“That was fun!” The studio director smiles and pats me on the shoulder.
In her costume she blends in with the dozens of students she joined on stage for a studio-wide production. Her performers are of all ages, levels, and abilities, and she acknowledges each one with gratitude. They smile back.
Her words catch me off guard. I am working backstage at a touring dance competition, and over the course of cueing up over five thousand performances, I witness mostly stress, frustration, and fatigue. I watch teachers biting their nails in front of the backstage monitor. They shake their heads, cringe, and grumble, “That line is ugly,” and “Ugh, that was bad.”
It is the students from the same dance schools who most frequently run off the stage, crying, and verbally abusing themselves. “I messed it up! I ruined it! I was so bad!” They sprawl in the curtain wing, and we have to gently move them so the show can continue.
“In many respects, teaching and learning are matters of breaking through barriers – of expectation, of boredom, of predefinition,” writes Maxine Greene.1 Another barrier is the fear, doubt, and erosion of self-confidence that restricts our freedom to learn. I look at these young dancers crumpled on the floor and I wonder how many of them will continue dancing as adults. Will they ever dance for the sake of dancing, and forgive themselves for stumbling?
1 Maxine Greene, Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995), 14.