by Janet Neidhardt
I recently read the research article entitled “So We Think You Can Learn: How Student Perceptions Affect Learning” by Susan Haines, MFA and Talani Torres, MFA. I should first point out, since I am addressing competition, that the research article won Top Paper Citation 2012 from NDEO. Haines and Torres spent time researching how their students’ perspectives on a rehearsal process affected their learning of choreography for performance. They found that their students’ competitiveness with their peers stopped their learning process. I found this research so interesting and applicable to my own students and teaching that I had my Honors Dance class read the article and discuss their own thoughts and questions about it. (The article is attached below)
My students had a lot to say when it came to feelings of competition in dance. Although some of them dance on competitive teams and others dance within studios that are non-competitive, they all felt some sort of frustration when being placed in the back or not getting solos when it came time to learn dances which would be performed for an audience. They said things like “it just hurts my self-confidence when I feel like I have worked so hard but I keep getting placed in the back.” They clearly identified with the sentiments expressed by students in the research article.
The competitive environment becomes a problem if student learning is halted because they no longer feel competent or confident in their own dancing.
Only one student said that she wants to become a better dancer for herself not to be better than anyone else. She explained that she loves the challenge she feels within herself when dancing and trying to master movement. She even quoted Mikhail Baryshnikov saying “I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.”
During this somewhat heated discussion I talked with my students about the goals of my class specifically and explained that no one should feel competitive and unable to learn in my classroom. I want to create an environment in which my students feel internally motivated to improve their skills as artists. I want my students to feel able to take risks and push themselves and learn from one another in a safe and caring environment. My goals in teaching movement and choreography skills, dance history, and development of aesthetics are for the individuals to learn about themselves within the process of learning about dance.
I said to them, “What if your grade depended on the success of the person next to you?” The students quickly responded that they would be helping each other to learn movement and remind each other about details and performance. It was interesting how quickly they began to realize how their focus could shift if their goals were changed from the individual success to the group success.
This is clearly an ongoing conversation and evaluation to have with my students. I hope to instill in them a sense of internal motivation while caring for the development of those around them. Our theme for the year, dancing from the inside out, directly ties into this conversation and will hopefully guide the students to new perspectives about how they approach dance.
Contributor Janet Neidhardt has been a dance educator for 10 years. She has taught modern, ballet, and jazz at various studios and schools on Chicago’s North Shore. She received her MA in Dance with an emphasis in Choreography from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and her BA in Communications with a Dance Minor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Throughout her time in graduate school, Janet performed with Sidelong Dance Company based in Winston-Salem, NC.
Currently, Janet teaches dance at Loyola Academy High School in Wilmette, IL. She is the Director of Loyola Academy Dance Company B and the Brother Small Arts Guild, and choreographs for the Spring Dance Concert and school musical each year. Janet is very active within the Loyola Academy community leading student retreats and summer service trips. She regularly seeks out professional development opportunities to continue her own artistic growth. Recently, Janet performed with Keigwin and Company in the Chicago Dancing Festival 2012 and attended the Bates Dance Festival.
When she isn’t dancing, Janet enjoys teaching Pilates, practicing yoga, and running races around the city of Chicago.