How to cultivate a growth mindset in the dance studio.

Cultivating Happier Dancers

January 20, 2022

 

Michelle, Susanne & Kristin connect this week over events in their lives as artists and the science behind the art. Creating space with the intention to shine a light on dark corners with the hope to support you. Come join us with no judgment. We are holding space to learn, laugh, and downright pointe at ourselves.

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Cultivating Happier Dancers with Michelle, Susanne & Kristin |

How to cultivate a growth mindset in the dance studio.

The consequences of a fixed mindset

Susanne:

I’m going to start with a story. I think I’m going to use that as a lesson on how important it is that we’re really implementing a growth mindset in a studio because that fixed mindset has made its way through a very, very long time through my life.

So going back, I’m 10 years old. I just made it through three days of grueling auditions for the state ballet school in Berlin. It’s a huge deal that you actually got accepted and then even bigger deal that you actually got accepted into the school. I think we had like 800 people attend and we were 35 that were sitting in that big meeting room. And the director of the school was standing in front of us. Please don’t forget, I was 10 years old. I was so excited. I was like, ‘I made it, oh my gosh. Like my life is going to turn out great!’ And the director said, ‘I don’t want to put up any false hopes. I’m a very honest person. So I’m going to just tell it like it is. There is no superstar in this class. There is nobody in here that has the talent to be a prima ballerina or a great dancer in a large company.’ My balloon was so deflated in that moment. I went outside and I cried. It’s like, ‘Wow, you just popped my bubble. You just popped my possibilities.’ Now, I forgot about this event, and it actually did not come back to me until about a year ago that this sentence really had made its way through my entire career. Because years and years of hard work, and I was like, ‘Well, what if I could?  What would it look like if I could actually become better?’

And so I worked really hard, and I graduated top of my class. I got the job that I wanted. And then when I was there, I would start manipulating myself so I would not be the best. I would start manipulating myself, drinking and not showing up for rehearsals. I did not understand until much later in life where that came from. I’m using that story so we can see, even though we want to give the gift of honesty, but this had such a big result in my life that I don’t think we can take that responsibility as teachers anymore. Meaning that this kind of fixed mindset, having that in yourself and putting it out and onto your students is not what I would recommend to anymore.

 

Fixed mindset is sometimes not tough love

 

Michelle:

So it’s so hard today. And even before we get into talking about it, I’ve had many of those same experiences. I have worked with other educators that have been on the other side of it that just call it tough love. It’s so important to learn how to speak in the dance studio, to our dancers, where we held them to a high standard, but we don’t crush their ambition and we don’t set up a fixed mindset for the future.

It’s so important to learn how to speak in the dance studio, to our dancers, where we held them to a high standard, but we don’t crush their ambition and we don’t set up a fixed mindset for the future.

-Michelle Loucadoux

 

Kristin:

Unfortunately, the way that we were all taught and there’s still residue of it today, the environment and dance studios are very much supporting fixed mindsets. That’s been the tradition before there were even words for it. And now that we have words for it and science behind it and people are understanding what a fixed mindset even is and how to get out of that and what a growth mindset is, we can all start making the necessary changes to create an environment in our studio that cultivates growth mindsets. Because as you say, Susanne, your fixed mindset, doesn’t start at 7:30 on a Wednesday night when you go to your jazz class and end at 9:00 p.m. When you leave and go do your homework. These are brains that are growing and creating identities for the rest of these young dancers’ lives. So this is really important stuff.

I’m super psyched to be talking about the science behind it because there’s so much of it. Most of it comes from a woman named Carol Dweck. She’s a psychologist who wrote Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. There’s the book. If you haven’t read it from cover to cover at least 17 times, do it because every single time there’s another thing in there. My book is covered with post-its and highlights and scribbles. I need another one because I’m like, I can’t even read it anymore. There’s so much stuff in there.

 

The impact a fixed mindset has on your self-esteem

I want to talk about four pieces that I think are helpful in this conversation. So last time we were together, we talked about what a fixed mindset is and what a growth mindset is. Fixed mindset to summarize is a belief that you are what you are. You are fixed. Your talents are what they are and that’s it. Growth mindset is, oh, I can grow and I can learn and I can get better. So why are these two things so important in the dance studio? Well, for a couple reasons. Self-esteem. Studies showed, number one, that most people just in general are terrible at estimating their abilities. Most people don’t think that they can do what they can actually do. So Carol Dweck and her team looked into this and they were like, why is this happening? And who are the people that aren’t believing in themselves? And they found that those with the fixed mindset were those who accounted for almost all of the inaccuracy. And those with the growth mindset were amazingly accurate about their abilities. So if you are suffering from a fixed mindset, you are not believing in what you are actually capable of doing, Susanne coming back to your story. So you start pulling yourself out of these situations and you wind up taking opportunity away from yourself. You wind up self-sabotaging, and then that’s how everybody else starts seeing you because you’re creating this in your own mind and then behavior strengthens that. And then people see you as that.

