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Ballet Talk for Dancers

In tears

Je Suis Aimee

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In my two and a half years taking ballet, there were times I certainly felt like crying out of frustration after class, especially in the beginning, when I couldn't even do a soutenu. Now for the first time, I am, only I'm much more upset than I have ever been, and it isn't sheer frustration, it's genuine hurt and a feeling of helplessness. In a nutshell, my teacher totally had a go at me in class... Now I've pretty much grown accustomed to the fact that she very rarely sends a compliment my way and criticizes me freely, complete with exaggerated imitations and all... and to be fair, it's probably because she takes me seriously and thinks I can take it and that it motivates me. But today, she essentially implied that, away from the barre, I am useless at ballet. I don't do anything well. My arms are never good. That all of my movements are like I'm petrified of falling. And that apparently I'm just a total clumsy ox. That she tries putting the steps in slower (lie - that is extremely rare) and nothing helps. But, she finished, it's a good thing I'm so dedicated.


I put 500% into ballet and it just felt like it was all being swept into a dustpan. It just left me feeling so crushed, like I don't even know what to do next. Almost, almost, like why even continue. If I am that clueless and inept, then apparently I need to go all the way back to square 1. But the ironic part is, I'm not clueless and inept. I know this, which is why it hurts as much as it does. And for the record, there is nothing I can't do en pointe, that anyone else in the school can. So it's not like I'm the moron of the school who just can't hack it. If anything, I'm one of the most advanced and able. Not to toot my own horn, but this is something I have observed with my own eyes.

The other ironic part is that for a moment, I was contemplating going to a different school, to start learning everything from the very beginning. But then I was like wait a minute. My school is supposed to be teaching beginner ballet. In fact, tonight's class is supposedly adult beginner ballet, which is why I wear my pointe shoes. It was to strengthen my technique by getting to practice simple movements en pointe. But what basically has happened is this: almost no one comes to class, and true beginners come and almost rarely stay. So since it's usually just me and maybe one other person, the "beginner" class is now pretty much as hard as my int/adv technique class, if no real beginners show up. And en pointe, that is extremely difficult to do.

This is where her style of teaching is starting to lose sense to me. It's not like I'm in a class full of people, where I am the only one who can't do what is asked, and I'm holding back the class. On the contrary - she makes the classes as difficult as they are, because of me. I'm one of those students that when I show up, you know the class is going to be harder. But it's too much too fast. The pointe classes, even the regular technique classes, have always seemed more with an intent to challenge than to teach, if that makes sense. We're almost never taught things step by step, or broken down into preparatory steps. It's more like, I wonder what crazy advanced move she's going to throw our way today. But to get back to my point - if I'm so inept at the things she's throwing my way, then why in the world not take it down a notch? It's not like there is anyone to be prejudiced by that!

It's also driving me utterly berserk the way she takes something I can't do well yet - pirouettes en pointe, for example - and instead of practicing them, she'll put them in super fast and exhausting exercises. If it is clear as day I can't do something yet, what is the point in making it even harder??


I yearn to learn everything about ballet - everything about the arms, the head movements... everything. I'm probably a teacher's dream. I'm a perfectionist, completely thirsty for every single little detail. I'd gladly start again at the very beginning. But she never really went about it that way. It's like, imagine going to a calculus class, and you spend a little time in chapter one, and then you jump to chapter 4, and then to chapter 9. That's what this feels like. Like I'm being set up to fail. Me killing myself trying to do these advanced movements, without the built up technique or even the strength. And then getting railed that I'm just "afraid" or inept or whatnot.


Obviously the answer is I need to express to my teacher that I need to get myself to the kind of class where I will be taught, as slowly as is required, everything down to the tiniest detail about ballet technique and how to do it well. The funny thing is, it presumably should have been her teaching me that. I'm starting to suspect though, that she doesn't have the patience to do so, which is why she's handling her classes at the super accelerated pace she is. I'm also starting to think she has abnormally high expectations of me...or something. I mean to demoralize someone like that, when they're one of your best students... it just doesn't make sense. *sad sigh*


If you've made it this far, thanks. My mom thinks she was probably having a bad day or something, and took it out on me. Any advice, commiseration etc. is appreciated.

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Confrontation is never pleasant, and this one sounds pretty horrible! I'm sorry you ended up having such a bad exchange with your teacher.


But a couple of days ago, you wrote:


We had an awards ceremony last night and my teacher said lots of really nice things about me, and I was really touched. Boosts like that really improve one's morale and drive!


Can I ask, for context, whether the teacher who had at you is the same teacher who complimented you?


