At the Barre: Clap Back

I read a post on a Dance Teacher Facebook group a few weeks ago that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. It’s gone viral in the dance teacher/dance community, with some teachers supporting it and some publicly berating it. And frankly, as I copy said photo here for you to read, I am taking a VERY deep breath because honestly, I am scared to post it as I hope and pray my students NEVER take this statement to heart. I’m about to strip it down piece by piece and let you know how I feel because, I believe an understanding between student and teacher can happen here. Something positive can come from this rant in which the teacher was trying a blunt tactic, but not thinking about how this would affect a growing dancers’ psyche.  For the record: I’m gonna disagree with most of these statements ….

In full:  

*Insert that emoji with the eyes bugging out. Am I right?!*

My Breakdown:  

“Students. You are responsible for your training… and you are responsible for your energy in classes. You are responsible for your own fight.” 

Right off the bat, back it up. That’s a sweeping statement. TEACHERS are responsible for creating a training program. What is appropriate, what is safe, what is challenging, even what is the point in time a student might need to spread their wings and move on? That’s why a teacher is paid. To offer a course of study. To train. To present a life-long course that is individual to each student. Regardless of whether or not a student wants to be a professional, they have all signed up to learn to be the best dancer and person they can possibly be. Help them.

What students ARE responsible for is applying and absorbing said training. Should students apply corrections in order to see progress? Yes. The teacher can’t do that for them. Should students try to be consistent in their technique and remember lessons prior? Yes. It protects them from injury and helps them move forward in their course. Should students dance for themselves and learn because they want to? Yes. They have to be honest with themselves about whether or not they want “it.” Not because their teachers or parents do.

Now energy. Students AND teachers are both responsible for their respective energies. If a teacher breeds an environment of perfectionism and competition and coldness, a student will probably not thrive adequately. If a student comes into the space, disrespectful, gossiping, and lazy, then odds are a teacher will probably not be very interested in helping them.Why? Because a dancer/teacher/coach relationship is that of a team. The respect has to be mutual on both sides. 

“You should not need a motivational speech every class to make you enjoy it or make you hungry to be better. That’s on you.”  

Now, this is where I have to admit something (It’s not pretty. But….I’m human.). On the day that I read this post the first time, I had just gotten done teaching and had given a motivational speech because it was a Monday. My students were dragging from being at school all day, and they were looking at me giving tendu combinations with blank stares. I was frustrated. The beginning of  class and I was going to have to be a hype girl for the day. And I agreed with the above written statement. But want to know why I felt that way, honestly? I was zapped, myself.  Trying to motivate over 20 classes a week can be exhausting. But that was about me, not about my students. They do need inspiration. They need to learn to be prompted like that. Make them think—what inspires me? Why do I do this day in and day out? Why do we all show up all the time? 

When they get to real life jobs and have to push themselves constantly when they don’t always want to, they need to know their why. It can start in the studio when they’re kids. Teachers, help them find it. Help them figure out why they show up every evening after school for hours on end, before they have to go home and do all of their homework. Help them remember the bigger picture. Help them feel something in a world where we are taught often not to feel. Show them the way and THEN it’s up to them to do it or not.

Sometimes I don’t think I do this well enough, and I tend to give my own experiences to them too often… they really do deserve to find their own way….but we teachers always have the things we want to do better too, right? 

“The teacher is there to TEACH you. Whether it’s the technique, musicality, dynamics, texture, lines, cleanliness, etc… that is their responsibility. Not to be your life coach and give you excessive pep talks to make you excited about dance. That’s a mentality you should already have when you step into the classroom. ESPECIALLY in an advanced class.” 

Okay. WHOA, WHOA, WHOA. Yes, we teachers are there to teach you those things. The technical things. But dance is a PERSONAL artform. How we dance reflects who we are, it’s an an expression of self. So while it is important to be professional and a teacher doesn’t need to know everything that happens in a students’ life as a life coach (reminder: while you can be close with your students, and maybe grow to friends as adults–your students are not your friends), to keep this a developing art form, it is important we give students the tools to take what is happening in their lives and channel it into their dancing. It’s called PASSION and art imitates life. It creates connection and THAT is what we want to create onstage. TEACH IT.  But honest truth, if a student is never excited about dance in general? Maybe they shouldn’t be doing it.

