Confessions of an Anonymous Dance Teacher: Adult Ballet’s Dark Side

Today’s article is by a guest author and dance teacher who, for what will probably be obvious reasons, would rather remain nameless. I know who this person is but my lips are sealed.

Besides, real names, faces, and places don’t really matter in this ultimately universal context and are withheld to protect the innocent… and the guilty!

Dealing with Adult Personalities in Ballet Class

Warning: This article is not for the faint-of-heart or for those who believe all ballet instructors are made of spun sugar and sprigs of lavender.  If you are a teacher, you will recognize some of these personalities.  If you are a student, you may be one.  You have been warned.

Let me begin with a caveat.  I adore all of my students.  I truly do. I teach newbies and pros alike, teens through adults.  I am proud of every single one of their achievements and am grateful for their hard work, dedication and generous spirits.  I have never had more fun in my life than when I am with my adult students.

That being said, I have to vent.  

We all do.  We teachers meet just about every type of personality in our classes. The vast majority of them are positive and fun, sincere and gracious,

…but then there are the more unusual ones, the quirky ones, and the downright nasty ones.

1. “Me, me, me. I have a question.”
IMAGE A young student raises hand in class IMAGE

Photo by Ta Duc

She always has a question.  You could have given her a tendu, en croix combination and she has a question. She never pays attention to the questions someone else asks – and then she repeats them as if you never answered. She always has a question after class.  Always.

Only answer if you have nothing else better to do.

2. “Don’t look at me.”

She hides behind everyone else.  She doesn’t mark a combination when you demonstrate.  She won’t apply a correction in front of you.  She’s afraid to have anyone look at her.  She actively cringes when you approach her during class.

Pet her gently and correct her when no one’s around.

3. “Don’t criticize me in front of Juliet.”

I have few adult men in class. Most are usually good sports who like to flirt and enjoy being surrounded by women.  Occasionally, these Romeos turn into bad sports, as I had one man do to me.

For over a year, he’d come to class religiously, worked hard, had a good time, participated in our shows – and then he fell in love with a much younger girl in class.  Suddenly I couldn’t correct him. He flipped out and caused a major ruckus. He and the girl stopped attending, much to the relief of the rest of the class and me. This was probably the only time I didn’t try to keep a student.

Sometimes, you gotta say good riddance to the bad apples.

4. “Why didn’t someone call me?”

She comes to class infrequently but on the one occasion when the teacher is sick and the class is canceled, she becomes indignant that the office personnel did not contact her.

She’s a very busy woman, you know.

5. “I want to buy your technique.”

You have talent and she has money and she wants to buy her childhood dream from you. She can’t be bothered to take class with the rest of the adults, who are not nearly serious enough for her.  Instead she wants to hire you for private lessons, two hours per day, six days per week, until she becomes a professional. If you somehow manage to arrange your schedule to accommodate her (this is not recommended), she will flake after two lessons – having found another ballet instructor who fits her ideal better.

6. “I should be much better than this/her/you.”

She’s so easily disillusioned. She used to dance when she was a kid, two or three decades ago.  Or she has taken a lesson or two and expects to succeed in an intermediate class.  She doesn’t see her progress, doesn’t understand that ballet is hard.  It requires discipline, consistency, and focus.

But she will get frustrated and never return, no matter how much you explain that if it were easy, everyone would be a ballerina in one lesson.

7. “I can’t do that.”

You asked him to do tombé, pas de bourrée, glissade, saut de chat. Everyone else can do it.  You’ve broken it down step by step for him even though this is an advanced beginner class and anyone taking it should know this.

You suggest he try a different class and he says…

7A. “But this class fits my schedule.”

Yeah, you can’t argue with that, can you?

8. “That’s my space.  And so is that.  And that.”

She stands in front, despite not knowing the combination.  She stands at the end of the barre despite not knowing the combination.  She jumps into the first group across the floor, despite not knowing the combination. And she gets in everyone’s way because she (all together now) doesn’t know the combination.

Zero spatial awareness, zero class etiquette – and she doesn’t see herself in your corrections.

9. “That’s not how I learned it.”

She took class years ago from a strict Russian-trained teacher who used to hit people with a stick and make them do grand plié from 5th position in the center into en dehors pirouettes. You’re not even giving her the correction at the barre but she has to offer her opinion.

When you suggest there are many ways to perform pirouettes, she replies…

9A. “I challenge you, sir, to a duel.”

Do NOT give in.  Do NOT waver.  Move on quickly.  Trust me, this sort of behavior infects the class like a fast-moving virus.  One person challenges your expertise and then soon, anyone else who’s having a bad day or feels the need for some attention, will jump on the bash-you bandwagon.

10. “I had a really bad day and I want all of you to know it.”

She swears under her breath.  She falls out of a turn and then stalks away with her fists clenched by her sides. She takes every tendu reeaally seriously.

