Young people enter the performing arts classroom for a number of reasons including fitness and health benefits, enjoyment, escapism, connection/community, creativity, growth, and other emotional and psychological benefits. However, some research shows that many learners find the training stressful and dread making a mistake in performance. Other performers have diminished feelings of low self-worth as they compare themselves to others and believe that being the best rather than doing their best is what matters.

What is the motivational climate in your classroom? In other words, what are you doing or saying, and does it follow a philosophy, vision, trajectory that helps keep your training and social environment clear to everyone? Creating an empowering climate in the classroom will encourage the following:

1. Confidence and self-esteem

2. Appreciation of and for the arts

3. Ability to work as, and enjoy being a part of a team

4. Respect for others

5. A higher level of cognitive functioning important in problem-solving

This blog provides some information on how performing arts teachers can effectively optimize the climate and enhance the quality of young performers’ motivation in order to promote a healthier learning experience in the classroom. As a teacher, it is important that we are effective as we set out or follow a vision and inspire the importance of that vision within our students. Through communication, motivation, and guidance we can empower our students in performing arts success.


The quantity and the quality of motivation are important in helping maintain a mind-set around the learning experience that inspires and empowers students. Differences in motivation are reflected by how learners behave, think, and feel in the performing arts classroom.


If the learner seems to perform well and seems engaged we might think that this learner has HIGH Motivation based on our observation. However, this is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’. High-performance levels right now cannot inform us if performing is truly beneficial to the learners’ sense of “self-worth” and overall well-being. Therefore, we must also consider the quality of motivation of the learner.


Intrinsic motivation is when the learner is participating because they themselves enjoy performing. But if they are being compelled by outside forces, then this is extrinsic motivation. With extrinsic motivation, even if the student is a high-performing student, there is still the possibility that they may have low self-esteem. In this case, the learner may be in high-performance, because the student feels guilty for not participating.


A = Autonomy

You can give learners a voice and a choice in the performing arts classroom. For example, most of my classes include a creative collaboration element where learners are given tasks work out with other dancers in the classroom. Also, you can ask learners to pick between exercises so they feel they have some choice and say in certain aspects of their training.

B = Belonging

No one likes to feel alone and isolate, and connection helps to give a sense of meaning and safety so that young performers feel safe enough to allow their special qualities to bloom and flourish. It is important that no matter the learners’ ability, they believe they matter. Intrinsic motivation is more likely when we have a sense of belonging, and if we feel we are part of a team that works well together our sense of self-worth will improve as a person regardless of our performance in the classroom.

C = Competence

Competence refers to the ability of the performer to meet the demands of a task, skill, or performance situation.

Two Ways to think of Competence

1. Task Focus

Task focused learners are likely to try their best and feel good about performances whether they themselves feel confident or not. This is because in spite of obstacles or challenges, the focus is not on the external.

  • Self-referred

  • Success based on personal improvement and mastery

  • Trying hard is important ( remember growth-mindset? )

  • Trying hard is important for improving? How can I get better?

2. Superiority Focus/ Ego Focused

Superiority Focused dancers have high motivation extrinsically (externally), but they may be fragile and dependent upon outside circumstances. Thus their motivation has not much to do with themselves but how they are being judged.

  • Competence other-referenced - (focused on others)

  • Success entails out-doing others, showing superiority

  • Being the best is important

  • How are others doing? Am I good enough? How can I not look bad?

By using certain teaching strategies, you can ensure that young performing arts students will feel empowered. Learners will feel they have a choice if their voice is heard. Belongingness will be created if students feel they are respected and connected as a relevant member of a group. They will feel confident and competent when their effort is acknowledged and embraced without having to seek the approval of others. By maintaining open communicating between the learner, instructors, parents, and engaging in the community, we can help to enhance the quality of motivation in order to promote a healthier learning experience for all in the performing arts classroom.

Seven Strategies for Creating an Empowered Climate for Your Students

Cooperative Contribution

Learning emphasised

Intrinsic Focus

Mastery orientated

Authority with autonomy

Taking others’ perspective

Evaluation (of effort and improvement)

1. Cooperative contribution

  • Learners work together to help each other improve together

  • All learners believe they contribute.




Teacher: “Hey, everyone, let’s get together and give feedback to one another so that we can help our teammates get better!”

Teacher: “What do we think we did well this rehearsal?

2. Learning emphasised

  • Learning and improvement are constantly emphasised even after success and failure

  • Teachers ask dancers – What went wrong and what could be better? – HOW

  • How can temporary setbacks be turned into positives for the future




Teacher: “Let’s review today’s lesson. What are two things that you remember about today’s lesson?

Teacher: “What went well for you? How do you think we can improve?”

