Shame Free Teaching 

Episode 04

As movement coaches and teachers, we want to focus on creating environments that are shame-free and fun for all our students, no matter their age or competency levels! Our conversation today stems from the idea of how we grew up as dancers, with different teachers, all who inevitably had an influence on us. Whether that influence was on our psychological, mental, or physical well-being or impacted how we view movement now. Our encounters with teachers and choreographers range from us as young impressionable dance students to older, more mature, professional dancers. There are some techniques of teaching that worked and some that simply back-fired. Join us as we talk about how shame-based corrections are never helpful, why previous professional dancers should consider learning pedagogy before going into teaching, and what great teachers are able to do! We also discuss why it is essential to create safe and supportive environments for our students in order to allow them to make (numerous) mistakes and ultimately benefit their motor learning. Don’t miss out on another insightful episode, so start listening to the Pilates Exchange now!


Key Points From This Episode:

  • The influence teachers have and how that can stay with us as dancers and professionals.
  • Challenging movements: giving people the space and freedom to learn.
  • Why shame-based corrections are not helpful.
  • When teachers don’t learn the pedagogy before going into teaching.
  • What great teachers are able to do.
  • Why mistakes are essential for motor learning.
  • Creating an environment for happy hormones to be released.
  • The enormous responsibility to create a safe and supportive environment.
  • Our thoughts on the balance of giving everyone the same level of attention.
  • The main point for today’s episode!



HT: What we know about learning, about motor learning, is that we need to make mistakes in order to learn better. If you had the freedom to explore and to make mistakes and to fall down a couple of times, your learning process is just going to be sped up. You could see the difference with people that are so afraid of making mistakes, that the movement becomes rigid and their learning is stunted. They just can’t learn this as fast, because of that. Mistakes are essential for that motor learning.” 




[0:00:40] HT: Welcome. Stick around if you want to learn about the art and philosophy of beautiful movement mixed with evidence-based exercise science. We’ll be having tough and inspiring conversations with other coaches, experts, artists, and athletes. Our goal is to challenge myths, explore concepts and engage in healthy debate as we dive deep with intrigue and curiosity. 


I’m your host, Hannah Teutscher. I’ve been teaching dance, Pilates, and yoga for over two decades. What I’ve learned is that movement can be the joy that integrates us all together. When we can trust and express ourselves through our bodies, we are unlimited in our ability to change ourselves and our communities for the better. We, as movement teachers and coaches, have the power to help people experience this for themselves. Okay, everyone, let’s dive in. Exchanging ideas and changing people’s lives one session at a time. This is the Pilates Exchange. 




[0:01:38] HT: I think today’s conversation is about how we grew up dancing and the influence, sometimes good, sometimes bad. The influence of different teachers that they had on us are psychological well-being, our mental well-being in our physical health, and how they influence that as young dancers, as professional dancers. Then what our views are as professional teachers? 


[0:02:04] CT: That’s a really great topic when you say that how it influenced our life right now when I was going to ballet school. I remember a couple of situations where sometimes the teacher on purpose put you on the spot in the middle of the dance room and everyone was looking at you and the teacher was making fun of you. How silly you did the movement or you didn’t understand the choreography. Then you asked me the other day, how did it make me feel in that moment? It was like it made me really aggressive. I really hated the teacher for that person, the teacher was putting me on the spot. It happened a couple of times also, until the moment that they wanted to make you cry. They wanted to break you, to build you up again. 


Personally me, at this time, actually, when I’m looking back, it helped me, because I always told myself after that situation when I got a little older, I always told myself no one is going to break me. No one is going to do these things to me. I’m just got a really hard skin and didn’t show any emotions, any things to the teacher, so they didn’t have anything that they can find, their weak point. 


Then also later in the dance career, it was exactly the same thing. There were like choreographers or assistants or whatever. Dancer colleagues. It’s the same thing sometimes. It’s not really motivating just yelling at someone because he or she did something wrong. It’s just finding a way, finding a solution how to help the person. Maybe the person needed help. You’re just like, “Ah, she didn’t get cheese too slow.” Or there were also other colleagues that got picked on because they maybe were not so fast. They were not so cornered, but still, they were professional. This makes no sense to make fun of them. Just asking them how to can help them. 