Okay, we all have bad days. If this person is a regular student and this behavior is occasional, I will try to tease her out of it.

Or, ignore it.

11. “I loved it!  I’m coming to all of your classes!”

And then she…never…comes…back.

You gave her corrections at the barre. You praised her petit allegro.  You chatted after class about her past experience, how she found you, what her goals are for dance, and you gave her your card with your blog and email.  You answered all of her questions about getting the most out of her developpe a la seconde, your preferred epaulement for saut de chat, and what you thought of “Black Swan.” She swears she’ll be back. And then you never see her again.

Don’t kick yourself; it’ll happen again — and again — and again.

IMAGE A woman stands in darkness. Yellow light shines behind. IMAGE

Photo by Gisela Giardino

As teachers of adult students, we have to handle the negatives of our job in very different ways than we would if our students were teens or children.

For the most part, divas don’t last long in my class. If they’re too disruptive, they don’t come back because neither I nor my other students reward their bad behavior.

The baseline for all interactions is respect. Not deference, mind you — we are still the rulers of our tiny fiefdoms, but, let’s be honest, if we don’t treat our students (no matter their age or experience) with respect, we will soon lose our tiny fiefdoms.

Do your very best to make sure everyone has a good time, that they enjoy themselves but also grow as dancers.

My husband is amazed at how much fun I have and how upbeat I am when I teach. I smile and joke and laugh all the time when I’m in class. It’s the most rewarding job I have ever had and I consider myself pretty darn good at it.

Still, there are a few students who ruffle my feathers, either deliberately or merely incidentally. And for the ability to vent about them, I am truly grateful to Nichelle. Thank you for allowing me to get this off my chest.

I may be Anonymous but I’m not Alone.

Is that all of them?

No, no, no way.  I’m sure many of you have LOTS more personalities that you deal with or that I have somehow blocked out of my mind.

If so, let’s hear about them in the comments. Your email is not shared when you do so feel free to protect your identity with a pseudonym.

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Comments

  1. I loved this article, I feel like you were venting for me. I teach adult ballet, tap, and jazz and I couldn’t agree more, adult classes are often the most fun.
    My pet peeve, and ALL of my students know this, is the adult who wants to explain to me WHY they messed up a combination. In the middle of a traveling combo they will stop, state “I messed up, I used my left foot for that shuffle because when I was 8 I learned a dance to “great balls of fire” and the shuffle was on the left foot.” Often I cut them off when I see an explanation coming “I know you messed up, I’m the teacher, KEEP DANCING!” For some reason adults, way more so than children, want you to know WHY they messed up, I just have to laugh everytime. :-)

    • Sara Watson says:

      It is a funny reaction and I’ve done this before in other classes (not ballet). The explanation for the explanation is simple: by explaining to you WHY they messed up, they want to assure you that intellectually they understand their errors–because they are adults and not children. It’s an assurance that they will amend their ways and get it right next time. And of course they’re looking to you to reassure them that, yes, you know they intellectually understand the move. It’s the self-conscious perfectionist trying to recover from imperfection. It’s silly, and certainly wastes the teacher’s time, but I think many of us do it. I’m guilty!

  2. I don’t think you even needed to be anonymous (although I understand why you did) because when these personality types appear in class EVERYONE knows it, not just the teacher. And @Jessica, I agree – my older students always feel the need to explain why they messed up – drives me crazy! Or when doing a routine, they will make such a horrible face / laugh / just stand and stop moving when they mess up that I immediately look at them instead of possibly missing the mistake!

  3. Oh my goodness! Who knew teaching adults was so stressful? I had a little chat with my six year olds last night about not talking back to teachers. Didn’t realize that a chat like that would have to apply to adults also. Such an interesting and well written article. Thanks for sharing, Nichelle!

  4. Oh, I love this post and have wanted to write one just like it for years. Do you also have the super über athlete that’s been an adult beginner of 15 years? Leaves class early to make her tennis/golf/hike/ski date but still doesn’t know left from right? I love my adult ballet dancers. They are a dedicated group who have stuck with me for many years. But I can see all of them in your post! Haha.

  5. Hahah good article. Cute, funny, accurate :)

  6. Very well written article. It is open, honest and the truth. It is nice to see that I am the not the only one dealing with these issues. Thanks for writing it.

  7. I love this post! And…we love our adult students at our studio as well. They have been so key in adding another level of enthusiasm to our programs. But there’s the ones we would call, I should be the choreographer, not you.

    In fact recently an email came into our office from one of our adult students which included typed choreography notations of how she thinks the routine should go for a number in an upcoming performance. One quote was, “I think I’ve come up with a smoother transition to facing up stage than what we were practicing. You originally had us turning to face upstage on 1. This has us turning on 8. Attached are my notes with my suggestion on the first page in bold red.”

