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.”
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.
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.