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(And What You Can Do About It)
We were kindly sent this article by Miss Erin, which Abra believes is one of the best written articles she has seen on the subject of abilities and expectations. We think it is a helpful article for parents and caregivers, especially with Nutcracker auditions and casting happening this month. We hope you have time to read it in the near future. We also have a copy of the article posted on a bulletin board in the ABA lobby if you would like to read it here at the studio.
Every year at about this time, I find myself having the same discussion with many parents. Every time casting goes up, every time certain dancers get pointe shoes and others do not, every time level placements come out, I receive the same phone calls from distraught and disgruntled parents. Their child is mortified and so disappointed. All his or her friends got better roles, got moved up or got pointe shoes and now he or she is feeling left behind and left out. Everyone has experienced disappointment and everyone has wanted something very much that they couldn’t yet achieve and it never gets any easier. What I find after talking more than five minutes with some of these parents is that yes, their child is disappointed, but the parents themselves are sometimes even more so.
I find myself using a line from a dear friend of mine who also owns a studio, ‘I am so sorry your child’s abilities don’t meet your expectations.’ The point being, it is important to celebrate your child’s strengths, but to also be aware of their weaknesses and be realistic with your expectations so your child can be realistic with his or hers.
Case in point, a few months ago, my school performed its annual recital. We are not one of those schools that spend an entire year on our recital dance. We prefer instead to focus on barre work, technique, muscle development and proper vocabulary. That being said, all dances were finished in a timely manner utilizing the last few minutes of each class and the students were encouraged to practice at home and were given tools to do so.
Dress rehearsal at the theater is always a stressful thing, especially for the younger dancers with little or no performance experience. There are costumes, lights, the stage, an audience…it’s very overwhelming. Well, one of my beginning ballet classes had a complete melt down and forgot most of their dance, which is not an uncommon occurrence. I automatically put it on the schedule to be run the next day several times before the performance so the students would be more comfortable.
A few minutes later, one of my colleagues came running backstage to tell me that there had been an irate parent screaming in the lobby that she wasn’t sure what she paid for all year when her daughter couldn’t even remember a dance, let alone look graceful doing it. My colleague told me that she had tried to calm the mother down and tell her that this was common which is why we have dress rehearsal, that we would work on it before the show the next day and they were, after all, only six years old. It floored me that a mother truly thought that her six year old, with only a one hour class per week, was going to turn into Anna Pavlova and do her dance perfectly the first time she was ever on stage. Can you imagine how this child felt when she heard what her mother said?
The sad thing is that her daughter is very talented. She knows how to engage her stomach muscles and align her spine, knows the English definition of all her French ballet terms, knows her knees and toes are supposed to point sideways and her feet are supposed to point every time they leave floor even if she cannot physically do those things consistently yet. These are all amazing things at six and way more important to her success in the world of ballet than a beginning recital dance.
When I have a mother or father come in concerned about casting or the level in which their child is placed, I go through my explanation to them that our school only has so many levels which means they will inevitably spend several years in several different levels, that everyone has their own skill set and that everyone develops at their own rate. They ask me why their child’s friend got moved up and their child didn’t. With questions like this which usually happen right in front of the dancer, you watch the child’s self-esteem and joy of dance diminish as if they did something wrong.
The truth is that if your child has flat feet or if they naturally sickle or he or she has limited rotation from the hip socket, he or she has physical issues to overcome that other children may not. Sometimes certain children take a lot longer to develop large motor skills, musicality, coordination, or have problems picking up and retaining choreography and corrections when compared to their peers. Does this mean they won’t overcome these things and maybe even eventually surpass their counterparts? Absolutely not. It can be a matter of hard work and practice, sure, but it can also be the fact that their brain or body just hasn’t developed in those areas yet. Sadly, sometimes it never will no matter what they do or how hard they work at it, but it doesn’t mean the child still can’t love dancing.
I have found most young dancers know where they are in the scheme of things even if their parent might not. This can make the young dancer take their parent’s disappointment very personally and can lead to feelings of inadequacy which ultimately stunts their improvement. I was in the room one day when a child timidly came up to another teacher and told the teacher that her mother thought it was time for her to move up a level.
