Dancing with a Growth Mindset

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If you haven’t heard about this psychological concept, you need to. Understanding it can have a profound effect on your dancing, but also other areas of your life you may be self-sabotaging.

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck’s research results and application are summarized in her book, Mindset: the New Psychology of Success

Her theory is that everyone falls somewhere on a continuum based on their understandings about where ability comes from. People on one end of the continuum believe that success (and failure) is based on innate ability (or the lack of it). Dweck describes this fixed theory of intelligence as a ‘fixed mindset’.

In a fixed mindset, students believe their (and others’) basic abilities/intelligence/talents are just fixed traits. They are born with a certain amount that is static and then their goal becomes to maintain a “smart” appearance and make excuses to avoid exposing weaknesses. Fixed mindset people tend to come across as stubborn, defeatist, defensive, insecure, or uncooperative.

At the other end of the continuum are those people who believe success is based on a growth mindset. Students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be a genius, but they believe everyone can get smarter/better if they work at it.

Growth mindset people come across as secure, open-minded, adaptable, hard working, and problem-solving. Since dancing is a physical activity, we can compare dance training to sport training:


How this applies to your dancing

Most importantly, mindsets have a huge impact upon our understanding of success and failure.

A fixed mindset leads to dread of failure, feeling that it reflects badly upon you as an individual.

A growth mindset instead embraces failure as an opportunity to learn and improve your skills. Taking on new challenges outside your comfort zone is exciting, empowering, and makes you stronger. Your risk tolerance is higher: you don’t shy away from new projects like dancing with better dancers or trying a challenging class or choreography, knowing that there is value in failing, so there is nothing to fear.

When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world, effort is a bad thing. It, like failure, means you’re not smart or talented. If you were, you wouldn’t need effort. In the other world, effort IS what makes you smart or talented. What’s so valuable about the latter world is that it’s marked by a passion for learning rather than a hunger for approval.

People with a growth mindset have a voracious appetite for learning, constantly seeking out the kind of input that they can metabolize into learning and constructive action. Not only are people with this mindset not discouraged by failure, but they don’t actually see themselves as failing in those situationsgrowthmindset2–they see themselves as learning.” – Dweck  


Growth gives you wisdom

As you progress your skills and gain experience, you also gain wisdom. You learn what works and what doesn’t, so failure becomes less frequent. You develop higher standards, but you also need to push beyond your comfort zone in order not to stagnate.

I like to compare this to my wardrobe. Over many years of trial and error, I have experimented with all the trends and silhouettes and have carefully curated my wardrobe to designs and colours that look good on me. I am now able to shop and coordinate outfits efficiently and effectively. But it is important to keep testing new styles, not only to take advantage of new technology, but also to check in regularly with myself if my own tastes have changed.

You may have been dancing for years and are happy with your repertoire and style, but this dance evolves, like fashion and technology. Maybe it’s time to check in and audit your dance using Growth Mindset to make sure you are not stagnating and missing new fun toys and tools. Here’s an awesome video (18min) that does a good job of introducing Growth Mindset and how to build yours.



Is Fixed Mindset holding you back?

With a fixed mindset, there are feelings of powerlessness and learned helplessness. This can lead to the development of a self-defeating identity, accompanied by toxic personal statements like “I can’t do this” or “I’m not smart/coordinated/graceful/strong enough.”

This could be holding you back not only in class with learning challenging material, but also in competitions when you psych yourself out of your performance before it has even started.

It could also be deflected to others: “He’ll never change”, or a complacent or defeatist attitude: “That’s just the way it is”.

Finally, this could lead to egotistic behaviours designed to protect the sense of self by hurting, blaming, or deflating others.

