I’m noticing lately that some of us are walking into our belly dance classes and workshops, either thinking that we can or can’t do something. What that leads me to believe is some of us are entering these atmospheres with either a growth mindset, or a fixed mindset.
Now, you might be asking yourself, why does it even matter in the world of belly dancing/Raqs sharqi/oriental dance, and how does that really impact us in our growth process? Well, I believe it really impacts us quite a bit. If you’ve heard anything about the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset, you’ll understand why.
As Carol Dweck said in her TED Talk, a growth mindset is living in a world of ‘yet’ or ‘not yet,’ but having the belief in oneself that you can do something or develop something with effort put into it. And a fixed mindset follows the idea of “it is the way it is.” For example, you are smart, you are pretty, and you are nice. It’s a static way of looking at things that are not changeable. Things are the way they are, and there’s not necessarily a way to make it better or worse or different. Some may think you’re either born with it, or you’re not.
Suppose we are walking into our belly dance classes or workshops, or even as an instructor to teach people. In that case, it can impact the way that we are receiving information or giving information.
Here is an example that relates to dance. If you go into a class and you’re thinking to yourself, “wow, this material is really difficult.” You might be withdrawing mentally and almost giving up. That could indicate that you are in a fixed mindset. The belief that you can develop that skill or movement at the moment may not be there.
If you’re going in with that thought process, it’s going to make it difficult for you to learn. You’ll probably fail to some extent in making your Raqs sharqi dance more developed in the way that you would like it to be. That could be a more refined technique, more stage presence, or articulating the music with your body. Whatever it may be, if there’s a belief that if it’s too difficult and you cannot get it, then you may convince yourself that you might as well give up. That can make a huge impact on the way you approach belly dancing in the future. You might find that you’ll walk away very dissatisfied.
One thing that may raise a flag:
- Are you asking questions?
If you’re not asking questions, and you’re purposefully avoiding asking those questions, it could be a sign that you already accept that the answer wouldn’t have an impact on you or wouldn’t matter. That could be an indicator of a fixed mindset.
Keep in mind, what we want to be cultivating for ourselves is a growth mindset. We want to be able to develop in dance. No one is born masterful in any art. You can have some natural ability, but you have to do the work. Natural ability only goes so far. Natural talent can’t take you into the masterful realm, and it can’t take you into the expert realm. That takes dedication, work, effort, processing, and developing your skill in your art form.
- If you’re not asking questions, it might be time to ask yourself,”Why not? Why am I not asking questions?”
- When I’m learning something new, what is my expectation in learning it?
- If I think that learning new material should be easy, and then suddenly I don’t get the material, what is my reaction to that?
- Do I feel like it was pointless for me to even learn?”
This is really something to pay attention to regarding a growth versus a fixed state of mind. Because if you think that you should be good at something right away, and there’s nothing to cultivate or put effort into, then you might be expecting perfection from yourself.
Let’s say you’re learning new choreography or a new technique, and it takes you five times to actually work it through, yet you still feel like you’re failing at it pretty badly. We’ve all been there where we have tried something 20 times, and it’s still awful. Do you give up at that point? Or do you think in your head, “I’m just not there yet,” “Maybe I’m not practicing it effectively,” or “I’m not practicing it in a way that actually pushes me to get it?” These typically aren’t the first questions that pop up. Instead, it’s usually “I’m just not good at that, or I’ll just never get it.” If you hear yourself saying that to yourself, that could be another indicator of you being in a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.
If you happen to be in this fixed mindset and think you’re not good enough or think you’re not cut out for Raqs Sharqi, and there is no hope, it’s ok. Sometimes we feel that way, and that’s totally fine.
Because we’re human, right?
We’re not perfect, and you’re never going to have the perfect reaction every single time. But when that happens, and you see a setback happening, you can acknowledge it. Progress goes up and down and back up again.
When you see those setbacks, try to identify the things that you may be saying to yourself:
- You’re not good enough.
- You’ve never been good at dance; you’re not a dancer.
- You’re not trying hard enough.
Identify if you are making justifications:
- I’m just trying to have fun.
- I was never going to be a professional dancer anyway.
- I’m just doing this for myself.
How many times have we said these things?
There’s a difference in saying that in the moment and having that intention from the very beginning.
If you see yourself reacting in this way, or even justifying that feeling of not being enough, that’s also something to look at and ask yourself, “Why am I in this fixed state of mind, and how can I shift myself to this growth state of mind?”
If you see yourself doing this a lot, I am there with you. This is a constant progress for humans, in general, to work on these things like this.
The first thing is to become aware of why we are doing it. If we are not able to distinguish it ourselves, a good idea is to ask our peers whom we trust. They may be able to help you see if you are in a growth or fixed mindset. Feedback from the people you trust is really helpful because sometimes we see ourselves differently than other people see us.
If you notice those things are happening, you may be thinking, “what now?”
There has to be a desire to want to shift that mindset. You have to want to shift yourself from a more fixed mindset into a growth mindset. The first thing is to validate your process and validate the effort.
Say things to yourself like:
- I worked really hard on this.
- I put in great effort today.
I have a 10-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son. When I look at them, I always want to give them praise. I want to tell my daughter, “good job, you’re so smart, great job!” Then I realized I’m validating her fixed way of being. I’m telling her she’s smart.
If you’re doing that already, this is part of the process in which you’re validating, acknowledging, and giving yourself the recognition you deserve, not taking away from it.
Now we just want to shift what we’re actually recognizing. I would want to tell my daughter, “Wow, you put a lot of effort into studying math today, and you’ve been working really hard on those math problems.” I would ask her how she feels about that and tell her how proud I am of her.
It’s the same for us saying that about ourselves and our dance. You can say things to yourself like:
- I put a lot of effort today into making sure that my hip circles were the way I wanted.
- I put a lot of time into getting feedback and implementing the structures that my teachers gave me.
As a teacher, I put a lot into my students by letting them know that I really appreciate them taking the feedback and working on the moves I’m teaching. I let them know it’s incrementally getting better and thank them for doing the work. It’s acknowledging and validating that.
When we do this, we go back to that fixed mindset versus that growth mindset. In this process, it isn’t helpful at all.
When we really want to excel in dance, especially in Raqs sharqi, it’s a huge process to learn the culture, movement, technique, context, and more. We have to be willing to develop this over time, especially with so much change; art is never stagnant. If we’re staying in this stagnant state of being, this fixed state of mind, it is really hard for us to be with the art.
I hope this helps you consider how your mindset is affecting your practice and potentially affecting the way you are teaching your students.
I know this isn’t one of the usual things that we talk about when it comes to dance because we’re typically focused on the art itself. But, if we want to get really good at the art, we also have to know who we are as humans and how we learn.
I encourage you to watch Carol Dweck TED Talk. You can also find more information about the research that she does. Leave me a comment below if you have ever considered how your mindset affects belly dancing!