5 Ways Dance Educators Can Implement Mental Wellness in the Studio this Fall
By Kristin Deiss, Co-Founder of Danscend
How often do our dance students care for the state of their bodies? My guess is a lot more than they care for the state of their minds.
Why might this be?
While dancers spend hours every day training their bodies and honing their craft, little to no attention is paid to training their minds as well. Add to that the fact that dancers are consistently being told to “leave it at the door.”
And though the tide is changing, the need for mental wellness in the studio is still incredibly great.
It’s perhaps not surprising then that a 2017 survey, conducted by Minding the Gap, in which 899 dancers were asked a variety of questions regarding dance and mental health, revealed the following:
- 75% of dancers responded that they have dealt with a mental health challenge at some point within the past five years
- 73% said they would most likely not, or not at all, reach out to dance teachers or directors if they were going through a mental health challenge and 44% indicated that they would most likely not feel comfortable reaching out to family or friends
- 81% believe that the dance community does not do enough to address mental wellness
The good news? Dance educators have the ability to change this.
If you’re wondering how, here are five ways dance educators can implement mental wellness in the studio this Fall:
- Post Signs in the Studio – Create a “Get Help Now” sign that includes various hotlines and resources for dancers who may need to seek outside help. Be sure to post them in prominent areas in your studio, as well as someplace discreet such as the back of a bathroom door stall. Not only does this simple action provide possible resolution for dancers who may need it, but it also signals to your community that your studio is one that cares for the mental wellness of their dancers. That simple act can go a long way. Forbes magazine reported that after the CEO of a services organization shared a personal story with the company’s employees regarding how both he and his family struggled with mental health, a poll showed that afterward, 68% of employees stated that they spoke to someone about their mental wellness for the first time. Amazing, right? By posting signs that convey the message that your studio cares about mental wellness, you may just help someone who needs it.
- Add the Word “Yet” – When giving feedback, it’s so important to set the feedback in the future instead of the past. A Plos One study published in 2020, researchers found that when feedback is more focused on the future rather than the past, recipients were more likely to take it to heart. Not only will dancers better receive future-centric feedback, but it will also empower them. From the dance student’s perspective, focusing on the past can be frustrating. While the past provides great data, the dancer can’t go back in time and change any missteps they made. Focusing too much on the past can make the feedback recipient feel powerless. Future-centric feedback empowers students to be able to make adjustments, rather than simply lament something they didn’t do well. So, instead of saying, “Sally, the leg isn’t turned out in that arabesque,” try “Sally, the leg isn’t turned out in that arabesque, yet.” A simple addition of that word can be the difference between motivating your dancers to improve or knocking down their confidence.
- Model Self-Compassion – Your dancers are learning far more than just dance technique from you. In fact, a recent study in the University of Chicago Journal of Political Economy reveals that, “Teachers affect a variety of student outcomes through their influence on both cognitive and non-cognitive skills.” The study goes on to say that, while it is important that teachers instruct their students in whatever subject they’re teaching, it’s more important that they instruct them in what we would call the “softer skills” of life. These “softer skills” certainly include the way we treat ourselves. Your dancers see and notice everything – including the way you speak to yourself. So, instead of making comments about your “old hips” or “creaky body” (been there myself!) be sure to steer clear from self-critiques when teaching, and instead, model self-compassion by speaking about yourself with love. That way, we can teach our students to treat themselves the same way.
- Use Gender Inclusive Language – We live in a time where gender binary norms are being questioned and expanded, and our young people are trying to figure out where they fit in the midst of it all. The last thing they need from us is a label about who they ought to be. In an effort to give them the space to be who they are, be sure to use gender inclusive language in the studio so that all students can feel seen, accepted, and emotionally safe. Feeling safe is paramount to learning. Multiple studies show “that emotionally unsafe environments lead to stress, lower attendance at school, and less engagement in learning, whereas emotionally safe environments are related to more positive identity development, better learning experiences and greater feelings of worth.” So, try swapping out phrases like, “Hey guys” with “Ok, dancers” or “Ladies first” with “Let’s have you two start.” This simple shift can go a long way towards making our dancers feel safe and brave enough to be who they are and have positive experiences in the dance studio.
- Empower Dancers to Set Their Own Standards of Achievement – When we encourage dancers to set their own standards of achievement, we effectively give the dancers the ability to achieve their goals instead of teaching them to look towards others for validation. Over time, dancers begin to feel more confident about what they can accomplish, regardless of whether they won a competition, landed a role from an audition, or received lots of attention from an instructor. In this way, not only does their confidence increase, but they learn how to maintain a healthy sense of self-efficacy in the face of various external pressures that make up the dance world. So, be sure to engage your dancers in this type of goal setting and watch their confidence bloom!
Interested in learning more ways to implement mental wellness in the dance studio? Consider joining Danscend’s Council, a community of dance educators, for continued education, support, and resources.
Former professional dancers and long-time dance educators Michelle Loucadoux and Kristin Deiss have joined forces and experience to bring mental wellness to the forefront of the minds of the dance community by providing a virtual safe space for education and connection for dancers and dance educators.
Danscend’s mission is to bring mental wellness to the forefront of dance training by providing a space for education, application, and community to dancers, educators, and professionals. It offers virtual courses in mental wellness-related topics for dancers ages 13 and up and provides education and support for dance educators working to change the conversation in their classrooms. For more, see danscend.com