    You know they are serious when the suggestions come in BOLD RED :-)

    • Please tell me what is wrong with suggestions from adult students (assuming they are seasoned)?
      I have a private student who is working on a performance piece. Her choreographic suggestions have worked well several times. She is the dancer feeling the moves, maybe we should pay more attention to that.
      Accept gracefully, try it and then make your decision. It just might work!
      The BOLD RED sure got your attention!!:)

      • Hi Becky, there’s nothing wrong with suggestions from students, in fact if you have anytime to read other guest posts I’ve shared here on DA you’ll know that I am a firm believer in welcoming and receiving comments and suggestions from both students, families, faculty/staff. They are often the greatest source of improvements for our studio.

        If my sense of humor did not translate here with my original comment I apologize – I was sharing more in the sense that this student went to such an extent to provide typed notations and made emphasis with bold red font. These are some of the quirky things that can and in fact do – happen. It’s my job as a studio owner to also work with our faculty – and also field complaints/concerns. This was one of those cases where a student took a concern to us with an email – it wasn’t a gentle suggestion in class.

      • Quint Rahaman says:

        I agree with you, Becky. One of the goals of any instructor whether that be dance or any other subject is to engage the student in a manner where he or she feels confident to “step” beyond a curriculum. This is an inherent agreement between both parties, or should be. Choreography is an incredibly creative process and requires a level of comfort with the base material and confidence in one’s own ability to produce something of value. My guess is that most people would be rather insecure about producing a piece, far less for going to the effort of baring all in front of someone else, especially the “sanseis”.

        Suzanne’s student did the right thing. She did not challenge the instructor nor interrupt in the middle of class but risked ridicule by presenting it offline. This person could actually be a major pain in the butt for other reasons however, you’ve got someone who is actually “thinking” rather than being a drone and “repeating” for the purpose of repeating. This is the chief problem in our global “academic” institutions–memorizing for a test that has little to no value beyond the school walls (that’s a discussion for a different blog). In this particular case, there was a ginormous opportunity for student and teacher learning: for the next showcase/performance, give the student full reign over choreography and somehow work it so that everyone interested in getting their feet whet with choreography works together to produce that one piece.

        I agree that in a professional studio/academy/school, the dancers are there primarily to execute the choreographer’s/artist’s vision; however, in a commercial studio, the student is also the “choreographer” even if they weren’t responsible for the design. Is this not the holy grail for the student? That they get to the point where they can “become” part of the piece instead of observing themselves executing predetermined figures?

        As I understand it, a student of dance is an apprentice of dance. The “whats” are important; the “hows” are even more important; and the “whys” are of supreme importance. I am a novice ballroom dance student. If I ever got a whiff of an instructor or the studio treating me as a commodity rather than as an individual who is earnestly endeavoring to become the best he can be (by continuous practice, continuous research, and asking questions (timing is important) based on what has already been taught, observed, and tried), then that studio/instructor isn’t interested in me learning and growing. It’s a “fast-food” approach that insults those legends who have worked so hard to bring excellence and a way forward to the science and art of performing and teaching dance.

        No serious student of dance walks out of a great studio learning “dance” only; they strut out a self-actualized, energetic, contributor to the global community. Peace. ;-)

    • Suzanne, you really made me laugh with this. I think sending a teacher notes on choreography is actually pretty rude, it is like giving a composer notes on a symphony (though I do understand that not everyone knows that or even agrees with me). Typed-up notes are WAY different from saying during class “hey, what if we do that on 4 instead of 3?” I am a new studio owner and I am just starting is see some of the crazy things that come from students (and parents) and this story reminded me that everyone deals with it. :-)

      • I had some thoughts on this thread as well. I don’t know for sure, but I’d wager a guess that this student had already made their wish to alter the choreography well-known during class as well. Now, did he/she feel validated and valued by the teacher? If not, the staff member might reflect on why and tailor future responses. Knowing how best to field a person’s unsolicited suggestions without making the person himself feel devalued is a skill worth practicing.

        I disagree that all choreography in the commercial studio setting is or should be collaborative, especially when it comes to group choreography. In any setting, a dancer is part of the creative process but is invited into the choreographic process, or not, depending on the needs of the work. Part of learning to be involved in the creative process is understanding your role within it.

        I have to agree with Jessica that whether it’s a professional or educational setting, inserting oneself into a choreographer’s process without invitation is rude. You could argue that a person who is new to dance might not be aware of etiquette specific to the form but I’ve worked with people in all kinds of creative settings and in each there’s been a common sense of respect to either ask to or wait to be asked to make suggestions. I agree, Quint, with what you’ve said in regard to a student’s role and right to investigate and ask questions but making suggestions for how to ‘fix’ what may or may not be working in the choreography is not the same as asking questions for the sake of learning.

