If you are reading this, then you are probably an adult dancer yourself or a teacher with adult classes struggling to motivate your dancers to compete. First of all – and I can’t stress this enough – not everyone is in Irish dance because of competitions.
I can hear you shouting ‘Hello, Captain Obvious’ but you’d be surprised how many people can’t grasp the idea of Irish dance without the competitive part.
I believe that this is simply because of the fact that dance schools deal mostly with dancers who start dancing as children, at the age when competing is a part of natural process of growing up. We teach children to be competitive because we want to prepare them for the world where they need to fight and work hard if they want to achieve something.
But adult dancers dance for completely different reasons. Most of us who started dancing later in life had no ambition other than to have fun with it, or perhaps to get some physical exercise that isn’t just plain old boring gym or running. I was over 30 when I entered my first competition. It took me six years of dancing to even start thinking about it. Because of the fact that adult dancers approach dance for different reasons than children, a slightly different method in teaching and encouraging might be in order.
As a teacher, you should always make sure to find out whether your adult dancers are just shy or simply not a competitive type. If they are shy and actually would like to give feisin’ a try, but fear they might look silly or not do well, do your best to encourage and support them. Just like kids, adult dancers want to show their progress and get praise from their teacher. But make sure you do it in a dignifying, not patronizing way. They are adults; you don’t need to water things down for them. You just need to give them the facts in a way that shows respect for their fears, even when you know that those fears are not realistic. And don’t forget to praise them when they do well in class or at the competition. They might not be teenagers anymore, but lack of confidence is a foe that knows no age.
If, on the other hand, you have a perfectly confident, strong dancer who simply isn’t that into competing, don’t be afraid. It happens and it’s normal and there’s nothing to worry about. You should never push them into changing their mind, because you might end up losing a perfectly confident, strong dancer who simply won’t put up with a bossy attitude.
As you are probably aware, adult dancers have far less time to devote to Irish dance. So if a person decides to sacrifice the time they could be using on relaxing with family and/or friends or working on their professional career, or doing something else, less time-consuming, to Irish dance; if they dedicate their days off to travelling to feiseanna instead of barbecue picnics and fishing, spa or just sleeping, show them that you appreciate that. As far as it’s possible, try to organize their feis practice classes around their schedule and help them plan time for their practice at home. You are, in this way, showing respect for them and that you care about their competitive career. This will really boost their confidence and motivate them to work even harder not to disappoint you.
Have realistic expectations from your adult dancers and don’t feed them false impressions. Tell them exactly what to expect with their level of dancing, as you don’t want to see disappointed and bitter dancers who will, eventually, quit Irish dancing all together. Also, if they are good, don’t forget to say praise from now and then. They might be adult and you might think they are over the ambition to get praised by the teacher – but they’re not. They need your approval as much as the younger ones. Sometimes, maybe even more. It is your responsibility to help them see past their birth certificate and make them realize that even though they didn’t start dancing early in their life, they are still capable of achieving great things as dancers.
It’s not a happy thought, but unfortunately it is a fact that adult dancers can often be intimidated by the younger dancers, or sometimes even envy them. They might feel that the younger ones get all the attention, simply because they have more years ahead of them to perfect their technique and to become champion dancers. There’s no use in comparing dancers that are 5, 10 or even 20 years of age apart. They will not accomplish the same level of fitness, elevation or stamina easily. By putting all the dancers together, you risk losing adult dancers, due to discouragement, lack of confidence etc. Don’t expect them to perform like their younger colleagues. Compare them to their peers and set them goals that are achievable in their own age and stage of life.
If you can, make separate adult classes for dancers of the similar age. Of course, you wouldn’t put teenagers and 30+ dancers in the same class, but if you can, try to make separate classes, even once a week, for over 20, over 30, over 40 etc. dancers. These dancers have much more in common with each other; they can encourage one another more easily and understand the struggles they have in fitting Irish dance with their day-to-day life. Irish dance teens often say how their dance friends are their best friends; the same can happen for the adults, too!
Photo credit: Marko Oklobdzija
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