Sparking Curiosity and Creativity in Girls

Competition strengthens the brain

By thinking entrepreneurially and diving into ESTEAM education, girls can become the leaders that our economy and society needs. In these next few blogs, I will tell you the story of one brilliant entrepreneur, Bri Connelly, who learned grit and determination and applied it to her career.

Computer science wasn’t on Bri Connelly’s radar as she was growing up in Portland, Oregon. She thought computer science was “just super-nerdy.” Her father worked in software. Connelly, like many children, wanted to do something different than her parents. Math and science were her strong suits in school, but she loved reading, making short movies, performing and recording music. She fantasized about being a rock star.

She was also a dancer. At the age of 3, Connelly began dancing and never stopped. As she grew older, she joined a dance company and danced every day after school—often for three hours at a time—before turning to her homework. To accomplish everything, she developed time-management skills that would rival those of any corporate executive.

Dance shaped her life. She learned to accept constructive criticism of the thousands of micro-failures on the way to mastery. “Nothing is as bad as some of the things that were said during dance. When your ballet teacher is yelling at you while you’re looking at yourself in the mirror in a leotard, it’s personal.

“I looked up to the older girls in the dance studio and saw them do all these tricks. I would practice over and over again,” she said. “Even if I didn’t have a class, if there was an open studio, I would be there practicing that move that I couldn’t do. Practicing and being able to be bad at those tricks in front of a room of girls made me less afraid to try things that I think I won’t be good at. I learned not to say ‘no’ just because I was afraid of things.” (Also check out out this blog post for how to encourage girls to persevere through risk and failure.)

Competitive dance not only strengthens the body, it strengthens the brain, blending thoughts and sensations with muscle memory for peak performance. Scientists who study the brain tell us that dancers use and strengthen the proprioception, a function at the back of the skull in the cerebellum that guides the position and strength of the body in motion.

“When you’re learning a routine, sometimes you have to learn it really fast. You learn a two-minute routine in an hour. That fast memorization still helps. It’s a mental puzzle and it keeps your mind fully engaged. I find myself being really good at memorizing and remembering small details, and I think a lot of that is from dance.”

By the time Connelly left home for the University of Texas at Austin, she had long passed the magical marker of 10,000 hours dancing, the cumulative time commitment Malcolm Gladwell identified in Outliers as a key to attaining mastery. The grit she developed came not from growing up in a tough neighborhood, like some girls, but in the safety of her middle class home, with parents who pushed her to study. Connelly spent hundreds of hours in high school on social activities like student council and the drill team—and relatively few hours on anything resembling computer science. She took only one computer science class one semester in high school. But then something sparked her interest in the field.

Have you or the girls in your life had experience in devoting so much time to mastering a skill? How has this paid off for you? Thank you for sharing.

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