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Ballet substituting for an authority figure?

Guest Basilo

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I began taking weekly ballet classes 4 years ago in my early twenties and I immediately felt the "addictive" forces about which so many adult beginners share. It wasn't that I discovered some hidden talent but just that I truly enjoyed the atmosphere and structure of a ballet class. As a guy I was quickly convinced to participate in performances (which I do enjoy) but performing is definitely not the source of my hard work and determination to improve. Others around me (and even I) at times have questioned the power that a ballet class can have over me.


I am starting this topic because I am facing the question in the title. At the beginning of this summer I was faced with the prospect of surrendering my goals as a dance student to the many forces of adulthood. I ended up maintaining a minimal level of training. However, the decision process took me through quite a range of emotions and stages of self-discovery. Keeping this short, (and without the personal details) I began to realize that ballet might be filling a void in my life left by an absent authority figure. Okay, so maybe you think I'm one card short of a full deck :huepfen:. Or that I need therapy :clapping:. Probably true.


When I really get down to the roots of my passion for ballet I see that I enjoy it because: it has structure, I am corrected by teachers I trust who have a vision for my progress, I feel useful and needed (being a man among few), and it engages my mind and body simultaneously. If you had asked me last year why I enjoy ballet I only would have responded with the final reason above. It is also interesting to note that ballet is something which the absent authority figure does not hold in high regard.


What do you think? I'm not looking for personal direction…I am taking positive steps to resolve the emotional issues and I’m sure we could concoct some interesting psychological analyses but...Do you think this is in any way a healthy or common motivation for adults to dance? Has anyone else realized odd motivations for their dancing? (In a way this makes me think of several Balanchine dancers who wrote about how tied their emotions were to his every word. I do not feel that I idolize ballet or my teachers that much but they are definitely a source of affirmation.)

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Basilo, it's a valid question, and I am not a psychologist and will not pretend to be. However, I really think that one's motivation for doing this needs to come from a love of the movement itself. From the challenge of learning such a difficult art form, and from the enjoyment of classes, music, moving through space motivated by the music, and the sense of accomplishment. If these things are not there, and it is only a way of finding an authority figure, then that does not seem to me to be a valid reason. However, if that is just a small part of it, and the other things really do matter, then I would not worry about it and just do it! :clapping::huepfen:

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Ms. Leigh, you hit my personal bull's eye with your response. :huepfen: I do think that Basilo's point about ballet class engaging (and integrating) efforts of both mind and body is particularly resonant.


I may even argue, though, Basilo, that one of the first places where I could pursue self-discovery (and therefore autonomy and therefore begin to break from the absolute authority of the adults in my life) was in the ballet studio. Is that the other side of the same coin? :clapping:

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It is common for adult ballet students to enjoy ballet class because they get to be treated like children by an authority figure. It is a reprive from the stresses of adult life. I have heard the very same sentiment from others --- both online and in person.


I am not about to judge here, or say that one reason for dancing is better than another. However, as you go further along the path of the dancer, you eventually come to a point of maturity, independence, responsibility and stress --- just like the rest of adult life. But most adult students never reach that point --- ballet for these students is (among other things) an eternal vacation from adult life.


I studied Tae Kwon Do for three months (before I went back to dancing). It was a very difficult time in my life and I was just recovering from a cult-like experience. I realized part of my motivation --- other than the love of the art and the precision and the movement --- was to join a harmless cult. I wanted to be told what to do but go home myself at the end of the day, not having been spiritually violated.


The bond between artistic director and dancer can be very interesting. I can realte to what you describe with Balanchine, in my relationship with my own AD. I have definitely hung onto his words, and I still do. A few words from him in class mean more than mountains from most any other teacher.


However, everyone's relationship is different. The further I come as a dancer, the more I find myself as a younger colleague to my AD --- something like the relationship between grad student and professor. I was a very independent graduate student in the end. On the other hand, some grad students hang on to every word of their advisor, just like some dancers hang on to every word of their professor. And as a dancer, I try to act like I was as a grad student -- adult and down to business.


And when my AD starts asking technology questions, suddenly I have to switch hats and become the voice of senior professional authority and experience.


Has anyone else realized odd motivations for their dancing?


There are many other motivations for dancing that one might consider odd. For example, I know a number of guys who started dancing because they liked wearing tights --- and then they got enthralled in the art as well.

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These, of course, are musings from the psychology laity, but still there are a number of valid ideas brought up here.


I would like to comment that often the adult student is not regressing to childhood in taking class, but instead is using the art itself as the authority figure, and the teacher or ballet master as a facilitator.

