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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Studio bully taking a huge toll of DD


tldx

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I'm not certain if I'm looking for advice, or just a sympathetic ear, but I know that I need to get this off of my chest and this is probably the only place where I can.


Five years ago, we changed studios. Partly to seek out better instruction, but more to get away from drama and bullying. We were quite fortunate that what is widely considered the best studio in out area has also proven to be delightfully drama free. DD (13) has been very happy there and has always felt accepted and supported, by staff and students alike. Until this semester.


About one month into the semester, another parent in the level mentioned to me that a couple of the older girls in the level (17, the level ranges in age from 11-17 this year) were giving her DD (also 13) a very hard time; correcting the girl in class, talking loudly about her in the hallway, blocking her from the mirror when she was trying to get ready - standard studio bully routine, IMO. Upon hearing this, my DD fessed up that these same two girls were doing the exact same to her, even going so far as pushing her away from the barre because they wanted her spot. Our girls decided to speak with the Director and marched straight into her office to do so. (A proud moment.) The Director is known to take these kinds of things very seriously, so when she assured the girls that she would keep an eye on things and take care of any problems, we all believed it would be resolved quickly. The opposite has proven true. These two older girls have basically recruited most of the younger girls in the level and gotten them on the same path. No one in the level even speaks to DD or the other bullying victim any longer; they just make increasingly snide comments about them, and not discretely. Yes, this goes on in class, and no, none of the instructors are saying or doing anything.


DD began the semester with a warning that she was a bit behind and had a lot of hard work ahead if she wanted to progress next year (not to mention preparing for high school auditions). DD took this message to heart and started the semester very strong. As the semester has progressed, DD has started to fall further and further behind. My once strong DD now looks like a heart broken slug (her word) in class, and is painfully aware of it. Last night, she finally broke down and said that she didn't want to go back. As we discussed it she admitted that the hostility and pressure from the other girls in the level has gotten to her and that she "used to love ballet, now I just hate it!". I should have paid more attention when DD mentioned wanting to relocate to join another studio, and not even a company school, mind you.


Speaking as her mother, I would just pull her out and say enough, but she and I both know that is not what she wants. She wants to dance. Sadly, there are no other studios within and hour and a half that can even begin to compete with our current studio, so to move now would be a huge step backwards. I am really at a loss for how to handle this. I feel like all I can do is be a shoulder to cry on, but I know that isn't enough.


(Please excuse typos, not in a great mood about this.)

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First may I give you and your DD a cyber hug...☺. Bullying has no place in the classroom. Well actually it belongs no where. That being said, a class with 11 year olds mixed with 17 year olds is a recipe for disaster. It frankly should not be. There is more to say on that subject, but your comments are aimed at bullying.

 

Since your DD has taken the steps to report her discomfort and anxiety without a caring and obvious response from the Director. I suggest you get involved, big time. Be sure to express our laws that protect young people from bullying. If nothing is done, make a plan to find a more suitable school for your child. Schools, even ballet schools must teach young people to respect themselves. Without a positive sense of self, your DD will not survive the ballet world. No school is a good school if it does not teach love of self.

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I agree. It was brave of your DD to speak for herself but it sounds like the adults now need to take charge. The teenagers seem to have taken charge which can't continue for their own sake as well as the younger ones. This is a bad experience for them too and they need a proper correction!

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This is awful. Why should these girls bullying behaviour destroy your DD's love of dance? I agree with the other posters, it's time to be an advocate for your child and see the school director asap. Bullying is never acceptable but unfortunately far too common. Invariably perpetrators continue for as long as they can unless stopped. It's horrible, cyber hugs and strength to you and your DD.

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Thanks everyone. DD has a session with the Director this evening, so I was planning to steal a few minutes alone with her then. Not sure that it will make a difference, really, but at least I will have tried.

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Huge cyber hugs!!! Is there any chance that things have changed within the last five years in the area where you live? Instructors come and go, so perhaps there is in fact good instruction somewhere else nearby that wasn't available at the time you moved to this school. Since she has been getting good quality instruction thus far, your dd might be able to somewhat gauge how the instruction at other places measures up, in a way that she might not have been able to do when she was younger.

 

You did the right thing in giving the studio an opportunity to address this first. They have failed to do so. They have instead allowed a toxic situation to fester. If it were me, I would start looking into other studios in the area - just to see. Who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised.

 

Whatever you decide, know that your fellow ballet parents on this board here are rooting for a good outcome for your dd.

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My take on this is that your DD's teachers are turning a blind eye on this because they are frustrated with her and whatever it is she has fallen behind on. In turn, the other dancers have taken their cues from the teachers and now she is being bullied! I think its time to address the issue and then be prepared to leave. At this point, your DD will never improve here. The situation is toxic and she is too distracted by mean girls to focus on what she needs to. Hugs going out to both of you.

