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Sean Boutilier Academy of Dance
Motivation in dance
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About the Author:

Tanya holds a PhD in Dance Studies from York University in Toronto and she is a graduate of Canada’s National Ballet School Teacher Training Program. In addition to teaching ballet in private dance studios, Tanya has taught at the University of Toronto in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education since 2003.


Motivation in dance: How can teachers and parents cultivate student inspiration? by Tanya Berg PhD
Posted on September 12, 2017

Motivation has been widely studied in sport and recent studies have been done in dance as well. In this article, I will describe two types of motivation and suggest how teachers and parents can positively support their already self-motivated dancers. In addition, Sheona Bell the co-artistic director of SBAD, adds her thoughts on keeping her ballet students and her own daughtr motivated.

Dancers will often say that dance is their passion or that dancing is like breathing- they need to do it. Over decades of interaction with dancers of all ages, I have observed that dancers are usually motivated by an internal drive to dance. This type of motivation is called intrinsic motivation. Intrinsically motivated people will participate in a task for enjoyment without the promise of external rewards. These people know that if they work toward a goal their effort will have positive and satisfying results. Dancers often fit this description.  If you give a dancer access to an empty studio they will often choose to use that space to practice either for the joy of moving, or the personal satisfaction of achieving a skill.

However, hour after hour of dance training can sometimes produce a need for extrinsic motivation that activates students’ determination to succeed. The term extrinsic motivation applies when there is an outcome such as a reward or (less positively) the avoidance of penalty. Some extrinsic motivation tasks common in dance studios include ballet examinations or dance competitions. These can be positive motivators (both my son and my daughter relish these experiences). When students accept these tasks as valuable to their ultimate goal, they take on the task with enthusiasm. These tasks can nurture and develop technique needed to remain uninjured, create progress along the students’ artistic and technical journey, and allow the dancers to remain satisfied with their work.

One of the keys to using extrinsic motivation effectively is having the students gain independence (autonomy) while working toward the external goals/behaviours. When students feel valued by their peer group and respected and cared for by their teachers, they are likely to respond well to extrinsic motivation tasks as they then personally value the tasks as relevant to their goal. For instance, ballet examinations are an example of external motivation where students perform class exercises and acquire feedback from an internationally recognized examiner. If a student is asked to perform in a ballet examination, it is the role of the teacher and parents to make the student understand that developing their technique and artistry for the examination will help them achieve their goals of becoming a stronger dancer. If the student is not fully on board with the idea, they may participate with resentment to avoid penalty rather than becoming internally motivated to succeed. This is when communication between all parties is essential, as the passion that drove the student into the dance studio must be cultivated and nourished to allow the student to learn and grow with enthusiasm.

Sheona Bell is the artistic director of SBAD Mississauga and has an unparalleled talent for motivating ballet students. When asked for her thoughts regarding motivating her students as well as her own daughter who danced until leaving for university, Miss Bell replied with the following inspiring thoughts:

“Each student in a class needs to be treated as an individual within the class. Not all students learn the same way and require individual motivational stimuli. Hesitant and shy personalities need to be encouraged to try and feel safe to make mistakes as they practice their skills. Students who are passionate movers require emphasis on details to improve the execution of their technique. Talented students need to be taught a good work ethic because as dance gets more advanced, they have skills to persevere through challenges. Challenged students with co-ordination struggles need time to set their motor muscle pathways to execute correct movement. In all cases a student needs to know what the end result of a step is, and then be guided to the end goal with individual corrections. Teaching a student a good work ethic is a skill that can be used in all elements of life. A negative correction needs to be acknowledged by a positive correction so the student wants to try again to improve. If a student is rewarded verbally for sincere efforts when progress is noted, they will continue to try. Repeating the movement leads to greater success in their skills.” 

In conclusion, Miss Bell said that she “believes students know if their teacher loves passing on the knowledge and also if they care about their students' successes.”

Best of luck and happy dancing to the SBAD students and parents this 2017-2018 school year. Whether you are at the studio once a week or once a day, you are a significant part of the SBAD family and the faculty wishes you joy in your journey through dance.

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