Three Ways to Support Your Dancer on Competition Weekend with Ashley Mowrey
Dancer parents and guardians, this one’s for you! As you know all too well, competition weekends can be full of ups and downs, both for your dancer and for you. Between the long hours, the lights, loud music, nailing performances, making mistakes, navigating disappointments, accomplishing goals, fights over hair (anyone relate or is this just me :) ?), regulating your own emotions…it’s a lot. As a parent myself, I know the feeling of wanting to be there for your child, but not always having the strategies to use in the moment. Here are three ways to support your dancer during competition weekends.
You’ve heard the cliche, “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” but it’s true. We need to take care of ourselves to have the physical and emotional capacity to help our dancers. Think about your physical, mental, and emotional needs for competition weekend. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Rest and downtime
- Food that will give you energy AND you enjoy
- Coping skills like deep breathing, journaling, meditating, taking a walk, etc. to process your own emotions.
- Alone time
- Manage your own expectations
- Boundaries with your dancer or the studio/dance teachers
- Getting organized before competition
What else would you add to the list? Write your ways down, along with some ideas of how to make them happen before or during competition weekends.
Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset are terms coined by psychologist and researcher Carol Dweck. A growth mindset is the belief that qualities, traits, skills, and abilities are “things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others” (Dweck, 2016, P.7). A fixed mindset is the belief that all of these things are stuck or unchangeable. For an in-depth look at Growth and Fixed Mindset, check out this video of my past Beyond the Steps with Apolla Performance.
Having a growth mindset is crucial for dancers to have a healthy mindset and successful dance journey. Some examples of a fixed mindset you might see in your dancer are:
- Giving up quickly in a hard combo
- Getting defensive to feedback or critiques
- Avoiding challenging classes or getting out of their comfort zone
- Feeling threatened when others win, get featured spots, or get convention scholarships
It’s not just the dancer’s mindset that matters, but the mindset of the adults around them can have an impact, too.
Here are things that parents, teachers, and other dancers may do that get in the way of a dancer’s growth mindset:
Things we can do to help our dancer’s growth mindset:
- Focus praise on effort, focus, perseverance, and the use of effective strategies/approaches.
- When they do succeed or have a favorable outcome, help your dancer connect it to the process and effort that got them there.
- Encourage and model a love for learning, where mistakes, failures, and challenges are all part of the journey to growth.
One of the hardest parts of competition weekends can be navigating your dancer’s disappointments, feelings, reactions, and moods. You may feel like their feelings or reaction is way bigger than the situation. Or maybe you so want to help and end up trying to fix it for them. In these situations, empathy can be one of the best ways to support your dancer. Psychology Today defines empathy as, “the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person”. When we practice empathy with our dancers, it helps them feel validated, heard, and supported.
Things can get in the way of empathy:
When we jump into “fix-it” mode, we miss the opportunity to express empathy and acknowledge the person’s feelings and experience. Instead, we can sit with them, even in the dark. If you’re not sure what to say in these moments of darkness, start with acknowledging their feelings, “I see you’re feeling _____ about this”, and validate their experience “this is hard”.
A question I get often is, “Okay, I get it, but what if they’re being dramatic, acting out, or being irritable?”. I get it. It’s super frustrating when you want to be there for your dancer but their actions aren’t in alignment with your expectations or values. My take is this: Try out this guideline for an empathetic response and notice if it helps the behaviors. Often, just our validation and empathy can be enough to help steer the dancer back towards desired behaviors.
If not, you can calmly and compassionately communicate your boundaries for your dancers. In this conversation, make it about the behavior, not the feelings or person. This could sound like, “I see you’re really upset about your placement. It’s totally okay to have those feelings. It’s not okay to storm off and be rude to your teammates. What are some things that help when you’re feeling sad and irritable?” If they need ideas, suggest some coping skills such as splashing water on their face, crying in a safe and quiet place, a hug, or talking it out. The goal here is to support them through this experience and teach them the tools to cope. But they won’t hear us if we don’t start with empathy.
To practice empathy we can:
- Self-regulate our own emotions and reactions
- Understand their perspective
- Validate their feelings
- Give them space to feel their feelings
For more ideas on practicing empathy, check out this past Apolla Performance Blog Article I wrote.
Next competition, try these three strategies and see what you find helpful. If your dancer needs extra support for competition and audition season, I’m offering Mindset Prep Coaching Sessions designed to help dancers optimize their training through mindset preparation and coaching. Click here for more info.
Ashley Mowrey is a Mindset Coach for dancers and dance educators, helping you calm the mind and body, cultivate self-confidence, and create inner strength. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from The University of Arkansas, is an Associate Certified Coach through the International Coaching Federation, a Whole Person Certified Coach and Trauma-Informed Certified Coach through Coach Training World, a trained facilitator in Tara Mohr’s Playing Big Leadership Program, a specialist for Doctors for Dancers, and a blog contributor for Apolla Performance. Ashley has recently joined the faculty for a new convention, Embody Dance Conference. There she will lead workshops for all age groups, including parents and teachers, on mindset skills. She is also a Team Member of Dancer, 360, and a contributor to their upcoming book. Ashley trained as a competitive dancer out of Dallas, TX, before teaching and eventually directing a company and dance studio in Fayetteville, AR. During those years, she felt drawn towards the dancer’s mindset and the need for training and tools in the dance community to foster mental health and well-being. She sees clients in-person and via Zoom all over the country and travels (in-person and virtually) to studios for customized group workshops. Ashley has also been featured on the Pointe to Rise Podcast, Dance Studio Amplified Podcast (Ep. 14), Dance Boss University Mastermind guest presenter, and episode 58 of Dance Boss Podcast. Head to her website for more information or her Instagram for free tools and resources to help you build a healthy mindset to navigate the dance world at your best.
Brown, B. (2021, October 18). Brené with dr. Susan David on the dangers of toxic positivity, part 2 of 2. Brené Brown. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://brenebrown.com/podcast/brene-with-dr-susan-david-on-the-dangers-of-toxic-positivity-part-2-of-2/
Dweck, C. S. (2016). In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. essay, Ballantine Books.
Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). Empathy. Psychology Today. Retrieved March 30, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/empathy