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It is very difficult for young people to handle bullying - cyberbullying or bullying in person. Unfortunately, this is our new America model for reasons I can't discuss.

 

My daughter experienced bullying on a lower level - more of an exclusion thing - when she was a student at a three letter school. For example, she would be left out of birthday parties and other social events. Her love of ballet kept her dancing. As a professional she stayed away from the gossip and was always kind and generous with her fellow dancers. Perhaps this was partly a reaction to her own experience or maybe she was bullied because she was a good person.

 

If your daughter is truly passionate about dancing, I hope that she has the strength to move forward and not let the bullies win. There is nothing a bully hates more than a person who ignores them. After all the whole point of bullying is to make yourself feel more important. Don't let the bully win. It's a good lesson for life in general because we all experience this at some point in our life.

Edited by Momof3darlings
removed political references since we don't discuss politics here except in studio politics :)
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If in fact the teacher has become frustrated with your DD and is ignoring her, then it is imperative that you do step in as an adult and facilitate a discussion between your DD and the teacher as to what the teacher is seeing/not seeing in your daughter's efforts and what your DD believes herself to be doing/not doing in terms of trying to incorporate the corrections given by the teacher.

 

Once, long ago, my DD was experiencing something along those lines. Her teacher seemed to be ignoring her and no longer correcting her. DD was getting very frustrated--and discouraged. I facilitated a meeting between DD and her teacher and it turned out that the teacher thought DD was ignoring the corrections given and not trying any longer. DD's eyes got huge and her mouth fell open. She thought she was incorporating the corrections. Turned out DD did not quite understand the correction in her muscles. Once that got straightened out, both DD and teacher returned to their very wonderful relationship.

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Again, thank you everyone for your thoughts and support. This sort of thing tends to get laughed off by people (a friend actually said that I should just "threaten to break their toe shoes", ugh), but it's just as hard as any other type of bullying, maybe even more so for some kids.

 

As for the instructors being frustrated with or ignoring, DD, I don't believe that is a problem. If anything, some of them probably spend too much time working with DD. A few other kids have made comments about favoritism in the past, which could be playing a part in the problems DD is having now. Also, DD is not the only girl having this problem, and the other girl is most certainly not behind at all - she's one of the most beautiful dancers in the level.

 

Anyway, I spoke with the Director last night. She seemed disappointed that the situation hadn't improved because she has been trying to keep an eye and a ear on things, but she was shocked to learn that some of the younger girls have gotten involved now. I told her everything that DD has told me, including names. Apparently a few of these girls have caused some trouble in other ways as well (most recently, casting), so she's very unhappy with this level in general. Some of the girls will be spoken with about specific things that they have done that are against policy, the others will be watched more carefully. Two other things came out last night which helped to make a clearer picture for us both though.

 

According to DD, the worst of it happens either when classes are changing, and there are two classes worth of students in the space, or going across the floor, when students are grouped together in a corner, with the instructor across the room. I can see how the instructors are not catching some of this with that going on. I'm not sure how this can be addressed, but we'll see.

 

The other is that the level directly above DD's is frequently lauded for being so kind and accommodating. We know these girls and this is very true. The things is, DD used to be with these girls. Following an Achilles injury a couple of years ago, DD was held back a level, and separated from them. Those girls started from level 1 together and are close. DD is still friends with them. The girls in DD's current level did not start together. The oldest girls came from another studio last year, the youngest girls were advanced from a lower level, where they weren't all even in the same classes. There is no loyalty between these kids and it seems as if they are all trying for queen bee. The youngest girls, I fear, are headed down a bad path, and one that this studio, historically, does not tolerate (the highest levels are all very kind and supportive). Apparently though, many of the youngest students, in lower levels, are exhibiting similar behavior. Such a disappointment.

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tldx,sending you a big hug!

 

Middle school was really hard for our dd too. A bit different, but the silent treatment and glaring were as you describe. I'm glad to read that your dd has friends in a different level. Our dd also had friends in a higher level and they were older. The school actually seemed to encourage diva behavior so we didn't even bother talking with the directors; instead, our dd walked in the building with earbuds in, quickly went to change from her street clothes and parked herself near her older friends while waiting for her class. If they weren't around, she put a book in front of her, earbuds still in and waited by herself for class. We reminded her that she was there to learn and not to let the mean girls distract her from her goals. She got pretty good at totally ignoring them and one afternoon I asked if the mean girls were leaving her alone (still concerned about the bullying as I had witnessed their glares and nastiness in the lobby.) She said, "I don't pay any attention to them and I have no idea what they are doing." I'd like to say that the girls grew out of it but they still maligned her even after our dd moved onto a residential school in London. They cyber bullied our dd on their Facebook account and it would pop up in our dd's "feed." One of the comments mentioned a "shovel and a hammer" and if the girl had lived anywhere near ours, I would have been tempted to contact the authorities. Our dd blocked them from her FB but had a friend monitor their chatter for anything that might be more menacing. I do hope that they have grown up into better people by now.

