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Ballet Talk for Dancers
nynydancer

Need wise words-- weird comment from SI teacher

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balletteacherandmom

That's a very damaging thing to say to a student in an SI, in my opinion.  My DS has had a couple of experiences similar at his SI. Just yesterday, one teacher told him he dances like he's lazy.  What a bizarre comment toward my ds, who is the hardest working student I have ever known. I know he's working his butt off, and he's trying to give the teacher what they're looking for, but insulting comments are not constructive at all. Our dk's are in these SI's to train and bring back with them new experiences to help them in their year-round training. They aren't meant to be perfect; they're there to LEARN. The worst thing for them to hear are bullying insults that don't help the learning process whatsoever.  After the comment that was made to my ds about dancing lazy (he is training Balanchine and has an effortless way of dancing that I think is being misinterpreted), he did the combination twice for the teacher as best as he could, and the teacher reacted by moving him to the back line instead of where he was in front for casting purposes. No constructive criticism or comments about his effort, the teacher just moved him as if to say it's just not good enough.  I'm a teacher myself, and I just can't believe teachers at an SI would use this tactic to push a student to their best potential.  What I told my ds, and what I would normally advise you, is to remember that this is temporary and that the people he really needs to impress are his own year-round teachers when he goes back in September, not these teachers who he may never see again.  However, your OP said that you are considering this SI school for a year-round school, so this advice wouldn't necessarily apply in your dd's case.  Either way, adversity builds strength.  Some teachers are pushing so hard that I have to remind ds not to let it break him; that his goal now is to prove them wrong when they make a negative comment.  If our dk's work hard through the adversity, they will definitely come out stronger in the end for sure.  The ballet world definitely isn't coated in sugar all the time, so I guess it's not terrible for them to learn these lessons, but as parents I wish we could protect them!

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dancemaven

I’m not sure I would take “you are dancing like you are lazy” as a slam or bullying and not a helpful critique.  It would tell me that I need more energy, dynamics, and intent in my dancing.  Sure, your son MAY be “working his butt off, and trying to give the teacher what they’re looking for”, but obviously, he is missing something.  The teacher is giving him a descriptive term for what your son’s lack of attack is projecting.  That should be helpful to him and give him something to think about in terms of what the teacher is looking to see in his dancing.

Non-DD’s diving coach use to tell her “my dead grandma can jump higher than you are!”   That would produce both eye-rolls—and more attack of the board.  And although that remark can be taken as amusing, at times, various divers took it as very insulting—depending on their own frame of mind that day.  

Not every thing a teacher says should be taken so literally.  Note the teacher did NOT say your son was lazy; the teacher said his dancing looked lazy.  That’s two very different things. You say your son is Balanchine trained and dances “effortlessly”; the teacher sees something less than “effortlessly” in his presentation.  The teacher is perhaps looking for a more dynamic attack—in the case of the choreography, he apparently needed to see that in his casting line-up.  Your son could perhaps discern what the teacher is looking for in approach to the combination by observing more closely what the others are doing and contrasting it with his own approach.

Many times, I agree that teachers cross the line with their approach to motivating our young dancers.  I have been on record many, many times in various discussions on this Board as such.  However, that said, I do not believe that every negative comment or every time a child feels slighted is automatically a bullying incident.

It helps both us as parents and our children in fostering maturity and responsibility to discern the difference. :)

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balletteacherandmom

Dancemaven, thank you for giving me another perspective to consider. Yes, it is very likely the teacher is looking for a more dynamic attack; I like the way you put that. And yes, my ds feels like he is indeed missing something. He's confused because prior to this, the teacher had been really nice to him and ds thought he was doing really well in the class (character, btw). He indeed did look around at the other students and try to discern what they are giving that perhaps he isn't, but that adds to the confusion because around him he sees students who are clearly giving less than 100%.  And then when he applied what he interpreted the teacher's comment to the combination, by adding more energy, ds genuinely thought he would have pleased the teacher with his effort. DS was proud of how he attacked the combination, but low and behold, nope - he struck out.  So, yes, he is definitely missing something. I think part of his disappointment is in the follow through, or lack thereof, by the teacher.  And of course, he is disappointed to have not done well enough to keep his place in casting, but that's on him. I agree, all of this is a learning experience, particularly in fostering maturity and responsibility to discern the teacher's intentions.  Still breaks my heart to hear his frustration (and quite frankly, tears) on the phone. 

