Shared with permission to edit by Maya Van Wagenen
As a kid, one of my favorite bedtime stories was The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone. It stars the lovably erratic Sesame Street resident Grover, who–upon realizing the title of the book he’s in–becomes increasingly insistent that the reader never, under any circumstances, get to the last page. Grover is very afraid of monsters. The terrified narrator begs the reader not to turn any more pages, even going so far as to tie, nail, and brick the rest of the book closed.
But to no avail. The reader turns the final page, revealing the monster at the end of the book to be… well, Grover. There had been no reason to be afraid after all. The story had been about him the whole time. He just hadn’t figured it out. If you’ve never read The Monster at the End of This Book, I recommend giving it a chance. It’s no accident that it has remained a childhood classic for over fifty years. All of us have been in Grover’s position at one time or another, terrified to encounter something we haven’t experienced, not sure we’ll make it through. But when the frightening unknown comes to light, we learn that we’re still us, still okay, at the end of it.
For many children, failure is the monster at the end of their book. Children who have never experienced natural setbacks don’t know they can overcome them. An undesirable outcome inflates to an unthinkable impossibility, practically un-survivable. Like Grover, they will avoid this monster by any means necessary.
In her PsychologyToday article “Why Parents Should Let Their Kids Fail,” Dr. Liz Matheis writes, “Many of us have tried to protect our children from sadness, frustration, disappointment, heartbreak, and any other non-positive emotion out there.” She points out that while this urge is natural, it does children a disservice in the long run, as learning how to process unpleasant feelings is a critical part of being a well-adjusted human. In life, not every situation leads to the expected consequence. Not every adventure turns out the way we’d planned.
Dr. Matheis doesn’t see this as a bad thing. “It’s okay for our children to have these experiences,” she argues. “In fact, we want them to have these experiences while they still live under our roof.” Dr. Matheis instructs parents to support and comfort their children through these rough moments, but not to rush in and intervene. Attempting to “fix” the problem reinforces to the child that they couldn’t have handled the situation on their own. This chips away at their self-efficacy, robbing them of opportunities to know their own strength.
At ODF, we want our dancers to trust their fortitude, to know that they won’t break if they bend. This means we give our students the chance to experience setbacks. At first glance, audition season might seem exclusively about joining the ODF Performance Company or advancing a level. However, this process is just as valuable for students who don’t get the results they were aiming for. All of our auditioning dancers grow their technique through individualized feedback and critiques throughout the year. They gain confidence in their ability to make it through an audition. And they face the reality that things might not go the way they were hoping, at least maybe not this time.
And that is okay. They are still valuable. They are still strong. They are just as bright and worthy of self-love as they were before they went through the experience. Our teachers will be there to help them see these things. They will encourage their students to continually challenge themselves–not just for what they might achieve, but for what they will learn along the way. As much as we want our dancers to encounter only good and happy things, we know that’s not how life works. Someday, every one of them will have to face painful hardship. Our dream is that when that happens, on their lowest days, our dancers will be able to look in the mirror at their reflection and tell themselves, “You will get through this.” And that phrase will give them strength, not because the words have some magic power, but because years of experiencing their own resilience will have taught them that it is true. We aim to empower our dancers to know they will get through any tough time and that they will be okay.