The Silent Treatment…

As a brand new dancer, I didn’t quite know what to make of being ignored in class. I remember, several months into it, thinking that it may mean that I was doing everything right at the barre – which sounds  really ridiculous, I know, but I had zero experience with ballet class culture, or ettiquette outside of that class. As time passed, since I did not get any personalized attention, or corrections, it was up to me to take initiative and apply the corrections that I heard others be given. Of course, at that level of experience it was hit or miss; a correction such as ‘arm at the barre in front of you, never behind’ is obviously easier to apply than ‘pull up on your standing leg! Reach energy past your fingers!’.

Eventually though, I started to get the feeling that if the teacher doesn’t correct you it might be a very subtle way of telling you that you aren’t good enough, and even with correction you still won’t be. I mean, before, when I couldn’t tell a point from a sickle I could lie to myself that I wasn’t getting corrected because I was doing it right, but once my ballet-vision was honed enough that I could see mistakes, it was obvious that wasn’t the case. For the record, I don’t consider it ignoring if I notice the teacher only gives general group corrections, but when it’s a teacher that is very hands-on I wonder if I’m giving off a ‘don’t approach me’ vibe, or if they feel that I’m not teachable. Or worse, not worth their time.

Since my second teacher did not offer me personalized corrections much either – though she did correct my sickled foot in coupe, and I’m grateful for that – I did start feeling apprehensinve about getting the same treatment from any future teacher I ever tried. My third teacher was the general-group-correction type, but then I met Teacher, who was super specific with her personal – and physical – corrections and got me whipped into shape in no time (it was during my time taking classes with her that what I was doing began to vaguely resemble ballet instead of some strange exercises in arm and leg coordination).

And,well… I really hesitate to discuss this publically… but lately in one of my classes I think I’m being ignored. And honestly, I don’t know how to feel about it. Is it that anything that could be corrected (Faster! Higher! Hold your balance longer!) is something that is beyond my physical ability, as judged my the teacher? Should I trust the teacher that if she sees anything that is within my control to fix that she will tell me? But it’s hard to just trust the teacher when you feel that they might look right past you, and therefore your mistakes might just be invisible…

I’ve read articles before about what to do if you would like the teacher to pay you more attention, but those articles are mostly geared towards teens and pre-pro kids. I feel awkward asking this particular teacher to pay me more attention, because while I don’t like it, I understand that I am not a high-priority student for her. There’s no possibility of me having a career as a dancer, and it’s not her responsibility to satisfy people’s hobby aspirations. But (and I feel like there’s no way to say this without sounding at least a little mean, but I’m trying not to/it’s not my intention) there’s other people in there who also don’t have a possibility of a career and it seems like they get a little more attention? So I start to think it means there’s something wrong with me…

This also brings up the question, what IS the limiting factor when determining who can possibly have a dance career, however short-lived, local/regional, or unpaid (which, as unpaid, would not technically count as a career, per se, but I basically mean dancing with a company, I guess, even if it was not the way the person earns a living). Is it strictly based on age? I know some dancers continue to dance well into middle age, but they did not start as adults so that’s a different story.

Well, anyway, before I go on more tangents, I’d just like to say that when I get corrected often it helps me see how I still have so far to go, while still believing that it’s possible, that the teacher believes I can do it, that I WILL do it. And I do think that just as I am aware of how far I’ve come, raising the expectations will keep me working harder and that’s something I want. But what am I to do, but keep working, working, working, and be grateful for all those teachers that do think I’m worth their time…

10 thoughts on “The Silent Treatment…

  1. Trippmadam

    My teacher says that he sometimes does not give further corrections because he can see that someone is still struggling with the basics or even previous corrections. He does not want the students to feel overwhelmed.

    However, I think you are describing the dilemma very well, but I do not have a solution, either.