Most people don't think that they can do what they can actually do…. Those with the growth mindset were amazingly accurate about their abilities. So if you are suffering from a fixed mindset, you are not believing in what you are actually capable of… Click To Tweet

Susanne:

If I just may add here, you don’t even know that you’re doing that. Your subconscious mind is creating these events for you. It will make you take certain actions and you are not conscious of them. I just want to add something else. That research you talked about, I have exactly that same page open because I wanted to read that paragraph because it is so mind blowing.

 

The impact a fixed mindset has on your confidence

Kristin:

The next part of it is confidence. So you can see how this rolls right into confidence. According to Carol Dweck’s research, people with the fixed mindset have just as much confidence as people with the growth mindset before anything happens. Now, this is the rub? So you walk into the room and you’re like, oh yeah, I feel great. I can do it. Everybody’s sort of on the same page. But then as you can imagine those with the fixed mindset, their confidence is super fragile because once something happens that was not in the plan, everything goes down. Their confidence completely plummets because in their brain, people with a fixed mindset believe that risk and effort are two things that might reveal you as inadequate and show you to be a fake and a failure. So the minute you’re called to take a risk or to put in effort, which is the moment where something happens that you’re not suspecting or that you’re not expecting and you have to do something on the fly, your confidence plummets. You’re not able to do it. And then again we come into this situation where, ‘Yep. I knew it. I’m terrible.’ It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

According to Carol Dweck’s research, people with the fixed mindset have just as much confidence as people with the growth mindset before anything happens.

Susanne:

This wraps up my experience in the ballet world. Just that one paragraph, all of that is exactly what we’re seeing on a daily basis in most studios, in most companies. And it would be such an easy fix if people would start to educate themselves and read the books that are free in the library or you can listen to it on YouTube.

 

Failure becomes an identity for those with a fixed mindset and not just an event

 

Kristin:

Third thing, for those with a fixed mindset, failure is not just an action, it becomes an identity. And once failure is your identity, then they define you. Failures don’t just set you back; they are who you are. And then again, you are stuck in this loop of not wanting to take risk, not wanting to put an effort because you don’t believe that you can change and grow because you believe that you are stuck as you are, as a failure. So why these three things are so important. Obviously, they tie so beautifully into your story, Susanne, and we see this in the dance studios again and again and again. Why? Because the mindset of creating champions almost always pushes into this fixed mindset pattern. And this is what we can change as educators.

So when we are in the dance studio, who gets the most praise? People with natural endowment, people with given gifts, people who seem to do it without much effort and, oh, they just have it. They have it. Look at that. Look at that. Let’s all look and learn from them as opposed to really celebrating and placing our attention on the people who are growing and learning at whatever pace they are doing it. We immediately go to those who have it. They have it. Let’s all watch them come out here, do eight counts ‘cause they’ve got it. Of course we all do as educators. It’s like we want them to see. Oh look, this is what it should look like, but really that’s doing more harm than good. And when people live in that environment, when they’re training in that environment, they have real, real, real difficulty thinking and believing that that growth is possible. This fixed mindset is an environment that we are at cultivating as educators if we don’t do something to change it.

 

How to change a fixed mindset in the dance studio

 

#1 Have dancers write failure letters

 

Michelle:

The steps that you can take in the dance studio as a dance educator to change are fairly simple. Even to start dancers on a path of, as you said, like embracing failure and looking at growth over time. One of the things dancers have had a little bit of a problem with is looking long term? So we think from day to day, we look six months ago, it seems like forever ago, but one of the things dance educators can do is to have students write themselves a failure letter. Have students sit down, give them a piece of paper, and have them write down something that they’ve failed at recently on that piece of paper. Fold it up, put it in a sealed envelope, and just put it away for six months. Then six months later, pull that envelope out. They can read that failure, and chances are, it either becomes completely insignificant or they can look at it and go, oh my gosh, I like failed at my double pirouette. Now my double pirouette’s amazing. Look how much I’ve grown and how much that seemed like a huge thing back then and it’s not as big of the thing right now.

 

#2 Have dancers do research

Another thing is have dancers do research. There are tons of interviews with successful dancers that are on YouTube online who have made mistakes. There’s like ballet bloopers that are like the best. Watching people take risks and fail and still be the most fantastic, successful dancers is so empowering. And embracing that failure in the classroom, too, is so important. When someone makes a mistake or forgets or falls, whatever, one of my favorite things that dancers do is applaud for someone that falls down during dance class. I love it. That can help dancers get into a mindset of it’s okay to fail because failure is growth and growth is much more important than what we’re born with and what our genetics gave us.