  8. I teach belly dance for adults from newbie through pro. I recognize a few of the less toxic profiles from my 9 years of teaching. It goes with the territory teaching “anything” for adults, I think. We have two in particular…the Premature Professional and the Premature Instructor – wanna trade? :-7

  9. We love each and every one of our adult dancers, but oh my goddddddd, yes. (But what’s wrong with grand plié from 5th in the center into en dehors pirouettes?) ;-)

  10. Adria Rolnik just wrote a lovely piece in her blog about this (from the adult student’s point of view):
    http://adriaballetbeat.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/mirror-mirror/
    And en dehors pirouette from a grand pli̩ preparation is a venerable exercise from the Italian and Russian traditions Рrarely taught today I think because it is so damn hard! If I gave it in class I think even my toughest, most advanced adult students would start crying!

    • Carla,
      An en dehors pirouette from grand plié in 5th position is also taught in 5th year of Cuban Methodology. I loved doing it as a dancer! Now, it hurts a little on the knees, but a trained and properly warmed-up student of 5th year and beyond will do it perfectly.
      Great article! I don’t teach adults, but I have observed adult classes and I see all the personalities above.
      Thanks!

  11. Fun story and so true! So interesting to hear the teacher’s perspective of the adult dancer. I find so many people in class annoying for so many of the same reasons – particularly the divas and those who always have a question. Watch, listen, dance… stop asking and just do!

  12. Thank you for this post!

    I’m a new studio owner and only teach children, but I recognize these traits in my younger dancers, as well! I feel that one of my responsibilities as a dance instructor – especially in Ballet – is to train students how to be students! Respect and class etiquette are of utmost importance – don’t talk back to the teacher, don’t correct the teacher, leave your negative attitude/bad day vibes outside of the studio, etc etc. I try to teach these lessons with a sense of humor, and I hope that if my young students someday turn into adult students, that they will not be any instructor’s reason for venting!

  13. Loved this article.
    It hits the nail on the head and is very indicative of our times I think. I loved the one about ‘Can I buy your technique’. In a way some of this unawareness is normal in the amatuer world of evening classes etc but whats worse is when you see this in young students who have decided themselves to train at a school. Where I teach (in a vocational college with a dance course) this is a huge problem, todays teenagers are a handfull these days to say the least and I despair when I see them throwing it all away when they behave like this and worse.

    • Great article.
      I agree with Ben on the “Can I Buy Your Technique student.” At the moment, I substitute teach at our junior Academy (Ballet Clasico de Queretaro Fernando Jhones) and there is one student I’m fond of. But on one occasion her Mother asked if I could give her private lessons. Her ballet mistress is the principal dancer of our company. I politely declined explaining that she already had the best teacher in the company (which, by the way, is true. Not only is she an outstanding dancer but an exceptional teacher – 16 years teaching, 26 years dancing). Anyway, the Mother did not like my response. I suggested that working with greater concentration and focus, applying corrections was her best bet.
      I totally get what you’re writing about!
      Thanks,
      -Romy

      • Thanks Romy……sounds like some ‘Ballet Mums’ are still out there self projecting there own hopes, dreams and fears upon their poor kids. Its is also common to find that in the amatuer world parents often think they know best this I think is also due to how the doors of top schools and companies are closed off to the general public. So they wouldn’t know why and exceptional teacher who danced for 26 years is best for them or that working better as a pupil is key! What I remember about training from a young age at a proffessional Ballet school is that the parents had little say and were not allowed to watch class very much at all! This allows them to inform thier own ideas about it all I guess.

  14. This gave me a much-needed laugh! I’ve just returned to teaching after a ten-year absence, and teaching adults for the first time. My biggest problem is sporadic attendance, though I definitely notice some of the personality types you’ve mentioned! :) I seem to have a couple variations on # 11–they get in touch with me, rave about how they love dance, how they’ve tried this and that, and how excited they are about my class…and they never show up! They’ve gotten all my contact information, the days, times, and fees, and–nothing!
    Then I have a variation of # 2 combined with #7, who is terribly timid and won’t try anything until I’ve demonstrated over…and over…and over… and she won’t do anything unless I stand right in front of her and let her follow me. But she’s my most dedicated student. : /
    I thought teaching adults would be a good way to ease back into teaching, but honestly, I miss the preteens and teens whose moms make sure they show up :P (and a lot of whom were really passionate about dance)
    btw, if anyone has advice, I’m all ears! ;)

