“No man is an island.” If you studied poetry in high school, John Donne’s words are familiar. To bring the quote even closer to home, “no dancer is an island”. While dance can be a very solitary, personal activity, only a handful of dancers go on to be solo artists. Ensemble work is abundant in the ballet, commercial, contemporary and theatre dance worlds, and learning how to work as a team at a young age is crucial to finding success professionally as a dancer (and as a human being in general!) IDA judges Kelsey Nelson, Kimberly Corbett, Maddie Kurtz, and Samantha Jay share their ideas about teamwork in this week’s blog!
Kelsey Nelson, teacher and choreographer from Tampa, describes teamwork as “a support system of fellow dancers, teachers, and parents that work together to achieve a goal. Teamwork is holding each other accountable to their obligations and responsibilities, supporting one another's efforts from a place of love and value, and being able to believe that everyone is equally putting in 100% effort every moment of every day. To me, teamwork relates directly to integrity, and without integrity in what you are doing and who you are, you will not have true teamwork and unity.” When it comes to competitive dance, it’s all hands on deck - from prop dads to the front desk mom, having a successful team includes everyone involved in every aspect of the craft. Kimberly Corbett from Massachusetts adds, “Teamwork is being there for your dance family members through thick and thin. Teamwork is supporting your teammates through their bad days, lifting them up when they need a boost, and being there when they need you most while also celebrating with them on their good days and in their successes. Teamwork is also about putting the collective good ahead of the individual's wants and needs. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices as a team member to support the greater good of the group.” This last part is especially important to remember - a cohesive team only works well when everyone is present and engaged in the activity at hand. That means possibly rescheduling that trip to the beach or making dance a priority over other activities. In the over scheduled world we now live in, commitment to one activity is a rare occurrence - but teaching kids the value of following through with a commitment and not letting your team down is the best thing we can do to prepare them for their future.
In a studio setting, encouraging teamwork can take many forms. From team building activities to how you conduct rehearsals, there are tons of ways to promote working together. When in rehearsal for competition, Maddie Kurtz, choreographer and teacher from Brockport, NY, says, “I often allow my students to work in groups to help each other try and figure out the choreography. Not only does this encourage them to work together, but it also encourages a sense of agency. Often, if there is disagreement about an arm or a focus shift, I will allow the dancers to make a choice as long as they are unanimous. Even if I originally gave them an arm in high fifth, if they all agree to place the arm in first position, that works for me because they have agreed on a common choice. Encouraging dancers to compromise is incredibly important and I take advantage of opportunities to do this.” Young dancers may find this challenging, as they are still learning to compromise in all aspects of life, but the dance studio is a perfect, safe place to help them with this skill.
Many studios find that a specific day or time set aside for team bonding exercises that don’t involve dance have helped create more unity within a group of dancers. Kimberly suggests, “To promote appreciation of others, we've done different exercises that help the dancers express their gratitude for one another such as sitting in a circle and having the dancers write their name at the top of a piece of paper. We then pass the paper to the right and that dancer will write something they appreciate about the person whose name is at the top of the page. We pass it to the right again and continue until we've made it all the way around the circle. Each dancer is then left with a paper filled with wonderful qualities the others recognize in them. I have the dancers place these papers in a spot where they can look at them and be reminded of how awesome they are every day. Some choose to put it on their mirror. Some choose to carry it with them to competition and read it as a boost before they take the stage.” Other more physical ideas for team bonding include the Human Knot (stand in a circle and put your right hand in. Grab hands with someone, then do the same with the left hand. Untangle yourselves!); Human Letters/Shapes (have participants create letters, shapes or words using their bodies); Hula Hoop Pass (stand in a circle, and place one person’s arm inside a hula hoop. Everyone holds hands, and the hula hoop must be passed around the circle without letting go of each other’s hands). Team building activities can be done as a break from rehearsal, or as a devoted day to come together as a team and learn from and about one another.
In the professional dance world, teamwork shows up more than solo work. Even as a soloist or creator, however, you are still a cog in a giant machine that needs your presence in order to function. Maddie explains, “As a dancer and choreographer, teamwork has been an essential part of my career. Within the concert dance realm, I’ve worked with many choreographers who work collaboratively to create their work. They give their dancers agency to create movement material based on tasks and prompts. The tricky part, though, is that often we have to create movement with other dancers and we all have varied skill sets and aesthetics. Being able to listen and compromise with others has, therefore, been extremely important. As a choreographer, I tend to work in this way, whether I am making my own concert dance pieces or choreographing for the competition stage. I love to give my dancers agency in any creative process, but this means that they have to be willing and able to work together. Being a team player in today’s dance field is essential; I only re-hire dancers if they prove to me their ability to be cooperative collaborators and I know many choreographers who feel the same way.”
Regardless of whether a competitive dancer goes on to a professional career on the stage, teamwork is vital to all kinds of industries and interpersonal relationships. Samantha Jay, dance teacher from New Jersey, explains, “Every facet of life requires teamwork. Any career you find as an adult will require teamwork from some angle. Whether you have to work as a group or represent a company, teamwork will provide a successful working environment. I judge for several national competitions and each weekend, the judging panel is different. Sometimes you know the people you judge with and sometimes they're strangers. But you have to work together to fulfill the needs of the competition. The more each judge is willing to work as a team, the smoother the weekend goes.”
Kelsey says, “Teamwork is everywhere you look and in every aspect of life. Learning that the world does not solely revolve around you, learning to respect leadership, giving respect to your fellow teammate, supporting a teammate who is struggling to master a skill, managing your time and your impact on your teammates’ time, clearly communicating and asking for what you need, and realizing that what you do and who you are impacts everyone around you will not only make you a great professional (in whatever field you choose), it will make you a great human. At the end of the day, that is what I am striving to teach my students.”
“No dancer is an island.” Instead, dancers are pieces of a living, breathing, DANCING force, working as a team to collaborate, create, and share their skill and artistry. Teaching teamwork from a young age in the studio benefits dancers for a lifetime, both in and out of the dance world.
Photos provided by IDA Judge Kimberly Corbett - Owner/Director of Harvard Academy of Dance, Harvard, MA