What I Learned About Learning Dancing on the AMAs with Selena Gomez

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

4 thoughts on “What I Learned About Learning Dancing on the AMAs with Selena Gomez

  1. Heather, by confronting your vulnerabilities *and* openly reflecting on them here with such honesty and candor, you make each of us stronger and better people. Writing this blog was a brave thing to do.

    While we can acknowledge that having a “little hater” inside of us is human-nature, we also know that individuals who are marginalized experience more pervasive self-doubt and negative thoughts. Your call to action is powerful and reminds all educators, regardless of where we teach or in what modality, that culturally responsive teaching is essential. The way we teach has the power to change the world. I’m all in (despite what my inner voice is telling me right now).

  2. Heather,
    Thank you for such a thoughtful reflection on your very exciting event the other night. Congratulations! It’s quite an honor to dance on the AMA’s. I wasn’t able to watch it “LIVE” but I watched clips on YouTube. Nice comeback for Selena after a long time out. I wish people would get over the question of lip syncing or not — non-musicians have no idea how hard it is to get good sound recorded live while dancing, ugh! It really doesn’t matter. The overall effect was great and I enjoyed watching you dance although we just met recently. It is so great that you are staying very active in your dance so that students have a wonderful role model to never stop dancing as lifelong artists. That is always my goal in music as well. You certainly deserve the hashtag of “fearless.” Beautiful job! ~ Luanne Fose

    1. Luanne,
      It is a shame about the lip-syncing controversy. Selena worked very hard in rehearsals. A real pro! It was an honor, especially at my age. It isn’t too often that the music industry is interested in back up dancers over the age of 30.
      The arts are lifelong endeavors, and I have so much more to offer now as an artist- Thank you for your kind words. It was wonderful to virtually meet you. -Heather

  3. Thank you Michelle. I was so astonished by the presence of my “little hater,” I consider myself pretty fearless and tone deaf in an artistic process to the voice of doubt. I couldn’t help but wonder about my students experiences every time I gave them a note in rehearsal, no matter how much it comes from a positive place.
    Yes to more voices supporting culturally responsive teaching and honoring being vulnerable as a strength, not a weakness.

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