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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Teachers showing favoritism, how to deal?


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Does anyone have good advice, words of wisdom, or pep talk ideas for the following situation.  DD dances at a very good pre pro, affiliated with a decent sized company.  Most girls in this level seem to be equally capable, and there is no stand out star in class.  The teacher this year has two obvious favorite students and two who seem to struggle at this level, who are mostly ignored.  It has gotten to the point where the kids all notice, and even joke about it.  My daughter came home the other day saying so and so got 7 corrections before anyone else even got one.  She is beginning to get very frustrated.  I find it highly unusual that so much attention and correction are given to just 2 of the 12 students.  I know this happens, I was just surprised to see it so blatant at this level and this school.  My daughter is starting to feel like she is not good enough, because the teacher does not give her many corrections.  She'll say that she was feeling like she was improving, and working really hard, then something will happen (the favorites are placed front and center for something) and she gets so defeated.  How can I help her understand that it does not mean she is a bad dancer?  She will have this teacher most next year as well, so I hope to get her over this feeling some how.  Thanks for any advice.

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  • Momof3darlings


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I am so sorry you are going through this. I have watched classes at parent observation week where I felt I was intruding on the teacher’s pet’s private lesson. DD has made it a habit to ask her teachers what she needs to work on. Maybe this can help bypass the lack of attention in class.

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From our experience there is pretty much favoritism in every studio, just like there is favoritism in every ballet company. I think it’s just human nature. I agree with Labrador that your daughter should ask her teacher questions after class because at least her teacher will know that she has a genuine interest in becoming a better dancer. If there is a certain combination that gave her trouble in class, approach the teacher for help. And hopefully with good responses from the teacher, your daughter will be able make the corrections herself.  Even if she is not the dancer being corrected, she needs listen to the correction given to the other dancers and then she needs to apply it to herself. She may never be the teacher favorite, but she will improve if she learns from the corrections of others. There is a lot of self doubt with this age group. Focus on what she did well in class when she gets into the car so the conversation starts on a positive note. Have a positive “can do” attitude with her and encourage her to persevere through this rough patch. 

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She is generally pretty positive, and, I think, good at applying corrections.  She had an example the other day where there was something that they did in a small group, and she knew she was doing something not right but the teacher pulled the favorite aside to help her.  Some times it is not easy to fix something without specific help.  Meetings to discuss evaluations are soon, I will have her think of some questions to ask ahead of the meeting.  I think it is natural to have favorites, but a great teacher will not make it obvious.  (Example- end of year show has a section lined up by height, except one not short favorite stuck right in front)

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This pattern is something that some dance teachers kind of perpetuate in ballet.  They kind of just believe that it's ok.  IT IS NOT. Education is teaching and training and fostering. An EDUCATIONAL establishment is ethically bound to teach every.paying.student. If a teacher does not believe that a student can or should be in a class, it is ethically responsible to change the student or to inform the family, as opposed to allowing students to continue paying and get a substandard experience. GOOD SCHOOLS DO NOT DO THIS. REALLY. 

So, you have a few choices

1. Tell your DD to hang in there.  Watch and wait. (Teens can be dramatic and hyperbolic, even good kids who are grounded.  Hormones, insecurities, exhaustion can amplify perceptions in their minds.)

2.  Address it with the teacher.  Usually doesn't go well. Usually won't result in a change. 

3. Start to explore other schools.  Summer is a great time to take a drop in class  and get a feel for other studios.  You have to be in a place where the teachers are invested in your DD.  But don't jump ship on a whim or get caught up in teen angst and drama. 

4. Questions to ask at the conference, "What does DD need to work on?"  Take notes.  This not only is helpful but it indicates respect and seriousness.  Listen for: specific information that tells you that the teacher is really keying into your DD's needs. "In your opinion is DD applying the corrections?"  Listen for: dance teachers perceptions  about your DD. Sometimes kids have non-verbal habits that signal disinterest, when they are not disinterested. "DD is interested in a professional career, what is your advice regarding necessary improvements, companies etc? " 

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Favoritism is everywhere.  As adults we know this and have worked through this to usually just keep going.  It's in the workplace, it's in church, it's in social clubs, it happens in Algebra class, Art class and in private schooling as well as public schooling.  It is in our friendships and sometimes in our families.  It is rare not to find it. It is gifted teacher who can make every person in a class feel the exact same internal worth.    So yes, these feelings exist in ballet much like they would in any performing art.  

