Ballet Teaching Style And your student-teacher relationship
Adult Ballet Teachers – This article is about managing the student-teacher relationship as adults.
In my couple of years of dancing as an adult dancer and taking lots of classes from different teachers, I’ve a few things to say about ballet teachers. It became more interesting as I started to assist and teach a little bit of ballet on my own.
First of all, you have to understand that your student-teacher relationship is very different from the general adult-student and adult-teacher relationship in other adult classes. Like for instance,in a cooking or learning french class.
In those classes, teachers respect you as adults and as equals. It is all very civil, polite and even warm. Many students eventually become great friends with their teachers, like I am with my French teacher and piano teacher.
However, unfortunately the student-adult teacher relationship in BALLET can be very different.
Learning ballet may make you feel like a child
‘Parent-child’ style relationship in ballet
I’m not saying that it can’t be like other adult to adult, having-mutual respect, learning relationships. It is just that the adult ballet teacher may express mutual respect in different ways.
Learning ballet can be very infantilizing.
You can be made to feel like a little child, by the way you get corrections or feedback. You may feel you are being scolded.
Of course, it depends on the personality of the teachers, but strict teachers are usually the good ones and they are the ones that sometimes seem to be picking on you. Or not treating you with respect.
In the past, I used to feel so frustrated with this.
Can’t my teacher see I’m trying my best? And it’s hard to establish and refine new motor patterns of the body (which essentially is ballet), within a day. Yet my unreasonable teachers seem to expect me to do so within that last 5 minutes.
Over time, I gradually got used to it.
I’ve since realized that my teacher respected me as a student, as an adult.
Once I overheard him telling his other students about me, about how hardworking I am and my character is strong enough to take hardship. He also told others to be like me. That’s the funny thing. He would never say that to my face. Instead, I always feel as though I’m not working hard enough, or I’m lazy etc.
It might sound silly or frivolous to people who don’t understand ballet training, but in general, you would need a kind of character that can ‘take hardship’ in the exact words of my ballet teacher. (He’s kinda nuts, but yes I’ll admit that it is true) .
You need to push through tiredness, pain, and work your body with discomfort to build stamina, strength and flexibility etc. You need to attempt to practice thousand of times before you can master a step.
Teaching you seriously is their form of respect
It was just his way to expressing his respect to you. It is in the way he diligently teaches you with high standards.
It means he believes you can do it despite your age or physical limitations.
He wouldn’t make excuses for you or ‘let you of the hook’. He actually has goals for you.
He didn’t give up on you saying, “Aiyah (Singaporean term) she’s just an adult, she’ll never make it, why bother to train her so hard? Her lousy tendus are good enough for adult class. It is not like she’s going to perform on stage or anything.”
So despite feeling like a child, sometimes it is just the way ballet is learnt.
If he did not hold high standards for you, he may just let you go making unclean positions, loose legs, then maybe you would feel more respected?
I’m trying to imagine my teacher saying, “okay, Seira, you’ve held your arms in way that make them look so short a thousand times, please kindly change.”
And saying that in a gentle respectful way 10 times during my class.
Instead, he raises his voice, “Arms! Long arms!”
“Arms! Long arms!”
And instantly I snap out of my bad habits and try to form new habits.
I know there can always be improvements on how (strict and scary) teachers teach ballet but I guess, once I saw that it was their way of showing me respect, I have come to accept it.
(That doesn’t mean I’m constantly OKAY with it. I just keep these emotions to myself.)
Understand that teaching ballet may be as frustrating as learning ballet
Eventually when I started assisting and teaching a bit of ballet, I start to realize how hard it is to teach ballet and why my teachers get frustrated with us.
It is not just frustrating for you, it is frustrating and tiring for them too. While you’re exerting your physical energy, they are watching you closely like a hawk, and that’s extremely tiring.
What I’ve learned is also that if a teacher does not occasionally get frustrated with you, it means that they don’t care that much about your progress and may be just interested in your money. This is unless they have an extremely passive personality, which in my opinion, that then, maybe teaching ballet may not be that suitable after all.
There is no perfect teacher
Teachers are imperfect, nevertheless, they can be imperfect yet GOOD or GREAT teachers.
You decide who to follow.
