Practicing Dance, Or Practicing Life?
Perhaps you are a parent of a young dancer. You see your child practicing different positions to hold; steps, jumps, turns. Does it all look rather basic to you? Have you, perhaps, taken dance classes yourself? Or, maybe, it seems like it must be a lot harder than it looks.
Dancing and learning to dance are more challenging than it may first appear. As your child gets older and advances, the classes become more complex. You probably see the effort and time your child dedicates to dance training and you see it in your monthly budget too – now she's taking several classes a week! You'd be justified to wonder, is all the effort and expense worth it? The physical dance motions that are practiced during class are only one part of the lesson – the part you can SEE.
The other side of dance education is in the life lessons that aren’t always so apparent.
What happened in the moment when your child was instructed to hold her leg up in the air, but instead, she quit? She dropped her leg and stood there with an excuse about how she just couldn’t do it. Her dance teacher gave her a look. You know the one. It’s the same one that you use when she just can't pick up her clothes from the bedroom floor.
What happened in the moment your child’s dance teacher encouraged her to jump higher and your child's expression turned to one of stunned disbelief and certainty that she already jumped as high as she possibly could. It’s the same look she gave you when you told her it was time to try riding a bicycle without the training wheels. No doubt, your child ended up riding her bike confidently. Similarly, in dance class, she eventually ended up lifting her legs very high and defying gravity with her amazing jumps. Of course, it took time.
Both, learning to ride a bike and learning to dance proficiently, take some time.
What happened that day she came home crying because some other student got the leading role in the performance? Despite her disappointment, your child still wanted to attend dance the next day, and the day after that, etc…
What about the times she came home from dance class exhausted and utterly crashed on the sofa, or the time she skipped the birthday party because she had dance class or rehearsal and decided she couldn’t skip that.
What about the performances? Your child kept going over and over the choreography in your living room. You were there when she broke down and told you that she just couldn’t juggle school, dance classes, rehearsals and her nerves all at once. Of course you were there, and you dried her tears until suddenly she was explaining that she had a responsibility to show up and to do her part in the show. She couldn’t stop talking about the performance, her teachers, and her friends. You were there at the performance, watching her with her friends and dressed in her costume and a big wide smile. You took photos to document it all.
Dance isn’t simply a series of positions and steps. Dance education is life experience. It’s the kind of positive, proactive experience that stays with a child into adulthood. Through her dance education, your child has learned that when she is tired and feels like giving up, quitting isn’t an option. She's acquired the skills to set goals. She understands dance is discipline, determination, team work, respect, and hours and hours of hard work – as it is to accomplish any worthy endeavor. She has learned to deal with disappointment, to pick herself back up, and to try again. She has learned to accept life’s downs as well as the ups and to do both graciously.
The worth of learning these lessons in dance is summed up in this quote from the great Martha Graham:
“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living.”