The teacher kindly asked the little girl who was about ten, ‘Do you think you’re the best in the class?’ The child looked at the floor and relied ‘No.’ The teacher then asked the child who she thought the best in class was. The child replied, ‘Susie.’ The teacher smiled and said, ‘That’s right.’ She then asked the child, ‘Where do you think you are in the class?’ The child answered, ‘I’m probably third best.’ The teacher smiled and answered, ‘That’s right again! You are so smart to know that. You have been working very hard and I love that, but you still have some work to do, don’t you? Right now, those other girls are in line ahead of you to get moved up, but that doesn’t mean that can’t change. You know the corrections you’re given in class, keep working on those things.’
Was this a bit harsh? Maybe, but the parent ultimately put their child and the teacher in this situation.
Someone has to be at the top of the class and someone has to be at the bottom, that’s the cold reality. Furthermore, your child might not feel comfortable explaining to you that she’s not the best in the class. What if she’s working as hard as she can, she loves to dance, but the other kids are simply better than her at this time? Perhaps it’s not the teacher’s actions and words that are stealing your child’s joy for dance and crushing her spirit? Just some food for thought.
The truth of the matter is very simple. If I, as a teacher don’t give a dancer a role, it is because others are more capable of doing it at this time. Would it be a kindness to give a dancer a role at which I know they cannot possibly succeed just because they want it? Of course not! If I withhold pointe shoes, it is for safety reasons only. It is an honor for me as a teacher to tell a child that they are ready to take that next step in their training, but it is also a great responsibility and I take it very seriously, as should every teacher. If I do not move your child up a level, it is because other dancers are ahead of her technically and/or there are things that need to be accomplished that haven’t yet, period.
All parents want to have the next Misty Copeland or Mikhail Baryshnikov, but the truth is very few young dancers will make an impact on the dance world at large. Remember, your child is still learning many things that will help them through life even if dance is only ever an extracurricular and they are physically unable or disinclined to pursue it professionally. However, there are some proactive things you as a parent can do to up your child’s success rate:
- Have your dancer take as many classes a week as possible as long as your child isn’t overwhelmed or uninterested.
- Have them pursue summer study, preferably away from their home studio when they get older. Encourage them to try classes in different genres of dance to help develop skills that are lacking. For instance, tap is great for developing musicality, jazz and modern are great if your child lacks physical strength or attack, and ballet is best for developing overall technique.
- Ask the teacher for exercises to address your child’s physical weaknesses and do them with them a few times a week.
- Encourage your child to practice things that are challenging for them at home including their choreography.
- Buy your child a notebook where they can write down choreography and corrections for later review.
- Cross train with Pilates, yoga and swimming if they lack core strength, flexibility or stamina prospectively.
Do not expect your child to get Sugar Plum just because she’s a senior. Do not expect that your son will always be the best in class just because he is right now. Do not expect that if she had a solo last year, she will automatically get one this year. Do not expect him to be in the same level with friends his age. Do not expect all twelve year old girls will automatically get pointe shoes.
Think before you react to a situation in a negative way and, as difficult as it may seem, try to find the positives in a disappointing situation. Many times, your child will follow your lead. Praise your child’s accomplishments, but also try and see your child objectively so you can realistically manage your child’s expectations as well as your own.
This article about Dance Discipline is from a dance blog written by Theresa A. Velardi, certified to teach Classical Ballet (Cecchetti method) and Tap through Dance Masters of America teacher, Dance Educators of America and Associated Dance Teachers of New Jersey.
Discipline in ballet class simply means learning, practicing and demonstrating expected behaviors specifically associated with ballet. From the dancers’ viewpoint, discipline comes from the desire to meet and obtain the desired results in class, that is, learning and perfecting the steps taught. Taking ballet class develops self discipline of the body as well as critical thinking skills. Practicing ballet physically changes the body by teaching it a way to communicate through the choreographed movements, we call steps.
Dancers, executing the required barre, center and across the floor dance combinations, requires them to focus on the exercises and combinations in logical, orderly phrases, that create a sequence. Those phrases relate to the accompanying music. The dancer requires self discipline to meet the standards of ballet. Sometimes, learning to commit to the study of ballet, dancers increase self discipline and abilities which may have a positive effect on learning in other areas of their lives.