When someone makes a mistake or forgets or falls, whatever, one of my favorite things that dancers do is applaud for someone that falls down during dance class. I love it. That can help dancers get into a mindset of it's okay to fail because failure is… Click To Tweet

Celebrating failure

Susanne:

So much to say to that. To this day, and I’m in my 40s, I struggle with failure. Meaning being okay with not doing something. It’s when we’re putting the validation of ourselves on the outside and hoping that somebody else is going to tell us that we’re great and good enough when we are failing or when we’re doing something wrong and we’re not getting that that we are identifying ourselves with failure.

I heard a really beautiful example. A family has this tradition that at night they’re sitting at the table and the dad asks around their three girls. Okay. Tell me, what did you fail at today? And they make it a huge thing, as in I am so proud of you. Great job. I don’t want to talk about your successes. I want to hear what didn’t go the way you wanted it to go. I want you to embrace it because that is your next step. And switching that mindset, particularly for educators in the studio, is a challenge. Let’s be honest. I’m sure it’s a challenge for you guys, too.

Because we think we’re not worthy if we’re not doing everything right, even sometimes it went all the way back to our childhood with our parents, where perhaps we have to be perfect in order to earn love, it is so important that we are aware of that. It is so important to know that it can be changed at any given point. We just have to decide to do so and understand that the way that we know right now is not the only way.

 

It’s when we’re putting the validation of ourselves on the outside and hoping that somebody else is going to tell us that we’re great and good enough when we are failing or when we’re doing something wrong and we’re not getting that that we are identifying ourselves with failure.

-Susanne Puerschel

Kristin:

As Michelle pointed out, there are ways to create a better environment. There are ways to cultivate a growth mindset. And I think the first step is to figure out as an educator, are you coming from a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? Because for most of my life I was fixed. I could probably say I still 80% of the time, my immediate instinct is fixed mindset. And it takes a lot of work for me to move into that growth place. And so if you look at yourself and the way that you think, because when you’re in a class, your automated responses come out as feedback to your student. So just check those and make sure that they’re coming from a place that you want them to come from instead of just your automatic response. And, to Susanne’s story, you could create someone with a growth mindset for the rest of their life as opposed to a fixed. And to Michelle’s points, there are a ton of ways to do. I love that like celebrating the failure stuff because that really is important. No one’s life is going to go the way that you planned. No one’s life ever goes the way you expect it. Not an hour goes by that goes according to plan.

And so to get really good at believing in yourself and your abilities and being confident enough to take risks on the fly is going to take you everywhere. If you don’t have that, your life is going to be full of suffering, unnecessary suffering.

And so to get really good at believing in yourself and your abilities and being confident enough to take risks on the fly is going to take you everywhere. If you don’t have that, your life is going to be full of suffering, unnecessary suffering.

-Kristen Deiss

Susanne:

I don’t think it’s only suffering. It’s also that you’re going to stay in a very safe place that you will have a lot and a lot and a lot of regrets. And if there is something that’s eating a person up from the inside out, it’s regret because you can’t change it anymore.

 

Final thoughts

Michelle:

A fixed mindset closes our perspective to other opportunities that are out there. So many dancers get stuck on one thing that they think they’re going do, whether it’s from their educator or not or from our society that says you have to be the principal dancer with American Ballet Theater or you have failed. There are so many, especially now. Look at us doing a podcast. We all started out dancing in the ballet studio, and there are so many different ways to succeed in the world today that opening yourself up to a growth mindset can also open yourself up to opportunities which can fulfill your life in so many different ways than doing a perfect quadruple pirouette in Swan Lake.

There are so many different ways to succeed in the world today that opening yourself up to a growth mindset can also open yourself up to opportunities which can fulfill your life in so many different ways than doing a perfect quadruple pirouette in Swan Lake.

-Michelle Loucadoux

Susanne:

If this was helpful for you, whatever your takeaway was, we would like to know. So leave us a review, share this podcast episode with somebody you think can learn from and make an impact, share your biggest takeaway on Instagram. And I’m going to up this one today, go over to YouTube, watch this video, or even just click on it, subscribe to the channel, and tell us what we’re wearing today. It’s really funny. This is not coordinated. And grab your free PDF that have exercises to do in the classroom to cultivate growth mindsets. So pop in your email, link will be in the show notes. All you have to do is put your email in it and it will be in your inbox in a heartbeat.

Okay, we’re sending you so much love. Thank you for being here. Thank you for always listening and till next time.

So much ❤ Susanne

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  • About Danscend

    Hi. We’re Kristin & Michelle.

    Kristin Deiss and Michelle Loucadoux have a shared sixty years in the dance industry. Both have worked extensively as professional dancers and are well-versed and experienced in the realm of dance education.

    After working together in the education field for seven years, the idea of Danscend was born because of an overwhelming need that Deiss and Loucadoux observed in their students. No stranger to the need for mental health awareness, both creators wrestled with various issues in their professional dance careers as well.

    In Danscend, Deiss and Loucadoux have created a resource that they wish was available when they were beginning their dance careers, a resource that will benefit not only their students but also the dance industry as a whole.

 

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