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I have to say that it's only in ballet class that I can indulge in my favourite pass time: being tidy, nit-picky, almost ######. :D Everywhere else I go, it's seen as a fault, but in ballet class, it's a good sign. :blushing:


Then there is this very true feeling of happiness when the teacher (who is younger than me :wacko: ) -and whose majority of students are late teenagers (not me!)- tells me 'good girl!' when I achieve something nice.

Now, my partner cannot understand how I (of all people) can accept to be treated like a child (because hearing 'good girl' in another context would make me feel inadequate and belittled, but in this context, I really appreciate the praise -and maybe psychologically, I take it as a compliment, meaning I too can dance like an 18 year old?) :D


I also am independent to the extreme, so what Basilo has described as 'authority figure' in his first post is not entirely to my liking. I have escaped my parents' authority very early on, and thanks to ballet, I was able to do that sensibly without hurting anyone's feelings. :D

At the end of the day, I lead my life with little emphasis on others. I know, it sounds dreadful, but I have no heartache when I have to leave members of my family behind or decide what's best for me (hey, I didn't say I was heartless!) even if that means living on the other side of the planet... Maybe that's why I'm so annoyed at people on tv crying after a week apart from their parents. Give me a break! :yawn:

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People take up activities for a multitude of reasons.


I do make the distinction between being authoritarian and being rigid. An authoritarian relies on some authority (person, book, or idea) as a source of truth. A common example is the religious fundamentalist. An authoritarian ballet student will tend to follow one teacher and accept whatever that teacher says. If the authoritarian person encounters another teacher who has a different opinion about something, then the authoritarian person will regard that teacher as wrong, bad, or something worse. About one in five people have a tendency toward authoritarianism, as I understand it.


Rigidity has nothing to do with truth, values, or anything that the authoritarian holds dear. Rigidity is a preference for doing things a certain way. You can think of it as someone who prefers a structure. I think about one in five people also have a tendency toward rigidity too.


Now compared with other dance forms, ballet is certainly rigid, or structured if you prefer. So my sense is that people who do ballet are more rigid than people in general.


Also, rigidity and authoritarianism are independent. Having one characteristic doesn’t make it any more likely to have the other.


Unfortunately, the word rigidity tends to have a negative connotation for many people. But many a great person was highly rigid. In fact, to be a good scientist you have to be very rigid (performing tasks in a prescribed way). But the good scientist must also be un-authoritarian (inherently skeptical).

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Veering ever-so-slightly-but-not-really off-topic:


Gary, is there not a difference between discipline and rigidity? Rigidity implies a lack of flexibility that can be necessary when confronting unanticipated obstacles.

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I am grateful for the thoughtful responses this topic has generated. I certainly feel that ballet has been a source of "self-discovery" as carbro identified. I also feel that until I went through a time of "self-discovery" I did treat my dancing as a sort of childish vacation from adulthood as citibob noted. Having discovered this I am pleased to find that I still have a passion for classical ballet (the movement, the musicality, the precision, the physical/mental challenge, the rigidity, the servitude). Yes, servitude. As adults, at least from my perspective and training, I feel that we are called to serve the art more than our younger counterparts. That is just the demand of maturity. Generally, we are paying our own way and doing our best to serve as role models by at least being disciplined students even if the fruit of that discipline is not as beautiful when compared to those whose bodies and minds are less rigid.

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Not trying to say Basilio does this, but I would be wary of idolizing a director or teacher. Respecting and using what they say, absolutely, but a culture of worship makes for a very strange and creepy atmosphere that is not appropriate for ballet.

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Right, Hans, and it also leads to dancers who can't think for themselves and are extremely dependent. Teachers who develop a cult following do indeed create what is, IMO too, a very creepy atmosphere. :D

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While I too value in ballet the structured approach and while I think I understand what Basilo tries to explain of his feelings, I am uncomfortable with the expression "substitute for an authority figure" and "treated like a child".


The way I see it, what I do in ballet, giving (some) authority over my training to my teachers, and excercising a certain kind of self-discipline (I can't put this well, but having been to ballet classes I'm quite sure all of you know what I mean :)), is a mature thing.


Maybe it's because I'm also a scientist-in-training :wacko:, but I see it as a fault in our society that many adults don't engage in activities that have definite goals of development and self-improvement. As an even bigger fault I see the fact that such goals and pursues are seen as something fit for children, or at most young students - mature adults are often expected to be "finished" or "ready" in the sense that they have learned what they will. At most they are expected to get a little better in their own jobs through experience, but this is usually not seen as active learning...:wink:


Also, I don't feel that the teacher/student relationship I have with my ballet teachers (or with my thesis advisor) are in any sense adult/child relationships. The teacher's authority is there, and is used, and the structure it provides is an important part of why I enjoy these things, but: it's there because I've willingly chosen to give it to this particular person, and it's understood that I can take it away if I will not approve of their teaching. I am equal to my superiors in a way I never was as a child.