    1. kit Post author

      I hear what your teacher’s saying – I have thought before that I need to show that I have applied every group correction given before getting some new ones. But since I’m not getting feedback -positive or negatve – I can’t even know for sure if I *am* applying the group corrections correctly…

  2. Dork

    Have you tried asking for specific feedback? Not “Hey, pay more attention to me!” but (for example) “Excuse me, I have trouble keeping my balance during this exercise, how can I improve?” It seems like that would be a legitimate way to draw her attention to you and kinda demonstrate your willingness to work on it. Just an idea. 🙂

    1. kit Post author

      I’ll be honest – I totally do what you just said with some of my other teachers (ask for specific feedback, not say “hey, pay me attention!” Lol), but the teacher in question intimidates me so much and I just feel silly asking her – I start to go up to her and then lose my nerve. It’s really hard for me to shake the feeling that I am a lost cause to her…
      Thanks for the suggestions though 🙂

      1. Dork

        Hey, I know how that feels, I had a teacher completely ignore me at university once. Maybe she’ll warm up to you. Or maybe you’ll find another teacher. 🙂

  3. imitationballerina

    I feel like you are perfectly describing the struggle of an adult dancer. There are some adults that go to class just for a work out. They just want a bit of fun and don’t really care too much about technique. They would rather blend into the background than be called out by the teacher for a correction.

    Then, there are students like you and me!

    We want something a little more…

    A woman in my class went up to the teacher and asked for more feedback, and she apparently just told her to make sure she applies all the corrections she tells the class whether it is directed at her or not.

    I understand that…but sometimes you just want something a little more specific to you. Like, “You sickle a bit in en dedans turns, think of bringing the ankle forward and not use the toes” rather than a general “point your toes!!!”

    I only felt ignored in a class back at the very beginning. All the ballet classes at the gym I was going to were just labelled “ballet class.” Little did I know, they were different levels. I went to the level up from beginner ballet (I had only been going to ballet at that point for about 4 weeks) and the teacher was visibly frustrated. Luckily I wasn’t the only “new” person at her class.

    She complained openly about how it is unfair to the other students who had been taking class longer.

    This was all before she even saw me do a tendu or plié!

    She left me and another girl at the barre to do really basic pliès, relevés and tendu’s while she concentrated on the others.

    I left after barre because I felt so humiliated.

    I was paying to go to all the classes by the way!!!

    I was vindicated a month or so later when I went to her class again. She must have forgotten me because after class she asked if I wanted to come to the intermediate class. I happily told her that it was my final week at the studio and that I was going somewhere else haha

    I guess the only way to find a good teacher that suits your style of learning is to shop around a bit. I am faced with that at the moment.

    I was so set on going to ballet schools in my area (preferably within walking distance), however I think if I want to get better I might have to travel a bit further…

    I also like Dork’s suggestion of asking for specific feedback. This also might show your teacher that you want to improve.

    1. kit Post author

      I’ve seen that before, when a teacher complains about how the more advanced students are held back by the abundance of beginners. Ironically, I’ve also been on the other side of it, where the teacher (different teacher and school) left the more beginners at the barre while a few other people and I did center work.
      In my experience, in general, the more I advance the more teachers tend to pay attention to me, but there have been a few exceptions.
      For those for whom it is possible, traveling to a different school may help. I know of several very highly rated adult-ballet-beginner type programs within a two-hour radius of me. However, it would cost me for 1 or 2 classes what I pay for an entire session of classes, so besides the distance it’s just not an option. I’d rather take class often – even if it means just applying group corrections – and using the time saved not driving to practice.

      1. imitationballerina

        I’ve been on both sides too. It was more the fact she was so rude about it. How was I to know it was a different level class when it wasn’t labeled as one in the program?

        I would have been alright with staying at the barre if she had been nice.

        Anyway, hope the situation at your ballet school improves soon 🙂

      2. kit Post author

        I totally get you – the class in which that happened was labeled “Beginner” so I assumed it was for, well, beginners. How was I to know [without attending first] that it was for beginners who’ve been dancing for years?

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