As dancers, we know that what we’ve learned in the studio goes far beyond the steps and choreography. We know from our own experience that dance can be transformative; that it helps us grow not only as movers and artists, but as individuals and citizens. Dance training instills all kinds of life skills, but so often dance is dismissed as fluffy, frivolous, or merely something to do for fun.
So the next time someone tries to tell you that you are “just” a dancer (or “just” a dance teacher!), remind them that there is no such thing as “just” when it comes to dance! Through dance education, valuable skills are developed and refined – skills that have applications extending far beyond the dance studio. Dance training truly is life training, and the skills developed through dance can be applied throughout your life.
- Accountability – As a dancer, you are part of a team working together to present the best possible performance. Whether you are a member of the corps or the chorus, the prima ballerina or the leading man, a swing or an understudy, you are vital to the success of the production. If you skip rehearsal, phone it in, forget your entrance, or don’t give it all in every run through, the entire team suffers. You learn quickly that others rely on you, and you are accountable to fulfill your role with humility and hard work.
- Personal Responsibility – A lot more goes into dance class than one might realize. You need to remember your dancewear and shoes, arrive on time, warm yourself up, remember combinations and choreography, apply corrections from the instructor, follow proper etiquette, and interact with your fellow dancers safely and appropriately. Your dance teachers are there to guide and advise you, but ultimately, it is up to you to set and meet your personal goals. As a dance student, you will quickly learn that you are responsible for your own success in the studio, and you become empowered to make that success as reality.
- Persistence – Dancing is hard. You have to work at it, spending hours in the studio perfecting your craft. You must practice simple and mundane elements over and over again before you can move on to the more exciting tricks and choreography. If you try to take shortcuts to success, you will quickly learn that it only leads to frustration, disappointment, or injury. Persistence is the name of the game in dance training!
- Cooperation – Even though you spend a lot of time honing your individual skills in the studio, dancing is most often a group activity. In class, you share the space, using your spatial awareness and non-verbal communication skills to make sure you move safely and allow others to do the same. In rehearsal, you often collaborate with others, working together as a group and with the choreographer to create, manipulate, and embody the artistic vision. In performance, you dance with your partner or the ensemble, working to create a sense of unity on stage. While legendary stories about famous performers’ egos abound, the truth is most dancers learn quickly that cooperation is key to their own success in the industry.
- Creativity – We live in a creative economy. The ability to innovate, think outside the box, and approach problems in creative ways is valued in every field, now more than ever. Dance allows for creativity on multiple levels, whether it is personal self-expression through improvisation, creating your own choreography, or embodying another’s choreographic vision as a dancer. Steve Jobs even credits his creative successes in part to his experience with modern dance, stating, “I didn’t realize how much I learned about movement and perception from the class until a few years later, when I worked at Atari. I was able to relate how much resolution of movement you need in terms of perceiving things in certain ways for video games”.
- Flexibility – Obviously, as a dancer you need to be physically flexible. But dancers need to be flexible in other ways, as well. You need to adapt when changes in the choreography are made right up until opening night. You need to be able to balance the viewpoints of different teachers, who might teach the same technique in radically different ways. You need to be able to handle disappointment and frustration with grace. The emotional, social, and cognitive flexibility needed to be a dancer are almost more important than the physical.
- Attention to Detail – Dance is all about the details. The initiation of a movement, the tilt of the head in epaulment, and split second adjutants in timing all play a pivotal role in successful execution of dance technique and choreography. As a dancer, you are trained to observe with your eyes, ears, and kinesthetic sense. You learn to pick up the rhythmic patterns in your teacher’s voice. You learn to spot minuscule changes in height of a leg or the angle of an arm. You learn to feel the minute weight changes that make all the difference between a good balance and a great one.
- Passion – If there is one word NOT to use to describe a dancer, it is apathetic. As a dancer, you care passionately about your art. You sacrifice for it. You devote time, energy, resources – everything you’ve got. You are inspired, and you strive to inspire others. Isn’t passion what the world needs most right now? The problems facing societies around the world require passionate individuals who know what it means to devote themselves to a cause. And dancers, in my opinion, do that better than anyone else!