Does anyone see what I mean?

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Yes, I see what you mean... In the context of my post however, I was not referring as being 'treated as a child' as a current, general feeling for myself. Other people (witnessing my positive response to the comment by my teacher, 'good girl' feel this way, not me!) People (the general public who have not attended a ballet class) don't understand that this type of praise could be received so positively by me, a fully grown adult. :blushing: That's because they haven't understood that special 'bond' or 'ballet relationship’ teacher/student.


And yet, even though I'm older than the teacher I take classes with, I am her 'student' and she's in control for that lesson. In a social context, we will be equal again in every respect (as soon as we pass the door in fact, and the lesson is finished), but for that class, she leads, and I follow. As a teacher, it's quite interesting to discuss these concepts, because if I wear my 'teacher's hat', I will be the one in control (imagine she comes to my classes as a student, I think the roles would be reversed. There is no 'power trip' on either side, it's just that the roles have to be clearly determined for the process of teaching/learning to be successful in ballet). If I am teacher, students are expected to apply my ideas and my style, whether they like it or not (actually, they may disagree, but I'd rather they didn't show it in class. :P They could for eg, see me after class to discuss the issue, but during the teaching time, I will be the one to hold the reins)


I wouldn't call the relationship between teacher/student the same as I would have in a university setting for eg. At uni, you're expected to know some of the subject treated and 'look smart'. In ballet, you 'give in' to all you knew so far, and start from scratch (that is, for an adult beginner) I don't think there's anything condescending in the relationship teacher/student, but maybe some letting go of pride and a great deal of humility if you want to progress that doesn't exist elsewhere (I believe it does exist in the same amount in other physical activities, but less so in an 'intellectual/uni’ setting). The reason for this is that at uni, you know what you're worth from day 1. In ballet, you don't. The feelings are all internalised. So, what you feel is not what others see. :shrug:

Confrontation must not exist in a ballet class, whereas at uni level, some is expected. Don’t ask me where it comes from, probably at the root of the traditional role of a ballet teacher, but it hasn’t moved as quickly as what an academic setting would (the reason for this may be in the fact that ballet is still a great deal elitist (I don't adhere to that idea, but unfortunately, it's a widely spread disease!), whereas the 'academic teaching' -I don't know how to call that, 'normal schooling system' maybe- prides itself in now achieving to reach the whole spectrum of potential students)


So of course, most of the work is done by you, the student, but if you oppose the learning experience and don't want to give up the privileges you have as an adult (you will not be told what to do, you will not be 'reshaped' physically or mentally, you will not challenge yourself with some 'childish' :wink: concepts) your goal will never be to become a 'better' dancer, but rather just a dancer 'attending' a physically demanding class. Some students behave like this, but they will IMO, never benefit from my classes, if they're not ready to let me guide them. I hope you understand what I'm trying to explain too (I'm not good at philosophy, especially in English! :pinch: )


I need to edit my post, because I realise that last sentence is not quite clear (not the bit about me not being good at philosophy :wink: ) What I mean by that sentence is that some students believe they are good from day 1, whereas I would like them to come 'raw' and I shape them from scratch. Those students will never understand that it's important to start at the beginning; that the beginners' lessons may appear boring and unproductive, but in the long term it will benefit them much more than attending many many 'adv' classes, where they find they look good, but they still apply an appaling style. (Maybe they like the idea of belonging to that class but only their ego is following an upward curve) :shrug:

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The reason for this is that at uni, you know what you're worth from day 1.


I do? I'm doing my PhD currently, and I still am not sure I do. :pinch: It's an adventure, and it's a great privilege to share the learning with the more experienced people, and get their help.


Naturally, while a class is on, as you say, the teacher is in control: it's his or her class. But the same holds (or should hold) for e.g. a course at the University, too, at least in the case of the courses that are not mandatory. If I don't like the course, fine - I can not go, and I can let the teacher know, but it would be extremely rude of me to interrupt a lecture to voice my opinion that the course is crap, and if the teacher disagrees with me it's I who leaves, not he/she. If the lectures are used for discussing things - as is usual - it is, or should be, the teacher thinks it's useful to do so (as a good teacher in most cases does).


Not wanting to argue here, really, but I just still am uncomfortable with what for me feels like unnecessary "mystification" of the relationship of ballet teacher / ballet student, when all it really seems to be to me is a regular respectful teacher / student relationship. Sure there are things that are unique to teaching ballet as opposed to teaching something else, but I'm not sure the relationship between teacher and student is one of them.


I apologice to teachers on this forum, and to my own, if I have understood something fundamental fundamentally wrong. :P

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