Why do you dance?
This question was posed to me years ago by one of my most beloved dance instructors at Brigham Young University. Little did she know at the time it would shape not only the way I danced, but the way I would teach thousands of dancers throughout my career as the director of Lifehouse Performing Arts Academy.
Each of us has different motivations for why we dance. For some it is a fun diversion, for others a means of good exercise and a way to make friends, but my hope is that for many it will be life changing—not necessarily because they will perform on Broadway or dance with Ballet West, but more importantly because of the values they will learn that will spill over into every aspect of their life.
I believe we are given gifts and talents to inspire others to live a better life. The performing arts are meant to entertain and provide recreational enjoyment. They can also be a powerful force for good. Your body in dance is your instrument or means of communication. In order for it to be effective it must be fine tuned and disciplined. It must be taught the proper technique. This requires a lot of hard work and training. If the instrument is not tuned correctly, it is ineffective in communicating its message. For example, if a dancer has flexed toes or a singer is off pitch then the audience has a difficult time moving past these flaws. The goal is to have each instrument move at its own level of perfection so the audience doesn’t see steps but sees the message. Technical imperfections interfere with the communication. Thus, I believe in disciplined ballet training conditioning. Students at Lifehouse are taught the “discipline” of dance. How to work to your potential and the reward that comes from giving your best effort. This does not mean you have to be the most flexible or have the most natural ability. You do the best you can with the instrument you have been given. Some of the most inspiring artists I have ever seen have not had the most natural ability. Good teachers know how to help any student who is willing to put in the work and take corrections, overcome any structural limitations or obstacles.
More importantly, I want my students to understand that who they are is even more important than how they dance or sing. Performing is a vulnerable activity. The audience senses your motives, your insecurities, your beliefs. We are accountable for how we make that audience feel. If we are unprepared and have not worked in class and rehearsal as hard as we should have, the audience senses this and feels uncomfortable. If our goal is to impress and vault ourselves above others, the audience may leave feeling small or envious. If our goal is to uplift and to teach correct principles, then all will be edified.
Seven Values of Lifehouse
On the walls of our facility we have seven value statements that hope Lifehouse students learn to embody as dancers and people. We hold ourselves accountable to these principles as teachers and students.
- This is a safe haven, in these walls we treat each other with kindness and respect.
- I understand that if it doesn’t challenge me, it doesn’t change me.
- Who I am is more important than what I can do.
- I will focus on my potential and not worry how I compare to others.
- I will not fear the truth, for that is how I become all that I am meant to be.
- It is not the critic who counts. It is the person brave enough to share a part of themselves on the stage, under the spotlight that truly matters.
- My body is a gift. I will use it as an instrument to uplift and inspire others.
Training Students to be Successful in the Classroom
One of the most important parts of a dancer’s training is helping them to learn how to take class and what is required to be successful as an artist physically, mentally and emotionally. We teach them the five principles of being a successful dancer:
- Come to class consistently—students have to be at class as much as possible to facilitate the development of muscle memory, strength and flexibility and so they don’t miss important concepts taught each week.
- Work to your potential each class—students learn to work outside of their comfort bubble. Successful dancers know how to challenge themselves physically and strive to work with correct alignment and muscle usage.
- Be mentally focused and engaged during class–Successful students are thinking students. They know how to engage mentally and focus on performing during class as correctly as they are able. They become their own best teacher by paying attention to their body in combination with teacher feedback
- Taking and applying corrections—successful students listen to every correction given by a teacher and seek to apply them not just in the moment the feedback is given, but strive to apply the feedback week to week to see real change in their dancing. Nothing makes a teacher happier than a student who applies their corrections!
- Worry about yourself! Successful students stay positive mentally. They do not compare their current abilities or limitations to other students in the class. They focus on their own progress week to week and believe in themselves—that through hard work and dedication they can progress and improve. They recognize their innate value as a human being and feel good about themselves. We teach students to pay attention to how they talk to themselves in class and the importance of staying positive and believing in their personal greatness and potential.
Why doesn’t Lifehouse compete?
Over the years I have had many questions as to why Lifehouse has not followed the trend in the dance community of participating in dance competitions. I grew up participating in competitions and do not think they are “bad.” There are some good things that can come from competing with a team and many students find them fun. However, I have always felt that I could not run Lifehouse with the same vision and values and also participate in competitions. The culture I hope to create for the students of the studio and the dance competition world are not compatible. That is why I have decided to not have my students participate.
I want the focus for my teachers and students to be on reaching their individual potential and not how their abilities compare to another person’s abilities. This is difficult when you attend a competition and a judge gives one student a first place trophy and another person a second place trophy based on their opinion of the performance. I also think there is a higher motivation that can be taught for achieving excellence with your talents. That is the higher level of excellence we achieve with our gifts and abilities, the more opportunities we have to share them in significant and meaningful ways, the more inspiring we are to others, and the more good we can do in the world. This is a much better motivation for me than doing my best so I can be declared better than someone else.
I also wanted a culture at the studio that encourages the students to celebrate each other’s progress and improvement and to care for each other as individuals and to be inspired by our unique talents and abilities rather than a culture that encourages students to evaluate themselves and each other based on “being better” or “winning” over another student.
I also feel that competing can oftentimes interfere with a student’s training. The focus becomes more on perfecting routines rather than on training. There is pressure to try and get students to do skills they are not ready to perform because it will impress a judge, but that can lead to injury and bad technical habits that will ultimately hold back their training. It is better to build strong foundational alignment, body awareness and technique. In the end it creates a more skilled dancer.
Instead of competing, Lifehouse focuses on creating meaningful performance opportunities for its students where they can share their talents and abilities to an appreciative audience who is there to share and celebrate with them in the wonderful art form of dance. We work our hardest in the classroom and in rehearsal to prepare ourselves to uplift and entertain our audience, and when we have worked our hardest and done our best, everyone walks home a winner.