Two Words From A Dance Teacher I Remember Ten Years Later

As someone who writes a blog and contributes articles to various online dance communities, I fancy myself a pretty talented wordsmith, and try to be as aware as I can in my dance classroom of the words I use, because I know words have staying power that rivals glitter. 

When I was working on my Body Positivity online class, the importance of words and what we say to our students hit me all over again as I broke down affirmations, growth mindset statements and responses that teachers could arm themselves with to encourage and support their dancers. Thinking about the impact that words have on us got me thinking about some of the words that have had the most profound impact on me; positive and negative.

I'm gonna skip over the negative, because both you and I can remember the hurtful comments of life as a young kid. The teasing, the whispered comments accompanied by a giggle on the playground or during a water break in dance class. Isn't it funny how in our school days one of the worst treatments was the silent treatment? Because that silence carried a million different words of hurt that weren't spoken but were amplified by not being said aloud? Yeah. We've all been there.

So let me focus on the positive. 10 years later, these are 2 words that I remember from one of my teachers, and mentors, Summer Lee Rhatigan: "Not yet".

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These words rocked my world and changed my life. Not only for my dancing, and the pursuit of the elusive technique of ballet, but they've informed my teaching so, so much.

For a long time when I was a new teacher, I'd call out 'good job!', and 'great!' so often the phrases lost their meaning. For me and for my students. It wasn't until I was an older and wiser teacher that I realized not giving accurate feedback and giving false praise was doing a disservice to my teaching.

But the words 'not yet' are so powerful because they tell dancers 'I see you. I see your work and your effort. You may not have it yet, but you will.' THAT is what students need to hear from teachers. Students won't get better or learn faster or more if we always tell them 'good job'. When we create an honest, supportive, and loving classroom where learning is seen as a journey and not a destination, we give our dancers the best chance to be their best.

So teachers: try using these 2 words for yourself. See how they change your teaching, how they change your students, and let me know what you find. Even though we're dance teachers, we spend a lot of our time with words, and figuring out how to communicate with our students. 2 words is all it might take to affirm your students and keep them coming back to the barre with fresh effort and inspired determination.