“America’s future will be determined by the home and the school. The child becomes largely what he is taught; hence we must watch what we teach, and how we live.” Jane Addams
I have been around the performing arts, LITERALLY, all my life. With an opera singer mother and a tap/ballet dancer/choreographer/stage director father, I can honestly say I made my stage debut before I could walk. I’ve met wonderful people and had many “aunts and uncles” (a show bizzy way of referring to adults who are close to your parents but who do not want to be called mister, miss, ms or Mrs. because they considered themselves “cool”) who had influence on me.
Many of those Aunts and Uncles were charming people who tended to be humble, but not too humble. They knew they were good; they knew they were talented but they didn’t hit you over the head with it. In the music world of my youth, my Mom and her friends could sing anything and play any role; it was magic. Dad and his friends knew everybody, saw everybody, and had ideas which were incredibly clever. I have to say, I was often intimidated because they seemed so confident, free, and relaxed.
One of the chief things I learned from them was to keep on. If you believed you could do it, you could do it. Maybe it would take perseverance and lots of practice, but you would eventually be able to do whatever you set your mind to. It was important to tell yourself you could do it. There was a time when I was about 15, I believed I could not do fouetté turns. Aunt Helen believed I could and worked with me. My own ballet teacher noticed the improvement over the summer and was proud of all my hard work. As a result, I believe in self-fulfilling prophecies; I finally believed I could do the fouettés, so I was able to do them, with much practice.
Belief in oneself is not a new idea but should be nurtured. It’s important for young artists to feel confident about their talent and abilities. We as teachers and directors should be supportive as well as realistic. Kindness and nurturing without impatience should be at the top of our list of teaching techniques for our students. Creating a climate of self-confidence and freedom to test their abilities should be our goals. We need to believe in them, so they are able to believe in themselves. Cutting someone down doesn’t motivate, despite dressing it up as being constructively critical, it just weakens self-confidence. And self-confidence is important in our profession; undermining it in others really undermines our own goals.
Lifting someone up, encouraging our students and singers to be the best they can be doesn’t sound difficult to accomplish, does it? It’s a little thing but it can make a world of difference in someone’s life.