A Student’s Question about Feeling Humiliated
morning recently, there was a question in my email from
dance student that revealed both her insight and her confused
emotions about a classroom incident that may have been
similar to humiliating incidents that other students have
experienced with varying degrees of embarrassment in dance
classrooms everywhere. Our exchange
went roughly as follows (although I have taken some writer’s
liberties for clarity):
(not her real stage-name)
To: Najia Marlyz
Subject: Open criticism from my teacher
been taking Belly dance lessons for six months now, and
I feel that I've improved. I am studying with two
well-known dance teachers in the Los Angeles
area and am grateful to be learning from them. However,
just recently, one of my teachers pointed out that
I walked like a “certain animal” while I’m
trying to do the Hagala in front
is a very difficult move for me, and I felt embarrassed
when she said that. We had to do the Hagalla
across the room a couple of times—and were required
to make light
of the situation.
complying, I asked her if I still look like that “certain
animal”. Then, everyone started laughing. After
class, my instructor admitted that she shouldn't have made
that comment and apologized for picking on me. This
exchange makes me not want to take lessons from her anymore,
but I do learn a lot from her. I know that she didn't
mean to be hurtful, but now I'm afraid she will criticize
can be a very vulnerable thing. It's risky to
a non-dancer because you're putting yourself “out there”. My
goal is to continue to improve because I love this
you experienced anything like this when you were learning to
dance? If so, what did you do?
I was exceptionally lucky because my
teacher had a personal
style of constant and unrelenting positive feedback, and
I never witnessed him characterize any student in negative
terms in class—or even after class. (Although, now that I
think about it—he did tell me once, privately, that I looked
like a marshmallow, dancing in my white dance costume, and
I never felt comfortable in it again!)
you can see, I never had to deal with the particular embarrassment
that you felt—although my first attempts to dance had to
have been fairly laughable. I remember that my teacher once
recommended that I “get a glass of Sangria from the bar,
sit down and watch for awhile and relax” --because I was
so intent on being perfect. However, he gave me that suggestion
quietly, not openly in front of the other students while
class was in session.
your real question is: What should you do now
that the incident has already happened? My answer is: you
should learn to laugh at yourself more and
try to image the characteristics of that certain animal
that your teacher mentioned. It may well be the case
that the students were laughing at the mental dancing image
of whatever animal she had mentioned rather than laughing
at you, specifically.
sounds to me as if your teacher was trying to make you
through word imagery,
what it was that made your movements appear strange
or peculiar. Also, a dancer—or any performer—has to have
sense of humor and this most probably was her attempt
to be funny and lighthearted.
dancer with delicate feelings, who cannot find humor in her
first dance attempts, will probably never survive in a performance
art where one has to grow a rather tough skin!
own teacher once commented to me when we were discussing
performance requirements that he might look soft and lovable
when dancing but in reality, he told me, “I actually have
the skin of a 100 year old alligator!”
recall, when I was coaching a young and pretty dancer for
her upcoming gig, I told her that she had the most beautiful
cool blue eyes and that she should make her audience swim
in them. She burst into tears, but they were not tears of
joy! When I asked why she was crying she answered, “…because
you are ‘thing-ing’ me! I am not my blue eyes!” I was completely
baffled. I thought that had pointed out a positive physical
asset and suggested that she should exploit that asset in
her dance technique but she chose to misinterpret my comment
as demeaning her, simply turning her into a sexual object,
and that her dance was so unworthy that she would have to
rely on a physical attribute (an albeit remarkable). Well,
perhaps in a fantasy or some parallel universe somewhere,
one might dance without a physical being, and therefore,
without one’s physical attributes, but we are here and now;
we must face our current reality in this universe.
Shylah, you must forget about characterizing yourself as
a non-dancer; if you are learning to dance, you are not
a "non-dancer"! Maybe you are a new dancer
or a dance student. (Personally, the term “Newbie” makes
As a dancer
and especially a dance student, you have to put yourself "out
there" and not be afraid of judgment, scorn, admiration,
derision, laughter, mimicry, etc. Didn’t your Mama tell you
that all life's really good stuff comes with a price?
is wrong with our form of dance today is a direct result
of the current trend for treating dance students
as if they were in therapy or grade school (or both).
up, girl, and become a dance-woman! Laugh at your dance
along with everyone else. Don't even attempt to forgive
your teacher for picking on you (which I doubt she had intended). Most
probably, she was trying to image the movement for your deeper
or more accessible understanding, and evidently, you went
all “feeling-flavored Jell-O” on her.
that you invite her out. Treat her to lunch or a cup of coffee
at Starbuck's, and get to know her in a more relaxed
and personal way. Thank her for challenging you, and tell
her that you intend to meet her challenge; you
will learn that step or movement, and you will
do it better than everyone else in the class!
will take real effort on your part: You should first book your
teacher for a formal half hour private lesson on the
step you wanted to perfect and anything else she thinks is
related. Secondly, book another teacher across town
for another half hour private lesson on it and similar movements, and don't
tell anyone, especially the second teacher, why
you are doing it! (Explaining exactly “why” will result in
making you appear to be a whiny complainer.)
put yourself through this difficult and face-to-face
procedure for learning, you will feel accomplishment, and
amazingly, you will feel that you have grown in spirit!
get back to me in six weeks and let me know what
you have accomplished. I would like to know that you
are woman enough to conquer delicate personal feelings
that prevent you from dancing as you envision. Audiences full
of critics await you with bated breath!
thereafter, however, Shylah sent me a follow-up question:
your e-mail answer to me, you wrote: “What is wrong
with our form of dance today is a direct result of the
current trend for treating dance students as if they were in
therapy or grade school (or both).” What did you
mean by that?
I did not save the exact answer I sent, I recall that it
went somewhat as follows:
I will write an article explaining exactly what that sentence
means to me. However, for now, in order to answer your question
quickly, I will say that my comment is against the current
trend for political correctness in all things.
and hence, our dance instructors, have become accustomed to
mollycoddling grade school children and others who do not "get
it" in class (whatever the subject) and is concerned
with protecting the feelings of those adults who ought to
be in therapy if they cannot "take it like a man" rather
than demanding that they meet the required and inevitable
challenges they will face in their very real lives. The
result can be a weak, unhappy, grown-up human being, but
still an immature person, who is confused about what
is owed him and what he dutifully owes back to others.
students with feint praise for every little pathetically
positive effort, and while ignoring the both gross and minor
negatives, teachers can destroy the Yin/Yang of the learning/teaching
situation. They enable that learner to "carry
on," in spite of obvious flaws in technique or understanding.
holding one’s tongue, when, in fact, a teacher should speak
up with constructive criticism, she/he does nobody any
favors and perpetuates the student’s errors.
old days, they used to say, "Spare the rod and
spoil the child." Oh! Doesn't that sound mean
spirited and old fashioned? Well, fundamentally, the
saying meant that without correction, one does not produce
a good result—not that they advocated running around, beating
children with sticks. The saying is about teachers and parents
challenging the learner and then, the learner, closing the
circle by accepting and meeting each challenge—however,
crudely it may have been delivered inadvertently or purposefully.
you "get it" and will meet all of your teachers’
challenges with bravery and happiness rather than summarily
dumping one teacher who might, just maybe, be the exact one
that Fate has sent for you! I am hoping that you
will become buoyed up by the experience you recently believed
humiliated you—rather than caving in to the tender child
who is always alive within each of us!
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
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