KIDS OR PARENTS – WHOSE DREAM IS IT?

The impact of parents’ behaviour in the dancing scene is on on my mind every time I am watching kids dance at competitions. I do of course know that there are amazing parents out there and kudos to you all for the gallant efforts you put in to enable your child/children to dance. It has come to my attention though, as it has for others too I’m sure, that amidst trying to achieve the best possible results for a young child or couple, some parents, and dare I even say it, teachers, lose site of what is important.

No one would have been more obsessed with dancing as a child than I was. I loved everything about it, I thought about my lessons constantly,  I practiced everywhere you could imagine, dreamed of Blackpool finals, dancing congress, travelling the world and watched videos every free moment I had! The enthusiasm our young dancers demonstrate is to be encouraged and I think it is fantastic when I see a child utterly in love with the hobby of their choosing. Unfortunately, as with many strongly competitive hobbies, the child is potentially at risk of being pushed incredibly hard, to the point where the child no longer finds it enjoyable, or even more heart breaking, where they begin to identify with a self that is idealised and fictitious. One example of this is could be that a girl may grow up to think she has to be a certain weight to be liked or beautiful. There has been many a talented dancer, who has given up the art entirely, not because they lost the love to dance, but just because everything else gets too much.

A big concern of mine is when I see parents or teachers acting in quite frankly, a disgraceful way toward their child/student. Behaviour far from what we would consider respectful and encouraging. I understand different cultures have different values and ideas of what is acceptable, but it is hard for me to believe that some of the behaviour I have witnessed, regardless of culture, would not be having some negative effect on the child.

I’ll give you an example of something I saw at a competition recently. A teacher, which I also had good reason to believe was also the mother of the boy, was helping the young couple warm up. It was a juvenile couple, and I would have thought under the age 10. Within 5 minutes of the warm up, this child was being yelled out, subject to aggressive pokes and having his arms being pulled into position all because he apparently was not doing it well enough. Now personally I don’t think this behaviour is necessary under any circumstance, but imagine how this child felt walking onto the competition floor. Even if there were accolades and congratulations after the dancing was finished, what price did this little boy have to pay? The image of what I saw that day hasn’t left me, as it is just totally unnecessary and uncalled for. The boy was old enough to be spoken to, in a positive way, about how he could improve his dancing should this teacher have felt the need to do so that day. Who really wanted to achieve the results that day – the child or the parent/teacher?

Less traumatic examples, but equally as damaging, is with the impact of social media and the dance world. We have now embarked on a world that is completely different from previous generations growing up. Social media has the power to place huge pressures on kids and it’s something every parent needs to address. As adults we can also be victims of social media pressures and the feeling that we always need to be more – just imagine how this might affect young ones. Our industry is already very particular about body image and I think these demands together with social media could result in immense pressure. This is not restricted to body image either, as social media tends to highlight every amazing success, great result, fantastic experience and brilliant lesson. Kids must be made aware that what they read, is not the whole story!

I don’t say that social media doesn’t have it’s benefits in dancing, such include documenting your dance career, assistance with partner searches and sharing your experiences with others near and far, but bear in mind it is a powerful tool and could potentially be a big burden for kids. It cleverly and deceptively creates an ‘ideal’ of what their dance journey should be like, rather than just enjoying whatever their particular path looks like. And what happens when the results are not great, and the child just wants to move on? We as adults, face these issues too, so imagine how much kids can be affected. We do want to encourage young dancers to fulfil their potential, let them love what they do and know they are supported, appreciated and valued. I would never say otherwise. I Just believe it wouldn’t hurt to be a little mindful in how quickly we post everything and to think twice about what is shared. Talk to children if you see any signs that something may be affecting them. Reassure the kids that whoever they are, they are enough. I am comforted in the fact that despite any behaviour we may see, all parents and teachers are there just trying to do their best by their children.

 

CONVERSATION WITH YOURSELF – “COMP DAY”

Have you ever paid attention to the running commentary going on with yourself on competition day?

Of course this is not the same for all of us as everyone handles stress differently, but some of the things that come to mind are:

“I feel so tired today. I have no energy. I don’t know what’s wrong with me today. My partner is dancing like crap today. I can’t stand on my on feet. My hair didn’t go well today. I look too big in this dress. These tails are killing me. My makeup is not the best today. They are wearing the same thing as me. We are in the same colour. I bet they are going to dance well today. The panel is bad for us today. The panel is good for them today. The floor is slippery. The floor is sticky. The floor has divets in it. It’s so hot in here. I can’t eat. I feel lethargic. We are running late. My partner is angry at me. How many rounds do we have left? My stamina is bad today. I secretly hope we don’t do another round, I’m knackered. I can’t believe we didn’t make another round and they did. I wonder what our teachers think of our dancing today. I hope they didn’t see me as I danced so bad today.  I can’t believe we didn’t even get one mark from that judge.”

