Please Wait a Moment

Behind the Curtain Blog

NDEO's "Behind the Curtain" Blog features articles written by NDEO members about dance and dance education topics as well as periodic updates on NDEO programs and services. This is a FREE resource available to ALL.


Teaching Self-Discipline

NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Anabella Lenzu, choreographer, teacher, professor, and writer. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.

What is self-discipline? From the dictionary definition of self-discipline: correction or regulation of oneself for the sake of improvement.

Synonyms: continence, restraint, self-command, self-containment, self-control, self-government, self-mastery, self-possession, self-restraint, will, willpower

. ***

For me, self-discipline is the key to working on the flexibility and strength of one’s mind, body, and spirit. Without self-discipline, the life of an artist is impossible.

Self-discipline is a respect for what you love. It is your ability to continue choosing to work on your art despite being tired one day, sick another, or any other number of challenges that may arise.

No one is going to scream at you and tell you what to do and when to do it.

You are not always going to have someone outside of yourself telling you what to do.

As an artist, sometimes you struggle to answer the question “Why do you do the work?” When you can’t find a satisfying answer, self-discipline is there to rescue you.

You are responsible for yourself. It is the seed of self-discipline that we as dance teachers need to sow in our students, because at the end of the day, they are the ones that will be alone with themselves making art. It’s the same thing that a mother does with her child – she wants her child to be as independent and as self-sufficient as possible. That is also the role of a dance teacher.

Sometimes teachers (and mothers) are so possessive that in order to keep their students by their side, they create a debilitating dependency. If dancers cannot be by themselves without the teacher’s guidance, the students will fail drastically. Sometimes the bond between student and teacher turns out to be a negative restraint. Sometimes it intentionally or unintentionally springs from the rush of power that comes with controlling your students’ creative lives.

A student might be with you for months or years before moving on. It’s our job to know when to say, “Call me when you perform. Keep me updated about your life and career!,” and let them go.

Self-discipline is a big word that we often don’t take the time to digest, but in the end, for our students, it may be the most important lesson.

As a dance artist, you are alone with yourself. You are connected to yourself. You assume responsibility and complete ownership of your mission as an artist. I’ve included a list of a few words below that may help us begin digesting the many implications and facets of self-discipline:


Self-knowledge/ Self-understanding





Definition of Self-taught:

1: having knowledge or skills acquired by one's own efforts without formal instruction.

2: learned by oneself. self-taught knowledge.

Synonyms: autodidactic, self-educated, self-instructed.

Definition of self-knowledge: knowledge or understanding of one's own capabilities, character, feelings, or motivations : self-understanding. First Known Use of self-knowledge - 1537, in the meaning defined above

Definition of self-esteem:

1: a confidence and satisfaction in oneself : SELF-RESPECT

2: Self-Conceit Synonyms: ego, pride, pridefulness, self-regard, self-respect.

Definition of self-aware: characterized by self-awareness First Known Use of self-aware -1924, in the meaning defined above

I love the word “self” because it empowers you as an artist, but at the same time it gives you a lot of responsibility. I have many dancers that come to me and say that they had a “bad” teacher for five years. Maybe it’s true, but thanks to self-discipline, the dancer can make a choice to leave or move on. Note: the term bad is relative! What could this mean? A teacher with insufficient or outdated knowledge? Bad intentions?

Self- discipline empowers you, provides you with security and reassurance.

During my dance classes, beyond providing knowledge and information, I need to encourage my students to cultivate their own self-esteem. It is very important and difficult to do.

If you see a student who does not understand something physically, but they understand it mentally, encourage them, let them know that they are on the right path and they will find their way. I usually say something to the effect of “I have patience and hope for you. You also need to have patience and empathy for yourself too! When a child starts to walk, their parents need to stimulate them. Teachers stimulate the students.

As a teacher, you have to have hope, patience, and trust in the development of your students. If a teacher loses hope, and stops correcting students or stops saying “you are doing great!” – and I see this a lot unfortunately – the students lose their hope and self-esteem.

If you are a dance teacher and you’ve lost hope, you cannot teach because you do not trust your students ability to improve. The student needs full commitment. Otherwise they can never build their sense of security and self-esteem necessary for self-discipline.

For me, hope comes naturally most of the time, though sometimes I need to force it because not all dancers will be professionals, but they can/will be dance enthusiasts, dance advocates, members of the dance audience, etc.

That is hope. You must believe that through dance education you can change people’s lives! You can make an impact on the world by changing someone’s feelings towards themselves!


Self-discipline.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 May. 2022.

“Self-knowledge.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 May. 2022.

“Self-discipline.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 May. 2022.

“Self-esteem.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 May. 2022.

“Self-love.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 May. 2022.

“Self-aware.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 May. 2022.

Originally from Argentina, Anabella Lenzu is a dancer, choreographer, writer and teacher with over 30 years of experience working in Argentina, Chile, Italy, and the USA. Lenzu directs her own company, Anabella Lenzu/DanceDrama (ALDD), which since 2006 has presented 390 performances, created 14 choreographic works and performed at 100 venues, presenting thought provoking and historically conscious dance-theater in NYC. As a choreographer, she has been commissioned all over the world for opera, TV programs, theatre productions, and by many dance companies. She has produced and directed several award-winning short dance films and screened her work in over 80 festivals both nationally and internationally, including London, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, Greece, Serbia, India, Indonesia, Cyprus, Romania, Portugal, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia & Brazil. Lenzu has written for various dance and arts magazines, and published her first book in 2013, entitled Unveiling Motion and Emotion. The book contains writings in Spanish and English on the importance of dance, community, choreography, and dance pedagogy. Currently, Lenzu conducts classes at NY Gallatin, School of Visual Arts, California State University Fullerton, and Peridance Center.


Photo Credits: All Photos by Todd Carroll


Thank you for your blog. Teaching these lessons supports students in understanding the importance of self-perception for their success.
8/8/2022 9:05:39 PM |
This blog helps me to understand how to teach self-discipline in dance classes. It is important for the students to have self-discipline to achieve their goals in the dance class.
7/31/2022 4:04:59 AM |
This blog was refreshing. I helps to remind us dance educators why we do what we do. However, it is our responsibility to hold ourselves accountable when teaching our students. Sometimes we can forget accountability in various situations of teaching.
7/7/2022 6:38:28 PM |

@Chiquila Pearson: I meant "it".

7/7/2022 6:39:06 PM |
You need to login in order to comment

Subscribe to our Blog


Submit a Blog Post

To learn more about submitting a Guest Blog post, click here.

Search our Blog

Blog by Date