  15. Morning Glory says:

    I’m an adult student and always wanted to learn ballet since I was little, but due to cultural and financial restrictions never was able to. When I was a young adult I had an opportunity, but my father passed away. I can understand this venting, but I have my own things to vent about as an adult student. Unlike other hobbies you take up, teachers and studios for adults *never* take you seriously, because you are past the age limit of becoming a professional. That may be true, but if I take up Yoga, archery, horseback riding, poetry writing and painting, I would want to learn to do those things with skill and the very best of my ability, right? Yet that type of attitude is never present with adult teachers. Individual attention and correction seem to get very overlooked. That is why someone like me has actually always *wanwanted to be able to work with a private teacher more close and focusedly, because maybe that way I can actually learn this art that I find so soothing and therapeutic to my soul. As if adult dancers don’t have enough obstacles to worry about in learning, now I have to worry about how I come off if I want to study this more seriously? I know none of this is personal, but to be honest it is rather frustrating. Just thought I could offer the other side of perspective. I just want to dance, and I want to learn how to do it as best I can. I am willing to put in the effort, diligence and dedication, it should not be made so hard, physically and emotionally just because we will never be part of an elite company. I know you would agree here, I just needed to voice it. Thank you for hearing me out.

  16. Morning Glory says:

    Btw, I forgot to mention another obstacle even for adults is financial and accessibility. Due to the former, not to mention other obstacles of just plain being an adult, dance just always ends up inaccessible for most adults unless it’s an “exercise” and that can be annoying.

  17. “Unlike other hobbies you take up, teachers and studios for adults *never* take you seriously, because you are past the age limit of becoming a professional.” — I have to disagree strongly with this sentiment. I haven’t met Morning Glory’s teacher so it’s possible he/she is an outlier, but every ballet teacher I’ve ever met will tell you that perhaps one out of a 1,000 students they teach will become a professional. The reality is: very few are born with the natural facility and the mental instincts needed to make it in the world of professional ballet, and the number of jobs are so limited that most who aspire will be turned away. Does this send ballet teachers into a deep depression? No. Does this mean they treat the 999 differently than the one special student? No. Ballet teachers know their fundamental mission is to instill A LIFELONG LOVE OF THE ART FORM in their students – they are building the audiences of tomorrow who will keep this art alive. It is NOT dancers or choreographers who keep ballet or theatre alive; it is the audiences who PAY to see it! Teachers are also instilling a mental and physical discipline that will support their students in whatever career they end up choosing. They are performing a huge public service – as are gifted teachers in other disciplines – often for very little monetary reward. If you happen to have the misfortune of encountering a ballet teacher who treats you like you shouldn’t bother coming to class because you’ll never be a real dancer, I suggest you simply find another ballet teacher!

    • Ah – Carla! So well said. “Ballet teachers know their fundamental mission is to instill A LIFELONG LOVE OF THE ART FORM in their students – they are building the audiences of tomorrow who will keep this art alive. It is NOT dancers or choreographers who keep ballet or theatre alive; it is the audiences who PAY to see it.” I love that.

      Taking class as an adult keeps your mind alive and creates an all encompasing focus, making the outside world disappear. It gives you renewed appreciation of the art form, helps you understand and “feel” music, and of course, keeps you limber and fit in the process. Of course, if a teacher sees you doing something terribly wrong, especially something that could cause injury, they should suggest an adjustment. The adult dancer should always be subject to correction.

      My teachers always say they love teaching the adults – they’re there because they WANT to be, because they love ballet. They have a passion you don’t see in many of the young ones.

  18. Morning Glory says:

    Thank you Carla, but finding another Ballet teacher is not that easy. Like anything it is a process that takes time and trial and error. I have had several different ones through the course of the past few years and and while most all of them were and *are* good as in good and Caring people, my original stance still stands is that they *do not* take the adult dancer seriously. They do not spend time on correcting and aligning you properly and trying to get that kind of serious attention is very scarce and very hard. At least in my experience. I am merely giving it from and adult dancer’s point of view. Yes I am sure not *every* teacher is like this. But the way this article and some of the comments here were written, I did not want to just idly sit by and not give the challenges and obstacles that adult dancers face as well. It is not an easy endeavor to partake in, and now there is a whole article about on it while other teachers rally around it. I understand how hard it is to be a teacher of any level. I am an elementary school teacher myself, and all these traits you can find in children as well as adults alike. My point is to give voice a bit to the other side, and draw out a picture from an adult dancer’s experience as well, which is also good and bad. Just like teachers, an adult who takes up dancing, especially ballet could use se support and understanding too. And just because a student asks for more one on one private lessons, doesn’t always mean she wants to “buy her childhood dream from you” till she wants to be a professional. If a grandmother takes up acrylic painting in her 50s with a private instructor would she be branded as this? It’s the language and overall tone that I had a bit of a problem with, so I spoke up stating my experience as well as a few other people that I know. I just want us to be heard too and bring awareness that there is another side to the story. Not all students, adults or otherwise are perfect. But neither are many teachers and studios. Again, thank you for hearing me out.

