The second letter in SRL’s core values of GREATER is, of course, R for Respect. On a basic level, respect has two closely related and essential definitions: 1) “a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc.” and 2) “a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc. and should be treated in an appropriate way.” At SRL, we try to instill in our dancers that respect doesn’t just mean acknowledging that someone or something is due respect, but an action that needs to be shown to others, the larger community, and also to their selves.
Irish dance begins like any other dance disciplines—before any of the competitions and shiny costumes or awards—in the classroom. Classroom settings, academic and dance alike, are where children are taught the basics of the social contract: listening to your teachers, waiting your turn, giving each other space to learn, celebrating the successes of others, and treating fellow dancers with kindness and empathy, among other active examples of respect. Respect for others is the most basic tenet of a functioning society, and it begins with these small consequence actions, so they’ll be better prepared to make good decisions in higher consequence situations as they grow. A dance class is a microcosm of the larger society they’ll eventually enter as adults, and gives them a chance to practice enacting respect for others so they’ll better know how to treat and others (and how they, in turn, deserve to be treated.)
Speaking of the larger world, the community that Irish dance fosters gives us another opportunity to help our dancers learn the importance of respect. Becoming part of a community with shared goals and interests opens your dancer’s awareness to respect on a larger scale than one-on-one interactions. The Irish dance community shows their respect for each other through their support of one another—whether it be through cheering at feisanna, donating used ghillies, or helping walk a newer dancer through a step or the confusing competition system. Through experiences like our student helper programs and buddy systems for big competitions, we make sure that dancers feel the joy the support of community brings and understand that it’s something they can contribute to, as well—bringing joy to others. And, even beyond that, the deep roots of Irish dance, its adherence to a centuries-old practice that is intrinsically tied to the identity of a nation other than the comparatively young U.S., also help give a sense of respect for history, tradition, and cultures outside their own—opening them to respect for others and others’ communities on a global scale.
And, of equal importance to the above, is helping our dancers learn the concept of self-respect. Self-respect is a complicated topic to tackle, but at SRL we think of self-respect as a facet of the hard work we expect our dancers to put into their dance practice. Working hard isn’t just a way to get better at a jig step, it’s a way to show that you respect yourself—when a dancer puts the effort in to achieve their goals, they are deeming themselves worthy of success, worthy of the time and effort it takes to accomplish it. Self-respect doesn’t come from the accolades and medals, or even positive comments from the teacher, but the actions each dancer takes to improve themselves—seeing and feeling their potential and striving for more. And, in a world rife with media complicating the already complex mire of body image, dance helps that self-respect extend to a self-love and self-acceptance as dancers learn to be confident and comfortable in their own skin and see all the beautiful and powerful things a body can do!
Respect isn’t a nebulous concept—it’s something we help our dancers see as something to be acted upon again and again, each and every day. Respect is not deference, but rather a kind of giving—to your fellow dancers, your community, the world, tradition, your self—a way of showing value rather than simply declaring it. And here at SRL, we make sure to emphasize that these acts of service we do for others and ourselves are as important as any success we can measure on any stage.
This post is part of a series. Read our core values post, all about growth, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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