Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"When You Were Young"

I know it’s been a while, but I needed a quiet post-Nationals break without too much thinking… which unfortunately, hasn’t worked for me!

I am currently attending Coastal Dance Rage Summer Intensive here in Toronto and the talent here is just ridiculous! Everybody, who is anybody is here, and I’m really honored Shannon invited me here as a guest to be part of it all.

Sitting watching the Senior room right now I am reminded of a very interesting concern of mine, that is ever present in any and all workshops I have ever attended. It actually was an issue that came up while I was away at Nationals as well, so I promise this will all tie together in the end!

When we registered for Workshops at Nationals, the classes were split into two levels, Junior (12 & under) and Senior (13 & over), which is the norm. However, they always state that placement is at teacher’s discretion so the ages are just guidelines. Now I have some 11/12 year olds who I put in Senior level classes as I knew that they were mature enough to handle that level of a class. Then I also have some 11/12 year old students who I didn’t put in Senior level, which seemed to confuse some of the parents, but c’est la vie! Now, a few days in I had one mom come and ask me if their child could go and take the Senior Jazz class with their Junior bracelet… the answer was obviously no, but I found it interesting that she phrased it that way! What she meant to say was that her child didn’t want to go take class with the Junior level students as they felt they were too good to learn anything so they wanted to go take Senior level class with their friends. Well at least I’m pretty sure that’s what she meant to say!

Now, this is not such a big deal, and normally I would let students go take whatever level classes they wanted to, but it’s the attitude behind it that I have a major issue with. To me, the first sign that a dancer is finished really “learning” anything is when they deem themselves too good to take class with people who are younger than them, or not as advanced as they are. I wish someone had told me when I was younger that it wasn’t about how easy the combo was, but it is about what you do with that combo and take from the class that really is important. I understand that the whole 'coolness' thing kicks in for kids, and they want to dance with older students so they look really wicked, but is that really the reason you signed up to take a class?

So there were two resolutions to this issue I had at Nationals, either let this student go take Senior Jazz class or say just say no… and I said no! I figured there would be the same outcome either way, but how this dancer handled themselves would give me clear signals about their maturity in terms of dance. One, they would go to the Junior Class and basically stand in the back and act way too ‘cool’ to participate and learn to their fullest. Two, they would go to the Junior class, stand in the front and really work hard to prove to me and everybody else that they deserved to be moved up. Or three, they wouldn’t take any classes at all, almost in spite of my decision. And option three was their choice, which was a huge disappointment to me.

I had the same issue arise early last year with a student who no longer dances at my studio now. She declared herself too good to dance in a group with some of the other dancers she was in a Company with, so already on that note you know as a teacher that she won’t bring a positive energy to class… which makes her invaluable to any group! I guess all my lectures on attitude and class work ethic didn’t rub off on her yet. Why don’t kids understand that they can learn something, even from the simplest plie exercise? You should be constantly working on self-growth and development, as it is the only way to become a better dancer. It isn't about who you take class with, it's about what you do in class.

So back to today… the kids were split up here into 2 levels, Junior and Senior, which was still just a basic guideline. In the Senior classes there are several young girls, maybe 10/11 years old, who have deemed themselves too advanced for the Junior Room. However, they are now in a room with 300 Senior level students doing very mature combos, and they are having a hard time keeping up. They would have clearly been able to learn something in the Junior Room, and probably would have also gotten way more attention in there as there is only about 25% of the number of kids in there. I’m sure these kids think that they’re learning more, but the truth is that they’re not. They’re too busy worrying about picking up choreography to have time to fully listen to corrections or incorporate style as required. To me, these young dancers would have gained much more knowledge and improved their own dancing had they gone and taken class with dancers their own age. But maybe that’s a growth and maturity thing that I have a sense for now as a teacher.

One of the fabulous teachers here, Tokyo, talked to the Senior students here today about them being old enough to decide for themselves how much work they wanted to find in any class. Meaning, they can be the dancer who is sweating from the first warm up exercise, because they are finding so much to work on and strengthen in their own dancing. Or they can be the dancer who is skilled but just moving through class because they think they have it. He wanted them all to find more to work on themselves in every movement of his entire class, so that they were constantly working to their full potential regardless of how easy the tendue exercise is.

I second that emotion!

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