Growth mindset and dance
You may have heard the term growth mindset – but what does it mean for dance? The world of dance is nothing if not a roller coaster. You are up, you are down, you are in, you are out. You want to win, you don’t, you really want to do a certain step but you can’t. That is just reality. As much as us crazy dance mommas would like our little dancers to be center front in every routine, winning every trophy, acing every exam, being offered every opportunity, it generally won’t happen that way. BUT, what if there were a way that we could do something really, really simple, that could help put them in a position to achieve more, change their mindset, and change the way they react to their perceived ‘failures’, so that even those ‘failures’ become successes. Good news! As a crazy dance momma you may not be able to teach them how to dance, heck you may not even be able to sew a ribbon on a ballet shoe (you really can you know, I’ll show you here) but you can praise them right!? Wow! That simple you say? Just praise them? Well, not quite that simple, you have to be very careful with how you word your praise but once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with!
The connection between praise and achievement comes from research on mindset by Carol Dweck. There is a huge body of research that is really really interesting and incredibly valuable. You can read more about it in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. However, I know us crazy dance mums are super busy and I totally get that you just want to understand how this praise thing is going to work out for you. So I’ll cut to chase.
How to praise your dancer for a growth mindset.
Basically, the research tells us that there are two types of mindsets, fixed and growth. I have created this handy dandy infographic to break it down for you as it relates to dance.
Interesting hey?! So how does this research on growth mindset relate to dance? Imagine your dancer at a competition. They’ve been having a bit of success lately They have gone to all their classes, they have practiced but then they stand side stage and they watch the person before them and that person is REALLY good and later when they are standing on stage that same person walks away with the trophy. This happens, it happens all the time. It is how your dancer processes this situation that is important. Do they think, I’m just not as good as them, I’ll never be as good as them, I went to class, I practiced but it didn’t work. I can’t do any better than I did, actually, I don’t want to do this particular competition again, I’ll just stick to the ones I won at. If I see that girl’s name in the program again, I’m not coming. Its not even worth turning up, I’ll never win. OR do they think, mmmmm what am I missing here? I really need to work harder. If she can do it, I can do it. You know what, I’m going to go away and work super hard. I want my arabesque to be just as good as hers. I’ll ask my teacher for some tips. Just give me 6 months, I can’t wait to compete against her again. She is so inspiring and one day I just might get there.
The kind of dancer we want to encourage is the kind that fronts up to a competition or a class or workshop or wherever and is inspired by those around them. The kind who, when they don’t succeed, want to try harder, make a new plan, they know it’s going to take a while but they are willing to work for it. They aren’t afraid to try new things in class, even if they know they aren’t very good at it and they aren’t afraid to go out and compete because it’s all just a learning experience for them and they are willing to keep working for their own personal success.
So what about this praise thing? I think it is best summed up by one of Carol Dweck’s studies and so I’m just going to explain it to you. Basically, a team of researchers gave a bunch of kids a simple IQ test which they all did really well in. The kids were then praised in one of two ways. Either they were praised for their intelligence – you must be really smart at this OR they were praised for their efforts – great job you must have really put in a lot of effort, Then the kids were presented with a second test but given a choice. They were told they had the option of choosing a harder test that would give them a great opportunity to learn and grow or they could choose an test the same as the first one which would mean they would surely do well on it. 67% of the kids praised for their intelligence chose the easy test while 92% of the kids who were praised for their effort chose the harder test. This is really quite astounding and you can see already the implications this has for kids both in the studio and at competitions. People always say I’m really flexible, I don’t want to try this new exercise because I might not be able to do it and then everyone will know I’m not really that flexible. I think I’ll say I hurt my back or I’m just going to be silly so people don’t notice I can’t do it. Maybe I’ll ask to go to the toilet. But there is still more! After the second test, the kids were then given a third test which was at the same difficulty level as the first easy IQ test. The kids who were praised for their intelligence actually did worse on the third test, infect, their scores dropped by 20%. Meanwhile, the kids who were praised for their effort raised their test scores by 30%. This is a 50% difference in performance, just through a few simple words of praise! Pretty exciting right!? Carole Dweck explains why this happens.
Growth mindset and dance
So what can we as crazy dance mums take from all of this? Well, it means we have to try really really hard to praise the process and effort and not to praise ability and talent. Unfortunately for us, the dance world is full of praise for talent and ability. From the, “Oh she’s got those beautiful ballet feet, she’s naturally flexible, she so good at jumps, she’s a natural turner” to the trophies and prizes around every corner that don’t necessarily recognize the process or the effort but sure do reward talent and ability. Fortunately, we can help our dancers in the right direction by focusing on all the right things. We can constantly focus on the process, on the effort, on their individual achievements. Luckily for us, mindsets aren’t set in stone, they can change and we can help change them.
You can find some amazing resources specifically designed for dancers to fast track their success by using a growth mindset here.
How to praise your dancer and build a growth mindset.
Some examples of praise at competitions might be
“You could really tell that you’ve been working on your arabesque”.
“Your solo has improved so much. You could really see how hard you have been trying in class”
“I saw how you really tried to fix that step.”
“Gosh, remember when you first started that solo, how difficult that step was. All your hard work has really paid off.”
It is an added bonus when one of the parts they have been working on is mentioned in the crit!
So there you have it! Mindsets and praise for dancers. Praise the process, let your dancer know how important their effort is. Encourage them to see challenges and failures as opportunities for growth. When you get home after a comp or a difficult class, sit down with them and brainstorm new ideas and plans to help them achieve their goals. Celebrate the effort, celebrate the process and they’ll learn much more than just how to dance!