    • @Morning Glory,

      Thank you for encouraging the dialogue and the encouraging dialogue. At the very least, you speak to a “transparency” and frankly, so does the article, that is so drastically needed–one that would showcase rules of engagement, etiquette, matching of the right instructor with the right student at the right time–to drive the “pursuit” of excellence for either instructor or student. At the very least, this will both improve the credibility of the industry as well as grow it. And that infrastructure is on its way…

  19. True, many teachers don’t give adult students much correction or feedback in class. It IS different than teaching kids: adults have more developed capacity to observe, analyze and figure out on their own how to execute movement from watching and listening. Kids need more hands-on guidance, more imagery, more discipline. And kids’ bodies are more malleable so we can push them physically harder than adults; in fact we need to make sure we constantly push them to their limits in order to maximize turnout, extension, etc. Adult bones have already hardened, their bodies have more limitations and are more prone to injury, so teachers have lower expectations of achievement. If this comes across to the students as uncaring or pessimistic, however, that is a problem!
    A real issue is the adult student who comes to class only once a week and expects to see progress. Adults have busy, complicated lives and it is usually not out of lack of commitment that they can’t attend more frequently – but even a private lesson once a week is not going to have much impact, because your body needs more frequent workout to get in ballet shape, physically and mentally. This is different from ballroom and many other forms of dance, and certainly different from painting or poetry writing – where progress can be made outside the studio or without pen in hand.
    This article came across to me as a well-intentioned, half-serious examination of the hang-ups that some adult students bring to ballet class – unhelpful attitudes like territoriality, rigidity of thinking, and negative body image. Ballet is an extreme sport, and like other extreme sports it can attract some extreme personalities! The writer appeared to be gently nudging those Type A personalities to back down and focus on the real work that needs to be done in class. But I am sympathetic to Morning Glory’s frustrations.

  20. Morning Glory says:

    Thank you, Carla for understanding. I am not downplaying the fact that adult bodies are different and need a different kind of attention. I agree, but there are many ways to go about it. I respond very well to corrections and do do many of my classmates.

    I love how you mentioned that you can’t expect an adult to come once or twice a week and see progress. I do agree! It doesn’t work that way, and adults usually do not *not* attend for lack of a commitment. Many years ago there was a Flamenco dancer whose name escapes me who learned ballet at the age of 27. She spent two years slogging it and had a website and spoke to people (including me) via email in what it is that an adult needs to do to really learn. She stated specifically that an adult has to dive in, no leniancy, at least 12 hours a week, 2 hours for six days and most likely two years for her to really grasp the fundamentals of Ballet. Many adults are *willing* to put that effort in! Not to become a professional but because they want to learn! But this article derided that and said she wants to buy her childhood dream from you and learn in that way do she could become a professional. Many adults *do not* get the serious technical learning that they need, because most learning is catered towards children and the methodology as well. Most teachers have been practicing and learning since they were 8 themselves so therefore have no idea about the specific and unique needs that are necessary for an adult. That’s rare. The website of the Flamenco dancer I mentioned above also had an article about an older dancer in her 70s, who did not learn ballet till she was 39. Again two years, 12 hours a week just like the article derided. She took summer intensively at her college (which is not available anymore at mine, the way it was seven years ago) and operated her own studio in Chicago dancing and teaching for many years and continued to take classes! She was advanced in Ballet, Jazz, Modern, intermediate in Tap and children and adults alike loved her classes. Look what she did with it! All because one day she brought her daughters to the Ballet and said she always wanted to be a dancer since she was a child but couldn’t. Her husband and daughters said, why not learn now, so that was when she signed up. How’s that for “buying” a childhood dream? Unfortunately I didn’t belong to this sure for too long before the dancer decided to close it down 8 years ago. I almost want to call it the blue diamond site but I could be wrong. I was all set to sign up for all three summer intensives that June for Ballet, Modern, and Jazz and spoke to the teacher who was wonderful and accommodating. But that June, weeks before classes my father passed away, and I moved, came back last year. The program is no longer offered and the teacher is no longer there.

    I don’t mean to be snippy with the author and some of the commentators here, but regardless of what the intention was it was difficult not to take some of the things said so personally. It’s a delicate journey for an adult to want to embark on dance, particularly with no experience. This easily could scare some of those people away or make them even more self conscious than they already are, and I hoped that at least with my posts it could help bring a more balanced point of view.

  21. Morning Glory says:

    Ooops I forgot to add, or may have added already (I know I can’t shut up. Very passionate about this subject), that *because* adults dodges are different than kids’, and the learning doesn’t provide a more serious attention, as well as the crazy schedule most adults have, that is *why* they ask for more rigorous private instruction! But most adults don’t have that kind of money and if they do, either like the writer said they don’t have that type of commitment (I experienced otherwise, however) and/or the teachers don’t care to want to provide that.

