that time in my life I was deeply seeking answers. Reading the whole thing for myself as opposed to listening to someone else’s selected passage or interpretation was life-changing.
2. What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
Hands down it is the Ohuhu Massager.
(That is not an affiliate link, it’s just there so you can find the product.) I do not know how I ever lived 38 years as a dancer without having discovering a TENS device, but this thing is the BOMB. My husband bought it for 30 bucks on Amazon, and I have just purchased my own because we both love it so much we really can’t share. It gives me relief from injury, muscle fatigue and pain, PMS, jet lag, insomnia…. the list goes on. The battery lasts forever and the device is tiny and light. Amazing.
3. How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
How do I whittle this down to just one? I have already talked about my first major career pivot
on my personal blog. So, I’ll just go into my most recent
“favorite failure,” which is my failing to promote in my health and wellness business. Eight years ago I was not myself. I was really on a slow but sure decline -if we take The Slight Edge into account- in my wellness and physical fitness. That’s when relief entered my life in the form of a 24 Day Challenge, and it changed everything. Besides losing weight and regaining my sense of well-being and self-confidence, I began making money fairly effortlessly because people noticed the change in me.
About six years in, I decided to really apply myself to the business and I thought I had discovered my new path to success in life. I loved the products, the company and the people I’d get to work with each day, so even though I had never aspired to sell vitamins for a living, it seemed like a good fit. I saw the big things that could be accomplished in the business, and I had friends who were doing it- making more money than was ever possible for them before, traveling the world by earning trips, opening up time in their lives with a flexible work schedule, and more. I dreamed of being a polished leader on the stage and I craved the recognition and the lifestyle I thought would follow that success. I attended every training, meeting and conference. I soaked up all the learning I could, and I attached myself to great mentors. I followed their direction, I took action and got to work diligently and consistently. I worked at it solidly for two years, and I discovered the harder I worked, the worse things got. Try as I might, I was simply not building a more prosperous supplement business than the one I had when it was just for fun, and I was completely discouraged.
However, all the while that I was going to work on myself for the purpose of succeeding in that business, a long dormant dream started waking up inside of me. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to have a dance school. That dream had faded away many years ago, as I had talked myself out of it for countless reasons. Suddenly the timing seemed right, and I felt like I maybe had become the type of person who could be really great at owning and operating the kind of dance school I had always dreamed about. One thing I heard repeatedly in my quest to become a kick-ass vitamins sales girl was this: “This business is about who you become in the pursuit of the things that you want.”
I thought I wanted to make the diamond level in that business. I pursued the next step in that process vigorously for two YEARS, and I FAILED at achieving the next milestone. BUT. A little over one year ago I opened Elevate Dance Center, and I have never felt so fulfilled in my work. I am completely convinced that without pursuing the promotion in my supplement business, I would not have become the person it took to open the school. It turns out that my supplement business was NOT a detour or a failure, but a necessary step in the journey to my dreams. I’m grateful for the people who mentored me, the goals I chased but never caught, and all the hours I spent going after the dream that never was, because that experience has been critical in shaping the dream that is.
I absolutely love the “What Do You Do” collection of books written by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom. They are beautiful to look at and such good advice for both children and adults. So far Yamada has written three books in this series and they are all incredible:
- What Do You Do With An Idea?
- What Do You Do With A Problem?
- What Do You Do With A Chance?
I wish I could get Yamada and Besom to team up with me on a dance-inspired version called, What Do You Do With A Correction? I think all dance teachers worldwide would read it to every dancer age 2-100 from now until the end of time. It would become an immediate international bestseller and be translated into every language across the globe. I think I’ll try tweeting them when this blog post goes live.
