Ballet dancers become elite athletes, strong and flexible, able to move confidently and change direction quickly. Trained dancers learn to pirouette, stretching en pointe, with feet fully extended, to change direction, with grace, flourish and flair.
The pandemic in the past year has required populations to change direction quickly; to be flexible, while already extended in a variety of ways. The requirement to make a rapid about-face to existing plans in order to respond to current circumstances and imposed restrictions, has become a regular experience as circumstances and requirements change rapidly.
Scientist, Charles Darwin, who developed the Theory of Evolution, famously said: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." Flexibility depends upon strength and individual capacity for change; however such flexibility strengthens through being exercised. Just as dancers build muscle strength through training and rehearsal and develop specific moves (such as pirouettes) though practice, cognitive flexibility and various personal characteristics are developed over time, through repeated use.
Problem solving depends upon cognitive flexibility; engagement is initiated by novelty and variety generates ongoing interest. As dancers twirl on extended tip toes, muscle memory is developed. Dancers need physical flexibility in order to perform; community members responding to changed circumstances require cognitive and personal flexibility.
Students facing increased challenges and academic demands need to be flexible in order to meet new challenges. Incremental growth and development leads students to gain strength and academic skills that equip them to be able to perform at their best. Being exposed to increasing challenge, over time, strengthens not only capability but also self-belief. Students, who change circumstances, exposing themselves to different and increasing academic challenges, position themselves to gain strength, develop skills and increase flexibility. Essentially, students learn to pirouette or change direction rapidly, while already extended, building strength and skills as they train, practice and rehearse to prepare for other performances.
Dancers, community members and students must all develop the ability to be flexible; to take on additional challenges, which inevitably involve changing direction. It takes time, the development of confidence and repeated practice in order to learn to pirouette. Initial attempts might involve a struggle, a stumble and require some form of correction to regain balance and stability – whether this is physical, psychological or psycho-social. Ongoing focus, strength development and exposure to increasing challenge require a critical, initial decision to become more flexible.
© Michele Juratowitch