“If you are choosing to take class that is an advanced level, your mentality, motivation, and class etiquette should be advanced as well. That means from the minute you walk in the door, you should be there for a purpose, you should be there to fight, you should be there to encourage others…without being prodded.”  

THIS IS WHERE I COMPLETELY AGREE. THIS IS WHERE I BELIEVE THE WHOLE RANT STEMMED FROM and we didn’t need any other statements. If you have been dancing for long enough to be in an advanced class, you should understand the respect that should be shown to your teacher and your fellow dancers. Come in, ready to absorb, ready to take on whatever challenges that are happening the room, in your mind and in your body that day, and be aware that your teacher in front of you, is hungry to help you succeed. When you stand at the barre with your arms crossed, or stand in the corner gossiping between combinations, or she/he has to ask you four times to get out the barres at the beginning of class…at an advanced level…you should know better. Yes, we are all human, we’re not machines. Some days, even right now for example, right before spring break, my kids are just plain tired. Teachers should be able to read that. They should want to help students work through that, even modify combinations and class a bit to give their bodies a recovery day. They should want to teach self and body care, but when a student is blatantly disrespectful, it makes teachers less inclined to help a student channel their energy appropriately. Sorry, but true. 

If everyone is responsible for themselves (their energy, their passion, their enthusiasm to learn and grow) then everyone would be on the same page and class would be on another level. No doubt. Don’t wait for the teacher to pull that out of you. That’s your job as a student.” 

We’re human. None of us progress or excel or grow at the same rate. We should be allowed to do that in our own time. We don’t all need to be on one level or one page. Teachers should offer a class structure  and the tools to help a student learn to dance, but in the frame and level that works for them. Students should have the space to be vulnerable, to fall down, to make mistakes, TO LEARN WHO THEY ARE. What I believe the statement above is REALLY referring to is is the projection of emotions from some other part of their day. A teacher is expected to not project their life and struggles on a student, but a student is just learning to do that very thing. Typically a student comes in at the end of the day, after school, after a full day, maybe they’ve eaten fast food as a snack that makes them sleepy, and they seem like they don’t want to be at class. Maybe they have real problems going on. I think the “check your problems at the door” mentality isn’t always realisitic, so learning to channel emotions or struggles into what your doing, rather than projecting or dwelling on negative feelings is a much more powerful tool. So yeah, if a student’s energy or passion or enthusiasm isn’t as exuberant on Thursday as it was on Tuesday, it doesn’t mean their work is any less, it just means they are taking on a different struggle that day. That their struggle is still helping them grow. The only time there is really an issue, is when that struggle manifests as disrespect. Then that’s an entirely different discussion.

Think of those old school ballet teachers who are dry, don’t smile, and don’t give you a pat on the back every time you do something right. They can still get your life together in a classroom and you can walk out of there better than before.” 

HA. If I had grown up with a teacher like that….then yeah, maybe my developpe’s would’ve been higher, or I would’ve had perfect Russian technique, but I would’ve crumbled. I probably would’ve quit. My energy would’ve been stifled, I would’ve been a robot dancer, and I probably would’ve had more mental anxiety. While I know that style of teaching may work for some, I believe it causes burn out and anxiety, and I do NOT believe they would’ve helped me “get my life together.” Do students need to get a pat on the back for everything they do? No, but do they need to know that the path that they are on and the energy they ARE putting out is doing good things for them? YES. 

The motivation to be great starts with you.” 

It does. It starts with you, your goals, your passions, and then how you cultivate them. If you show up for yourself, if you surround yourself with teachers that want the best for you, and you do that work as a team? Then, you are limitless. So, to any student I’ve ever worked with…. if I have ever made feel like your work isn’t enough, that your time isn’t enough, that you being tired is weakness…  know that I’m sorry. Know that I take my responsibility in offering you your training seriously. ALL components– emotional, mental, then physical. For the future, know that I see you and know that every day I want to be a better member of our team. Respect me and our artform and we will create something big. I am who I am because I had teachers that believed in me, and I hope to offer that to you. Know this though, motivation to be great DOES start with you….. so… motivated by your own greatness and fill your life with it. 

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