When I first took over the reins at Peninsula School of Dance many of my senior dancers were just tiny tots in tutus. I’ve watched them grow not just as dancers but as young adults, and I am proud of the people they are becoming. They are a credit to their parents, to their own dedication and direction, and I’d like to think to the influence of a dance school environment.
I know it’s not easy being a teenager.
It’s not easy being a teenager who juggles study, part time work, peer group pressures, family expectations and a passion for dance. I have watched their struggles and perseverance in finding the balance that works best for them, and their families.
Staying the course with dance, or any other extracurricular activity for that matter can equip students for lifelong engagement and enjoyment. I recently sat down with some of my senior students to talk to them about their dance commitments and what it means to them. It was a great insight into where dance helps some teenagers in their day to day life, and how I can as a dance teacher continue to support them and their families.
Here’s why dance is great for teenagers, and how to help them stick at it:-
Dance helps teens stay busy, and boosts emotional engagement and self-worth
“Dance is a big part of me being happy” -Emily, Dance Student, aged 14
The longer term impact of dance on a developing teenagers feeling of self-worth should not be under-estimated.
So many studies have been done into adolescent participation in extracurricular activities like dance, and the effects on academic and personal feelings of self-concept and life satisfaction. Additionally extracurricular commitments can keep kids busy, and occupied offering potential preventive effects for teens considered to be “at-risk” for negative developmental outcomes. You can check out much of this research HERE and Google the reports of Silliker & Quirk, 1997; Cooper, Valentine, Nye 1999. )
Many of the studies I’ve stumbled across in my years of teaching have noted that there is an undertone of pride and achievement in the students undertaking difficult choreographic routines, excelling in competitions, extending performance skills, setting examples for other students, or playing a central role in productions – all activities which could provide a welcome boost to teenage egos and feeling of self-worth.
Not only are these positive feeling to experience, but the process also sets them up with great life skills to apply in other aspects of their life, and in their general attitude.
“Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be like the big girls – and have the jazz runners, the pointe shoes. Now that I’m the OLDER girl, THEY look up to me, and it’s kinda nice to be the role model. I WAN’T to be the role model. I want to be a primary school teacher one day so this is good for me to experience” – Emily, Dance Student, aged 14
I’ve also enjoyed a relationship with many of my parents where they are grateful for the sanctuary of the studio, and for the ‘little jobs’ I assign their kids along the way. These teens are unknowingly being kept busy, safe and on-track and for many parents this comes with a sense of relief.
Dancers have positive friendships and a shared memory of participation
An unexpected bonus of being a dance student for many is the companionship of like-minded people.
“All my dancing friends are different from my other friends. We’ve done a lot of things together” – Olivia, Dance Student, aged 14
These kids have a big history together and it’s a bond forged in sweat, laughter, tears, a rare tantrum and sheer commitment to putting on a show, getting a move just right, preparing for exams together and moving through to the next level. There’s a special and very positive bond of mateship with young dancers, and one I myself am privileged to be a part of.
In the dance studio peer group pressure takes its shoes off at the door!
For many of my students, they respond with relief that its neutral ground in the studio.
“School isn’t always the nicest of places…at the dance studio we are all happy. We are all equal. If I have a stressful day at school, if I’m feeling annoyed or frustrated – at the dance studio you just feel happy. It gives me a release” – Emily, Dance Student, Aged 14
I enjoy offering them this respite and place of nurture. And I am equally inspired as a teacher by their ingenuity and passion to dance.
“Remember that time we were flowers together” – Olivia, Dance Student, aged 14
“We’ve all done so much together. Remember those quick changes?”- Maddy, Dance Student, Aged 13
Dancing keeps teens fit and offers positive Body Imaging
Study, poor eating, lifestyle choices and a general disinterest in health and wellbeing can affect a teenager’s level of fitness and over-all attitude to their body.
On a daily basis educators and parents are exposed to research (Shared Vision for Physical Education, Physical Activity and Youth Sport University of Limerick, June 2010 Enright, E. & Tindall, D. (Eds) which explores the barriers to physical activity levels of youth, at a time when habits, likes and dislikes are being formed. Findings suggest that encouraging regular physical activity through extra-curricular commitments can greatly benefit teenagers’ health and wellbeing.
I see the positive health and well-being affects dance can have on teenagers. And, my students feel it too.