What a Fixed Mindset dancer looks like on the floor

  • Blaming your partner for things going wrong
  • Getting down on yourself after not making finals, or upset about placements
  • Resorting to basic footwork because you can’t do those fancy synchopations
  • Deciding you “can’t dance” with certain types or levels of dancer
  • Disappointed when a competitive partner doesn’t perform well with youFB_IMG_1470560227121
  • Disappointed when a partner doesn’t have certain techniques you expect
  • Overbearing conversation: hijacking follow or dominating lead
  • Assuming that the Pros and advanced dancers only dance with you out of pity
  • Assuming a bad dance was your fault exclusively
  • Always dancing “your dance” without adapting to your partner
  • Justifying all the reasons it’s others’ responsibility to ask you to dance
  • Standing in line to dance with Pros or declining dances with beginners because you think you can only improve by dancing with higher level partners
  • Assuming you are not good enough to take lessons from certain Pros
  • Avoiding private lessons because you are afraid of being critiqued
  • Taking one private lesson/workshop/instructional video/event, hating it, and deciding they must all be the same
  • Thinking you are “too old/not pretty enough/not skinny enough” for the leaders to want to dance with
  • Thinking “it’s too late for me, the dance has evolved and left me behind”
  • Repeating a move several times because your follower isn’t “getting it”
  • Comment from leaders like, “I guess you haven’t learned that one yet”, “Oh you weren’t in that workshop so you don’t know how to follow that move”, “That works on [enter other follower’s name], but not you.”

Read on for ways to approach these with a Growth Mindset!


How this applies to your community

Personally, I have grown up with a Growth Mindset as a default. While I have seen my share of people with limited innate resources, I believe all are capable of growth and progress, as long as they can get out of their own way. In fact, the tattoo on my neck is a Celtic knot that stands for constant improvement: growth and progress. I crave feedback, and am constantly striving to improve.

I’m not saying I don’t have the occasional Fixed Mindset reaction though; I’m human! But it doesn’t last long. Everyone has been a victim of others with a Fixed Mindset, and I am no exception: I have had fixed mindset people make a snap judgement about me decide that that’s who I am, period, end-of-story. They did not spend enough time with me to learn enough for a valid judgement, nor to discover my growth mindset. Chances are, the very next time they meet me, I am already evolving, and deserve a second opinion.

Be sure to give others the benefit of the doubt – avoid assumptions and stay listening. You know those “difficult personalities” in your community? Every community has them! Trust me, we’ve seen ’em all! But if you take on a Growth Mindset, you can see possibilities for improvement in dealing with these characters, in managing your relationships, and in working together with other players in the dance community. When you expose your growth mindset, it might change the mindset of others who have had their mind “fixed” about you.  

What a Fixed Mindset dancer looks like in the community

  • baby-poutingNot participating in workshops aimed at your level and interests, especially free ones
  • Avoiding dancing with certain people for years because you had a bad experience one time
  • Boycotting dances when a certain DJ is playing
  • Only choosing DJ music to suit your own tastes, regardless of the audience
  • Teaching the same patterns or material regardless of the student or audience’s needs
  • Teaching something a certain way for no reason other than “that’s the way you learned it”
  • Neglecting to update/upgrade teaching skills on a regular basis
  • Avoiding promoting other WCS activities outside of your school
  • Staying with one teacher/school only because that’s who you started with
  • Bashing any music that is outside of your preferred genre
  • Refusing to collaborate with other promoters or teachers in your area
  • Upset when a friend you started WCS with surpasses you
  • Upset when your friends qualify for an auditioned level but you don’t
  • Quitting your group classes because you think you have learned it all
  • Inflating or lying about titles, awards, certifications, compliments, etc to boost your perceived status


