Now that the first few weeks of training are over and we are getting into the serious grind of the year I have been thinking about approach. Not just about the approach of the students to their daily work but the approach of the teacher as well.
I look back upon my last few years of school training and remember a level of intensity that I have not felt in many other situations. The competition between peers was healthy but tough and there was always a demand from our teachers that we push harder and farther than we thought possible. I remember having days where I felt their demands were unreasonable and what they were asking of us was simply too much. It was a level that at times I thought I couldn’t reach. I remember wondering why they were being so hard, so serious and demanding. Our tears only brought tougher demands, our failures required more attempts to right them. I couldn’t quite understand it at the time. Fast forward twenty years and I now face my students with that same intensity. What happens between the ages of 17 and 37 that makes the impossible seem not only possible but necessary? I guess it is life and experience.
I’m sure many professional dancers will tell a similar tale of their first year in company or of their first few company auditions. You step out of your sheltered school world which has been all encompassing for years. You are likely one of the top students, full of confidence and the knowledge of how good and strong you are. That is…until your first cattle call when over half the group get cut by rond de jambe just for being the wrong height or hair colour. You may be one of the lucky ones who get a job right out of school or one who only has to do one or two auditions. Many dancers face multiple rejections before they ever set foot inside a company with a full contract. Getting this far alone requires tenacity and a stick-to-it attitude. Then there is the survival of your first year. The realization that there is a whole world of dancers out there who are a little bit better, work a little bit harder, want it a little bit more even though you are giving everything just to be there. This is a very humbling experience. It is also one that makes us realize that we have to earn our place and our roles every day with continued focus, dedication, and drive. It’s what makes the practice of ballet at once so rewarding and so daunting at the same time. It is also where I became so grateful to my teachers who were hard at times but prepared me well for the professional field. Their lessons sit with me still and I hear their voices and corrections daily.
It’s a funny thing to dedicate years to the art of ballet. It is a never ending balance of patience, as the steps and technique take years to master and even then there is always more that can be done, and of attack. One needs to find a way of being patient with their body and mind for the time it takes to grasp concepts and build up the strength to execute them without letting complacency slip in. This is something that you figure out as you mature in your career and as you settle in to your body and your ways of coping and excelling. It is a lesson that we all seem to look back on and wish we had known or realized earlier. That age old thought of “if only I knew then what I know now…” I wonder if this is where the demands and perceived impatience of teachers comes from. That knowledge and experience that says “Don’t hold back. Give it everything you’ve got now while you are young and have time”. We want our students to do better than we did. To avoid the same mistakes and pitfalls. The question is, is that possible? How does one reach that level of intensity without ever having seen what they are going to go up against? How will they understand how many knocks they will take and how they will overcome them and thrive without living through them? Is this the everlasting cycle between teacher and student?
I can only hope that I will instil in my students the same drive, dedication, and attack that my teachers instilled in me. A certain toughness and backbone that got me through. I know it was what saved me time and time again when company life got tough. I just have to remember too that we were all young once and that without experience, we can only dream and do our best. We must all keep striving to find the right balance and approach.
Teachers, dancers, and students, we would love to hear your thoughts on approach. Leave us a comment or a message and let’s talk about how to create a strong future generation of dancers and teachers to come.