 

You are right to be concerned. Look at it as a good opportunity to teach your dd coping skills. Ballet world is intense and the competitiveness can occasionally bring out the worst in people so if your dd has learned how to cope and deal with nasty behavior, she's going to handle that intense environment much better. It's also a good opportunity for your dd to learn to focus on her goals and immediate tasks while around all sorts of mayhem. That skill will also serve her well.

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I will second the difficulties of the middle school/early high school years in ballet. IMO, the competitive nature of the art can emphasize the worst societal trends of this age/phase. And I hope it helps to think of this time as a "phase" -- NOT the rest of her life.

 

I would also second Swanchat's advice regarding having your DD remove herself from the fray as great advice, but still very, very difficult to do.

 

One thing we did during this time is that when DD got in the car, before she could tell me everything bad that happened, she had to list a minimum of 3 positive things that happened that day. Sometimes those positive things consisted of something silly like..."I liked what I packed for lunch today" or "I didn't fall down flat on my face when I tripped during center." And sometimes those silly things actually made us laugh and gave her some "space" from the constant hurt to lighten up the drama a bit. Obviously, I didn't really care what the positive things were, I was just concerned that too much focus on the negative created a "rut" in their brains, where the negative was ALL she would see. Besides, I found that *I* would be upset or bothered by the negative as well, and I needed a reminder that (1) she's alive; (2) she's dancing; (3) and this too shall end.

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DD had similar experience. Although studio tried to address the problem, "mean girls" are very apt at circumventing authority. We found that weekly ballet private lessons at the studio helped keep her enthusiam and love of dance. DD looked forward to danceing "free" from the drama. She has now moved on to a full day program and still loves dance :) DD recommends privates for any dancer going through this type stuff.

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We live in a different world now, but I was generally successful having a conference to discuss bullying by sharing specific instances that happened. The goal being to not only share what was happening but also to ask their advice on how best to handle it. In our case, it was a student who was kicking DD on purpose during barre and would physically pinch her while waiting to go across the floor. Another was physically pushing DD2 out of the way so that she would not get her turn across the floor or had to move to the last group. That was a classroom where pushing your way to the front was rewarded.

 

In all cases, a discussion with the staff to make sure they had specific instances to know what was happening and to seek advice on how best to handle things only went so far. It usually did take more than one conversation. In the end, it was the conversation that stated: while DD was advised not to retaliate in a physical or use fighting language, she did have my permission to yell out something to the effect of "leave me alone", "do not kick me again", as loud as her heart's content, etc. and I directed the staff that while I did not want physical altercations, my expectation was that they honor when/if this happened that she had enough and no consequences would be given to her for finally standing up. Some would reply that this was not proper in class behavior and I would remind them that it was part of their job to create a safe classroom and if they could not, then DD was not to be punished for standing up to physicality. In general, it only took once for either DD to actually speak out in class for the teachers to be more vigilant and for the student to either be too embarrassed to continue or to see that she no longer had a doormat.

 

I wonder if the response to blocking the mirror should simply be to speak up to those students and not shy away from them: "You know, I will be ready for class no matter what you do to block the mirror." and simply walking away. Or instead of shying away from the corrections, for a time saying "Thank you for your correction but Ms. X is my teacher" and continuing on. Yes, I know the world is a bit different now and this might not be the thing to do but it might.

 

It is always a balancing act to know how much to let the world be the world with our children so that they learn to deal with tough people. And an equal balancing act to know when to step in. Bullying behavior lessens after middle school age, but it never goes away totally. It happens in the workplace sometimes also.

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Again, so many thanks to everyone for their kinds words, advice, and stories. It really, really does help.

 

Since I spoke with the Director, a few changes have already happened. First of all, DD and the other target have taken my advice to stay away from the hot spots. When the other girls are in the dressing room, the two of them opt to get ready in the hall (dressed under their clothes) and then wait for class far from the door to the studio where most of the girls wait. It keeps them in a much better mood. What's more is that a few other girls from their level have followed their lead and are now sitting with them before class. It's come out that while these other girls have been left alone, they are tired of the drama. While it was good for the two girls to have the support of each other, having the support of other girls in the level is giving both of them a much needed confidence boost.

 

The Director did follow through with her promise to speak with the class. It began as a lecture about some recent casting drama said to the entire level, but clearly directed at the bullies (who then made the mistake of talking back). For the class that followed, these girls were under the microscope. When one of the decided to practice pirouettes while DD demonstrated a combination, she was advised to watch. When she again talked back to the Director, she was kept after class.

 

Regarding privates, our studio technically doesn't do privates. That said, from time to time a handful of students get to work on variations and/or solos independent of class/rehearsals, and DD is currently one of those students. Getting that private time is going to help more than just her technique, it's a reminder of what she's capable of and how invested in her the studio is. I love the smile on her face at the end.

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