In our dance classes we use several stretching techniques and pilates methods when preparing for lessons. Our studio sessions often rival the track-side preparation of an athletics sports star. Additionally, it’s often quite meditative when we work on constructive rest postures as a class and prepare our bodies for the rigours of class work and rehearsal.
At a time when teenagers are often very disconnected physically from their bodies, young dancers actually have a heightened awareness of their bodies and how they work. They enjoy an insight into how their core works, and how their muscles are connected.
Dance gives me a chance to be more connected to my muscles, to my body” – Emily, Dance Student, Aged14
Dancing also gives teens great coordination skills.
“In sport some people aren’t always that co-ordinated, I look at them and I think, I hope I don’t look like that. I think it makes me feel a lot more graceful; and connected to my body. Even with my swimming I notice that what I learn in dance with how my core connects, I can also apply to other sports and it can make me stronger.” -Olivia, Dance Student, Aged 14
For a year 8 student to have an intrinsic understanding that her body is an important tool, and that taking care of it can flow over into other aspects of her life – well that’s a pretty powerful thing.
Sure dance can often get a bad wrap, there’s talk of young dancers pushing themselves to the brink. I say talk of, but at our dance school, and so many other studios’ like ours, which just isn’t the case.
Time in the studio for many of my teenager students has helped with setting healthy eating examples, positive body image and deportment dilemmas such as stooped shoulders, and back and posture correction as they grapple with teenage hormones and development.
I firmly believe that when teenagers are encouraged to respect their bodies, to be in tune what with what they are physically capable of and how to prepare themselves both in mind and body, then this is a very powerful and empowering thing indeed.
The balance between juggling homework and energy levels
I often have conversations with parents in the High School years as we discuss strategies for juggling dance time with school work, part time jobs and other commitments. The realities of burn out and fatigue also play a major role in these chats.
I get it. It’s a tough gig being a parent.
I’m also a parent who constantly assesses what is working for my kids. As parents we all need to find the right balance with the things our kids love, enjoy and excel at.
As a dance teacher I offer parents this advice.
If you could just help them stick with it, push through the days when it all seems too much, the short term pain will pay off. Helping your child stay committed to something they get enjoyment out of has longer term benefits.
Reassure them on the days they are faltering that it’s worth it, support them with sustenance, taxi driving services and helping them re-asses their diary conflicts. Talk to your dance teacher about what’s going on, and other pressures you may be facing as a family. You are on the journey together as you encourage them to shine, and we the dance teachers are part of your pit-crew.
Enjoying a teen commitment to dance does need to be managed carefully.
I have found that those families who recognise dance as a beneficial physical and emotional outlet really try to make it work into the senior high school years.
“It’s a break from the demands of school, and now that I’m at the desk a lot more with my subjects it also gives me a good chance to keep my fitness levels up” – Sophie, Dance Student, Aged 16
“With things at home I have to make time for dance – I get up early and do other jobs first and then I know I can treat myself with dance” – Maddy, Dance Student, Aged 13
I find my older student are quite an organised bunch of kids…perhaps I could go so far as to say that the structure of dance influences their mindset when it comes to planning for their week
It’s a habit – a way of life for me now. I’ve chosen quite hard subjects so my school week means I’m quite committed to homework, but I know that I can reward myself and feel that I deserve it when I come into the dance studio. I WANT to come into the dance studio. It’s a special place for me” – Emily, Dance Student, Aged 14
There’s lasting consequences for teens which far exceed just the skill of dancing, but along the way there’s continual negotiation and re-assessment of the commitment and interest for many dance families.
Dance helps teenagers thrive within, and it’s our job as dance teachers to help these young dancers and their parents stay the course for life success.
PSD is a dynamic little dance studio and peninsula business with successful community and business connections. Learn more about us at www.peninsuladance.com.au
A celebration of a boutique dance school’s family friendly community. Miss Melanie shares her passion, skill and knowledge in nurturing young dancers as they express themselves through the joy of dance. Offering tips, how-to’s, a dance teachers reflections and connections with the on-line dance community. Peninsula School of Dance is located on Australia’s Mornington Peninsula.
Melanie Gard is a respected Licentiate with Cecchetti Ballet, an affiliate of the Australian Teachers of Dance and the Director of the Peninsula School of Dance. www.peninsuladance.com.au