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How Can Creativity Be Nurtured

This is an excerpt from Essentials of Dance Psychology With HKPropel Access by Sanna Nordin-Bates.

Given the high value placed on creativity, its nurture is of central interest to many. However, the extent to which creativity is being stimulated in preprofessional dance training has been criticized (e.g., Butterworth, 2004; Clements and Nordin-­Bates, 2022; Morris, 2003; Rowe and Zeitner-­Smith, 2011; Salosaari, 2001). In par­tic­u­lar, it is argued that many schools focus almost exclusively on technical excellence rather than on the nurture of creative artists. Not only can this limit artistic development (and thereby success), but it may also stifle personal development (e.g., Morris, 2003). Several ways of nurturing creativity are suggested next; many represent the practical use or implementation of the sources of creativity already described, so this section is deliberately kept brief. For readers specifically interested in ballet, Weidmann (2018) and especially Whittier (2017) outline a wealth of strategies for how not only creativity but also technique, awareness, and critical reflection may be nurtured. A key point is that technique and creativity do not have to be at odds with one another but can be mutually reinforcing skills.

Value and encourage personal characteristics associated with creativity. Dancers should be encouraged to be open, curious, and flexible in their approach to tasks and challenges. Similarly, individuality, flexibility, and originality should be valued over homogeneity and rigid rule adherence. For recommendations regarding how self-­confidence may be supported, see chapter 3; for recommendations of how to manage self-­criticism, see chapter 2.

Nurture intrinsic motivation, joy, and interest. To do so, teachers should create healthy motivational climates—­that is, be task-­involving and support the three basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Supporting autonomy is especially impor­tant, including giving dancers a sense of freedom within varied bound­aries (Biasutti, 2013; Clements and Nordin-­Bates, 2022; Nordin-­Bates, 2020). For more specific guidance, see chapter 11. In brief, ­there are five key ways of supporting creativity via autonomy:

  1. Provide choice. For instance, teachers can ask students to experiment with dif­fer­ent choices and to reflect on how ­those affect technique, movement quality, and expressivity (Whittier, 2017).
  2. Put dancers in charge of their own development. For example, teachers can encourage dancers to take responsibility for their own learning (Choi and Kim, 2015) and ask them open-­ended questions (rather than the teacher providing all the answers; Torrents et al., 2013). Asking dancers to set their own goals and evaluate their own pro­gress before looking to a teacher for input are other ways to help put dancers in charge. Such autonomy support can encourage problem-­solving and problem-­finding, both of which are part of creativity (Giguere, 2011; Mead, 2012). The teacher is a guide, not an all-­knowing authority who cannot be questioned.
  3. Encourage individuality. Help dancers to appreciate, explore, and develop their own movement signatures so that not only creativity but also self-­confidence is encouraged.
  4. Encourage experimentation. Allow dancers to take risks and experiment, and then discuss any outcome (success/failure) for its learning potential in a nonjudgmental atmosphere.
  5. Approach rather than avoid. Sport researchers further suggest that leaders should encourage performers to approach open-­ended prob­lems with an open mind rather than tell them how to avoid prob­lems (Richard and Runco, 2020).

Set tasks that include experimentation and risk taking, such as improvisation. This can be done within any given class, but for dancers at higher levels (e.g., full-­time training) it can be valuable to add sessions that are inherently about creativity.

Use psychological skills such as imagery and mindfulness. For instance, teachers may introduce one new image per class and gradually ask students to share their own and try out the images of their fellow students. They could also try guiding dancers to focus on par­tic­u­lar aspects of a movement or variation in a curious nonjudgmental way while staying open-­minded and pro­cess oriented. For more guidance, see chapters 8 and 10.

Seek inspiration and variety. Inspiration is highly personal, and so a curious openness and a willingness to explore ­will be valuable characteristics in identifying inspiration sources. It may involve simply trying and experimenting with varied experiences outside of dance (e.g., engaging with a range of art forms, ­people, and cultures) and inside dance practice (e.g., using varied ­music; mixing up the order of exercises; trying dif­fer­ent dance styles, teachers, and schools). For example, dancers may be given a variety of rhythms or ­music styles and asked to explore the differential impacts they have on movement. Sport researchers further suggest that leaders make small changes to the practice environment on a regular basis, remove barriers, and allow freedom (Richard and Runco, 2020).

Encourage working in flexible groups. Creativity is typically a social phenomenon, so it stands to reason that group work can be an effective way of nurturing creativity (e.g., Chappell, 2007; Whittier, 2017). For instance, dancers might work in pairs or in small groups not only to create but also to reflect on material, solve prob­lems, and so forth (e.g., Mead, 2012). In this way, even everyday class learning can become a creative pro­cess of discovery (Whittier, 2017).

Consider somatically informed practices. Autonomy and individuality are inherent aspects of somatic practices; as such, some dance scholars have highlighted how somatic practices, or somatically informed dance training, are likely to enhance creativity by stimulating fine-­tuned awareness, embodiment, and autonomy (e.g., Jackson, 2005; Weber and Reed, 2020; see also Lussier-­Ley and Durand-­Bush, 2009).

Use forms 7.1 and 7.2 to consider how you nurture creativity.

Form 7.1 Get Practical: Consider Your Creativity (Teacher Version)

More Excerpts From Essentials of Dance Psychology With HKPropel Access