We are all reflections of each other. Although I teach this to kids, this is a challenge for both kids and adults, myself included. When I am frustrated, my students are more easily frustrated. When my students are frustrated, I am more easily frustrated. When we reflect patience, there is more patience. When we reflect joy, there is more joy.
Mirroring is a cycle that perpetuates itself, and we can use mirroring as a tool to transform the way in which we are perceived and treated. Often we don’t realize how we are moving, behaving or feeling. I teach dance to share how we can more easily move through the world. I am teaching how our attitude and behavior is reflected back to us. Dance -- especially partner dance -- gives us the opportunity to see ourselves more clearly.
At a school where I just recently started teaching, the 5th grade class has been struggling to treat each other with respect. The school chose this 5th grade class so they could work on improving behavior, specifically focused on the relationships between the students. One of our goals is to improve the self-esteem of individual students and to shift the dynamics within the classroom community.
As the students were asked to dance together, the domino effect of emotional reactions began to explode. Before the web of emotion spun too far out of control, we had to stop dancing and take a moment to reflect. I asked the students to sit in a circle facing out with their eyes closed so they could raise their hands without anyone seeing their answers.
Here are some of the questions I asked them. I gave the instruction that they would not get in trouble for answering honestly:
-Have you ever been made fun of, bullied, or teased?
-Have you ever made fun of, bullied, or teased someone else because they were mean to you?
-Does it make you feel bad when someone makes fun of, bullies or teases you?
Almost all of the students raised their hands in response to each question. We then talked about how we are reflections of each other. If one person is mean to you, then we often mirror this by reacting negatively, which then leads to more hurt feelings. If you are always angry, people will be mean to you to protect themselves -- this is just a reflection of your anger.
We then talked about how we can, as individuals, become empowered to change this within ourselves by acting with wisdom. This is a lesson about how we can improve our lives just by being kinder to ourselves and others. In class we put mirroring into practice each day by asking with positive body language, “May I have this dance?” and responding, “Yes you may.” This skill is much more challenging than what it seems to be on the surface. It takes courage, self-confidence, empathy, and compassion.
Intentional Action versus Reaction
One of the challenges we have in life is to act with the wisdom we carry within. To act with thought and intention, rather than to react with emotion. Today a student and I were demonstrating a new dance move next to a girl in class who doesn’t have an arm from the elbow down. The girl I was demonstrating with said to me in a loud whisper, “She can’t do it because she doesn’t have part of her right arm.”
The girl she was talking about heard this, took a moment, gathered her emotions and with a strong sense of self-confidence stepped forward and asked if she could demonstrate with me. With grace, style, pride and elegance she showed the whole class how the move is done. Intentional action can shape what is reflected back to us.
Until this point, many of her dance partners seemed quietly nervous and uncomfortable, unsure how to dance with her. Many of the students are too shy to just ask her directly how she wants to dance and be held. This is a challenge not just for children, but adults as well, so it is no surprise that 5th graders are struggling with this.
In our culture, we are not given good tools to communicate about different bodies or abilities in a safe way. This girl’s choice to respond in a self-empowered way gave all of us a lesson in how to treat her and how to dance with her. There can be fear and discomfort when someone is different. Sometimes we don’t know how to interact in unique situations. This dancer showed us exactly how to treat her by shining in the spotlight. She chose to take control of a situation with intentional action versus emotionally impulsive reaction, in turn creating a safer space for everyone.
Today I am grateful for the lessons all of my students share. They demonstrate what it means to be honest and fearlessly true to themselves. I am moved by the deep wisdom students have at a young age to navigate challenging interactions with maturity and at the same time not hurting others. It truly amazes me what can unfold in a one hour dance class.