Dance Teacher Resources

Dance Studio Owner Wellbeing: Dealing with failure

Advice for dance studio owners

In our Dance Studio Owner Wellbeing series, Dance Informa offers strategies to manage positive wellbeing whilst also navigating the demands of running a dance studio and family. In this second instalment, we look at the idea of failure and how we can use it for positive change.

Failure.

A dirty word, or is it?

How comfortable are you with failure?

I’m becoming more comfortable, but if I am truly honest, if I was asked to choose between success and failure, I’d choose success. Luckily, in reality we rarely have to choose failure or success, but instead we experience failures (notice the plural!), then success. Acknowledging this difference can help to free the stigma surrounding failure, instead reframing it as a positive power.

My game-changing moment arrived when I’d spent time delving into how I can best remove fear of failure in the dance studio setting and how I encourage students to embrace failure as a learning tool. It has been said, you never fully understand something until you teach it to others, and this has been true in this instance.

In the studio, as dance teachers, we are daily facilitators of failure. Lesson after lesson, we share new ideas and techniques that the students cannot yet do, and we expect them to fail initially. For this reason, we are skilled in breaking technique into bite-sized pieces and remind students that some skills may take a lesson to master, while others may take years. We proudly spout “Growth Mindset” reminders such as “It is hard before it is easy,” or “Don’t say ‘I Can’t!’ Just say ‘I Can’t YET!’”   

“Fabulous!” I respond enthusiastically from the front of the studio, as a student falls out of a pirouette. “You’ve just found another way that doesn’t work!” paraphrasing Thomas Edison’s famous quote, “I haven’t failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

It turns out after reflection on my teaching methods that I have been encouraging my students to have a positive framework regarding failure long before “Growth Mindset” became buzz words. Better still, I learnt it through the lessons passed on to me from my dance teachers. I found that I didn’t have to change much of the work I did in the studio with my students, but the many hours pondering failure and its application have led me to reframing failure to be a far more positive tool in my own life than it had ever been before. Let me share with you some of my reflections.

#1. Failure is not the end.

About a year ago, I was in the depths of a vocal condition that threatened to rob me of my remaining teaching career. My vocal coach gently reminded me that my current state was not my permanent state. Instantly, I felt my shoulders drop with relief, and tears sprung to my eyes. Like my vocal condition, our failure is also not a permanent state; it is a small part in an often large or lengthy process.

#2. Failure is feedback.

Failure is a process that is vital for learning, or “flearning”. I first heard the term “flearning” (that is failure + learning) via Mia Freedman in her book, Work, Strife, Balance, and have since found the term floating around the web in numerous articles. Failure is a form of feedback, and as educators, we know how essential feedback is to learning. We know that when we share feedback with our students, they are better equipped to achieve success, or at the very least achieve improvements toward success. Do we extend the same level of empathy and understanding to ourselves? If you’re beating yourself up over failures, it’s probably time to stop. Even the US Army uses “flearning”, although somewhat unsurprisingly they instead call an After Action Review (AAR). Although the AAR doesn’t sound all that fun, put simply it is a short process that asks five questions, ones that we, too, can use in many situations to encourage “flearning”. The questions are:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why was there a difference?
  • What can be learnt?
  • What will we do about it?

#3. Failure is inevitable.

Since we’ve explored how failure eventually leads to new learning and opportunities, it is clear that a “fear” of failure can deny future success. This paralysis prevents us from having a go in “case” we fail. We need to move toward a mindset where we accept failure is inevitable. It is no longer a matter of how we will respond if we fail but how we respond when we fail.

In his book, You Don’t Have to Be Born Brilliant!, John McGrath, a well-known real estate agent declares, “I am 50 percent failure!” Author and success expert Brian Tracy raises the stakes even higher when he writes that “no matter how smart or experienced we are, 70 percent of our decisions will be wrong or disappointing over time.” Seventy percent! With this, surely it’s better simply to try and to possibly fail, than to not try at all.

#4. Failure builds resilience.

What of the times when we experience failure after failure after failure!? What then!? Here more than ever, coach yourself as you would your student. At these times, I remind myself of the Japanese proverb, “Fall seven times, stand up eight!” These six words encourage me to keep going with tenacity and positivity knowing that success may well be lurking around the next corner. Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realise how truly close they were to success when they gave up. Assuming you are “flearning” from each failure, and the same mistakes are not repeated, each failed attempt is one step closer to the outcome you desire. It’s not how far you fall but how high you bounce.

#5. Failure does not define you.

While acceptance is key, acknowledgement that failure refines us rather than defines us is equally important. A project may have failed, but that does not mean we are a failure. Failure does not loudly declare that you are not capable or competent; instead, it whispers, “Not this time, but soon.”

Failures happen. Failures will challenge you. With a focus on the positive change that failure brings, you will more fully appreciate the true joy experienced when success is finally achieved. Australian celebratory chef Gary Meighan summarises beautifully when shares his thoughts: “You’ve got to have the bitter, with the sweet!”

By Jane Grech of Jane Grech Dance Centre.

Jane Grech. Photo courtesy of Grech.Jane Grech is the Founder and Director of JG Creative, a South Australian company which operates Jane Grech Dance Centre, Pirouettes Dancewear and Adelaide Institute of Vocational Dance. An empowering leader, Jane’s businesses thrive from the power of a positive culture by design. Working with vision, her teams are a united and determined force. By embracing and enjoying challenges and celebrating success through having fun, her people are not only personally and professionally fulfilled, but her businesses greatest strength.  

Jane is the creator and founder of DanceStep, a unique training program that works in partnership with dance schools around the world to offer Assistant Teacher Training programs. Through her work Jane is empowering studio owners to grow young leaders who give back to their studio communities.  

Jane is an author and speaker on the topics of dance education, entrepreneurship and leadership. Passionate about encouraging, supporting and inspiring others Jane writes articles for Dance Informa Magazine and at her own blog, Dance Studio Success. Previous speaking engagements include Dance Teachers Unite, Come Together Dance Teachers Conference, ‘Exchange’ and Victorian Dance Festival. Jane shares her experiences with dance studio owners from around the world through her work as a Leadership and Studio Growth Coach with Dance Studio Owners Association.

Jane works part time in an effort to successfully navigate the challenges of combining a career with her greatest role, that of mum to Alana, Caitlin and Liam and wife to Brian.

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