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What do all professional dancers have in common? What is that special something that distinguishes serious dancers from other athletes and people who do not dance? What is it that makes dancers such desirable employees, both on stage and in the world outside of dance? The answer to all of the above is simple: work ethic and discipline. According to Google.com, work ethic is defined as “the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward”. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines discipline as “a way of behaving that shows a willingness to obey rules or orders”.
Dancers are trained from the very first class how to be hard working, detail oriented, and good listeners. The strong work ethic and discipline required by this art form not only impacts how students behave in the studio, but these skills are instilled in the body for life. One of the most important skills a dancer can have is a strong work ethic.
Discipline naturally is developed alongside this, because dancing demands not only consistent effort but also consistent time and focus devoted to it in order to be successful. Without these skills, dancers will not be able to learn to their fullest ability, nor will they be able to improve their technique and artistry.
While work ethic and discipline are important for all people, these skills are essential for dancers. When a student begins their dance training, typically around age seven or eight, they are introduced to an environment with high standards and expectations.
In order to progress technically and improve over time, dancers must be aware that they are responsible for training their bodies to do the movement the correct way. If students do not intentionally put in the time or effort in order to do the movement correctly, they will not be able to master it and move forward with more advanced training. This work ethic is important because it helps dancers develop a consistent effort in class, which will enable them to progress in their abilities slowly over time. Working hard in every class involves listening, critical thinking, and application of feedback. Even with natural talent, dancers must take on the personal responsibility to be better than themselves each day. Building a strong work ethic is something that takes years of training, but dancers do it because it is a critical component of being successful in this field. Amber Shriver, Artistic Director of Connect the Dots Dance Company remarks that it is also important because while dancers work hard to strive for an unattainable perfection, they also learn that it’s okay to be flawed and there is always room for improvement. Understanding this fact helps to keep dancers motivated and aspiring to work to their fullest potential during every class and performance.
Dancing requires discipline in various ways. Not only do students learn to respect and adhere to rules in the studio, but both their mind and body become disciplined in order to do well in a class. Discipline is extremely important in dance class because the students have to focus on learning and executing exercises in a specific order, and the brain must communicate to the body to tell it what to do at precisely the right time to coordinate with the music. Being able to focus the mind on the task at hand and push aside distracting thoughts is one of the most important reasons why dancers need to discipline themselves. Part of the discipline taught by dance is training the mind to self discipline (houstonfamilymagazine.com). For example, the dancer learns a way of thinking that controls the body and therefore allows themselves to try new things and push beyond their comfort zone. Discipline in the form of learning and following rules of the class is extremely important because it prepares the dancer for years of respecting etiquette and the professional demands of serious dancing.
In the professional world, dancers are expected to arrive to classes, rehearsals, and performances early, dressed properly, with all of the tools they will need to do their job. It becomes their responsibility to learn and retain specific information that choreographers, directors, and studio owners give to them. If a dancer has difficulty learning choreography, they are expected to figure it out on their own and come prepared to the next rehearsal. In auditions, dancers who do not follow the proper etiquette, arrive improperly dressed without their headshot and/or resume, or who do not have the technical skill level desired by the casting director will not be successfully cast for those jobs. All serious dancers who intend to enter the professional dance field need to be properly disciplined and have a strong work ethic. In the years of pre-professional training, students ideally will establish their personal work ethic and discipline skills as they practice controlling their mind and body to execute and attempting to perfect movement.
Developing work ethic and discipline is also necessary for dancers because it fine-tunes their behavior and actual technical and artistic ability. These skills that are taught in the classroom are just as important when representing the dance school outside of the studio. For example, at dance competitions or public performances, the dancers’ behavior is a direct representation of the school they are dancing for. Learning how to behave professionally in and out of the dance studio is part of the work ethic a serious dancer will need to develop. The more disciplined they can train themselves to be, the better they will be able to focus on incorporating even the subtlest of details into their performance. A delicate placement of the hand, a lively facial expression that expands into the upper body, and the split second that he or she pauses in a pirouette before finishing the turn and moving on are all details that can differentiate a captivating artist from simply a great technician. Work ethic and discipline for dancers is what enables them to not only meet expectations, but exceed them as well. Dancers with this skill are capable of setting and surpassing technical, artistic, and personal goals in ways that others who lack these skills cannot.
Because work ethic and discipline are two of the most important skills for a dancer to master, they are taught both in and outside of the studio. The most introductory method for teaching these ideas is to establish and enforce a set of rules for the students. Rules create a structured environment enabling the students to learn in a safe and focused environment. Some of the most common rules include:
In addition to rules, there are a number of behaviors that are taught to establish proper etiquette (danceadvantage.net). These include:
The rules and etiquette are established in dance class to benefit all people participating in the class. They teach students how to be respectful and safe, while also providing a solid foundation for work ethic and discipline. Consistently adhering to these behaviors teaches students to be responsible for their own learning and develop healthy habits.
In order to encourage a strong work ethic and discipline in dancers, it is the teacher’s responsibility to consistently enforce the rules and remind their students of proper etiquette when necessary. If students do not learn these behaviors at the beginning of their dance training, it can become increasingly difficult to establish them in later years. Bad habits are often harder to break than to train a good habit in the first place, which is why it is crucial that the teachers, studio directors, and even parents encourage their young dancers to follow the rules and be respectful students in every class.