3. Intrinsic Focus

  • Class activities can be challenging and fun and promote the innate ability for enjoyment

  • All students enjoy creativity, solving problems and humour

  • Use rewards sparingly



4. Mastery orientated

  • All performers have the chance to feel successful when we support ‘doing our best’

  • Teachers can work with dancers to set individual improvement goals for specific classes.



Teacher: “Did you have fun today? What did you enjoy?

5. Authority with autonomy

  • Dancers encouraged to make decisions and to have input

  • Dancers are provided with meaningful choices

  • Teachers provide a rationale (reasons) for their requests.




Teacher: “We all know what we have to achieve by assessment time. What do you all think we could do today to progress us toward our goals?

Teacher: “Who can give me some ideas to make sure we all have some input today?”

6. Taking others’ perspective

  • Acknowledge students' feelings and views

  • Encourage young performers to see their classmates perspectives also

  • Recognise that the learners are not performing robots but humans with thoughts, feelings emotions

  • The performers' worth is not equated to class or stage performance (Duda & Quested, 2014).




Teacher: “How do you think he/she felt when they made a mistake? What can we do to make them feel better or help them?”

Teacher: “I know the audition can be scary, and sometimes our performance doesn’t go as planned. What can I do to help you when this happens?

7. Evaluation (of effort and improvement)

  • Teachers’ feedback is primarily tied to “task-focused” goals an individual’s own effort

  • Encourager performers’ own self-evaluation of their own performance



Teachers: “How do you believe you have improved over the last few weeks? What do you really want to work in the next class that will help you improve from today?

The performing arts classroom should be a place where all ages shapes and sizes learn to dance, sing, and perform. And where courage, creativity, self-expression, and communication are encouraged. Remember, it is the teaching values, beliefs and standard of behaviours that guide our teaching practice. This climate develops you as a leader and impacts students’ motivation. By creating a more empowered climate in a class where intrinsic motivation is high, all levels and abilities of performances will improve. The talented performers in your class will have a greater chance of developing their own talent and continuing when training is complete to move to excellence. Those with less ability will be able to maximise on the skills they have and realise other healthy aspects and abilities they have gained from their performing arts training.

References for further reading:

Bates, B., 2016. Learning Theories Simplified...and how to apply them to teaching. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Cohn, D. P., 1996-2017. Self Esteem in the Performance Arts. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 25 12 2018].

One Dance UK, 2016. Dance Teaching and Learning: Shaping Practice. 3rd ed. s.l.:One Dance UK.

Quested, E. & Duda, J. L. (2010). Exploring the Social-Environmental Determinants of Well-and-Ill-Being in Dancers A Test of Basic Needs Theory.

There will inevitably be mistakes that happen in live theatre. The more responsibility one has in a live performance the more the risk of failure – i.e. vocal mistakes, missed steps, and other performance setbacks such as bad critic's reviews. The pressure to outshine and outdo can be overwhelming in a culture where negative self-image; unhealthy attitudes and performing with injuries can be prevalent.

In my own experience as a pre-professional performer at the beginning of my professional dance career, I suffered from comparing myself to others and sometimes lacked the self-confidence to fully commit to my pre-professional growth. I exercised self-limiting behaviours such as truancy, giving up, and escapism, because of this disempowering mentality. As performers, we often attach our sense of self-esteem to performance, and grand expectations contribute to comparing ourselves to others. We often feel out of control of our success or failure because of negative judgements.

“Every endeavour pursued with passion produces a successful outcome regardless of the result. For it is not about winning or losing – rather, the effort put forth in producing the outcome. The best way to predict the future is to create it…” - The Bolletieri Academy

When you can move beyond rejection and overcome personal challenges to continue toward the pursuit of your goals you develop resilience. You open yourself up to the potential of more opportunities when you are willing to let go of the past and move on from your mistakes and perceived failures. As you take responsibility for those situations and external circumstances that you have control over, you develop the power to transform difficult problems into manageable challenges.

Everyone wants to perform well, but if you focus only on performance results you become afraid to take the necessary risks to grow as an artist. Setting goals for learning (not just for performance success) will help you to release the need to be perfect in audition and rehearsal situations. You stop perceiving new situations as threats, and instead, you feel comfortable in challenging situations to take risks.

In a series of astonishing experiments, Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck showed us that when we are concerned about how we appear to others it inhibits our ability to perform well in new situations and unfamiliar territory. Dweck’s well-respected theory of motivation is called “growth mindset”, and it’s based on developing a belief about your ability to carry out tasks, achieve goals, and work towards success in life. By having a growth mindset, you can meet challenges and adversity while maintaining the motivation to continue toward success. With a growth mindset, you perceive challenges as a natural part of the learning process.