Either way, try to lift your spirits with those compliments. The message you thought your teacher was conveying tonight can't be true if those earlier comments meant anything at all, no matter who they came from :)

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Yeah, it's the same teacher. That's why my mom was so surprised to see me so upset tonight. But I mean... she just complimented my dedication to it. Big whoop. She didn't contradict that tonight. If anything, she made it sound like it was my sole virtue. I'm just so aghast at the whole thing. I'm no Pavlova, but I deserve more credit than that. :)


I'm beginning to wonder if I can even improve much more under her tutelage. How much can I possibly learn if each class is going to be comprised of poorly executed attempts at steps that are much too hard for my level ? And, how could I expect her to just completely alter her teaching style? If she simply can't relate to beginners and what they need, then I doubt that will change. Do you think it's even worth it for me to try to explain this to her, or should I just start looking into other schools?

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Reading your post, I'm struck by so many conflicting points:


She praises your dedication, but than devastates you with insults.

You've been dancing for two and a half years, and are one of the most advanced dancers in the school. (what are you supposed to do when you improve to a higher level? Are there any more advanced classes?) You describe yourself both as a beginner and as one of the more capable dancers.

The beginners class is taught at an intermediate/advanced level.

There are two students in the class but the level is inappropriate for at least one of them (that's 50% of the class!).

New movements aren't broken down and taught, but you are expected to be able to do them.


I'd go find a new teacher/school if possible! You don't need someone who constantly erodes your confidence, who doesn't treat you with respect and dignity. And who doesn't teach classes at an appropriate level for you, even with only two in the class.

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Regardless of whether this woman is a good teacher or not, and we're not saying she's a bad teacher, but I think it's pretty clear that her teaching style isn't working for you.


Try some other classes elsewhere- life is too short to be insulted doing something you love, and if she thinks these "techniques" she employs to try to motivate you are working, well, she's more clueless that I thought.

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Thanks for breaking it down like that wembley. I'm glad I'm not the only one who can't make sense of it.


I think the worst part was some term she used, some slang in Spanish, referring to my difficulties, which if I'm not mistaken, means it's an "embarassment".


I'm not a beginner, but I'd definitely say I'm a beginner en pointe. 1 and a half years en pointe isn't long at all, in my opinion. Certainly not long enough to be able to do the things she asks with ease. There aren't more advanced classes... the difficulty level of the class just keeps increasing with time. The problem of course is that it has increased in difficulty tenfold without my abilities to match.


It sounds crazy but yeah - the beginner class is pretty much taught at an int/adv level. I'm starting to wonder if that is why no one stays after taking one class. That class used to be like, two hands on the barre, super basic. Now it often closely resembles my int/adv class, the only exception being that the centerwork might me shorter and easier, provided some beginner is there. Which tonight there wasn't, so the centerwork was something right out of my int/adv class, with some jete going into a pique en dehors, which I've tried en pointe maybe all of two other times. Naturally I couldn't get it, and each time she got more and more irritated about it until she finally went on the rampage about how everything I do is wrong and it's no wonder I can't do it.


Tonight was just me and this new beginner girl that my teacher is fascinated with because she's flexible and has hyperextended knees, and she's just dying to get her in pointe shoes. She has some natural ability but yes, the class was too fast and difficult for her to be able to do completely.


And about the new movements not being broken down - put it this way, the first time she had me and a now ex student attempt pirouettes en pointe, she just added it to an exercise. She didn't break it down, she didn't explain it, there were no half pirouettes at the barre... just boom, do a pirouette in center. I hurt my foot too, because I didn't have a clue.

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So she knows you're a beginner, which therefore means that she knows about how much vocabulary you've been exposed to, right? And yet rather than explain how to do things, she's just putting new movements into combinations with first breaking them down, right? This makes about as much sense to me as punishing a 12 month old because she won't walk but hasn't yet learned how to crawl & stand.

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Clara - yeah, basically. I remember one time - just once - she put something in an exercise that appeared to be a precursor to doing a pirouette en dedans en pointe. It was stepping up into the passe while doing a quarter turn. But that was ages ago and she never did anything like that again. Yet lately she's been putting pirouettes en dedans into exercises. As you can imagine, for the life of me I can't get the technique or rotation figured out. But according to her, I'm afraid, and anything that has to do with turning makes me shut down. Trying to tell her otherwise is really useless. And forget about telling her that your shoes are causing issues.


She also had us (there was another younger girl from the junior class that day) attempt fouettes en pointe once in center - not the 32 fouettes kind, but the arabesque kind - when we'd never even done them at the barre before. I can think of various examples like this. Or my favorite - trying something a handful of times, like chaines en pointe, then not doing them for weeks, and then suddenly throwing in a chaine sequence at the end of a fast, complicated and exhausting exercise in center one day. Did I also mention she pushes you to force turnout?


Thanks for your advice Clara, tomorrow I'm going to call around and see what I can find. Incidentally, my teacher is having surgery on her knee this week and won't be teaching for the rest of the month so I'll have a substitute. Maybe it's a good time for me to slip out the door :)

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Have PM'd you some good schools in your area with reasonable adult classes. Pointe will be a problem but at least one of the schools is approachable about discussing it.