Why? Because growing dancers often do not have a clue what to do with a correction. I can remember being a young dancer and getting all self-conscious and bunchy when my dance teacher corrected me. I remember holding my breath when she walked by and thinking, “No, no, no….” My inward chant was a little prayer that I would not be corrected. It wasn’t until I was 12 years old, a decade into my training and taking a class from the world famous Liz Imperio, that I learned what to do with a correction. She had just given me a tip to fix something in my dancing. Funny, I can’t remember the specific correction now, but I do remember her words that followed it. She must have sensed my prickling at the correction, because she looked me in the eye and in her commanding voice said, “If I do not give you a correction in my class, it is because I think you are a lost cause, and my correction will be wasted on you.”
Wait, what? If I were a cartoon character in that moment my eyes would have popped out of my head and rolled all over the floor while a thinking bubble of giant exclamation points floated above me. To date, I think that was my biggest a-ha moment of dance and also the one that has catapulted my personal and professional growth throughout my life.
I was transformed. Liz Imperio immediately changed my perspective on corrections, and suddenly I was clamoring for them in all of my classes. Liz taught me that a correction is a gift from someone who believes in you and your potential, and it should be accepted, honored and used with grace and appreciation. What a moment.
If I could convince Yamada and Besom to write my book, it would go something like this:
One day I went to dance class, and I received a correction.
I didn’t want it. I didn’t ask for it. It was not enjoyable. But, I got one anyway.
Why did my teacher hand this to me? “What do you do with a correction?” I wondered.
It felt awkward and heavy. I was uncomfortable. I wanted to un-receive it. Set it down. Make it go away. I did not know how to handle my correction, so I gave it major attitude. That didn’t work.
I tried ignoring it too, but that only made it worse. I kept receiving it again and again with more force after that.
Well, I found what you DON’T do with a correction, that’s for sure.
I started worrying about my correction. I began dwelling on it. It followed me home from dance class where I thought and thought about it. It started growing in size. It got so big, I didn’t know if I would fit out the door to get to dance class again.
The next morning I woke up, and it was gone. Phew. But when I walked into dance class again, there it was waiting for me. And it was bigger than before. It had even grown hair. Now I didn’t just have a correction, but I had a big, hairy correction. It got ugly. “What on earth do you do with this correction?” I worried.
I started stressing about what the other dancers would think of me with this annoying correction following me around all the time. Would they notice? Might they get mad at me? My teacher sure had a look of annoyance on her face. This persistent correction did not seem to be making me any friends!
One day I realized this correction was not going to go away on it’s own. I had to do something about it. I decided to face it head on. The next day, I went to dance class. When my teacher gave me the correction again, this time I imagined it was a not a big, hairy, ugly correction. Instead, I pictured a beautiful gift wrapped in colorful paper with a big shiny bow. I smiled at my teacher as she gave it to me, and just like the polite recipient of any gift, I said “Thank you.”
I thought I saw a little twinkle in my teacher’s eye as I said it. I instantly felt stronger and more powerful. Wiser. It felt so good, I decided to take my correction to the next level. I unpacked it, twirled it around in my hands and studied it. I figured out how to use it, and suddenly my dancing was lighter, easier and so much better!
So, now I know what you do with a correction. You accept it graciously and dance with it because corrections help you grow every step of the way. Then, you hope for more.
We are your people.
This is your place.
I spoke these words to a dancer the other night who skipped a class during our intensive because she had talked herself out of being good enough to go. I have noticed lately that I am having this conversation more often with kids and adults alike. Everywhere I look, people are convincing themselves they aren’t good enough- they can’t hang, they are undeserving, it just will never work out.
When did we find ourselves in such a confidence crisis?
Being a kid is harder these days. The tween and teenage years have the same problems they always did, but in our digital climate there is rarely an opportunity to unplug. There is an onslaught of information being thrown at our kids on a constant basis. They so are inundated with images of air-brushed famous people showing them how they should look, feel, think and act, that they’re losing their ability to do these things for themselves confidently and in their own way. They are always accessible to friends via texting and social media, so it’s harder than ever to silence the noise.
Our kids need a village. When we can tuck ourselves into a safe cocoon of a loving family, positive friendships AND a community outside of school and home that both challenges and accepts us- like a dance school- then we have better chances to emerge from adolescence transformed for the better.