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Bavalay

The term "lazy" is loaded (for me, and not the focus of this conversation so I will not unpack that here).  However the words that you used are VERY helpful Dancemaven.  It is too bad that the ballet master did not frame it like that so the DS of Balletandteachermom would have been able to apply the "correction" and provide then energy needed and envisioned by the instructor.  I cannot believe there is any pleasure in mean spirited words or behavior directed towards young people.  Sometime we need to have grace towards the teacher--who knows what kind of pressure they are under.  Everyone in positions of power and authority I bet have said and done things they wish they could take back.  Sending warm thoughts to the students whom this has knocked off a little of their shine.  Luckily there is plenty of polish (love from family and other teachers) available to bring it back.

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dancemaven

Perhaps a talk after or before class with the teacher to get a more clear picture of what the teacher is seeing and what he is hoping DS will implement.  Sometimes, DD found that it was very helpful to have a talk.  It is a very rare teacher who is  unapproachable and unwilling to talk with a student who seeks them out to dig deeper into corrections they may be missing the boat on—-even the most formidable seeming.  A genuine interest in trying to understand what the teacher is getting at softens even the most formidable-seeming teacher. :thumbsup:

Sure some words are “fighting” words—and each person may have their own set of those. :D  But when it is used as a metaphor (“like”), it is not the same as being applied as a direct adjective.  Also, there has to be some give for ‘quick and easy’ imagery that can be unpacked quickly in the moment.  The words I used to further express that quick little metaphor was much bulkier, takes some additional understanding, and probably wouldn’t have been as efficiently spit out in the quick instance of a reviewing choreography as it unfolded.

The dancers are tender and yet, they ARE learning how to deal with the world, be it ballet or otherwise.  Again, I do not condone bullying, BUT I do think there has to be some leeway for language, expression, brevity, concepts, and the fact that not everything can always be warm and fuzzy.  Our children are tougher than that and they really do need to be, whether it be for dance or for the world in general.  

I’m not disagreeing with anyone’s concern for blatant mean-spirited denigration by teachers, coaches, or otherwise.  I just do believe there is a difference between that and critiques that may not always be warm, rosy, gentle, or fuzzy.  In fact, sometimes those ‘fuzzy’ critiques are not very clear because they are wrapped in softness.

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Eligus

balletteacherandmom --

Glad you could hear Dancemaven's words.  That sort of thinking (is there a way to NOT take the correction personally) is what I meant by my DD18 getting frustrated with her dancing peers taking corrections only one way. 

In this case, for your DS, what the instructor meant might also be related to his timing/tempo/musical phrasing choices?  Or his facial expression (or lack thereof)?  It's an important lesson to "unpack" the corrections and it is something for him to think about, for sure, as well as a good follow up for him... what exactly does the teacher mean with "dancing looks lazy." 

I see nothing wrong in going up to a teacher after class/rehearsal and asking for clarification on corrections.  My DD has done this, and when/if she still couldn't understand, has also gone to OTHER teachers/choreographers in the room (and not) and have asked them what the correction from X teacher meant.  Sometimes it really is a lack of communication/understanding on both sides.

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Fraildove

Balletteacherandmom,

i agree 100% with what dancemaven has said. Often times in class I will say to a student(s) ‘you look like you are marking’. Clearly they are not marking, but it looks, visually like they are not dancing full out. I remind my own son and my students (it’s nice to know of another teacher/Mom with a son!) that what you feel like when you dance makes no difference if the audience sees something different. Your job as a dancer is to make the audience see the intention of the choreographer. There were many times in my own career when I felt the movement I was dancing was awkward and uncomfortable, but from the audience’s perspective it looked totally different than it felt. I would also tell him to approach the teacher to try and get a better understanding of what he/she wants to see, and how it should feel when performed correctly in the teacher’s eye. And also tell him to take to heart that the teacher took the time to try to get him to understand and that perhaps the moving to the 2nd line was for him to be able to observe. For character, accent and dynamic is very important, and can vary greatly from the ballet counterpart. I know that I very often have a hard time getting across what I’m wanting in words and will try to rely on visual language to do the job. There is a reason that dance does not express itself verbally; it is a visual art after all!

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