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Je Suis Aimee, I'm so sorry to hear about how this is affecting you...it sounds like a disconnect between you and the instructor and that just happens, in "classrooms" everywhere (school, sports, arts, etc). If you feel you can talk to the teacher, it might help to clear up your respective expectations, especially if you can communicate your needs as a student and if she can hear them. But having been in similar but different situations myself, I know this is not always possible. In that case, I'll echo what others have said...maybe try some other classes at another place, just for fun, to recover your confidence and your joy in dance. The situation you are in can really overshadow the fun and the clear passion you have for dance :)

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I think in the meantime you should go to another school. This woman is probably going to get fired (or if she is the studio owner, go out of business) if she continues teaching this way. Newsflash: There's a reason why there are only two people in her Beginner's Class. It's not a Beginner's class as you've described it and beginners can't do it. They probably also see how you are treated (and you are not a beginner as you are already on pointe) and they figure why bother?


I once went to a small Dolly Dinkle school in the Northeast--not going to divulge where. I was very enthusiastic about ballet and dance in general and had been taking classes at my university before, where everyone was treated very kindly and encouraged to improve. Well at this new school the teacher was really impressed with me as were the other students (I had only one year of ballet but was much better than all the dancers there). But I didn't gloat about it. The teacher would make fun of this one woman. Every single class he berated her and insulted her. I found it disgusting. That is not the way to teach. I know that some old time teachers were brought up in that way of teaching but it does not help most people to learn. Instead it discourages them. Also as a student in that class I could not stand going there and seeing this woman being picked on every single class and it was an adult class and none of us were trying to be professionals. Where were there to have fun and he just kept singling her out and insulting her. I finally stopped attending classes there. I had even PAID already but I didn't care. It was not a fun class to see a fellow student abused. Probably everyone who comes to your class with that teacher feels the same way. As adults we don't have to stand for that nonsense. We can take our money elsewhere. Tell your mom to do the same.


I predict she will get fired because no one will want to study with her, and then when she's gone you can come back to the school if you like. I wouldn't even bother confronting her about it because if her class sizes have diminished to two students and she can't figure out that there is a problem in her teaching based on that, then it's unlikely she's going to listen to what you have to say.

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Get out. And now. This situation sounds like one I found myself in years ago, and I'm so glad that I got out. We can justify it all we want, but the teacher's behaviour is manipulative and abusive, not to mention dangerous in terms of teaching. As an educator (of a different sort) myself, I strongly feel that there is no need to break anyone's morale to get them to learn. To pose a challenge, maybe even tease them to push harder -- perhaps. Demoralize, yell at, arbitrarily test, etc -- no -- and in ballet, this can be dangerous (pirouettes en pointe with no explanation? Really lady? I'll show you what I can do with my pointes... :o )


I'm sorry to be so harsh here -- I wish someone had been this straightforward with me. I ended up stopping dancing for over half a year, then slowly go the bug back, and am now in a place where it is not only a great love, but my best therapy. Teaching makes such a big difference. You wouldn't send your child to a kindergarten taught at a 5th grade level, which then fails him/her, right? Why do that to yourself?


You. Deserve. Better. Every person does. So I'm being harsh out of sympathy and commiseration. I hope you find a place that knows not just how to train their dancers, but how to nurture them.


In the meantime, (((((((hugs)))))))))))), treat yourself, and find a place that deserves you.



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Thanks for your responses and support guys. It really means a lot to me. I feel a bit better today exploring my other options. I've always had this strange tendency to lock myself in unpleasant positions, in all areas of my life, because somewhere along the line I convince myself I have it good there, or that I won't find anything better, etc. And now it has happened with dance. It doesn't help that my teacher slags off all the other local schools.


I called Miami City Ballet and was told that some students put on pointe shoes for the second half of the class. I am ecstatic about this. I really didn't want to have to give up pointe. I don't even care if I'm doing the simplest things for as long as it takes, because all I want is to learn it right, to build a solid foundation, and go on to be the best I can possibly be. She also said sometimes company members take the classes, which makes me very excited as well. I'd love to be able to watch professionals like that. I feel like I could learn so much from them.


Funny how as I am considering going elsewhere to kind of start over again, suddenly the pressure to find the perfect pointe shoes is off me. I had been desperately calling stores all over the country searching for my favorite Freeds, because their mega platform was the only thing that I felt gave me a fighting chance to keep up with my teacher's demands.

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I'm so glad to hear you sounding better. I did the same thing as you -- found other options, and it was liberating. As they sing in Sound of Music: Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start!


If nothing else, getting a better foundation will be immensely beneficial to you.


Hugs again!

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