a rebuttal

Okay, I have to chime in on this letter that many of my dance teacher friends seem to think is so fantastic. I think there is a lot of truth to it, I really do. Yes, today’s students are empowered (and entitled) like no generation before. Yes, many are coddled by parents, coaches, and teachers. Yes, as dance teachers we have a responsibility to make sure these kids know what hard work is, know that hard work is necessary for a successful career in dance, and know that not everything in the world is rosy all the time.

But here is where it gets me:

“Certainly there is humiliation, even cruelty in the dance studio. The caricature of the mean teacher or choreographer is based in truth. But when you find a teacher who is going out of her way to correct you, and perhaps getting a little frustrated – to call this teacher disrespectful is wrong. You do yourself a disservice.”

And I can’t help but think, why is it this way? Just because it used to be? Or, because as teachers we can’t come up with more creative, more respectful ways to “correct,” guide, and direct our students to success? Because it’s easier to use sarcasm and abrupt put downs than to show our humanity and be kind in our guidance? Because we’re scared that we don’t have all the answers, and use “dry wit” as the author calls it, to keep our students from realizing it to? Because we think just because the students don’t – or CAN’T – move like us, or fulfill our vision of the “perfect” dancer, then they automatically must be doing something wrong? Because we value our own authority over all else, and we’re scared to admit that maybe there are multiple ways to achieve beauty, excellence, and even good technique? Because keeping students in fear that they won’t be good enough without us keeps them enrolled in our classes, keeps them agreeing to our ridiculous standards for flexibility and technical tricks, and keeps their parents pouring thousands of dollars into competitions and (often inappropriate) costumes?

I’m still recovering psychologically from the “dry wit” of some of my teachers – even though I have a successful career. There are still days when I can’t stand to look at myself in a mirror and times when I want to cry after class because I can still hear their voices inside my head telling me, in their subtle ways, that I’ll never be good enough. I’m not saying this is all the fault of those teachers (I was probably a more sensitive child than most), and I will admit that in many ways, their criticism drove me to greater success – on my own terms, not theirs. But it is still to this day the compassionate teachers who stick with me the most – those who partnered there sarcasm with general concern for my well being as a dancer, an artist, AND a person. Those who were able to INSPIRE me rather than just PUSH me.

So yes, the author makes some good points, but you know what, I’m not buying all of it. My students are good dancers and great people, and I rarely even have to raise my voice to them. I like to think I’m a better teacher than that. They work hard because they see me working hard, and because I go out my way to find ways to inspire rather than instill fear, or as the author calls it “respect”. There is more to dance than that.

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