When I was growing up my ballet teacher told me that if a teacher gives you a correction, it should be taken as a compliment. Sometimes it can be difficult to see it that way. Dancing is so personal. As with acting, or singing, when we dance, we are the instrument of the art, we are the dance. Being the moving clay on which we sculpt our art, we may find it difficult to separate where we end and the dancer begins. Maybe our technique or timing could use improvement, but that does not mean we are bad dancers or bad people. Sometimes the very words meant to compliment, correct, and even encourage us can be misinterpreted. It can be easy to allow a teacher’s words to hurt us. Even fairly innocuous words of “stretch!” and “pointe!” can be heard through the warped prism of our own judgemental inner critic. We instead hear: “You have horrible feet.” “You’ll never be flexible .”
Years ago in a ballet class the teacher abruptly stopped us mid-exercise – impatiently clapping her hands. “You were all wrong!”, she informed us, glaring angrily. She wanted us to do echappe releves on the “and” count, and none of us had understood her instructions. (I don’t think she explained it very well, to be honest.) She doled out various corrections to other dancers and then turned to me and said “And you! That was just Awful!” I turned to my friend, tears gushing down my face, but unable to say goodbye, I simply ran out of the class. Hilarious in retrospect, but in the moment, I was traumatized. I realized later she had been expecting more of me because I was in the front of the class, and had more training than some of the other dancers. She did not express her correction in the best way, to be sure! But maybe she was right – I probably could have done it better, and so what? I’ve realized since that it’s very possible to dance horribly, totally mess up a combination, or even have a really off day and still be OK. It also doesn’t mean I’m an awful dancer. :)
Corrections are really the gold of dance class – the teacher is spending their time paying attention to you when there is very limited class time and they could just as easily be focusing on someone else. It’s someone outside of you noticing one tiny thing that could make a huge difference, maybe even save you from injury. If they notice you, it is a compliment.
What can you do to make sure a teacher’s correction or comment doesn’t ruin your day? (Or your makeup?)
1. Strive to take corrections in the spirit they were meant, without taking them as a personal attack. Remember, a teacher’s attentions should be flattering.
2. If you can’t convince yourself your teacher has your best interests at heart, at least know that you are not alone. You are also not awful or anything else he may have said to you, or that you may have interpreted. Teacher’s words can hurt, but teachers are humans too and not perfect. Things can come out unfortunately wrong. Forgive and forget. You are okay, and you will overcome this and someday, (hopefully soon), you will be able to look back on this and laugh.
3. After you’ve had some time to think about it, (and hopefully after a good night’s sleep and a good meal), rewind what the teacher said. Was it totally random? Was it justified in any way? Does it have any ring of truth to it at all? Is there anything you can take away from the comment that can constructively help you? If not, then let it go, but be honest with yourself here. The same is true for the compliment that you won’t accept or believe and are refusing to acknowledge. Could there be a shred of truth in it? Maybe the teacher can see that you are improving. Take the compliment!
4. Sometimes corrections can be difficult to incorporate right away or frustrating to execute. “He wants me to not hop in my pirouettes but how? How do I not do it?” Part of that could be strengthening ankles and gaining core strength. Other fixes may require learning to relax or increasing flexibility. These things take time. Weirdly enough, a lot of corrections are psychological. Part of what helps is believing it can actually be done, physically by any human, and secondly that you can actually do it. Be really patient with yourself here, and remember you are a work of art, which takes time and love. Sometimes that frustration can even be useful to push you past the blocks you have. Don’t give up.
5. Others have gone through what you are going through. Maybe it requires asking questions, and talking with other dancers to find solutions. This is why we take classes together, to form a community and to figure out issues together. Another dancer might be able to show you slowly, or tell you their tricks. I get it though, it can be hard to ask – not being able to do something can feel humiliating. If you are feeling too shy and don’t want to ask your teacher or that nice girl in the blue leotard, ask Google! There are so many humans on the planet at this point, that not only have others gone through what you’re going through, there are entire websites and Google groups devoted to solving your exact issue. Problems are better solved together. Reach out to someone :)
6. Finally, don’t let someone else get you down. You want to dance and you deserve the chance to dance and it doesn’t matter how old you are or what your body type is or anything else hanging you up. You can do this!
N I wish I could convey to my students how beautiful and magnificent they are. They show up with their excitement and vulnerability and together we go for a ride and get to know each other through a wondrous journey called ballet class. It takes guts to dance! And because it’s challenging, the thrill when you get it, combined with the feeling of moving in space, there is no greater high. In a few weeks you’ll notice that what seems really challenging today is totally doable and you are the one others are asking for help. Getting corrections (and compliments) are part of that process. It’s all in your perception.
Come take class with me! I teach Tuesdays 7-8 and Saturdays 12-1:30. We are a donation based studio. We ask for a $10 donation, half the cost of a regular dance class! 380 Broadway at White street, Buzzer #5.