You can develop a growth mindset by

  • Experimenting with new types of acting, singing, and dancing techniques.

  • Acting, singing and dancing in new and unusual ways that are different from what you normally experience

  • Taking the risk to accept different types of performing opportunities even if you are not entirely sure you can meet the challenge

  • Seeking the help of mentors, coaches, or others you admire in the business, and asking them questions and advice even if it may seem ‘absurd’ or ‘stupid’

  • Looking to work on material that pushes you instead of keeping safe in your comfort zone

When you begin to develop a growth mindset you will understand that every environment is an opportunity for growth. Use the following list to develop your own resilience through a growth mindset.

1. Create a belief in yourself

Self-confidence is crucial because you need to have a future vision for yourself while overcoming challenges, and motivating yourself to continue toward your goals after rejection.

2. Seeing failure as an opportunity.

You must accept that failure is inevitable. Mistakes and failures are part of the journey toward success. The kind of growth that is necessary for success in the performing arts industry means that our mistakes are also exposed for others to see. Accept that when you are operating outside of your comfort zone you may feel like a failure. It's ok. Forgive your mistakes. Accept them, learn from them, and move on.

3. Cultivate self-awareness through feedback.

Seeking feedback from mentors, coaches, or a small group of trusted friends is crucial for your personal development. These mentors will encourage you to set goals and show you blind spots, or negative behaviours and patterns of thinking that may be getting in the way of your success.

4. Develop curiosity and commitment to lifelong learning.

Curiosity is an emotion that is the striving force for human development. The commitment to lifelong learning and curiosity will increase our motivation toward success. This striving force is the desire to acquire more of something new and then to use that in the future to bring deeper happiness and contentment.

5. Prepare for and welcome challenges and obstacles.

When you can imagine the obstacles and challenges that may occur, before they do, you will be less affected by them. You’ll also brainstorm ways to deal with them when they arise. This helps your ability to innovate ways of problem-solving and decision making.

6. Develop a passion for your work.

“The indispensable first step to getting the things you want out of this life is this: Decide what you want.” – Ben Stein

Create a sense of purpose toward your career by developing a mission statement or a reason that you are committed to your success. By developing a sense of hope and optimism you will begin to believe that your success is possible. What are the core objectives that guide your life and career? Write them down and reread them when you feel like you lose your will.

7. Tenacity

You will encounter obstacles that will test your self-belief and ability to be persistent. The path toward your success will not always feel pleasurable. Sometimes patience and a stoic approach is the only way forward. Just showing up to do the work even when you do not want to is crucial to your success.

8. Inspiration through being inspired and being an inspiration

Some behavioural theories assume that leaders can be made by simply assessing the leadership success and actions of other leaders. Begin to study the successful traits and capabilities of those performers who are leaders in this industry that you admire. You can use that knowledge and attempt to assimilate it into your professional identity to propel your success.

The most important ability I try to cultivate and develop to be successful in the West End is the ability to manage stress and self-doubt to overcome fear. Many seasoned professionals suffer in silence from stage fright, and public speaking is a crippling fear of many others. When performers do not know how to effectively manage stress, we suffer from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. Maintaining high performance levels in rehearsals, auditions, and on-stage in order achieve your goals and stay at is crucial for success in the performing. But how do we manage the stress and self- doubt enough to stay at the top of our game while supporting our mental health and well-being?

Our Auditioning Brain

Every thought and emotion we have is the result of physiological activity in the brain. The relationship between the brain and the mind can help us to understand what is happening when we feel fear.

We have a triune brain that is composed of the following:

1. Neocortex – rational or thinking brain

2. Limbic Brain – emotional or feeling brain

3. Reptilian Brain (Brain Stem)– instinctual or primitive

The reptilian brain or brain stem controls our basic body functions and what these body functions do when we feel in danger (flight, fight, freeze, or faint modes). The limbic system plays a role in emotional learning and emotional memory. The limbic system is where the amygdala links our memories to pleasure and pain in our brains. The neocortex is the seat of conscious awareness where we weigh the present, imagine a better future, and plan ways to achieve our goals. Also, the neocortex processes creativity, logic and insight and help to regulate our emotions and solve problems.

Fear is a natural physiological occurence

Our brains seek safety first. It is ok to feel fear. When we feel fear, it is because we have perceived a threat to our safety. We have multiple stress responses to support our safety when we feel challenged or threatened. In neuroscience research reactivity (fear when we are “fight or flight” mode) is mapped to the brain stem leading to expressions of stress and self-doubt in low performance. However, creativity (when we feel inspired) is mapped to the prefrontal cortex and linked to high performance in those individuals who practice qualities of self-awareness, authenticity, achievement, and collaboration.Our ability to overcome fear depends on how we respond to meet challenges - from reactivity to creativity.