This can go on forever and ever. I know not everyone has these types of thoughts, but I can assure you many do! I hear students talk all day long at comps, making justifications as to why they may not perform why they do, placing blame on others or simply being self destructive as their confidence has taken a massive hit. Is this the way you want to enjoy competitions?

I challenge you to take some time during your next competition and check in with what is really going on in your mind. How many stories have you got involved in before you even become aware that it is happening?

The important work in trying to turn this around starts well before competition day, in fact it is a daily job! We can’t expect our minds to suddenly think differently on ‘comp day’ if on a daily basis we train it proficiently to be destructive. From experience, the additional stresses on competition day will only enhance the behavioural patterns learned at practices or even in your personal life.

This brings me to this question – what drives us to have certain thought patterns? This is a big question, but at the same time the driving force behind our thoughts tend to fall into two categories –  either from a place of love or a place of fear. So is the destructive stories going on during comp day a result of fear? What are you fearful of? I want to highlight a few examples which might be applicable to dancers.

  1. A BAD RESULT: I think it’s pretty fair to say this is the biggest driving force amongst dancers as to why we may continue to participate in all that negative thinking. If you now find yourself going hell yes, then the next question that comes into my mind is, and what if you do? What’s the worst that can happen? Have you had a bad result in the past? Almost everyone has at some stage. Did you survive, yes! Did it make you stronger, almost always, yes! Of course it is horrible, yes you want to hide, yes you wonder what people think etc, but again all of those things are out of your control. It’s such a vicious cycle – fear bad result, have destructive thoughts, jeopardise performance, and potentially encourage bad result anyway! What if you broke the chain, and just accepted how you will dance that day, and accepted the result whatever it may be. At least this way you give yourself the opportunity to perform at your best.
  2. WORRIED WHAT OTHERS’ WILL THINK: Of course this is linked to the first. I think it is often a concern of what the teachers/judges who are not judging but watching, will think. This in turn can alter their view and marking of you in future competitions. If you are doing your best, have prepared well, dancing true to what you want to do and who you want to do it with, then it’s easier to welcome the feedback rather than fear it. Also it is worth considering that in this scenario, a majority of the time, what you are worried about is all assumption! You don’t know what they are actually thinking when watching. They could be thinking about what they want for dinner, their next holiday or another couple and there you were letting it jeopardise your performance that day.
  3. FEAR OF YOUR PARTNER: I find this one incredibly heart breaking. I’ve actually been there myself and man if I had the chance to go back how I would do things differently. The slightest idea of being afraid of what you partner will think, how they will speak to you or physically act towards you if you don’t perform well is truly heartbreaking. This defeats the entire purpose of working in a team. If there are issues in the partnership then they are bound to be highlighted on competition day. The additional stresses will break open any existing small cracks. Far better to be honest with yourself and either communicate with your partner to resolve the issues or move on. If life is too short, then a dancing career is definitely too short to be fearful of your own partner.
  4. PERSONAL DISAPPOINTMENT: Speaking from experience when this actually happens, it is one of the worst. Looking back I had no idea how to deal with this at the time. It really only become something to fear after my first real experience of personal disappointment. I let it take over my entire being for days, weeks and even months after it happened and this resistance rather than acceptance made it a much bigger thing than it should have been. The knowing that you could have done so much better, letting yourself (and your partner) down after all the sacrifices you had made to arrive at that point, knowing the expectations you had upon yourself (another blog right there!) and then you didn’t perform, you didn’t enjoy it and you felt humiliated at that moment of time. I have had a few times in my career when I wanted the floor to swallow me up so no one could see me and the nightmare would be over. At that time, in that final, it should have been the highlight of my career at that point, and yet it went completely and disastrously wrong. Sadly, the feelings that followed for a long time after the performance were really what I remember about that competition. With such resistance and determination to punish myself, I made sure that I didn’t let it go and moving forward I was so fearful of experiencing this again. As hard as it is, it’s better to accept what has happened and not punish yourself. Learn how you can do it differently but do not beat yourself up!

If you can relate to a negative conversation going on with yourself on competition day, or even in practice or on a daily basis, take some time to think about what it is you’re really fearful of. Identifying and acknowledging the cause will be the first step in reducing it’s power and help you recognise what is going on when it reoccurs. Know that these thoughts do not serve you and in the big scheme of things, life is simply too short to be living in fear, overrun with worry and concerned with every insignificant detail. Keep it all in perspective and give it the importance it warrants. What is more important at the end of your career … how much you enjoyed it or how much you worried about everything?