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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Expecting too much of myself?

je danse dans ma tete

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I am writing this because I have no one to talk to about it in person. I know it may seem silly but I thought if anyone in the world could relate it would be someone on BT4D, so here goes. Mainly it is an emotional outpouring so please bear with me and if it is not appropriate, mods- please remove it.


I started ballet last year. I am in my early 20s and I KNOW there is no chance of a dance career for me at this point... I had no dance background at all before starting ballet. So that's not an issue. The issue is that I love ballet wholeheartedly and have problems admitting that because I feel taht it is somehow stupid... I mean it would be okay if I were good but heck, I am only in adult intermediate level! (about RAD grade 6 at our school). I spend hours reading books about technique and dancer biographies, and try to get in as many classes as I can afford (3 per week currently). I never skip or miss class and I always try my hardest. I have a little library of dance books and DVDs of which I never tire.


I am embarrassed to admit that at my age I also put quite a bit of effort into looking like a dancer in terms of hair and attire. And yes I am addicted to dancewear... I know I am in good company with that here! :) And I dream fervently of dancing beautifully and strongly en pointe one day in the not too distant future. Sometimes though- actually most times- I feel fake when I see the real dancers in the halls, like I am trying to pass myself off as something that I am not and will never be.


My main issue right now is that my teachers (3 different ones at the same school) are all very tough on me... more so than on other students. The other students agree that this is the case too, so this is not just subjective mumbo-jumbo. I always try to take their corrections and improve but sometimes it takes days before I am able to put into practice what they are asking me to do. Most understand that and encourage me to keep pushing and I get better and better as a result because I am not stressed out about doing better... so it just happens, you know? But last class was different in that it was very difficult for me emotionally. I am a natural introvert and one of my teachers kept singling me out for correction. I felt like everything I attempted was wrong... Every 5 seconds he was yelling my name and a correction. He forced me to stand in the center of the studio for the entire duration of the center exercises because he said I was hiding. I got flustered of course and messed up combinations that I normally enjoy... and everyone saw me mess up and half the things were so simple. And on top of that he drew attention to me for making those nervous mistakes and made me go again and again by myself. At several moments I felt like crying- that lump in the throat did not leave me all night. I snapped near the end of class and walked off the diagonal during a combination-not because I was pouting but because I was flustered and forgot completely what i was doing and needed to get out of other dance,rs' paths... of course he made me go again by myself. And again. I felt my spirit breaking.


I wondered if he was trying to tell me that I should be in a lower level, so after class I asked him if i needed to go back to fundamentals and made it seem like I would be fine with that decision if it is what he had in mind (really it would have crushed me) but he asked whatever gave me that idea, as I was fine in that level and he was the teacher and 'ultimate authority' in class (yes he said that) so he should know, and he reassured me that I could do everything required in the class. He said that I tend to beat myself up and prevent myself from growing because I am afraid to try... his reaction is what makes me afraid to try because if I get it wrong I know he will single my mistakes out and show them to the world... it's like I am the only one doing anything wrong (I know I am not- why doesn't he correct everyone else?)


On top of his reaction to my mistakes, there's my personality and my reaction to his corrections... I am painfully shy at the worst of times, charmingly introverted at the best of times. I do not like to be singled out, and I need time to think about and mark steps before trying them, and I need to feel safe... not coddled, just secure- like I am allowed to make errors as long as I am working to correct them. I'm so down and I have experienced this several times with this teacher. I told him about my personality and he just pushes harder and harder since learning that I am shy.


I'm so upset... it may sound juvenile, but I try so hard and it just breaks me to feel that I suck at everything... He is not this hard on other people. Everyone keeps saying that I am so lucky to get so much attention from him, especially since it is an adult class and is rather large. They say 'well he does not have to correct you but he thinks you are worth the effort so obviously he sees potential in you' but there is never a word of encouragement! I feel like hiding under a rock... I don't know if I am expecting too much of myself or of him... I have always believed that through determination, patience and dedication anyone can improve at any activity but that does not seem to hold true in the mind of this teacher as far as my learning and abilities are concerned. At the end of class he said I should be proud for just trying even if I get it wrong but then when I get it wrong he yells! How can I be proud of myself then?! Confusing.


Just a rambling, confused blurb but I really need some support or I might not go back to ballet next week... and I love it so much. These repeated experiences are dampening my enthusiasm for my other teachers' ballet classes as well.


If you've read this far, thank you for listening...



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I completely understand and experience every word you expressed in this post, and have danced for many years.


When I feel like I'm freaking out too much, I take a serious look around the room in advanced open classes that I take. I swear... sometimes literally half the class is doing breathing exercises on the floor for relaxation when grands ronde de jambes at the barre are asked for. Lots of people get stressed by ballet :) Even professionals.