There is a relationship between the amount of resource and demand that our brain calculates to keep us safe. When we perceive that someone or some situation is demanding more resources than we have, we feel threatened and move into reactive mode. When we are in reactive mode on a chronic basis, stress and self-doubt lead to exhaustion, disconnection, and a reduced sense of significance. These are components of depression and burnout. We move into creative modewhen we feel resourceful enough to meet the demands of the world. In this mode we can handle a certain amount of stress while feeling challenged. We also feel a sense of love and belonging, because we feel competent enough to share and contribute. It is important to consider how we respond to challenges, so that we move from instinctual and primitive behaviour of seeking out survival in reactivity to acting in ways that are highly creative and self-aware. Be careful what you focus on when you are feeling stressed and doubtful, because your brain will begin to connect that focus to the feelings of stress and fear.

Have you ever been involved in a rehearsal process and you felt communicative, open, and you felt emotionally connected to those around you; and you seemed to be having fun and intimately involved and focused when it came to any of the work involved with the project? When we are in a creative state of being we are authentic, aware, courageous, and collaborate well with others. The feeling and expression of inspiration leads to high performance and fulfilment in a creative environment.

Now consider those times when you’ve been in an audition room and felt overly anxious to the point of confusion? Perhaps you seemed defensive and overly critical and negative toward others. Someone in reactivity will express the qualities of being overly passive, controlling, or defensive. Another expression of reactivity in many performers is perfectionism to prove our self-worth. The expressions of stress and self-doubt lead to low performance in a reactive state of being. I have been involved in processes before where the director, captains, or other creatives who are leading the rehearsals are in a reactive and negative mindset, and it has been hard for others to feel comfortable enough to have creative expression. This overly stressful environment affects the learning, pick up of choreography, and the ability of performers to make inspired choices that contribute to the project. However, we can take individual responsibility for our own mental health and artistic growth by knowing how to control our mindset. This is your responsibility and no one else’s, and you will have a higher rate of personal and artistic growth and development when you are in an inspired and creative mindset.

When we experience stress and self- doubt, we drive the energy and information down into the brain stem to survival circuits focused on safety. Experiencing inspiration drives the in our brains towards the prefrontal cortex. If we tap into what inspires us most, we can tap into those parts of the brain that allow us to engage in ways that give us the courage to take risks. Here are some hacks for moving from a reactive state to a creative state in highly stressful and challenging environments.

Change Focus

Look around the room you are in and notice everything you can that is orange. Now close your eyes. What do you see? You probably see orange or you may have had mental images of other objects that are orange, like the fruit. We can change our focus, we become responsible for the way we see things through mental framing. The next time you are in an audition or rehearsal and you feel highly stressed. Step back, take 6 very slow deep breaths to hack your physiology. Then reframe your mental state by repeating to yourself “This is not a threat. This is a challenge.” Lastly, pick one concept or skill to focus on. It can be as simple as smiling while you dance, or nailing a certain rhythmic phrase in the choreography. By narrowing your focus to one thing you lower the stress by decreasing the amount of demand your brain perceives. Thereby, lowering your stress levels. Thus, you move from a sense of reactivity to a sense of creativity and fulfilment.

Practice mindfulness

Meditation reduces the stress hormone called cortisol.

We can navigate the emotional experience of fear and pain to carry out complex tasks if we can manage those neurological stressors that inhibit motivation, and cause hypersensitivity It is possible to move from the negative framing of pessimism to the positive framing of optimism in our own beliefs to build the resilience in ourselves to thrive in the face of adversity and challenging situations Reframing the way we see the world and changing our focus to rehearse and put to use deliberate practice through a positive framework is important for fostering curiosity through challenge; building resilience through adversity; and inspiring motivation through in an environment where we feel a sense of belonging and the freedom to express our talents.

Mindfulness is paying attention with a sense of openness, and curiosity for whatever is arising in the present moment. By making a deliberate effort to practice openness and look on whatever the experience is with curiosity we can change the amount of stress we’re feeling to a manageable level that allows us to work in heightened performance state. When we feel curious, there is not threat but an attraction to the perceived challenge.

We joyfully jump at chances that we were previously fearful of, and we no longer allow fear to stop us from accepting those opportunities that are most challenging yet beneficial for our growth. The more we overcome fear to take action and achieve results in the face of fear, the more resilience we build from our experience. This is where the ‘magic’ happens. This is when we begin to know success. We learn from experience by attaching and transferring present learning to prior experience. Change is necessary for our personal growth, but it may feel uncomfortable as the brain seeks out our safety when we begin perceiving new experiences. Go ahead and jump head first into those situations you fear.