This one's for the Parents, Coaches and Teachers.
Every Dancer I know has dreamt of being up on stage as a job, career and lifestyle. That is the main aim. Its an admirable and brilliant profession that embraces originality and diversity, yet, there is a darker, more unspoken side to becoming a professional in the theatre, especially in Dance. Health... often overlooked in the long term. The original purpose, on which Science in Dance was founded, was to promote health and bring education to the world's Professionals in Dance and those just starting out on that journey. As this will always remain the foundation for our work, we will not leave out topics that are sometimes difficult to approach with Dancers such as; mental health, nutrition, daily routines and body image. It is important to talk about these topics with respect with a sense of openness which allows for comfort and the freedom of information to help one another reach our desired goals. However, in this article I do not wish to talk about the psychology of Dancing but rather the reflective and developmental processes of Coaching and Teaching from the point of view of another Coach.
A number of my peers and colleagues have worked in Dancer and Sport 5 times longer than myself, yet the puzzle that connects performance, wellbeing (physiological and psychological) and personal development has ever-changing pieces with no absolutely perfect combination that fits every individual. We have seen it through the decades of health provision and Sport/Dance, A one size fits all provision or a blanket system, a net that all individuals fall into where there is a recipe that is "evidence based". Often this sort of system can fail the individuals that are caught in this "net".
Introducing the "Athlete Centred Environment", as Strength and Conditioning Coaches, this is what we strive for. Often a Coach's personality is driven by their desire to express knowledge to Athletes. Yet this could be done in a number of ways; either to impress the group or to enhance the group. One approach displays the information and guidance as showing of superior intellect, whereas, the other displays the information so it can be digested by the audience for their gain and to the advantage of the group.
I will state at this point that; I am not teaching a granny to suck eggs, nor being patronising, nor suggesting that Ballet and Dance Teachers do not do create a Dancer Centred Environment. Rather, I am drawing attention to and labelling a phenomenon that I have witnessed occur in some great Dance coaching environments. I am simply creating awareness of something that we should all strive for when teaching or coaching and often it is a naturally occurring.
At the heart of all our efforts, as Guides through a process, is our desire to produce high quality Dancers and Athletes. As a Coach, I am guided by my Athlete and aim to engage with them on a personal level in order to create an optimal environment for their progression. However, this is not without trial and error. As Coaches and Teachers we make mistakes when engaging with different personalities and it is important to learn from these mistakes are reflect on our coaching processes.
Introducing "Coaching Reflection", to reflect on our practises is key to our own development, no matter what our experience. In turn, this allows us to unlock hidden potential in our athletes through the ability to adapt our skills and differentiate between personality types. It is very easy to walk out of the gym or studio and begin preparing for the next session or be distracted by the many administrative or organisational tasks that come with the positions we hold. These cannot go unattended, however, if we throw back to the importance of mindfulness, as coaches, we should make time for reflecting upon how we performed in a session. What could I have done better? Should I have handled a situation differently? Could I have derived a greater performance from my Dancers?
I can categorically state that, since I have taken time each day to reflect upon the sessions I deliver, I have become a more proficient, holistic and engaging Coach. This has not been from gaining greater knowledge, this has happened by exploring a greater variety of coaching methods that fit the individuals I am working with. I have moved further away from the one size fits all, fishing net coaching approach where the athlete is made to fit the programme. But, rather, a "Programme to fit the Athlete" approach.
It comes as no surprise that one approach can have two different effects on two different people, yet it is our responsibility as Coaches to guide all Dancers/Athletes, striving for the same end goal, on their individualised paths to success.
We should not be afraid to say that a stale and emotionally challenging environment can easily be created for Dancers in recreational Dancing, Vocational training and Companies by a coaching system that does not adapt nor ebb and flow with the ever changing dynamics of our world. Regardless of the personalities found in the studio or gym, they are all there for the same reason. As with any Sport or Activity, there are a sets of rules and pre-determined policies that all Athletes abide by, such as; dress code, manners, punctuality and many more. Yet, it should be maintained that often, despite Athletes striving not to, external factors that influence daily performance can enter the studio or gym with a Dancer. As we are already investing our time in an Art form that is so emotionally taxing, it is paramount that our coaching awareness is heightened and we can offer the correct support in the studio and gym that will create an environment on which an individual can thrive whilst simultaneously ensuring that there is no disruption to atmosphere in the session or group. The are of reflection will allow us to prepare for such situations where by we can offer support "on the job" all in the name of encouraging positivity and prosperous mental health for all.
So, inline with all my other articles so far, What am I getting at?
Due to the heightened awareness of mental health across the UK and the rest of the World, not just in Dance, it is absolutely fitting that Coaches and Teachers in Dance should recognise that the disciplined nature of the Art can often derive some undesired effects on a person's thought processes and psychological state. As such, regularly reflecting on our practises and ensuring we have an Dancer centred environment will allow us to recognise any potentially negative situations and adapt accordingly or create a more actively nurturing process whereby an individual can become empowered.
As I mentioned before, the Dance Teachers and Coaches I have had the pleasure of meeting and knowing are some of the most emotionally intelligent and aware people I have ever met and have inspired me to write this article. Despite some of my colleagues having "old school" methods and others having a very personable approach to Dance Teaching, they maintain the ability to differentiate between individuals, spot character traits and adapt their coaching style accordingly to ensure that individual thrives to the advantage of the group and themselves. This is an ability they have gained through being conscious to their surroundings and remaining humble as lighthouses for other peoples's ships not Captains.
After all, we are aiming to build strong Dancers but EVEN STRONGER HUMAN BEINGS.