If we are to resolve the confidence crisis, we’ve also got to teach our children to militantly monitor their thoughts and be courageous.
Let’s take the case of my dancer who was scared to go to class. She has studied ballet only, but in the intensive she is signed up to take a bunch of different genres of dance. The class she decided to skip was a hip hop format. She was right to expect that hip hop would be wildly different than ballet. But, what went on in her head when she decided she didn’t belong? I can only guess her monkey mind started shouting something like this:
Oh my goodness. Hip hop?! I’ve never even taken a hip hop class before. All of the other students will probably know so much more than me. I will look like I don’t know anything at all. They might even laugh at me. What if the teacher is mean? What if I don’t like hip hop? How will I ever survive this? What if I DON’T? That’s it. I’m not going. It’s not worth the risk.
If I could have turned her inner rant into a dialog, it would have gone more like this:
Oh my goodness. Hip hop?! I’ve never even taken a hip hop class before. Nope, you haven’t. Aren’t you excited to try something new? What if you like it?
All of the students will probably know so much more than me. Yep. That’s possible. So what?
I will look like I don’t know anything at all. Um, news flash- you don’t. You just said you’d never taken a hip hop class before. Also, do you know that for sure? Is that even true? Do you know each person on that roll sheet and exactly how much hip hop they’ve taken-if any? Besides, everyone in the hip hop class was once someone who had never taken a hip hop class before! So what? The beginning is an amazing place to be- you are a blank slate! You’re not a know-it-all, you’re going to be so coach-able and fresh, you don’t have any bad habits yet- this is awesome!
They might even laugh at me. Okay, Crazy Pants. Now you’re just getting worked up. Do you really believe that? Most of the kids in that room are already your friends from ballet class. Do you think they’d be mean to you on purpose? I sure don’t. And even if they did laugh at you- which they probably will not- so what? What is the worst thing that could happen? You won’t melt into a puddle and evaporate. It won’t kill you. Maybe you’d be embarrassed for a minute. Would that be the end of the world? Are you really going to skip class based on the idea that some pretty nice kids probably won’t laugh at you?!
What if the teacher is mean? Kiddo, give yourself a break. When was the last time you were in a dance class here where the teacher was mean to you? You’re talking yourself into a dark corner. Come into the light, and breathe. I have to ask you again- so what? She’s not going to throw you into a pit full of lions and snakes. What is the worst thing that could happen if the teacher is mean? Do you think you could survive that? I do.
What if I don’t like it? Ah, but what if you do? And even if you don’t, that’s still wonderful! You will have learned something new about yourself. Thomas Edison tried making the light bulb hundreds of times before he finally accomplished his task. Someone asked him- aren’t you upset that you’ve tried hundreds of times and failed? And he said, I haven’t failed at all! I’ve found hundreds of ways NOT to make a light bulb. I’m getting closer every time I learn.
Fine. I guess I’ll go. But if you’re wrong, I will be so mad at you. Noted. Good for you! Now get yourself in that room. It only takes 20 seconds of courage to walk in there. After that, the hardest part is over.
I did not get to have that conversation with my dancer. All I got the chance to remind her was: You belong. We are your people. This is your place. However, I’m thrilled to report she went to hip hop the following week. She stood on her head, she did a back spin and she smiled quite a bit. Who knows if she’ll ever sign up for hip hop class, but I will mark that in the win column any day.
The next time you catch your child paralyzed by fear, try taking them through this kind of a “so what” exercise. Teach them to monitor their thoughts. They don’t have to judge, but rather be curious about the thoughts they’re thinking and ask themselves more questions to challenge the unproductive thoughts and build courage. This gives them the power and freedom to change their thinking and make a different choice rather than be a victim. They can ask:
- So what?
- Do I know this for a fact?
- Is it true?
- Is it helpful?
- What is the absolute worst thing that could happen?
Teaching our kids to ask these questions not only helps in everyday situations of fear and self-sabotage, but it also might come in handy during those scary peer situations they will all be sure to face someday. Our teens will be offered all kinds of opportunities to think about and make big hairy choices- drinking and drugs, decisions about their bodies and sex, what to do about school, what to do about friends and parents, and more. It’s a jungle out there, and we’ve got to teach our kids not to let their monkey minds be king.
