I have always subscribed to the belief that every student who walks into my studio deserves my full attention. I have always held fast to my desire to give every student enthusiastic encouragement. Now, I know that I have many colleagues that have told pre-professional students that they “don’t have a chance” and that they should perhaps be considering some other career goal. I know that they believe that they have the student’s best interest at heart and that they are trying to spare the students years of frustration and disappointment. But I was a “hopeless case” and I know only too well that the pain of failure and disappointment is nothing compared to the pain of wondering what “might have been”. And so if you come to me for training…regardless of body type, age, ability or talent, I will train you.
But I am human. And I make judgements. And naturally, I have looked at students and thought “Never in a million years…”.
As my dear friend and colleague Richard Pierlon has so often said “It is not my job to crush their dreams, it is my job to teach them”. And so regardless of what I may THINK about a student, I keep my big trap shut (something that can be very difficult for me) and I teach them.
The bulk of my day to day work is comprised of teaching ballet (and some jazz) in college and pre-professional dance and musical theater programs. And typically I am assigned classes in the later years of the programs, rarely teaching first year students with any regularity. I am, however, often called upon to sub first year classes. Some years ago I subbed such a class for a few weeks and encountered a student; a student who I judged. “Never in a million years will this student have a career on the stage”, I thought. This kid had nothing that anyone would consider to be the makings of a performer: a poor body type, impenetrable shyness and lack of ability or talent all seemed to be pointing toward a life best lived in some other pursuit. But every student who comes to me for training…
A few years later this student’s group showed up on the roster of my regular classes. I would be the ballet teacher assigned to teach all their technique classes for a year. On the first day I was struck by this students’ body transformation that had taken place in the intervening years. I was struck by the razor sharp focus. I was struck by the ferocity with which this student worked, learned, absorbed, grew. And as I worked with this student throughout the year I thought: “Hm…well would you look at that…well maybe…”
Some time has passed since this student graced my studio. I try, as often as possible, to attend my former students’ performances and so I recently went to see this kid (who on first encounter I thought a hopeless case) perform. I took my seat in the last row, sitting next to a dear friend and colleague. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw that evening. This former “hopeless case” exploded onto that stage with a command and confidence that sent a ripple of energy through the audience. There was a new body, a new attitude, a new confidence and and a new radiance that glowed with an inner pulse of excitement. What now stood before me was a fully polished performer on the brink of what will hopefully be a long and satisfying professional career. And I sat in my seat, and I sobbed.
Through sheer determination and hard work this student made this metamorphosis happen and it was the faculty of our school that opened the door and showed the way. I am so pleased that I got to be part of that journey. My mentor Luigi often said “I don’t train dancers, I make stars.” On this point I have always disagreed. Stars are not made, they are born; all we can do as teachers is pull back the curtain and show them how it’s done. I’m proud to say that ALL of the schools at which I teach do NOT accept students based on their body type and they do NOT accept students based on what they can do at the audition. They accept students based in their POTENTIAL. I believe that if a school is only accepting students with perfect equipment and nearly finished techniques, the job of molding a professional is not that difficult and the schools’ graduates’ employment rate will certainly be high. But we are not concerned with employment rates and we are not concerned with with finding perfect students. We are concerned with identifying POTENTIAL and giving the students the opportunity to develop it. We aren’t always right with every student we select. And not every student with the potential is prepared, willing and able to do the required work. But when this potential is placed in the body of a relentless, hungry, unstoppable student, the results can be staggering. And so, as the “self proclaimed champion of the hopeless case” I look forward to many more years of sobbing in the dark as my students take the stage and astonish me.
I love to be proven wrong.