Dance was one of my first loves. As a toddler, I was constantly twirling down the grocery store aisles and putting on a show wherever there was music. The stage felt like home to me, somewhere I could be myself. But as I grew older, into my rigorous competition training days and later as a competition company director, that fondness sometimes felt distant. I knew I loved dance and everything it represented to me. But I didn’t always feel that connection with it. Too often, it felt like the drama, dance politics, and fatigue were in the way of me experiencing that deep awe and joy I once had.
Can you relate?
It wasn’t a dislike towards dance, per se—more of indifference in these moments. As a dance educator, these moments would typically become more frequent this time of year. The excitement of the new season starts to wear off. Dancers have learned choreography and may appear bored during the cleaning process. With the holidays and break right around the corner, minds are elsewhere, and the desire to be in the studio lessens.
If you’re there too, know it’s not you. Know it’s not your dancers. There’s a natural ebb and flow to each season and our dance journey. But even on these days, we still have to train and rehearse, which can feel like an uphill battle. The good news is that this apathy is a clue both within ourselves and our students. It’s a signal that we’re not connected to our love for dance, our purpose for showing up to the studio every day. Recognizing that is the first step. And more good news? There’s a simple way to reignite your and your dancers’ passion and love for the craft.
Bring to mind a favorite dance memory that brings a smile to your face. Where were you? Who was there? What do you see? Hear? Imagine that experience as fully as you can in this present moment.
What positive emotions does it bring up? How do those emotions feel in your body? Continue reminiscing for a few minutes, noticing and labeling the feelings that come up for you. You could even write about it or jot down any take-aways.
What was it like to think of that memory and experience those positive emotions? How can the feelings from this exercise help you in the studio today?
While reliving a positive experience and tapping into those emotions feels good, could it actually bring lasting benefits? Research from the field of Positive Psychology says yes! Let’s take a look.
Looking at the Research
The Broaden-and-Build Theory by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., suggests that experiencing and recollecting positive emotions can have many benefits. These include greater creativity, improved emotional regulation, more job satisfaction, and better work performance (Cuncic, 2021). All of which sounds pretty dang great for me and my dancer!
The theory proposes that positive emotions can broaden our awareness, thoughts, and actions, which build resourcefulness and resilience (Celestine, 2021). The idea is that when we experience or remember positive emotions, we can broaden our perspective and be more open to creativity, curiosity, learning, exploring, and seeing the bigger picture. From that expanded mindset can come new ideas, goals, and actions, leading to the development of greater physical, intellectual, and social resources (Celestine, 2021).
According to the research in Positive Psychology, other benefits of positive emotions include:
- Better psychological resilience through more coping skills to navigate negative emotions
- Ability to thrive and not just survive
- Perspective when managing difficult situations and emotions
- More meaning in life
- Better distress tolerance and ability to react calmly (Cuncic, 2021)
In her book, Positivity, Dr. Frerickson identifies the top ten most common positive emotions as:
- Joy (Wilner, 2011)
Check out this article from PsychCentral for a full description of each emotion. Think back to the memory you imagined above. Using the list, what positive emotions do you remember from that experience? What feelings do you have now when you recall it?
Below, I walk you through an exercise to put this concept into action. But first, I want to touch upon something vital to keep in mind throughout this process. While we look at the benefits of positive emotions, I’m not saying that we should brush past, stuff down, or avoid negative emotions. This isn’t some sort of toxic positivity. As humans, it’s crucial that we feel and process our uncomfortable and complex feelings and experiences. From there, we can develop healthy coping skills to manage and regulate our thoughts and behaviors. For more on the relationship of positive and negative emotions in this context, this article from Verywell Mind is helpful.
Putting It Into Action
Here’s an exercise you can use with yourself, your faculty, and your dancers. I recommend using all of the following questions as journal prompts to write about individually. From there, you can facilitate a group discussion to share and increase social connection.
For each prompt, put pen to paper and write anything that comes to mind. Try not to think too hard, filter your thoughts, or worry about getting it “right.” There is no right or wrong here. I recommend giving yourself several minutes to write about each prompt before moving on.
- Why did you first love dance?
- What’s a favorite dance memory that brings a smile to your face?
- What’s something that’s gone well for you in dance recently? This can be something simple and small, like just showing up or coming prepared for class.
- What’s something specific within your dance life that you’re grateful for right now?
- Take a look back at what you’ve written. What positive emotions come up for you as you reflect on your experiences and love for dance? Use the list of positive emotions above for reference if you need while listing these in your journal.
- From this place of positive emotions, what is one action you commit to taking to foster your growth as a dancer this week? Write it down, along with how and when you’ll do it.
After everyone is done, take turns sharing any take-aways, meaningful nuggets, or a summary of their writing. Explore if anyone wants some gentle accountability with their action step from question six. Is there any support they would like for this action step? As their teacher, this can be valuable information to know what’s on their minds and nurture their growth.
Want more on this exercise? Check out my conversation with Apolla Advocate Morgan Higgins on IGTV! And don’t miss my Morning Motivation Mindset Skills with Apolla Performance on IG Live every first and third Tuesday of every month at 11:30 EST.
This tool is just one way to use the information from the Broaden-and-Build Theory and evoke positive emotions and all of their benefits.
Before we go, I encourage you to grab your calendar and jot down a specific day and time to implement this exercise with your dancers and/or faculty. You’ve got this! And if you’d like support while you go through this process or are interested in my work, head to my website. You can also find me on Instagram for more free tools, resources, and inspiration.
This post was contributed by Ashley Mowrey, a Mindset Coach and Educator for dancers, 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 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.
Celestine, N. (2021, September 13). Broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://positivepsychology.com/broaden-build-theory/.
Cuncic, A. (2021, March 22). How to use a theory of positive emotions to feel better. Verywell Mind. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/broaden-and-build-theory-4845903.
Wilner, J. (2011, March 4). The top 10 positive emotions. Psych Central. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/positive-psychology/2011/03/the-top-10-positive-emotions#1.