    Also I want to reiterate, despite children’s bodies being different, adults still do benefit from corrections. My first ballet class was when I was 22. It was a small class with a sweet and wonderful teacher who was very patient. If it weren’t for her corrections, I would not have learned many things about my body, postural alignment that till this day serves me in many ways even moreso that kids half my age. Don’t underestimate the power of a serious adult dancing student. All she needs is the right tools.

  22. I have to agree with most of what has been said however, just a note from a private ballet teacher.
    I have taught adult private students who come to me for the very reason that morning glory is talking about.
    They like the way I correct the little details. I have been called ‘picky’ but in a nice way! They ask for private lessons specifically to receive the attention that they cannot get in a class situation.
    I am surprised that this causes some dissension! Do we not all have the goal of helping our students to learn as much as possible from us? Every teacher has something to give that is unique to that person and there should never be an attitude towards a student who chooses to incorporate private tuition into his /her learning experience.
    In any other walk of life private tutoring is considered an asset why not in ballet?
    Thanks for listening,
    Becky

  23. Morning Glory says:

    Uh oh…I forgot something else…when I gave examples of the Flamenco dancer and the 70 year old dance teacher in how they learned, I did not mean to say that they took classes for two years 12 hours a week of ballet and suddenly were dancers. Not at all. That was just their *beginning* work in Ballet only. There were more years of Ballet *afterwards* and even more dance learning of other types so they put in a lot of years. Just wanted to clarify. :)

  24. Morning Glory says:

    Becky your post was very encouraging, thank you for saying something. I feel uplifted again. :)

  25. Hello all, finally getting a chance to comment! Thank you for all that you are adding to this post. It’s truly fantastic. I agree with Carla’s take on the intent of this article but I really appreciate Morning Glory’s perspective that it may be a difficult or even discouraging read for adult students (or would-be students) – it’s not something I take lightly. As editor, I thought a lot about how the article might be received. We reach a wide audience — students and teachers from all backgrounds and stages of their dance journeys. What I’ve found is that articles speaking to one audience speak louder and usually more effectively, than an article speaking to everyone at once. So, knowing this particular piece would begin conversation because it’s written from one vantage point, I opened the door. I do think balance is found all over this site, even if not specifically in an article from the adult dancer perspective (yet). And I’m glad that balance has been initiated within the comments! I don’t think this would have happened had the post not been written from and to a particular segment of this audience.

    Having taught adults myself over the years, I have found it extremely rare for adult students to have the kind of time (as a parent of two, it’s tough to schedule minutes let alone hours for myself) or commitment toward learning ballet to the extent that Morning Glory describes (most of my adult students specifically cite fitness benefits as their reason for being there – I think they get much more regardless). But, of ALL the students (children and adults) I’ve ever taught, it’s a comparatively small number of individuals that can or desires to dedicate themselves so intensely.

    That’s NOT to say students have no right to the best, most thoughtful, attentive, and qualified instruction. They do, no matter what. If teachers only gave our energy to the students with intense dedication, we wouldn’t even have professional dancers (most of whom had to grow to their level of commitment in the first place).

    So I just don’t buy the absolutes of teachers of adults NEVER giving their all to each and every student or having patently low expectations either. I don’t buy that there will NEVER be an adult student with the capacity and desire to pursue dance as vigorously as described. One absolute I stand behind is that I have ALWAYS given to my adults exactly what I give to my children: my passionate love for the subject, my encouragement that they are in the driver’s seat of their education… I’m just the navigator, and my belief in their value as an individual and as a card-carrying, lifetime member of the community of dance. Sometimes I communicate this more effectively than others, sometimes individual personalities make it challenging, sometimes I get in my own way but it’s always there. I know not every teacher puts these tenets into words or even action but they are pretty fundamental to the art of instruction, and so I tend to think that most teachers do have similar values even if what they need are the tools to act on them.

    As for what this post accomplishes, I think it’s very important for teachers to know that they’re not alone in their struggle to put their values to work when the students themselves present a challenge. This article does a bit of griping but it gives some pretty specific acts of unreasonable and disrespectful behavior on the part of students. I don’t see blanket statements being made here. Though there has been more than one incidence of these behaviors, I know (and the author even states) that it’s not representative of the entire adult dance student population.

    Everyone could admit to being the thorn in someone’s side at some point. I try to refrain from taking myself too seriously as a result. Of course, how something is received is out of the control of this author and for me as editor. My job is to weigh an article’s potential benefit to the dance conversation as a whole, and I feel it has merit. I’ve got no problem with those who disagree with the choice, though. I welcome sooo many perspectives on this site that I’m comfortable with it.

    Sorry for the length of this comment!!!

