As teachers, we've all seen our students' confidence wane. Whether they're having a tough time at school or dealing with their own changing bodies, confidence can flounder in the blink of an eye. What can you do to help? Even though it may not always seem this way, your opinion counts. Your dancers know that compliments from you are earned not granted, and as such, your words carry weight.
Here are a few in-class strategies to get your dancers back on track:
Compliment with Conviction - Your dancers know when they've done well and when they've made mistakes. They don't want to be coddled or lied to, but they are prone to overlook the good in favor of the bad. Acknowledge mistakes while turning the dancer's focus to those areas he or she may be overlooking. If the dancer struggled with the combination but had a lovely quality of movement, beautiful épaulement, or excellent placement, turn your critique into a compliment. Provide your dancers a change of focus by changing your own.
Commiserate with Compassion- While we don't want our dancers wallowing in their insecurities, we can take a minute or two to talk with our dancers about what they're feeling. Share quick anecdotes about past insecurities and your experience overcoming them. Acknowledge that you know that they sometimes feel frustrated by their bodies, minds, and emotions. Remind them that these feelings are normal. Remind them of past examples of slow progress and success. (Note: Steer clear of talking about body image issues in specifics as this type of talk can be triggering. But do keep your eyes and ears open. If you hear students talking negatively about their bodies or weight, be sure to refocus this negativity. If you have long rehearsals and lunch time at the studio, don't seclude yourself. Cop-a-squat on the floor and chat or eat with your dancers.)
Costume with Kindness - You know your dancers, and you know when a costume will be less than flattering on an individual or group. While you can't please everyone, you should try to put students in costumes that will flatter and in which they will feel confident. I know this can be a tough one, but do your absolute best to make sure that your dancers can wear their costumes with pride.
Celebrate with Certainty - When your dancer experiences progress, success, or just has a great turn across the floor, celebrate the positives. Positive verbal feedback is a great tool when used specifically, but even better is finding a chance to call on your dancer to demonstrate a step or combination. Show that you've not only noticed your dancer's success but that you're ready to celebrate it. Calling on your dancer to demonstrate also shows your certainty in the dancer's ability to replicate success and your certainty is a powerful tool.
Challenge with confidence - Sometimes your dancer needs to borrow from your stores of confidence to make progress. Dance often feels like a never ending plateau and while we know that there will be improvement, knowing and feeling are entirely different states of being. Four little words from you can change your dancer's life: "I believe in you!." Tell your dancers. The results don't have to be immediate. Reassure your dancer that you know that with practice the steps will come, the stress will fade, and the confidence will bloom.