I saw in my career you probably remember also in yours that so many people just broke down mentally. I mean, maybe not physically, but then it then comes after. What helps me now as a Pilates teacher is when I see that someone needs help, I’m just – first of all, if it’s a movement and your movement sequence we’re going to learn and you have a group class. Let’s say you have 10 people in your class and you have one or two. They don’t really get the exercise. I’m just like saying, “It’s fine.” It’s also good to get it can’t work from the beginning, because there’s no challenge, so it gives us the space, the freedom to learn something. not just like, “Oh, I’m not good enough.” “Oh, I’m weak.” “Oh, I can’t do this one, and look at all the other ones.” It’s like, “No, don’t compare yourself to the others.” 


This is also what I never did. Comparing myself to others, because everyone is so different. Then sometimes going back to the class with these 10 people in the class is maybe the one I call a Mrs. Miller and Mr. Schmidt, just as an example. They maybe then in a different exercise, they’re just like, “Wow, this is so easy.” All the other eight people in the class are like, “Wow, this is so hard. I couldn’t really do it.” It’s just sometimes you just have to find your own way how to then as a teacher, and as a student to deal with the situation, of course. Then also ask for help. There’s nothing bad about it to ask or not bad and I say, “Okay, I can do this one.” Then in ballet, you’re just going to come 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes earlier and you leave 30, 40, 50, two hours later. 


[0:05:31] HT: There are so many different things that you just brought up, which is really interesting, like when you’re a young dancer and the teachers like you said, that it felt like sometimes they were trying to break you down. I think that has something to do with the hierarchy of dance, where they felt like they needed control over the classes in order to do that, then they employ like shame-based corrections. They make fun of you in order to get the quality or the correction that they want, which we know now as adults and also people that have spent their lives researching how to teach better. We know that this isn’t an effective way of teaching. Like you said, that is not helpful. It wasn’t helpful for you as a kid. Definitely, is not helpful to teach adults like that. 


[0:06:16] CT: Wouldn’t you say, for example, when you said the teacher is the hierarchy, the teacher is trying to gain respect, trying to get control of the class using this technique, this skill, or maybe the teacher wasn’t skilled enough to deal with the situation. Maybe to deal with the student, which is not yet in the right position to understand fully or is capable enough to understand the movement sequence, like a choreography or the same thing now as Pilates or movement teachers, that we probably now, I would say, have the skills and know what I should do or I can do in a class to help on. Do you think going back that the teachers didn’t have enough skills at this time or maybe use the different technique, which is not really motivating, which is actually demotivating, because I didn’t feel motivated? 


[0:07:04] HT: Yeah. I think part of it is that a lot, this is not true for all dance teachers, of course, but I think a lot of dance teachers get into the career of teaching after they’ve had a professional career dancing. They haven’t learned the actual pedagogy, so how to teach. They just are doing exactly how they’ve been treated in the past, and because dance is a hierarchical system, but you have your director and then you have the rehearsal director, then maybe the principal dancers, the soloist, and then the quarter ballet in the – somewhere around in there. 


I think that the teachers that are deploying these methods, I just don’t think that they’re aware. I don’t think that they understand how damaging that thing can be, so I think that it is a lack of skill in teaching. It’s not necessary to have to control a class like that using shame or screaming at people. Also physically, I’ve also been pushed around by dance teachers. I mean, that’s absolutely unacceptable. Of course, this is also years ago we’re a little older. Does that answer your question? 


[0:08:18] CT: Yeah. Then is it also necessary? I was testing you now as a student or as a dance student or whatever someone who’s learning to go through these hard times, does it make you stronger? Does it harden yourself? I was just thinking about that because it was giving me also a bit of resilience, but I was really a stubborn kid. I’m still stubborn, so maybe that would help me. I remember also, probably also you remember when we used to dance together. There were a couple of times there were guest teachers or other teachers they can buy, and they found immediately a way how to connect with everyone. They gave everyone individual attention, and I had the feeling that person was seeing me even if I was doing good, or even if I was doing not so good. 