Whether it should or should not happen is asking human nature to not exist or need to be worked on everywhere we exist.  It is important for your dancer to learn that there are many reasons for favoritism and they are not always stilled in who the teacher thinks is best.  Also, many times the "favorite" of a teacher is not who teens really think it is.  DD at times was "favored" but was not the "favorite" and then sometimes was also the "favorite" yet not "favored".   And everything in between including being totally ignored.  :P Regardless, it was important for her to focus on her journey and what she could gain from each location/experience for herself.   

Remember that each teacher has a different personality.  For some the perceived favorite it is the student who takes the teacher's corrections, applies them without fail.  Or the student who takes all corrections given and applies them to self instead of stopping to chat with the neighbor while corrections are going on.  The issue I would bring up to the teachers or admins in this case, if applicable,  is that whatever is happening is enough for the kids to joke about it.   In that case, the teacher may believe she is motivating the other students to reach her two top students.  But if the students are joking about it then that attempted method of motivation is not working.  Each class is different and each dancer within a class different. 

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momof3darlings put it perfectly.  I also wanted to add that in the teachers defense, it is not possible to watch 12 bodies at the same time ! That is why sometimes an SI that packs 30 kids into a class can be frustrating for the student but there is only one set of eyes for that many bodies.    

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I think sometimes we parents think we should have complete control over the philosophy or style of a teacher or a school—simply because we pay money for lessons.  I think the “control” we have is nothing more than the decision on our part to continue with that particular organization—or not.  I heartily encourage having open discussions with teachers, AD, studio head, etc., but ultimately, I think we must realize that it is the organization’s choice how to respond and whether to alter its staff or philosophy or style to our liking.  Personally, after much life experience with organizations that don’t do things the way I want them to, I’ve learned not to hold my breath.  Apparently, their model works for them and unless/until it doesn’t, they are not going to change.

I do think it is important that we parents also keep in mind that ballet, like so much else our kids do, is an extra-curricular activity during their training years.  Yes, our dancers take this seriously and most often are looking at it as a potential career path.  Nevertheless, that doesn’t change the fact that the academies, teachers, studios, etc are private enterprises and, honestly, don’t really answer to us parents anymore than the karate studio, the basketball club team, the soccer league, the football league, the Girls Scouts or Boy Scouts troups/dens, the music teacher, etc.  Yes, the instructors are called “teachers”, but I feel we, at times, confuse them with our public teachers who have a State/federal mandate that means they owe us something more than personal ideology.  

Yes, we pay for the ballet classes, lessons, etc.  But we also pay for athletic teams, coaching, etc.  Somehow, I don’t hear the same indignation and arrogance in demanding that the coaches and extra-curricular leaders/mentors owe it to us parents to alter their business plans or philosophy to each individual parent.  We simply evaluate whether that particular team/coach is a good fit for our child and, if not, we either adapt or move on.

As far as favoritism, it exists everywhere—literally.  Think about your child’s friends.  Aren’t there some that are your ‘favorites’?  Why?  Are they the most skilled, the silliest, the sweetest, the most charming?  Not always, right?  I taught swim lessons for years and years.  I most definitely had favorite students.  Sometimes it was even a really mischievous one or one who really wasn’t very good, but struggled and struggled.  As teachers, as parents, as people, we hope to strive to be fair and considerate.  But one can’t expect there never to be an added connection formed between or with someone.

In classes, it should be that the teachers/instructors shouldn’t make it so obvious that others feel totally ignored.  That should be brought to the attention of those in charge and, hopefully, something more balanced would result.

