Dancers work hard to gain approval for what they do. And this can motivate them to work through physical and psychological pain and injury. I remember working through all sorts of injuries when I was training and when I was dancing professionally. Back then it was a case of the show must go on and all that. I know better now. I know that motivating dancers in this way is not desirable. We need to look after our students and dancers and help them to flourish as people as well as dancers.
When we teach we can make a positive effort to teach in ways that recognise the students as people and not just as dancers. Teaching using holistic or person-centred methods can help students to develop a healthy self-concept because they are valued for what they are and not just for what they can do. This is such an important aspect of teaching because how we teach impacts on our students. Dance teachers have traditionally been encouraged to focus on what is wrong with technique and performance. The need to correct, correct, correct has been instilled into many. But if we change our focus to look for what is working well and build on that or what has improved since the last class then we begin to see the efforts of the student and not just a body that needs correcting. This change of approach is such a positive step in how we teach dance. We can reflect on our own teaching practice to learn how much time we are body-centred in our approach and how much time we are person-centred.
Valuing people for what they are as well as what they can do is integral to ethical dance teaching practice. The ethical or person-centred approach encourages involvement of the dancers in the learning process but the body-centred approach is authoritarian. It expects obedience and this can be at the expense of the person. Of course I don’t mean that the ethical approach does not have any discipline. The discipline is still there but it is not an overbearing authority that causes fear and undermines confidence. A person-centred approach builds confidence in the dancer, he or she is empowered and able to take responsibility. This contrasts with the body-centred approach where the dancer has little or no responsibility and feels unable to contribute to the learning process. It makes much more sense for students to be actively involved in the learning process.
A longer paper about this topic ‘A Dancer is a Person’ is available free from my ethicsdance site downloads page.