[0:09:08] HT: When I started teaching, I felt underprepared and overwhelmed. I needed to learn how to plan my training so that it made sense, but I wasn’t sure what was working and what wasn’t. So many teacher training programmes leave out the actual art and business of teaching. This is why we created Train the Trainers. Train the Trainers is designed to give you the tools you need to create a powerful learning environment for your students. 


Gain access to the vault of our collected knowledge where you can learn everything, we have to teach you, whether you are a freelance teacher or a studio owner. The constructive feedback on your teaching with actionable tools, you can apply immediately. We can’t wait to be part of your teaching journey and to help you grow in your business. Welcome to Train the Trainers. 




[0:09:55] HT: I think that’s exactly right, like a great teacher is one that can communicate with each person individually and is able to lift them up. There’s a difference between like if we’re placing the worth of the person by how they produce good, I’m using quotations now, but “good or bad” movement. If the student, no matter how old they are, feels like they’re being evaluated and their self-worth is based on good or bad. Then that’s not the right way of going. The great teachers that you’re talking about, they are able to communicate with their students and that student feels seen and respected all the time regardless of whether the movement is successful or not successful. 


[0:10:43] CT: Really good point. Just a check going back to – I was, for example, also in school I had teachers. They really, I was looking up to and they gave me their respect, because it’s the same, you’re the same level. A teacher and the student is the same level. We’re all learning. The teacher is sharing their information. There’s no one is better, no one is not so good. What I realised for myself as also in a dance career in school when I was a teacher, was this, whatever came in and taught us something new and the person gave me their respect and gave me the feeling that we’re on the same level.


I was much more motivated. I was really looking forward too. I personally had the feeling I was giving more. I discovered, “Oh, I didn’t know that I could do this exercise or I could do this movement sequence.” Because the teacher was encouraging me to do it. Even though I thought myself I couldn’t do it, because it was a technical different movement or exercise. 


[0:11:36] HT: That’s so right, Chris. Because what we know about learning, about motor learning is that we need to make mistakes in order to learn better. If you had the freedom to explore and to make mistakes and to fall down a couple times, your learning process is just going to be sped up. You could see the difference with people that are so afraid of making mistakes that the movement becomes rigid and their learning is stunted. They just can’t learn this as fast, because of that. Mistakes are essential for that motor learning. 


[0:12:13] CT: Yeah. I totally agree. Then there’s also the thing that they teach you is the system and it’s not only one person. Many people were there created an environment where you could allow yourself to fall. If you did a mistake, you tried a balanced thing, and you just did too much and you lost another check, but the gravitation is still there. Which is good. Then it was not like in the kindergarten, everyone was like pointing with the finger at you and laughing at you. It’s just like, “Okay, great.” Get up and try it again. 


I was allowing myself to go until the edge and falling which is a good thing. Then you know, “Okay, that was too much.” I couldn’t repeat it again. It was really interesting for teachers, and coaches out there that you create an environment, a community then for people that they can allow to get to their fullest potential to relax. Just came to my head and trying to put the things together. 


As a coach, as a teacher is what we’re trying to do now. We’re creating an environment for people that can be themselves without a free judgemental zone. Which we’re motivating or which is motivating to the people and the people having fun. Automatically, in the brain they’re getting there. How you call this one, the hormones when you start smiling. The lucky, happy hormones. 


[0:13:26] HT: Yeah. We could just call it happy hormones, because that’s exactly what we need. 


[0:13:29] CT: Yeah. We call it happy hormones. Then automatically you’re looking forward even if it’s a hard class. Even if it’s just maybe you couldn’t make it, but you had the feeling, I can do it. I want to do more. I go back and I want to practice. I don’t go back, because someone was beating me down and it’s not my thing, or for example, just an example that happened already probably a couple of people. You are new to yoga. You have never done any movement. Just saying you can be also that or maybe call it a movement class. Maybe that’s better. 


