Last night at the age of 41, despite my full time job as a university performing arts professor and mom of 2, I personally felt like I defied the status quo by dancing with Selena Gomez on the American Music Awards. I danced professionally in my twenties, and in my thirties shifted my dance practice to higher education, research, and choreography. It has been a long time since I have been on stage, and an even longer time since I was part of a live global television event.
I am writing today because during the creative process for the performance I had some deep and profound reminders of what it is like to BE a dancer again, and what that means to be a student. I have blogged in the past about the importance of being fearless and vulnerable as an educator-necessary skills I cultivated as a dancer. I now remember how important those same skills are necessary for students.
Throughout rehearsals, one must be malleable, yet be very quick at assimilating information. The dancer is the medium for the choreographers living sculpture. As a choreographer, I know what kinds of dancers I like to work with; someone who is completely vulnerable, fearless, present, flexible (mentally), a problem-solver, and critical thinker. Sound familiar? As educators we want our students to bring these traits to the classroom and lab.
However, within the creative process things change and are shaped. Every time something changed I could not help but hear a voice say, “it’s because you aren’t worthy, good enough. You suck,” even though my experience as a choreographer told me that the creative team was artistically figuring it out. They were molding their clay, and I had to quiet my inner doubt. Even though I knew better, it was hard.
Even understanding the process from both sides of the equation, the fragile ego inside felt very vulnerable and there was immense pressure to be right, good, and secure. In contrast, what makes the creative process work, and makes the good dancers good is their willingness to be completely vulnerable, fearless, present, flexible(mentally), a problem solver, and critical thinker. Yes, I repeated the list. During every rehearsal, camera block, and performance my mental adaptability was working at full capacity. There was no room for any other voice. We rehearse so we can figure out as many “issues” that may arise. Inevitably during the performance something will still surprise you, and you have to “make it work.”
When I arrived back at CSU Channel Islands today, I talked with my students about the voice of self doubt. How strong and interruptive that voice can be to the learning process. They all admitted listening to that voice telling them they don’t belong, they can’t do it, they aren’t worthy, they aren’t good enough. This makes me profoundly sad.
We aim to create safe spaces for students to learn. When I stepped back into a learning experience last week, I was surprised at how I had to work to quiet and banish the voice of self-doubt. I can’t help but think the first safe space we need to cultivate in our students is the voice they hear within. How can we expect them to learn and process if the voice of doubt is loudest?
This is a call to action, for ideas, concepts, and pedagogy that addresses creating a learning environment within the student that promotes presence, fearlessness, mental flexibility, problem solving, and critical thinking because we have taught them to lower the volume on the inner voice of doubt and worth.
Featured image courtesy of OnAir with Ryan Seacrest