You are probably doing just fine. It's a challenging, but unnerving art form. That's what is interesting about in, IMO.


Keep with it! And please let your teacher know if the attention is too much on a given day. I've learned that focused eyes, a nod, and a sense of humor can sometimes let a teacher know when it's simply a "bad day" and best to leave me alone:) he he.....


But it's good to try and figure out a way to let it go and work every day in class, no matter how you're feeling. That's the interesting challenge.

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Well, as you will see remarked many times on this board, the students that teachers pick on are the ones that they believe in, see as trying hard, see as having potential, wanting to progress and so on. These are the students that they think it is WORTH spending time on. Treat it as a compliment, rather than the reverse.


Nowadays many people are brought up not to expect too much criticism, to be supported with nice words, and so on. This sort of thinking has not always penetrated to the ballet world, so it can be tough. But the intention is also to toughen the students, because their professional world is one of toughness and much failure.


It sounded that when you talked to the teacher, he was being very positive about you.


But you tell them, that while you appreciate all the extra guidance you are being given, they could be a bit more gentle on you.


I am sure many more will reply in the same vein.



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Your teacher sounds good to me. You have said that you want to improve, and he is pushing you to do so - often with individual attention.


I think that if you have such a personality clash with this teacher and his style, and really can't cope with his classes (to the point of feeling stressed and unhappy), then it might be best to leave and just continue with your other teachers.

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One thing I am struck by is that you titled your post "expecting too much of myself" but focused mainly in your post on what you see your teacher expecting of you. Are you expecting too much of yourself? Do you think your teacher is?


It has occurred to me that as an adult student, I have to come to terms with how I'll allow myself to be treated by a teacher, as well as what exactly it is I hope to achieve and if that's even quantifiable for someone at my age (and I'm probably about 15 years older than you) and my level of (in)experience.


I have felt rather demoralized the past couple of weeks, feeling like I ought to be better than I am, and that I'll never get much better, not to mention physical limitations in terms of flexibility and turnout that I feel next to hopeless about. Couple that with a somewhat old-fashioned, stereotypically strict teacher and I was really on the verge of tears one night. But she hasn't changed; I have. And so it's been an exercise for me to go within myself and try to figure out why I'm feeling upset now when I haven't been the past 6-8 months. It isn't easy, but it's important, for me. I think I have high expectations for myself and need to develop far more patience for this process, as well as the ability to let go, get out of my head and just enjoy class for class' sake.


I don't mean to hijack your thread; you struck a chord in me, and I'm glad you've shared your thoughts here.

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... I know I am in good company with that here! :D


You certainly are! I think most (all?) of us here have high expectations for ourselves, and whether we're extroverts or introverts, our teachers see that. That's not to say that either we or our teachers won't have a bad day now and then. Some days I wonder why I'm still at this, especially after a class where I have felt particularly targeted for corrections or even on a day when I'm just not happy with what I can do that day.


I think that as adults, we should be able to talk to our teachers about what method of correction delivery works best for us, so that they can encourage us further. I don't know if it would help to talk to this particular teacher in a calm way before the next class...


I do know, however, that there will also be a day when I get it right and have a really good class (with compliments, too!), even if that day is weeks or months away. You will have that day, too, so take a deep breath and jump back in!

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Je dance,


I'll echo others here and say that in my experience, teachers single out those who care most, work hardest, and have the most potential to push the most. I'm also shy and have a hard time making mistakes or not excelling in front of others, and when I make a mistake, my teacher screams. Most of the time I can let it roll off my shoulders knowing he's only screaming because he sees my potential and he knows I'm capable of things I don't yet believe myself capable of, so if he's saying I can do it, and I'm not doing it, I want to believe HIM!


Yet, there are times where I feel I'm doing my best and I'm still disappointing him, and those days are hard, becuase he yells either way, whether I feel good that day, or I'm feeling a little more tired or down. On those days, I just try to think, Well, the weather is different today and I don't feel so great, but tomorrow, the weather will be something else, and I will again interpret his yelling as belief in my abilities.


I had an enlightening conversation with another student in class who marvelled to me that the teacher had never once said anything to her personally about her efforts. This is one of those students who has been coming for years and hardly improves at all. She has become invisible to him. So when my teacher yells on days when I just can't take it, I try to remember that he is emotionally invested in how I do, and is actively working with me to help me improve and excel, and that's priceless.


Here's another thing - maybe you can never have a professional career, but every time you are singled out to do something in front of the class by yourself - that's performance! And that's a gift, too!

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You're actually very lucky to gt so many corrections! But I know it doesn't feel like that.


I had a similar experience once, and it taught me a lot. I decided that class making me cry was not why I was dancing. I was dancing because I enjoyed it, and I wanted to do it well. But I also knew that as I'd stopped at 15, and taken it up again at 20, there was a limit to "dancing well." I also have a professional dancing sister, so I know that limit very clearly!


