By Olivia Mode-Cater EdM / Edited by Samantha Bellerose , B.Ed, Dip.Dance(Performing Arts)
Maybe your dancer is feeling frustrated and confused after being placed in the back row yet again. Or, perhaps they’re facing body image and self-confidence issues and just aren’t acting like their typical cheerful self.
Dancing can be physically and emotionally difficult, so it’s important to understand how to help your dancers achieve their goals in a healthy way.
Whether you’re a parent looking to build up your dancer’s confidence or a dance studio owner looking to bring better self-care practices into the studio, these four tips will help you bring out the best in your dancers:
- Encourage positive self-talk.
- Prioritize cross-training.
- Create a healthy relationship with food.
- Keep it fun!
When you can help your dancer eliminate any distractions and insecurities, they’ll be able to reconnect with the art form they love so much and start to build a positive, sustainable relationship with dance.
1. Encourage positive self-talk.
I will never get this choreography down. I keep messing up. Why am I not good enough?
These are examples of negative self-talk that might creep up in your dancer’s mind if they’re facing a particularly tough challenge or period of low self-confidence. Everyone falls into the trap of negative self-talk from time to time, but the key is to help your dancer develop some positive habits that help keep the negativity at bay.
Encourage your dancer to transform their negative thoughts into positive ones by using the following tips:
- Don’t minimize your dancer’s feelings. Telling your dancer “It’s just a dance recital! It’s not the end of the world!” might sound reasonable to you, but you’ll probably find that’s not the right approach to take when comforting your dancer. Always validate your dancer’s emotions, whether positive or negative.
- Practice positive affirmations. Affirmations are motivational statements you can encourage your dancer to say aloud to themselves. Affirmations might seem silly at first, but once you push through the awkwardness, you’ll be amazed at how just saying, “I am good enough” or “I am strong” can make a difference for your dancer!
- Have open conversations about social media. Social media can be a source of self-esteem and confidence issues, especially for young dancers. Dancers might find themselves scrolling through TikTok or Instagram and comparing themselves to the thousands of professional dancers out there. Be sure to have honest conversations with your dancer about the pitfalls of social media, including editing styles and filters that alter reality.
You might incorporate these practices into your daily routine, such as before you drop your dancer off at rehearsal. Or, if you’re a dance studio owner or teacher, you might incorporate these tips into your dance studio management strategy to develop a more positive, affirmative environment.
Either way, it’s important to equip your dancers with these types of emotional skills that help them self-regulate their internal monologue and change it to a more productive one.
2. Prioritize cross-training.
Fitness experts and athletic trainers alike promote the benefits of cross-training, or training through choosing a sport or activity that’s different from the athlete’s main sport or discipline.
Cross-training should be an important element of your dancer’s training regimen. Dance can be very repetitive as dancers perform the same moves, again and again, to get them right. This can put stress on specific body parts and joints and even lead to injury. But a well-rounded training program helps your dancer adopt a balanced fitness routine and strengthen all parts of the body evenly.
Here are a few types of cross-training your dancer might participate in:
- Stretching/yoga: Yoga and other stretching exercises offer many benefits for dancers, including breath control, proper alignment, and enhanced flexibility. Plus, yoga offers emotional benefits, such as mindfulness and creating moments of calm.
- Pilates: Pilates helps dancers build strength and stability. It can be a great workout for dance parents to participate in with their dancers.
- Fun activities: Your dancer’s cross-training routine doesn’t have to solely consist of specific fitness activities. Encourage your dancer to take part in other fun opportunities, such as sports like tennis or kickball, bike rides, or hiking.
Creating a well-balanced cross-training routine encourages your dancer to embrace healthy habits early in their dance career to prevent injury down the line.
3. Create a healthy relationship with food.
Another crucial aspect of your dancer’s overall well-being is their nutrition. If your dancer doesn’t have a positive relationship with food and nutrition, they won’t be able to perform to the best of their ability.
Unfortunately, eating disorders are all too common in the dance world, with studies showing that dancers have a three times higher risk of suffering from eating disorders. For too long, the main focus in dance environments was on absolute perfectionism, leading to often dangerous consequences. That’s why it’s important to help your dancer develop a healthy relationship with nutrition and body image at a young age.
To help your dancer develop healthy eating habits, experts recommend:
- Not assigning moral value to food. Don’t label foods as “bad” or “good” or “healthy” and “unhealthy.” This can create feelings of guilt around enjoying food.
- Acting as a positive role model. It can be challenging to unlearn societal expectations surrounding dieting and healthy eating, but it’s important to show your dancer that you are also working toward a wholesome relationship with food.
- Involving your dancer in meal planning. Engaging your dancer in the shopping and food preparation process can inspire an interest in cooking and allow your dancer to take control of their nutrition.
Proper nutrition is necessary to help dancers maintain energy and stamina to push them through a long rehearsal or replenish nutrients after a workout. When your dancer is fueling their body with a well-balanced diet and healthy eating mindset, they’ll be that much more prepared to be on their A-game when it comes time for competitions or recitals.
4. Keep it fun!
Whenever your dancer starts to feel stressed, burnt out, or frustrated, it’s important to help them remember why they got into dancing in the first place: their passion and love for it!
At the end of the day, dancing is about having fun—expressing yourself, interacting with friends, and learning new and creative ways to move your body.
Encourage dancers to continue finding joy in the activity by:
- Holding impromptu dance parties. Whenever your dancer seems especially stressed, throw on a hip-hop or pop song and go crazy in the living room.
- Spending a class learning a TikTok dance challenge. If you’re a dance instructor and you notice your students seem disengaged, consider mixing things up and spending a lesson learning a fun viral TikTok dance.
- Knowing when it’s time to take a break. If the stress is really getting to your dancer, remember that it’s absolutely fine to take a mental health day! Spend a day participating in self-care activities, such as having a spa day or watching movies.
DanceStudio-Pro’s guide to running a dance studio recommends that studio owners diversify their class offerings to appeal to student interests. You can poll your students to ask if they have preferences for fun activities to participate in or dance trends to learn as a class.
You’ll always be able to bring out the best in your dancer when they’re having fun. When they can shake off the nerves or insecurities and focus on enjoying themselves, they’ll be able to reconnect with their love and passion for dance.
These tips help your dancer build both a healthy body and mind. When they feel strong on a physical and emotional level, your dancers will shine and perform to the best of their ability.
And remember, the most important part of bringing out the best in your dancers is to have open and honest communication with them. Ask them how you can best support them in their dance journey, and strive to incorporate their feedback.