Competitive or supportive - what makes a good dance school?

European dance schools have interestingly different attitudes to the fundamentals and aims of the training. One of these differences regards what kind of school environment will serve the training better: one that encourages competition among the students, or one that encourages cooperation.

Below are some of my personal opinions on the topic.

Confidence is important for dancers, contributing to everything we do. Anything that de-stabilises individual's confidence should be discouraged in a dance school! Therefore it seems very important to create scool environments that feel safe for the students.

Most of us have been through "normal" public schools where the message has been that we should "integrate" and be similar to others to gain popularity. In dance we need to do the opposite: have confidence to stand up for ourselves, for the movement we are performing, trust our and the choreographer's visions. How can the schools help un-learning years of the "adapt to others" messages if each individual is not given the safety to develop confidence in themselves?

For some reason, a non-competitive school environment is seen as benefiting the "weaker", less technical students more. I think this is not necessarily the case - in a bitchy environment, technically strong students may be "prisoners of envy" - because they are envied, other people try to "get them" and this makes them scared of trying to do something they may be less good at, which might inspire negative comments. In a more supportive environment they might develop a wider range of skills.

Of course, life is competitive, and extremely so for dancers. But do we need to learn this from a school? I believe the schools should base their work on a vision of a strong dance community where people are mutually supportive, enthusiastic and constructively critical.

So, how do you teach such skills? I think a first practical step is to encourage peer-to-peer feedback during classes. Every technique teacher should encourage students to give each other corrections in class - and remind them ever so often. In every course where this is possible, students should have the opportunity to give feedback on each others work, in discussions that are kept constructive by the teacher. Lastly, schools should have a look at procedures and structures that may stimulate the students to competition. This may include systems for allocating awards and grants and streaming systems that groups students based on technical level.


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