The ballet teacher views discipline as a commitment to practicing the steps taught as well as structure, rules and etiquette of the ballet class. Discipline in the ballet classroom connects dancers to the history of ballet that dates back to the courts of the Renaissance period and the formal traditions that have become ballet classroom heritage The connection to tradition results in combining performance with an appreciation of the beauty of ballet.
Dance students need to understand that becoming a dancer requires accepting feed back from the teacher. Too often, teacher feed back is received by the dancer incorrectly. Dancers who are Teens, high school students, especially, believe that the teacher may be there to make their life more difficult, and take correction personally. The teacher, while applying discipline to her class is only applying discipline as a whole.
One area is class attire. The dancer’s and teacher’s attire for class contribute to professionalism and class atmosphere. The school director decides how stringent classroom attire should be to obtain professionalism. Today there are too many dance catalogs on the market and online dance stores in which the manufacturers believe how dance students should dress for class. It is not up the manufacturer of these garments to dictate what the dancers need and need not wear. It is up to the teacher of the class to promote professionalism within the classroom.
Class attire is a discipline that is important for me as a teacher. Unity in class attire gives the dancers a piece of history as well as an ease of eye, for the teacher, while she looks at her class in the mirror. With class unity, it is easy for the teacher to identify any mistakes or dancers who are out of place. Confusion comes from seeing too many colors, styles and forms of dancewear in the mirror. Hair needs to be confined and off the neck. Bangs and short hair need to be confined. No hair should be swinging at any time. It creates a distraction to the dancer as well looks sloppy in class.
Another area of discipline is class behavior. During class, dancers are expected to be quiet while the teacher gives the instructions for combinations, or offers a correction. Talking in class to your classmates, should be prohibited. If the dancer has question, then she should raise her hand and wait to be acknowledged by the teacher to ask her question. Obviously gum chewing is unsafe and unsightly in the class and also distracts the dancers concentration. Jewelry should be absent. Small post earring are not a hazard or distraction and may be worn, but dangling earrings create not only a hazard for the dancer but a distraction for the teacher.
Classroom behavior also involves courteousness towards other dancers as well as respect for authority…the teacher. Cell phones, which are a distraction, need to remain off and tucked away and never checked during class time. This is not only a distraction to concentration for the dancer but rude to the class and mostly to the teacher.
Discipline in ballet is a way of life, a good way to learn to lead your life outside of the dance room. Self discipline will follow your for the rest of your life and your beginning is in the ballet classroom.
Here’s a an article in the October 2009 issue of Dance Magazine about a sensitive subject in the ballet world by Nancy Wozny.
How to talk to students about a touchy subject
by Nancy Wozny
An offhand comment from a teacher such as, “Gained a little weight?” can leave its mark on a young dancer. When Patricia Rozow heard those very words from her ballet instructor at the age of 15, something shifted in her thinking that contributed to a 15-year struggle with anorexia and bulimia. “I went from 113 pounds to 85 pounds,” recalls Rozow, a former dancer with Ballet West and Cincinnati Ballet. “That probably wasn’t what that teacher had in mind.”
Maintaining a healthy physique—not too heavy but not dangerously thin—is a reality of going pro as a dancer, and helping students commit to that ideal is one of a teacher’s many jobs. “A physically toned and sculpted body is a part of a dancer’s package, just like turnout, extension, and elevation,” says Rozow, now chair of the dance program at Cincinnati’s School for the Creative and Performing Arts. But the subject of losing (or gaining) weight to achieve that aesthetic can be extremely sensitive, particularly during the emotional minefield of the teen years, when the body is in flux and body image more vulnerable than ever. So what’s the best way to talk to students about their weight, without causing undue emotional, psychological, or physical harm?Dance Magazine spoke with school directors across the country to find out.
