Last night I stumbled upon this article from Huffington Post, and found it so intriguing I knew I had to share it with all of you. The piece is written as a letter to the dance students of 2013 from “Your Dance Teacher”. Although I have never actually taught, I immediately related to the letter from a student’s point of view, and I’m sure many of you will too.
Ms. Beckford’s letter addresses the many emotional hardships dance students undertake as a result of “harsh” or seemingly unreasonable teaching techniques from their instructors (you’ve all heard of ballet teachers using canes, scarves and brute force to literally whip kids into shape, right?). However, instead of sympathizing with the discouraged or frustrated student as you might initially imagine, this letter expressly sides with the dance teachers of the world, explaining that they are merely trying to help in the only way they can. This is something I not only agree with out of mere principle (seriously, read the letter, it is all so very well articulated), but also from first-hand experience. Yes, public, sarcastic comments from instructors during dance class can be rough. Humiliating even. But it should never be disparaging. If a teacher takes the time to correct you (which does sometimes happen so many times in one class you might begin to think you’ll never be able to make that correction), it means they see potential in you. It means you should just work harder, not give up.
Although I do wish this letter had been written to me during my often tumultuous years of training, I wouldn’t have had to read it to know that my teacher’s biting remark about my floppy feet in petit allegro was not a result of her anger towards me or dissatisfaction with her own life; It was a direct representation of her dedication to me and to her job as an instructor of dance. By inherently knowing this (okay, it did take some convincing from my mother), I was able to not only respect my teachers, but also befriend many of them. And these friendships have lead to a mutual professional appreciation and connections all over the world. Last month, when my old ballet teacher, Milica, came into town from Serbia to set Sleeping Beauty, she immediately told me how proud of me she was and how impressed she was with my growth over the years we’ve spent apart. Next month while I travel throughout Paris, I am thrilled to be able to call up one of the teachers who changed my dancing the most, Yves (pictured above, he is a Paris native) to show me around. It’s like Ms. Beckford says:
“The teachers who gave me the harshest, most brutally honest corrections are the ones I learned the most from. I didn’t like what they had to say, but in my day, we just went home and cried — never did we accuse the teacher of disrespect. Weeks, months or even years later, I realized how right the teacher was. That said, their corrections didn’t mean I was a) a bad dancer b) never going to dance professionally c) meant to be a Taco Bell employee.”
A lesson that it seems many of the ballet students of today could benefit greatly from. Being a dancer takes a very thick skin. If you want to be a professional and you don’t have a thick, outer coating protecting your emotions from criticism, you have two options: either grow one, or try soccer.