During dance class, a teacher’s verbal praise and recognition can reinforce students’ skills and boosts their confidence. A simple “That was a beautiful pirouette!” can mean the world to a student. But while the recognition of talented dancers and their hard work is necessary, it is just as important to recognize the other strengths that go unrecognized in the classroom.
As dance educators who are helping shape a future generation, it’s important to reflect on this: What sort of recognition do we give students whose kindness and character stand out? How do we acknowledge the student who shows empathy to a peer who is struggling? Or show our appreciation for the student who volunteers to stay late and help a teacher clean up? Put simply, how do we show appreciation for the dancers who exhibit kindness, compassion and generosity?
With younger students, a sticker or a piece of candy is often used to reward kind behavior and encourage others to do the same. But when it comes to recognizing and rewarding teens and adult students, you might be looking for something more.
Here are a few ideas you can incorporate in your studio or classroom to reward and inspire students of all age groups.
Start a Studio-Wide Initiative
Creating an initiative for your entire studio or school is a great way to develop the environment you envision and foster a sense of community. Start by identifying or selecting a goal or celebration your studio wants to reach together and have kindness be the pathway there.
As a dance educator who is striving to recognize kindness, I started a program called “Kick it With Kindness” while I was teaching at Mary Lorraine’s Dance Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Whenever a teacher witnessed a student going out of their way to be empathetic, compassionate or helpful, the teacher acknowledged the student in class. The student was presented with a certificate and their name was added to a large, outlined heart on the lobby wall. Once the heart was filled, the whole studio celebrated by having a week of “Dress in Colors,” breaking the usual all-black dress code.
Dancers of all ages were thrilled at the thought of wearing neon colors to ballet. It may seem a bit cheesy or even forced to do something like this, but it can make a statement to your students about what you value. At Mary Lorraine’s, the purpose was to emphasize to the students that how they treat each other is more important than how good of a dancer they are.
Run a Scholarship Program
Scholarships are a practical and meaningful approach to celebrate dancers who exude great character. They also give dancers the opportunity to further their dance education. Kelsey Faulk, owner and artistic director of Everything Goes Dance Studio in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, organized a scholarship program for three years at her dance studio. Faulk says the scholarship was started by the generosity of a local friend who danced with their original studio owner and founder, the late Shannon Calderon. “She offered a small amount to be given to a dancer who was always as good of a friend as Shannon was to her,” Faulk explains. With the emphasis on friendship, Faulk continued the scholarship after its inception, and each year she awards students who demonstrate what they call “EGD Familia Spirit.” This involves demonstrating patience, kindness and building confidence in others. Faulk explains that this scholarship is not about being the best dancer but about embodying the principles their studio finds most important.
Starting a scholarship of this nature is an opportunity to establish the principles you are committed to upholding and the characteristics you expect students to strive to embody. Faulk has seen the benefit to her school. “It’s about being a good friend to those around you,” she says. “We make sure and remind all of our students of that, and it changes the atmosphere in the studio to be a place of positivity, love and acceptance.”
Give Verbal Compliments
One of the simplest ways to recognize kindness is by calling it out when you see it. Kara Royall, the owner of Etudes Ballet School in White Stone, Virginia, uses words of praise to recognize her students’ character. Royall specifically looks for actions of resiliency, kindness and peer support. This could be helping someone sew their pointe shoe ribbons or encouraging a classmate who is struggling. Royall first draws attention to their kindness in class. “I not only want them to know I see them,” she says, “but I want the rest to know that these are behaviors they should hold as an example and cultivate in their own lives.” Royall also shares how proud she is of her students through personal notes she gives out at their end-of-the-year recital. These notes not only commend them on their dancing but who they are as people.
Royall says her students have more confidence, and her studio has little “drama” because of these tactics. “When everyone feels seen and respected, there isn’t as much backstabbing or bullying happening,” Royall adds. Her students don’t feel the need to compete over praise in their dancing as they all feel loved and supported.
Creating Beautiful Dancers Inside and Out
No matter how you choose to do it, recognizing kindness in your studio or classroom will only benefit your students. It will increase their self-esteem and empower them to be a light to others, which creates a positive learning environment that is conducive to further growth. So, let’s all strive to develop beautiful dancers and beautiful human beings!