Dear Dance Student circa 2013:
Hi, there! This is your dance teacher. Your older dance teacher. Let’s chat.
First, I know you love dance. You want to be great. You want to work. You want people to see all that you have to offer. You are also coming of age in a dance world that is so different from the one I grew up in, and I’m excited to see what develops.
But I’ve seen a lot that concerns me.
You come from a generation that has been empowered like none before in humanity. You have been taught to question authority – to do your own thing — from an early age. Many of you have been raised where “everyone gets a trophy,” and your teachers, parents and coaches, trying to be encouraging, often praised you just because. Furthermore, in the age of the Internet everything is accessible instantly and effortlessly. You want to look up a word or person? Google it. You hear a song you like? You don’t even have to remember the words — just Shazam it. Hell, you don’t even have to push a button anymore; you merely touch a screen.
When you are asked to work at something because that is simply what one does, many of you ask “Why should I? So-and-so made this thing and it went mad viral.” A few people are genuine overnight sensations — results of our spectacle-hungry, media-addicted culture. Most sudden phenoms, however, have been toiling quietly for years before their “moment.”
Success is a process.
Success is also a product of criticism from others and oneself. In dance class, corrections are very public. The teacher cannot always say everything in the gentlest way. With a class full of students, she needs to be concise and clear.
Your teacher’s job is not to make you like her, not to make you want go have coffee or drinks, or to be lifelong or even Facebook friends. Personally, I like it when I become friends with students. But this happens because before anything else the student trusted me — my skills and knowledge as a dancer and teacher.
If you don’t trust your teacher you might find her corrections disrespectful. I tend to get zealous with corrections, going on campaigns and harangues to fix things. My humor tends toward the sarcastic, which can rub people the wrong way. Thus the combination of doggedly wanting to help and a dry wit might offend some students.
If you are one of these students, you need to come talk to me about it.
Don’t rip me a new one via your parents or in your course evaluation.
Certainly there is humiliation, even cruelty in the dance studio. The caricature of the mean teacher or choreographer is based in truth. But when you find a teacher who is going out of her way to correct you, and perhaps getting a little frustrated – to call this teacher disrespectful is wrong. You do yourself a disservice.
It is much easier for your teacher to ignore you, and spend time on someone who makes changes quickly. Only a teacher who thinks you have potential would bother to try to help you. Not disrespectful at all — exactly the opposite.
And that puts the onus on you, to take responsibility for yourself. If you don’t understand why you are getting a correction five times per class or why your dancing is not getting the compliments you’d like, ask!
The teachers who gave me the harshest, most brutally honest corrections are the ones I learned the most from. I didn’t like what they had to say, but in my day, we just went home and cried — never did we accuse the teacher of disrespect. Weeks, months or even years later, I realized how right the teacher was. That said, their corrections didn’t mean I was a) a bad dancer b) never going to dance professionally c) meant to be a Taco Bell employee.
So please, take class mindfully. Work hard. Bring passion into the studio. Be curious about how to get better. Ask questions. And remember, if someone cares enough to work with you day in and day out, if she or he cares enough to get frustrated with you, she’s not being disrespectful, she’s teaching.
You have so much information and technology available to you, and I know you have a lot to say. But a skilled dancing body still counts. Let me help.