But, I don’t think it helps anyone to stamp feet, pound tables, and insist that it is their right to dictate what someone’s private business enterprise model should be.  If that model isn’t working for me or mine, that means it is the wrong place for me and mine. :)

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I respectfully assert that anyone who claims to be offering what is called "pre professional" dance education, should at least have an ethic of caring and an ethic of providing each student with their best. When a dance teacher ignores a student, that student is not being taught.  (However, sometimes the dance teacher is not ignoring but is actually frustrated.  They have said it 41 times and no change. They have given up.  This could be there teaching or the student's responding. So communication is key.) But when only some students get corrections, then the others are not getting the same level of instruction.  Do parents misinterpreted class situations? Yes Are parents experts in dance? No.  Is the world unfair? Yes. Is dance unfair? Yes. Do kids learn how to persevere when they are not the "favorite.? Yes. Is that a good thing? Yes.  You can learn from many obstacles but that doesn't mean that it's okay educationally for a teacher to enage in a blatant pattern of favoritism in the classroom. That's really not philosophy in my opinion, it's just bad and unethical practice and probably also a bad business model.  

I strongly believe that this issue (and sometimes it really isn't an issue, it's merely drama, perception, gamesmanship) but the issue of some dance teachers only giving correction and/or praise to some students while not giving corrections or praise others should not be accepted in a training or educational environment be that karate, soccer, or dance.  If my kid was in a karate class and the teacher gave "pointers, " "help," "coaching" to other kids but never direclty said anything to my kid, I would have the same feeling.  In fact, this is not tolerated in other venues. It is an odd vestigage of the ballet culture. .  that some students are worthy of attention and others are not. 

To me people have accepted this weird approach for too long. This issue is up there with the many other things that dance faces (racism, sexual harrassment, fat shaming). 

And, if teachers prefer to see themselves as "business people" more so than educators, then, I absolutely concure that the choice is merely a matter of consumerism--stay and pay or go.  

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I'm a parent of DD12, and find this conversation to be valuable for all age groups.  Thank you all for posting and sharing perspectives.  This is clearly a topic that brings out passion/emotion.  I am also an educator (not for dance but college age learners) and would like to say it is possible to provide feedback over time to all students--especially a class of 12 or so--regardless of whether they are liked by you or the smartes/most talented (fill in the blank).  I particularly am satisfied when I see the lowest student improve and would like to think it was my inspiration and teaching.  It's easy to teach to the smartest and best; but that's not what makes life worth living.  Teachers still need to continue to grow and improve over their career.  And what better way than challenging yourself to tend to everyone?  No one is a waste of time.  Including in ballet.  

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Believe it or not, I'm going to pass on the philosophy discussion, although I agree with both Dancemaven and Learningdance points in here. 

To your particular problem, MEWdancer, -- have you thought about private instruction for your DD?  It doesn't necessarily have to be a long term commitment, but I found that when my DD was struggling with this issue (at a similar age), some amount of private technique instruction helped her tremendously... both physically and mentally.  Someone "saw" her and focused on HER issues.  We did private lessons once a month just for a few months until the year ended, and she was able to go to an SI and get "out of the box" she felt was placed in... if that metaphor makes sense?

In all this very necessary discussion about "favoritism,"  keep in mind that ballet improvement is NOT linear, and that improvement is not just physical but also mental and emotional.  And the "one size fits all" of the class room may not be what is right for your kid at this particular time.  It may not even be technique privates that is needed.  Sometimes, adding in some cross training or pilates helps the dancer to break out of her box. 

I think what the above discussion does make clear is that you may not be able to change this particular teacher and/or the larger institution or ballet in general.  But you CAN control your own, individual environment/world.  Work on and with your DD.  Figure out what your DD needs, work on providing that, search OUTSIDE the school or class for whatever that is, and work on helping your DD control her reaction to unfairness and/or favoritism.  When your DD is focused more on herself, the favoritism will fade in importance.

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MEWDancer, I hope you can communicate your concerns that DD needs more coaching in class. If DD is not getting as much out of the class, and it is not possible to remedy this situation, it may be time to look elsewhere. I realize that leaving a school associated with a respectable professional company is a tough decision to make. I really hope this issue can be addressed and redressed.

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I agree with learningdance, if you are at a prepro, you kid should be taught.  But I think honestly the whole favoratism thing is also blown up and distracting.  I definitely felt that there was favoritism in my school but I know now that I was wrong to make it a thing.

Honestly here is how we deal with it: we've banished the word favoritism from our vocabularies in my family. 

