Dance training is life training
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. We learn so many skills through dance, but so often it 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! We learn valuable life skills through dance – 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.
How we learn through dance
Babies first experience the world around them through movement: the rooting reflex that tells them to turn their head to find food from a bottle or mom, reaching for a toy, rolling to make their way to something they want. Specific movement patterns, like the Brain Dance, can prime the brain for thinking and improve cognition. Movement predates language as a means of communication, and was a primary way that early peoples expressed themselves and connected to one another. Research like this study from the National Dance Education Organization and countless others from the field of neuroscience, cognition, and education indicate that dance can help students learn and improve academic performance. Dance can be used to help students learn to think critically, improve social-emotional skills, and develop abilities needed for success in the creative economy.
But perhaps even more importantly, dance training teaching invaluable “life skills” – traits, habits, and abilities that will help students thrive no matter what path they choose in life. These life skills are developed through the process of practicing and refining dance technique, learning and rehearsing choreography, performing or competing on stage, and dealing with the ups and downs, successes and failures, triumphs and disappointments that come with being a dancer. The life skills that students learn through dance training are perhaps the most valuable part of the experience, and make it all worth it in the long run!
Eight invaluable life skills that are learned through dance
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 that you are accountable to fulfill your role with humility and hard work.
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.
Dancing is hard – there’s no way around that! 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!
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 that 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.
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”.
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.
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!
What life skills have you learned through dance, and how do you apply the skills learned through dance outside of the dance studio? Let me know in the comments!