The beginning of March 2021 marked one year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. It was a remarkable year, and a difficult one, in so many ways. Whether your dance students had an extended time off due to studio closures, pivoted to online training, or have been navigating social distancing in their classes, it is likely that they are struggling with the effects of the pandemic in and out of the studio. Now more than ever, it is important that go beyond technique and artistry and work to preserve and protect our students’ social and emotional health as part of their dance training. With that in mind, here are 8 things that your students need to hear from you right now:

1.) I’m proud of you. Even if your students seem a little unmotivated, they are still showing up in the face of enormous challenges in and out of the studio. That perseverance, that willingness to show up, is something we should definitely be proud of. We may be the only adults in our students’ lives who take the time to tell them how proud we are of them for showing up – so let’s not waste a single opportunity to do so! For more encouragement, check out this blog post: A Letter to My Dance Students in 2021.

2.) I’m here for you. Our students need a calm and steady adult presence in their lives when things get tough. Though we hope that they are getting this kind of love and support at home, the truth is many students rely on adult mentors like their dance teachers to be their champions in difficult times. Let your students know that you are there to listen, guide, and support them, no matter what. Set time aside in class to talk about – or dance about – their concerns, anxieties, and frustrations.

3.) This is hard. Too many adults are trying to force a sense of “normalcy” on kids, even though our current circumstances are really anything but normal. These adults may mean well, but what kids need now, more than “normalcy,” is empathy. They need to know that what they are experiencing right now is unprecedented in our lifetimes, and that any sorrow, grief, frustration, and anger they are feeling is justified. Allowing students to express their emotions – in words or in movement – is an important part of their healing from the struggles of the past year. For ways to incorporate healthy emotional expression into your classes, check out this blog post: 5 Dance Activities to Support your Students’ Emotional Health.

4.) You are doing a good job. Today’s students were already facing enormous pressure before the pandemic – from an increasingly difficult college admission process, to the highly competitive nature of today’s dance culture, to peer pressure and the quest for perfectionism fueled by social media. The challenges are always greater for students who have unstable home lives, lower socioeconomic status, or special needs. The COVID-19 crisis incited new challenges for many of our young people, and excasperated existing issues of race, class, and ability. We might feel a desire to “push” our dance students past their current challenges, but what they may actually need to hear from us is that they are doing fine, just as they are.

5.) This will pass. Remember when you were a pre-teen or teenager and everything felt like the end of the world? Every break-up, every bad report card, every failed audition, every dust up with a friend? Imagine how much more deeply our dance students must be feeling the gravity of their current circumstances. While we do not want to diminish or downplay what they are feeling, it is important to remind our students that this, like all things, will pass. Someday, the pandemic and all it’s trappings will be a distant memory – but the lessons we learned from it will last forever!

6.) You can come out of this stronger. Difficult times can make us better, stronger, and kinder – if we let them. We must remind our students that they have a unique opportunity to emerge from their current challenges with a new perspective, new resolve, and more courage than they ever imagined possessing. Tell them about things you are struggling with as a result of the pandemic, and how you are actively working to succeed in spite of, and because of, these struggles. For more on how to support your students’ social and emotional growth through their dance training, check out this blog post: 5 Vital Social and Emotional Skills Students Learn Through Dance – and How to Teach Them!

7.) Dancing can help. Many students may be feeling burnt out, uninspired, and disconnected from their dance training right now. While this is completely understandable, the truth is that dance can help them navigate the difficulties of the pandemic. Dance – whether it is online, in a hybrid format, or with social distancing – offers unparalleled physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Reminding students of these benefits, and providing ample opportunities for the kind of training that fosters them, can help to motivate and encourage your students. Read more: Why Still Need to Dance – Even If It’s Online.

8.) It’s okay if you want to take a break – or quit dancing all together. I’ll be honest, it is hard for me to type this last one. There were so many times I wanted to quit dancing during my career, yet pure stubbornness prevented me from doing so – for better or for worse. While ultimately I’m glad I didn’t give up, for some students, taking a break can be the best option right now. Students get into dance for many reasons. For some, it’s purely a social activity, and now that the social aspect is largely gone (for the moment at least), they may not be experiencing the same joy they once felt. For others, time onstage made the grueling hours in the studio worth it, and without regular performance opportunities, they are losing their desire to continue training. Still others might be looking at the fairly dismal reality of the current arts job market, and are realizing that the sacrifice is no longer worth it with diminished career prospects out there. These students need just as much love and support as those who are choosing to stick it out. It is not easy to part with something that has become an integral part of your identity – but sometimes it can be the best option for one’s physical and emotional health. If you have a student who wants, or needs, to take a break, let them know that you support them – and love them – no matter what. Remind them that they will always have a place in the studio, and in your heart.

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