There was a post making the rounds on social media that began something like this:
“Teachers and studio owners need to stop misleading ‘mediocre’ students (and there’s nothing wrong with being ‘mediocre’ ) into believing they can become a ballerina…”.
There were also, in this post, some triggering phrases such as:
“One cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.“.
And as one might expect at first glance, the dance teacher community was infuriated by this post. Now I, myself, have been discouraged by adults in positions of authority many times in my young life. There was the music teacher who said “If you even consider auditioning for Julliard I will break your clarinet in half; you are an average talent with no chance for a career.” There was the high school college advisor who said “Why are you wasting my time with an application to this program? You will NEVER be accepted”. There was the family member who said “Well maybe if you had a better singing voice we could support a career in musical theater”. And as the adult-beginner dance student, I had nearly the entire world shouting “It’s too late for you”.
But I grew up in a different time and in a different world; a world where dreams always took a back seat to practicality.
I honestly believe that these adults in my young world were not trying to crush my dreams, or squash my spirit, or maliciously hurt me. I believe that they felt that they were acting in my best interest, being the responsible adult who was protecting me from inevitable disappointment. I believe that the thought process was: “well, if you don’t try then you won’t be rejected, hence there will be no disappointment”. Those of you who have read my articles or know me personally know that that is NOT how things played out. As I have said so often: “The pain of disappointment is NOTHING compared to the pain of wondering what might have been”.
But back to this social media post and the dance community’s response. After reading this post I was a bit shocked. So I re-read it, and I re-read it again. And I believe that the original author’s intent was lost in what was a very poorly crafted social media post. I believe that the post was meant to serve two purposes. Firstly, I believe that she was cautioning teachers not to seduce students and parents into taking more and more classes by promising them successful careers. This is clearly not the same thing as saying to a hopeful student “Don’t bother, you are a mediocre talent”. Secondly, she was alerting parents to this practice of teachers promising success in order to sell classes and thereby, promote a book she wrote as a guide to navigating the dance industry. Now, I don’t know any studio owners who literally promise stardom to sell classes, but I would suspect that it is possible that this practice exists somewhere. Unfortunately, I believe that the author chose her words poorly and did not make her point; but I at first, like many others disagreed with her, and linked an article I had previously written on the crushing of dreams. But I was somewhat dumbfounded by some of the other responses.
I believe that social media can be a fantastic learning tool. I have truly had my eyes opened both by posts that I have read and even more by discussions that I have had when commenters did NOT agree with me. And some of the comments on this post could have lead to a discussion which might have illuminated the original author’s intention (which she did ultimately try to, somewhat unsuccessfully clarify). But many of the posts were made in anger (and I do understand why) and much of what was written could only be construed as bullying. This, I found shocking. This will NEVER be constructive. If we as an industry are going to move forward, both in helping educate our students as well as our colleagues, name calling will not get the job done. I read words like toxic, disgusting, shameful, appalling, garbage, ignorant and disturbing. I read phrases such as “I pity your students” and “you have no business being in the field of dance”. And I COMPLETELY understand where this is coming from. And I completely understand why those comments were made. But bullying a colleague with whom you disagree is not going to get to the true meaning of her post. And if indeed her post was meant to be as negative as it was perceived, hurling insults at her will never get her to see another viewpoint. And aren’t we, as an industry, taking a stance AGAINST bullying; even if we vehemently disagree?
I will ALWAYS encourage my students to follow their dreams because no one can ever know what the future will hold. And I hope that the true meaning of the aforementioned post was lost in some poorly chosen words and phrases. But even if the author did indeed intend to be as negative as she was perceived, I hope that we, as her colleagues can SHOW her another point of view and maybe we can all come out of this a little better off.