Here was my wake up call.  There was a girl who was long lauded as the favorite.  Because her mom did this or that, because they had money, because she cries, because she is pretty, because because because...  She didn't look any better compared to anyone else (to the untrained eye), so why the fuss?  Well fast forward, one day at a ballet competition, this "favorite" does a little simple variation and is immediately swept up and into the attention of a very influential person in the ballet world and more and more accolade came, scholarships, etc etc etc. .  That moment though, was when the penny dropped, maybe we DON'T know what we are seeing.  The teachers were excited over this kid for a reason and she actually wasn't the same as everyone else.  Embracing this kid and using her to motivate her was one of the best things my DD could have ever done.  

There is preferential treatment, and I think teachers are innately artists who get excited about working with other budding artists.   So better is to ask how your DD can a student who is a "joy to teach"?  Teachers are often underpaid and there for their art.  Some students give more than others, or have more potential.  Teachers are human.  

In my opinion, we parents who are not ballet dancers really don't know what we are seeing.  And even if we do know, we don't know the full picture of what the teacher's objectives are for the class or level.  I think either you trust the instructors or you don't.   

I guess what I am saying is, don't make it a thing, and have your dd focus on being a very teachable "joy in class".  


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:clapping:Very well articulated and played, nynydancer.  That is the lesson that so often escape our understanding or observation. .  

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In my experience, and I do believe that this is a novel element to this discussion...

When the dancer and the parent begin to feel the irritation of the presence and treatment of a "favorite" in comparison to themselves often, not always, not at all always, it is -as a dermatologist once said, "the scratch that itches". When a dermatologist says this they are referring most often to eczema. Yes, there is an irritation happening, but it's the act of actually scratching the itching area that sets off a chain reaction making everything more inflamed and, well, itchy. So, it's the "scratch that itches not the itch that you scratch"

... meaning that irritated feeling you've got is not really the source of the problem. Something else has caused that feeling but the only symptom you've got is the "itch" you're left with after the observation of favoritism caused you to "scratch". Sometimes this is the only plausible, tangible, "I can see it with my own two eyes, so can the dancers" example of something that is just 'wrong'. 

Wrong school for your child. Right school but wrong teacher, maybe just one wrong teacher. Wrong teaching method. Wrong school goals for your family's and dancer's goals. Wrong environment for what you are looking for. Wrong focus. Whatever it is, something is wrong, and the favoritism is often just collateral damage from the real issue.

I say this because I agree, completely, favoritism happens literally in all facets of our lives. It is totally unavoidable. And, I do think all of our children learn more than their fair share about it taking turns on both sides of the favoritism fence. I personally do not care for it at all, and when a teacher or a coach or an owner make little to no effort to have discretion with their favoritism it lowers my opinion of them personally. But, and this is a big exception, if they are good at what they do, if the overall goal of the teacher matches my goals for my child and my child's goal for themselves, then I continue to hold that personal opinion of them but it does not become the "scratch that itches". It just is what it is and I watch as my kid is taught what they need and I am pleased that our goals are being worked towards and life goes on.

When I find it getting under my skin, most of the time, I find that it is reflective of a bigger picture problem. In one case it indicated to me that the organization's goals simply did not line up with our family's goals. I don't think I could have been more clear with regards to what I was looking for for my dancer, and I certainly was listened to and had the world promised... and I wasted time getting irritated when those promises were never kept. Until I recognized that the organization simply was not capable of providing what they promised. They literally did not have the teachers with the skills or even the desire to teach those skills. I'll be generous and say they wanted to provide champagne, all bubbles and sweet golden sparkling taste and I just wanted a shot of whiskey, all business with a clear focus that had nothing to do with appearance or a tickling feeling in my nose. Once I recognized that underlying discrepancy the "favoritism" immediately drifted away from any further consideration. 

Anyway, long way of saying, sweating the small stuff over favoritism might itself be the real problem, but many times it's just a symptom of a different problem. Some you can solve in place, but more often than not it's the stuff of growing pains and you wind up either adjusting your personal goals to meet those of the organization because you see a greater good for your dancer in that way... or you wind up leaving to find a place that meets your goals. 

Favoritism isn't nearly the problem it might seem if your kid's goals and your parental goals are still being met and met well. No amount of fairness can zero out poor training for a dancer who is serious about their craft... and no amount of favoritism can push a dancer out the door of a school where real learning and progress are happening personally for them. Favoritism really rarely exists in a vacuum all by itself.



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