A significant part of what makes a dancer’s work ethic strong is how they apply effort into their work. Teachers give corrections and feedback in constructive ways to help their students develop stronger technical and artistic skills, but it is up to the student to listen to that feedback and actively apply it to their work in and outside of the studio. A dancer who repeatedly practices and works to improve themselves demonstrates a strong work ethic. The teacher aids in this practice by offering their knowledge and observations to the student, and helping them understand how to improve by giving them imagery or physically manipulating the body into the correct position. When a teacher notices that a student has corrected one error, they will encourage them to work on a different error or change their focus. Dancing allows for infinite growth and improvement as dancers strive for an unattainable perfection. The work ethic and discipline are what enables dancers to improve over time and always have something to strive for. There can always be more beats, more pirouettes, higher jumps, longer balances, and more energy and artistry.
Another way teachers help to develop stronger work ethic and discipline is to challenge and encourage dancers. Providing exercises in class that are difficult for the students to master at their level gives them an opportunity to push beyond their limits, work outside of their comfort zone, and get a little frustrated. Once dancers have developed the desire to master each and every exercise, being frustrated by something challenging can motivate them to work even harder than usual in order to better perform and understand the exercise. It is important to balance this with encouragement and positivity. Recognizing the great moments of a students’ work is equally as necessary in a class as giving constructive criticism. Knowing that the hard work and effort is paying off and the student is showing improvement (even small changes) is also what encourages students to continue to work on improving and mastering their technical and artistic skills.
As students enter advanced classes in their teenage years, it is important to discuss expectations of the professional world of dance. The goal of the teacher during this time is to prepare students as much as possible for what they may encounter in a college or professional dance setting. The student at this level would ideally be attending classes five to six days per week, requiring a serious commitment to their dance training in addition to their school work, any other extra-curricular activities, and time for their personal and social life. At this level students are forced to be disciplined and acquire excellent time management skills. In order to balance all of these commitments, these serious students will often bring homework and dinner to the studio with them for a long night of classes. During breaks between dance classes, the students have the opportunity to work on homework and refuel their bodies in the waiting room. Other students accomplish this by setting time aside before and after dance class to eat and so their school work. The rigorous schedule of the advanced pre-professional dancer helps him or her prepare for the lifestyle of a professional in this field.
After years of training and practicing these healthy habits, dancers will continue to demonstrate their strong work ethic and discipline in their lives outside of the studio. The strive to produce detail-oriented, near “perfect” work will transfer into academic accomplishment in the classroom. Since students have practiced the habit of working towards specific goals, meeting deadlines for homework, projects, and essays is something that the dancer is able to do without an issue. The quality of their work and their personal determination to be successful drives them to be excellent students in school. Understanding how to be self disciplined to set personal goals for improvement helps students identify their weaknesses in the classroom and take intentional action to make personal improvement. Dancers with work ethic and discipline are able to apply these skills to their obligations and responsibilities in a school setting as well as in the studio.
As students become adults and search for employment, the skills and lessons learned through years of training make them more attractive to potential employers. As Sarah Jukes explains, dancers are ideal employees for any position because they are teachable, flexible, fast learners, always prepared, work hard, and are team players (partnershipmovement.org). These qualities are all related to the disciplined behaviors that dancers are used to doing through their experiences in dance classes. Madison Vanderberg adds additional comments to this idea in her article, “6 Ways Being a Former Ballet Dancer Translates Into An Adult Work Ethic.” She writes that adult work ethic is a result of the training that dancers have become accustomed to. They understand the importance of body language, rarely complain (even in discomfort or pain…”the show must go on”), have a “can do” attitude, can listen and multitask, are dedicated and tireless, and aspire to perfection. Both of these women agree that the experience of being in dance classes growing up leads to healthy and desirable work habits that can translate into jobs in adulthood.
In the dance field, students who have gained these skills throughout their dance education are well prepared to be successful in the many jobs that may interest them. Dancers may choose to pursue a career as a professional dancer, which will use their skills in a studio setting, most similarly to their training as a dance student. On the other hand, if dancers choose a career as a choreographer or teacher, it enables them to share their own experiences and suggestions about mastering these skills with other dancers and students. There are also many behind-the-scenes careers for people with dance backgrounds, including studio directors/managers, dance administrative positions, technical dance production, dance journalism, and more. Having had the opportunity to participate in dance classes and gain a firsthand understanding of the level of discipline and work ethic required gives people in these positions insight into the people that they will work with. These people will be able to be responsible, motivated, goal oriented, meticulous, artistic, passionate, dedicated, respectful, energetic, and enthusiastic in whatever areas of life they pursue beyond the dance studio where they gained all of those qualities.
For dancers, work ethic and discipline of the mind and body are essential for being able to improve and grow both technically and artistically. Without these skills, dancers will not be able to successfully enter the professional dance world. It is the smallest detail that distinguishes a serious, motivated student from a casual or recreational one. Following rules and etiquette as well as pushing beyond personal limits are ways that dance students build a work ethic and learn the discipline that dance requires of its artists. These skills are developed in the classroom with guidance from the teacher. The teacher encourages and challenges students while providing constructive criticisms and feedback for the future. In upper level classes, students practice their mastery of these skills by balancing work from school with their dance training and personal lives. In preparation for life beyond the studio, students are given the opportunity to dance often and develop their own type of work ethic and self discipline. The work that is done repeatedly in the studio builds habits that will follow the dancer into their adult life. In the professional world and in non-dance related jobs, people who have grown up dancing will be ideal employees because of the skills they developed from training in their youth.
What do all professional dancers have in common? What is that special something that distinguishes serious dancers from other athletes and people who do not dance? What is it that makes dancers such desirable employees, both on stage and in the world outside of dance? The answer to all of the above is simple: work ethic and discipline.
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