You go in you have not so much experience with movement, but you really wanted to go. You have all this confidence and you just really motivated. Then you’re coming in, putting your matt, whatever you’re going to do. Then the teacher is going to tell you after learning the first couple of sequences, “That’s wrong, what you’re doing.” It’s just like from a teacher not a really good point saying it’s wrong. I mean there’s no right or wrong. It’s just for that person who came out the first time to try something else a movement class. It’s pretty devastating. I’m sure the person is not going back. Do we also, maybe come to a different perspective or different topic now, do we ask coaches, do we have a big responsibility, actually? 


[0:14:38] HT: We have an enormous responsibility. 


[0:14:39] CT: To create the environment. So maybe for us, maybe we know more about it, because we saw how it is from the other side. I remember then also from being a dancer on the one side, where you’re quiet and do what the person in front of you is telling you because dance is non-verbal. You don’t really speak sometimes, but let’s say in ballet, and then you go into a set and then you all of a sudden have to talk. It’s just like also a different topic. I don’t want to go sidetracking, but we have to create an environment that makes the people feel safe. 


[0:15:13] HT: Yeah, absolutely. I mean just like, we are supportive of a new person or clients that have been there, or students that have been there for a long time. It’s about creating that supportive environment through our words and through our actions. What you were touching on is like, oh, we’ve seen. We’ve taken classes all over the world. If you have a teacher that’s standing at the front and, “That’s wrong. I don’t want it.” Like it’s great to have high standards, but it’s not okay to break someone down, because they’re not doing exactly what your expectations were. 


I think that it lies on a couple of different things, like either the teacher did not explain well enough what they were looking for, or their expectations were not clearly set out from the beginning, or the teacher’s ego is so big that they can’t allow anything other than what’s in that small little muster of movement, like what’s in their head, or maybe it’s a combination of all those three. Like in the best situation, the teacher is supporting in a way that like, I don’t know. 


You have room to make mistakes. You have high standards for the student, for the client where you can teach them to do things maybe more efficient or more artistic or it depends on what the movement method is. Doing that in a way that respects the authenticity and the limits of whomever that person that’s there, like the client that’s right in front of you. We often say like, teach the person that’s in front of you. That’s hard sometimes, isn’t it? 


[0:16:54] CT: Yeah. One last thing before we wrap it up is the same thing is, you don’t give too much attention to the person who can’t do the exercise yet, but you shouldn’t also give too much attention to the person who can do it already. You’re not going to praise that person, “Oh, Mrs. Miller. Really, really good. Fantastic.” You want to say it 400,000 times in one class and the other ones do feel like, “Oh, I’m not good enough.” 


[0:17:16] HT: Right. 


[0:17:17] CT: It’s also finding the balance that what you are always saying is if you have eight people, six people in your class you’re trying to give them –


[0:17:25] HT: Everyone gets – 


[0:17:25] CT: Is same. Yes. 


[0:17:26] HT: Everyone gets the same amount of attention, compassion, love, empathy. Definitely. 


[0:17:31] CT: Even if, our Miller for example, doesn’t get the exercise, but she’s showing up. She’s trying hard, and Mr. Schmidt is doing it already for 400 years. I’m exaggerating. It’s the same. We’re on the same level. Everyone is – no one is different. 


[0:17:44] HT: Exactly. Because the learning process is, they go at different speeds at different times in our lives. Absolutely. Chris, what we’re saying, right, is that we want to create environments that are shame-free and fun for your students, right? Whatever age that they’re at. 


[0:18:07] CT: Exactly. Yeah. You couldn’t have said it better. 


[0:18:12] HT: Well, perfect. I’m glad we’re in agreement on that. That makes life good for us. 


[0:18:17] CT: I think so, too. 


[0:18:18] HT: All right. Well, my friends, we’re going to wrap it up for today. Join us for next week. We have a fun conversation that we’ve been planning on. Have a lovely day. Bye, everyone. 




[0:18:29] HT: Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. A great cost-free way of supporting us in the podcast would be to give us a five-star rating. You could also look down into the show notes and grab any one of the free resources for teachers. I hope to see you next week on the Pilates Exchange. Happy teaching, everyone.



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