25 Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset

  1. Acknowledge and embrace imperfections. Hiding from your weaknesses means you’ll never overcome them.
  2. View challenges as opportunities. Having a growth mindset means relishing opportunities for self-improvement. Learn more about how to fail well.
  3. Try different learning tactics. There’s no one-size-fits-all model for learning. What works for one person may not work for you. Learn about learning strategies.
  4. Follow the research on brain plasticity. The brain isn’t fixed; the mind shouldn’t be either.
  5. Replace the word “failing” with the word “learning.” When you make a mistake or fall short of a goal, you haven’t failed; you’ve learned.
  6. Stop seeking approval. When you prioritise approval over learning, you sacrifice your own potential for growth.
  7. Value the process over the end result. Intelligent people enjoy the learning process, and don’t mind when it continues beyond an expected time frame.
  8. Cultivate a sense of purpose.growthmindset3 Dweck’s research also showed that students with a growth mindset had a greater sense of purpose. Keep the big picture in mind.
  9. Celebrate growth with others. If you truly appreciate growth, you’ll want to share your progress with others.
  10. Emphasize growth over speed. Learning fast isn’t the same as learning well, and learning well sometimes requires allowing time for mistakes.
  11. Reward actions, not traits. Tell students when they’re doing something smart, not just being smart.
  12. Redefine “genius.” The myth’s been busted: genius requires hard work, not talent alone.
  13. Portray criticism as positive. You don’t have to use the term “constructive criticism”, but you do have to believe in the concept.
  14. Dissassociate improvement from failure. Stop assuming that “room for improvement” translates into failure.
  15. Provide regular opportunities for reflection. Let students reflect on their learning at least once a day.
  16. Place effort before talent. Hard work should always be rewarded before inherent skill.
  17. Highlight the relationship between learning and “brain training.” The brain is like a muscle that needs to be worked out, just like the body.
  18. Cultivate grit. Students with that extra bit of determination will be more likely to seek approval from themselves rather than others.
  19. Abandon the image. “Naturally smart” sounds just about as believable agrowthmindset1s “spontaneous generation.” You won’t achieve the image if you’re not ready for the work.
  20. Use the word “yet.” Dweck says “not yet” has become one of her favourite phrases. Whenever you see students struggling with a task, just tell them they haven’t mastered it yet.
  21. Learn from other people’s mistakes. It’s not always wise to compare yourself to others, but it is important to realize that humans share the same weaknesses.
  22. Make a new goal for every goal accomplished. You’ll never be done learning. Just because your midterm exam is over doesn’t mean you should stop being interested in a subject. Growth-minded people know how to constantly create new goals to keep themselves stimulated.
  23. Take risks in the company of others. Stop trying to save face all the time and just let yourself goof up now and then. It will make it easier to take risks in the future.
  24. Think realistically about time and effort. It takes time to learn. Don’t expect to master every topic under the sun in one sitting.
  25. Take ownership over your attitude. Once you develop a growth mindset, own it. Acknowledge yourself as someone who possesses a growth mentality and be proud to let it guide you throughout your dance career.

Taken from 25 Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset


How can you change from a Fixed to a Growth Mindset?

Nothing is permanent! If you recognize that you often or occasionally get stuck in a Fixed Mindset, fear not, you can learn to change it!   Here’s an excellent article about changing from a fixed to a growth mindset: How to Change your Fixed Mindset into a Growth Mindset



Want More?

Like this article? This is just the tip of the iceberg! There are dozens more in the Coach’s Corner Blog. One in particular you might enjoy along these lines is Are You Winning Yet?  Check them out and pass them on!   

Are You Winning Yet?

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9 Responses to “Dancing with a Growth Mindset”

  1. Thanks for having this first!
    You nailed it!
    I love theory!
    In fact the nursing concept is built on theory, BTW I am a nurse practitioner! My national certifications requires us to receive continuing medical education (CME) to keep the lisensure up!!!!
    Today was an ah-ha moment in applying what I do on a regular basis to my dancing!

    – Stephanie

  2. Such a great place to start this process! Getting our mind set, beliefs about ourselves, and self-talk is SO valuable to learning a new set of theory and movement skills!

  3. I like the statement, “Hiding from your weaknesses means you will never overcome them.” This is my new goal for this boot camp. I’m going to be open and vulnerable with my dance and take in as much information as I can so I can focus my practice and move my dance forward. I’m looking forward to this journey with my learning group.

  4. Rick Goldsmith April 1, 2020 at 12:54 pm

    Emphasize growth over speed. Do the work. Boom ,

  5. Audrey Hazekamp April 1, 2020 at 1:33 pm

    Love this…applies to so much, and love that it also adds to my life and professional world in what I facilitate. I advocate a TON for practice (especially deliberate practice) as the food of mastery, and feel deeply confirmed in this after reading/watching the video in this section. I’m also a big believer in questioning any sentence that communicates some version of ‘that’s just the way I am’…and messing with those beliefs. YAY for disrupting patterns and learning new ones!

  6. Thanks for beginning with the growth mindset principle. I’ve been nervous about using the online format because I think I can’t do it. That is going to change!
    My mantra now is, have patience , aim low, take action. As this applies to my dance, I’m enthusiastic to learn new ways of thinking to improve and add onto what I know.
    I like the idea of self-reflection. I am an experienced, accomplished hairstylist .I remember my first haircut….

  7. Loved the Aim Low – One Skill concept. In business we constantly teach that Leadership is a learned skill vs innate talent. Now I see how this can relate to my dance education too.

  8. Debbie Andersen April 7, 2020 at 10:45 pm

    One of my many ‘AH HA” moments….”not yet”. What a gift… a simple little statement.

  9. This is such a good reminder of the growth mindset and seems particularly pertinent as we transition into 2021 with all that has happened in the last few months.

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