No, choosing whether or not to go to hip hop class is not a life-or-death decision. But, it is good practice for when we do make those critical decisions. We cannot put our children into a bubble where nothing ever happens to them or challenges them. But, we can arm them. We can teach them to ask critical questions that will challenge their monkey minds and calm their thoughts from running amok. We can give them opportunities to exercise 20 seconds of courage. And we can tether them to a loving community- like their dance school- by showing them: You belong. We are your people. This is your place.
While I dance I can not judge, I can not hate, I can not separate myself from life. I can only be joyful and whole. This is why I dance. – Hans Bos
The joy and sense of self we experience when we dance is something that crosses all ages, races, socioeconomic statuses and genders. The men in our society deserve to feel the bliss of movement to music just as much as the women. We need to encourage our sons to dance like we do our daughters. Here are the top 9 reasons why:
10. There is no escaping it. You know the old saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” It couldn’t be more true. All throughout life our boys will be faced with situations where dancing would be a great tool to have in the old toolbox… school dances, clubs, weddings… wouldn’t it be better if they had the courage and swagger to get out there?
9. Dance is not necessarily taught in schools anymore. Remember the days of the dreaded gym class square dance? What about the elementary school plays and choirs? While dance standards remain a part of most school’s curriculum, often today’s teachers do not have the time, space or expertise to teach a “dance unit.” Specials classes are constantly threatened at every stage of education, and if we don’t expose our boys to the fine arts- music, theatre, dance- then they might not ever experience them. According to Scott Gormley in the Huffington Post, “This problem goes beyond ballet: we encourage perceived strength over all kinds of artistry and often force boys to play organized sports while diminishing the role of the arts in schools. As a society, we are failing not just ballet danseurs, but boys who want to be violinists or actors or sculptors.”
8. Dance is a positive form of self expression. Our boys are not taught to feel their feelings as freely as our girls. Dance allows boys to process emotions without words and gives them a safe place to express themselves.
6. Dance develops leadership skills and builds character in boys. Besides the obvious facing resistance from friends and even family in choosing to dance in the first place, dancing also requires our boys to learn how to take the lead, both literally and figuratively. “When one leads, one does it with strength, but also with gentleness. It is done with confidence, but not as subjugation. It requires the man to make decisions, to communicate his intentions clearly and then to invite the lady to join him.”
5. Dancing is fun and adventurous. “Because there are so few male dancers in relation to females, the jobs available to men are particularly significant.” Dance can take you around the world as you work with inspiring people and perform on stage and screen. On tour with Rhianna? Performing for the Queen of England? Starring in the next big dance movie? Why not?!
3. Dancing help us connect. Whether it’s in the form of music appreciation and understanding or cultural awareness, dancing helps our boys connect with society and art on a deeper level while building a strong sense of community.
2. Cool Factor. Yep, we went there. Dancing is plain cool. For all the bullying that can happen when a boy chooses dance, he is always the life of the party. Men envy him, and women want to be asked by him- everybody looks up to the confident guy on the dance floor.
And the number one reason why boys should dance? Girls. We live in a #metoo world. From a very young age dance teaches our boys positive gender interactions and allows for them to learn how to engage with the opposite sex in a way that is fun, appropriate and not at all sleazy. In medieval times a knight’s training included dancing- they were onto something there.
Besides the obvious and universal reasons why anyone should dance- improved health, strength, endurance, physique, fun, artistic expression- there are reasons unique to boys why dancing just makes sense. Let’s get those boys dancing today!
5, 6, 7, 8….
That sound makes my heart race,
I have to move
My feet can’t be stuck in one place,
There’s nothing to lose
In my element, I’m free
Easy as 1, 2, 3
passion takes the lead
Take your chance
Hold your stance
No second glance
Just dance, dance, dance
-Poem by Brittany Lombardi