  26. A quick comment on the private lesson issue, I’ve had this experience more often with teens than adults but I felt that the author was speaking to a specific type of student who is indicating (through their attitude in class) that the group class environment is beneath them. While in some cases, individuals truly benefit from private instruction, there are clear benefits to group instruction as well. If the student is showing through word or deed that they don’t value that process, I feel it’s a teacher’s job to express the value. However, on occasion a student doesn’t see eye to eye on that value and persists to pressure a teacher to offer private instruction even when it’s not within that teacher’s power or schedule availability. And I’ve even encountered a case in which a parent placed this pressure and then expected to pay the same rate as a group class. If it happened in that case, it’s not an unimaginable scenario in the adult student environment.

  27. Morning Glory, I feel your pain. I resonate with you. I get it.

    As a 38 year old adult ballet student, I’d like to add my 2 cents for what it’s worth. I started ballet exactly 1 year ago. I too take private lessons 3x a week (at 1.5 hrs per lesson – I begged. Most private lessons are 1 hour, but I need to make up for 25 years of not pursuing ballet) and I take group classes with that same teacher 3x a week. I am in a position at this time in my life where I am able to dedicate those 9 hours a week, physically and financially, to classes. I hope that this good fortune continues, because it was a dream denied me years ago. Even to just dance recreationally as a child, would have been a wonderful thing. I was not allowed.

    And I would add more group classes if my teacher taught other classes at my level – I’m not advanced enough for his advanced beginner and intermediate classes! I am still a baby beginner. I love ballet. I refuse to be limited by age or body – if I place mental limitations on my ability, then I don’t know what my body can really achieve. I have some natural flexibility, good turnout, good feet. And I am musical. I understand the nuances of movement, even if I can’t replicate it as exactly as I or my teacher would like – the first time or the tenth time. But I will be able to match the movement, someday.

    So I will push those natural abilities to the max as much as possible. I worry that if I say, “well, that’s as good as it gets” and I’ve only been doing this for one year, then I’ve essentially given up. My teacher encourages me. When he’s on vacation, I panic because even 2 days off makes me feel like I lose time and technique. My goal is to learn this art form as accurately as possible. I would like to take a class someday and not have it obvious that I was an adult amateur dancer. I will not be a professional dancer, but why should my training not be a professional level? After all, we take SATs even if we aren’t going to college, so why should learning ballet be any different from taking college classes or going back to graduate school or taking continuing education classes, with homework and exams?

    Many days, I am discouraged because I know I have a long road ahead of me. My mother thinks it is a waste of time and money. My husband waits for me to get this out of my system and get a proper job. I, however, spend my savings on classes. I have one life, and I want to live it as best a possible.

    A note on finding a private teacher: I have found it to be VERY rare to find a quality private teacher who is willing to “waste” time on an amateur adult dancer. Even my teacher admitted that many of the former professional ballet dancers-turned-teachers are coaching pre-professionals because that is how they are developing their reputations in the pre-professional school communities. Many ballet teachers question the adult dancer’s commitment, which I do understand. The biggest compliment that my teacher gave me? He said that he likes to teach me and his pre-professionals kids because “unlike many adults” we (and he included me in the group!) approach ballet with a professional mindset. I work really hard. I fear disappointing my teacher. Sometimes I’m tired and stressed out, but I hope it doesn’t show. In short, I treat ballet like I treated college and law school: show up to lectures, study hard, get a tutor when you need it, and pass the exams. Only instead of exams, I have ballet class levels – and once my teacher says that I am ready to move up from basic beginner level, then I graduate and move up to beginner. And keep going forward.

  28. Bravo! Emilia!
    With your dedication and positive attitude you will achieve your goal
    Well said!

  29. What a hilarious, well-written article! Off I run to go post a link to it on my own ballet blog.

  30. I must confess that when I posted the above reply a few weeks back, I hadn’t read other people’s comments. Reading all of them now (now that parenting is giving me the time to slow down and thoughtfully read something), I love hearing the diversity of opinion. Morning Glory and Emilia, brava for your comments! I should mention that I, too, am an adult student, and I was cracking up because I’ve seen ME in some of those traits described, and I’ve seen fellow classmates (some good friends) take on some of those traits. We adults are sooooo driven, and it’s both honorable and chuckle-worthy (in the Zen sense that we are all so dear and funny if we step away and notice some of our behavior that causes us pain/problems). My ballet teacher enjoys teaching our class, composed of 98% adults aged 30 and older, because “you’re all here because you want to WORK.” I’m not an adult beginner in ballet, so that’s probably one of the reasons I can laugh (I’ve logged in many years, in truth), but I am an adult beginner on the violin. I regularly post at a violinist forum, and the parallels are great and interesting to observe. Really, they are EXACTLY the same conversations over there, with adults expressing both hope and frustration. No surprise, because they are both endeavors that those aspiring toward a professional level tend to start before the age of ten. But long live the adult beginner! I applaud all of you and I have to say, I love this spirited discussion, and am grateful to have chanced upon it. And I’m grateful the voice of the adult student is being heard, and respected, as well as that of the teacher of adult ballet students.

    And I STILL think the article is hilarious. : )

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