You have to decide why you're dancing. In my opinion, as Adult students, we're dancing for ourselves, and possibly amateur performances, again in the true meaning of the word "amateur" -- for the love of it. That's why we're doing it, and again in my opinion, that's all we're doing. But that "all" can be as big or as little as you want it to be. But it's got to make you happy! Because otherwise, what's the point?


What I did short term, in a class when my teacher (usually a wonderful caring & inspirational teacher!) was on my case the whole class, in ways that were sooooo frustrating -- well, what I did short term, was grit my teeth and develop a certain amount of stubbornness and bloody-mindedness. I thought "I'll show her" and I used the energy created by the anxiety & scaredness of being chased with corrections the whole time. I turned that nervous energy into anger, and used the anger to make me super-focused and really tight and energetic. You can't do it every class, but it helped me to not fall apart till I got home!

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First of all, there's a lot to be said about doing something just for the pure love of it. And not expecting fame and fortune.


Secondly, you're really lucky to get that much individual attention. When I get a lot of attention from a teacher, I sometimes am embarassed because I feel I am stealing more of the teacher's time.


Thirdly, I've said "No" to teachers before who insist that I try something solo. We're adults. We pay mortgages and taxes. Of course, you could be more polite in the refusal. Maybe he is truly emotionally retarded and can't see how flustered and close to tears you are, or maybe he thinks it's good for you. Either way, stand up for yourself if you feel you're being bullied and belittled, instead of educated.


Just my 2 cents.

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I agree with ripresa - you need to explain to the teacher that as much as you appreciate his corrections and are really trying to do the best you can, you prefer to stay in the background until you feel more secure. If he still upsets you after this conversation, then I would go to another teacher. You are doing this for yourself, or so I gather from the thread, and I think you should be happy dancing and not made to feel bad and even humiliated in front of the other students. If he's making you cry, then you have two options, either rise above it all and cope or leave him.

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Je danse,


It sounds like you have the talent, drive and dedication to do well in ballet. I'll bet that's what the teachers are seeing in you, and they're pushing it. Comparisons with others in the class aren't worth much; you should focus on how you're dancing and improving.


I don't think you're crazy at all for getting "sucked in" to ballet, so to speak. The art form's ability to engender manic devotion is one of its striking characteristics. Maybe if you'd had more exposure as a kid, you would have done it then. But you didn't, so you're doing it now. The experience of learning to dance --- and dance well --- is valid at any age. You are clearly getting something out of this dedication to your training, or else you would not be doing it. (My parents, incidentally, are finally putting that effort into ice dance, only 50 years too late to enter the figure skating competition circuit).


I also think it's normal (and a good thing) to have high expectations of yourself in the studio. No expectations are too high, in my book. The best dancers are never satisfied with what they did yesterday, and always believe they can do better tomorrow. The high expectations are what allow us to do better every day. The minute you are satisfied with how you're dancing, it becomes stale and boring, and no longer (IMHO) a good use of time. And it can also be a sign that you just don't (yet) understand what you're doing wrong. Those who never understand never progress.


A certain amount of emotional strife also goes with the territory of serious dance training. Something about it, as you put yourself into an incarnational art form 100%, you end up so vulnerable. Comes with the territory. Often times, the best thing is to just ignore the emotional trauma/drama (if possible) and try to just focus on improving your technique. The better trust you have with your teacher, the more likely you are to succeed at that.


I'm a natural introvert of sorts too, and I would spend a lot of my free time in rehearsals hiding behind the piano. You don't have to be an extrovert to dance, nor should all dancing display an extroverted quality to it. Professionals need to do anything, no matter what their personal emotional makeup.


The other possible issue I see here is one of your goals and futures. I said the same thing you did --- I'm in my 20's, I love ballet, I have no desire for a career because I know it's unrealistic. Then I figured, what the heck, I have to try for a ballet career anyway, and when I fail I'll move on with life. Then, much to my surprise, I ended up with a professional ballet career. It took a lot of sacrifice, but I suppose it was something I had to do. The training leading up to the career was absolutely worth it, even if I'd never stepped foot on stage. The career itself --- well, it kind of disrupts anything else you're working on in life at the moment. In any case, the experience allowed me to move on in life without feeling like I'd missed something, and it left a lasting (positive) imprint on me. I don't regret it for a second.


Other than ballet company career, there are many other ways to engage in dance --- that includes dance performance, even professional dance performance. The training you're undergoing now is essential to most of those possible future avenues, you will certainly find it valuable. What direction(s) you choose, and how far you go, is entirely up to you --- ultimately it has to do with how much you want to put into dance, how much you can afford to sacrifice to dance, and how badly you need to do it in the end.


Just something to think about...

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