At Houston Ballet’s Ben Stevenson Academy, you won’t find teachers making sly “slim down” comments at the barre. Shelly Power, associate director of the school, insists that teachers concerned about a dancer’s weight come to her first. At least three teachers need to bring up the same concern before Power calls for a one-on-one conversation with the student, which she does only with parental consent and notification. “We want to make sure it’s not just one person’s opinion,” she says. “These situations are best handled as a team, when the student knows they have support and access to resources that can help them make a change. That can’t happen with a remark in a hallway.”
Age and emotional maturity are other factors to consider. “I almost never bring up the subject with a child before the age of 15,” says Margaret Tracey, associate director of Boston Ballet School. “The body needs time to settle in. And if the discussion isn’t completely necessary, it’s not worth the trauma.” She also thinks about a dancer’s professional goals. “If I know they’re going on to a university to pursue another career, it just doesn’t make sense to start that conversation.” Like Power, Tracey keeps parents in the loop. “I need to know that the child is in a supportive environment,” she says. “Without that piece, we’re not going to get anywhere.”
Once she has decided to meet with a student, Tracey chooses her language carefully. She steers clear of the words “weight” or “fat” and never mentions a specific number of pounds to be gained or lost. Instead, she frames the conversation around being in the best shape possible. “I talk about dance being a visual art. You will be presenting yourself, so let’s figure out how you can be at your best,” she says. “And I never draw comparisons to other dancers. That can be very destructive.” Similarly, Power focuses on “physicality” (rather than “weight”) as “part of a larger set of requirements” for a dance career. She stresses the demands of partnering, and the aesthetic preferences of different choreographers, as reasons to stay fit. “It’s not just about getting skinny,” she says.
Helping dancers reach an acceptable weight means educating them about nutrition. Both Tracey and Power arrange for students who need assistance to work one on one with a nutritionist. “They learn to keep a food journal and receive an individualized eating plan, while not entirely giving up their favorite foods,” says Power. “What we give them isn’t a diet but a life-long strategy for health.” At Boston Ballet and Houston Ballet, group nutrition classes are also a regular offering for all students.
In contemporary dance, the pressure to look long and lean may be less intense, but staying sculpted and toned is just as necessary. As Denise Jefferson, director of The Ailey School, explains, “You’ll see all kinds of bodies in our two companies, but the fitness level is extremely high.” The school’s nutritionist, Marie Scioscia, offers a seven-week health and nutrition workshop for freshmen in the Ailey/Fordham BFA program and students dealing with weight issues, as well as in-depth one-on-one sessions. Her classes debunk common myths like low-carb diets. “Carbs are a dancer’s fuel,” she says. “Without them the body craves sugar. We also address portion size and timing of meals, to minimize nighttime eating.”
At the School for the Creative and Performing Arts, Rozow often talks about healthy eating during technique class. She also offers student-parent workshops taught by former dancer Judy Vogel. “We encourage parents to prepare healthy snacks,” she says. “When I see kids toting around a box of cereal all day, I get worried. I also stress that a diet isn’t what you eat to lose weight, but what you do to be physically and mentally fit.”
Staying in shape does not mean wasting away. A too-thin dancer requires immediate attention due to the long-term risks of eating disorders. “My alarm bells ring louder in this potentially dangerous situation,” says Tracey. “A dancer needs to know that their health is more important than being in class. We don’t take it lightly, and require a doctor’s note to return.” When Jefferson has concerns about a student rapidly losing weight, she either asks permission to call their parents, or, if less urgent, places them in a wellness workshop with Linda Hamilton, Dance Magazine advice columnist.
A dancer usually knows when she needs to work on her body. “Sometimes it’s almost a relief to have it out in the open,” says Tracey. “The student might decide not to make this their battle and pursue another career.” Jefferson remembers a student who, after a long struggle with her weight, chose to study physical therapy. “We can’t force students to make changes,” she says. “Some will find ways to continue dancing where their weight is not an issue; those possibiities exist.”
Whether it leads them forward in dance or into another field, grappling with a weight problem compels dancers to ask, “Can I do this? Do I want to do this?” Whatever they decide, the teacher’s role is to guide and support them, not bring them down. Tracey sums up one of her goals: “I want them to come through this with their self-esteem intact.”
Nancy Wozny writes about the arts and health in Houston. Click here for a link to the original article.