Ballet Teachers are also human. They may get tired, lazy or stressed. They get moody and they have favorites. They are also have bills to pay.
I find it extremely disrespectful to ask for teaching discounts. It almost signals that you think the teacher is not worth it. If the teacher is not worth it (and there are many out there), you don’t have to let her know.
However, if you want to take more class and want to talk about your budget to your teacher, you may tell him or her, “I would like to take more class, and this is the amount I can afford to spend. Is there a package?” Do not be offended if there is none. Some studios/teachers will offer bundle packages, so it doesn’t hurt to ask in a respectful way.
We have to remember that they’re human as well! I’m willing to let it go if the teacher might “appear lazy” if he or she sits down when yelling out instructions. They are just tired.
The TRULY LAZY ones are the ones who fiddle with their phone sending messages while you’re doing the exercises. There are those who use the same combinations for every class, like Inter-foundation, Intermediate, Adult beginners, Adult advance for months.
There are also those who don’t start on time or waste lots of time during class. Those who have ‘tricks’ to waste time are only more obvious to more experienced dancers.
They create combinations are really simple but long such as pirouettes and let us do it for an hour, while they sit and watch and occasionally yell out a correction.
Sometimes, they start the music when everyone is not prepared but they can’t be bothered to re-start the music so everyone can dance.
These not-so-good teachers are not really interested in you or dance. It is just a job to them and their character shows. I don’t like to support these teachers. Sometimes they are beautiful dancers, luckily for them they are talented, and people go to their class thinking eventually they can dance like him or her. Let’s just say that beautiful dancers don’t necessarily make the best teachers.
I just added the above paragraph because I felt I wasted a lot of money taking classes from not-so-good teachers, because at that time, I wasn’t savvy enough to know how to choose a teacher as an adult beginner.
There is no perfect teacher. You’ll just have to decide what is best for you. As you get more experienced, you’ll be able to sift out those who are just after your money as you know, ballet can get very expensive.
Don’t Be Taken Advantage of
There are not-so-good teachers around. Sometimes, it is not because they are not a good teacher, but they may be unsuitable to you at that point in time. And that doesn’t mean forever. Teachers have their strengths and weaknesses, so sometimes, during your period of growth, certain teachers are more suitable for what you need at that time.
If you are fortunate to have a good well-rounded teacher, you can follow him or her for years. I’m grateful for those.
But I’m here to talk about teachers who take advantage of you.
This is unfortunately, but I have heard many stories, and I have experienced some of this myself, as some of you will know from my book.
I like to think the best of people, so sometimes I feel perhaps they just don’t exactly know what I want.
But then there are some…. who take advantage of you. There are certain common bad unethical behaviors but in general, you should trust your nagging feeling when you feel they are not having your best interests at heart, and they are just thinking about themselves.
If, in any case, you can accept that, because you feel that you’re learning and you see value in that. Then go in with your eyes open. Do not feel obligated to do any extra stuff for them. Keep it a professional business relationship.
Sometimes, there is emotional blackmail. They will either suck up to you and say you’ve got potential or you might feel battered by them by snide comments. Like people you meet in the workplace, school or even church, there are bad apples, so be careful. We are conditioned to trust our teachers since we were children. But now that you’re an adult, you have a right to speak up.
I have had teachers who cheated my money:
- who asked me to do favors for them or buy them things and not pay me back.
- Who owed me classes.
- Whom came late and cut my lesson early.
- Who cancelled at a whim.
- Who made it seem like she was giving things to me then asked for money.
- Who tried to take advantage of my friends who wanted to do ballet exams by making them pay exhorbitants amount of money for a chance to ‘do exam’.
- Who is so calculative with me on money or time.
- She doesn’t prepare lesson instead try to waste time by forcing us to stretch or warm up on our own while she plays with her phone, not even bothering to turn the sound of. She doesn’t even get up to physically correct you.
- These teachers will sometimes bully you or intimidate you to taking more class with them. Or either make you feel very good or very bad about yourself.
Know that it is not about you. Unlike children, you have all the power and control not to take class with her anymore. You can just end the relationship professionally and go about your merry way. Don’t bother bitching or bad mouthing them. After a while, people will know what kind of teachers they are. Let’s just hope everyone is smart enough to see through unethical teachers.