No Guts No Glory
Svetlana Zakharova and Dmitry Semionov of the Kirov/Mariinsky Ballet in the Le Corsaire pas de deux. St. Petersburg, 2002. Photo by Marc Haegeman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
And so the saying goes….but it is apropos for any kind of training, especially dance.
A student may have fears, about trying a new step, about putting on pointe shoes for the first time, about getting injured, about performing for thousands of people, about introducing themselves to a director. All are legitimate causes for worry in one with little experience in these matters. Experience is the greatest teacher and as one gets older, and has the chance to go through some of these trials, they become easier with each difficulty conquered. Self esteem is a buzz word with teachers and parents alike, but there is a real process for the development of a true value of self. When one is unable to accomplish something, or feels daunted by the prospect of even attempting a set goal, going through the process of perseverance and struggle, to the point where achievement is realized, creates a real and lasting development of character.
As those responsible for the development of our students/children; directors, teachers and parents must put them into situations which will foster and encourage growth, and indeed lay challenges for them to achieve. We must also prepare them for the inevitable failures and associated disappointment that occur along the way. After all, how can one develop a real sense of achievement if one is successful on every first attempt. This process requires team work from all involved, demanding communication and an acceptance of our roles in the development of pupils.
The role of the director is that of the strategic advisor, having a long-term view, and wide-scope of vision. This is usually based on decades of experience, knowledge and training in addition to the wide range of contacts and networks a person of many years develops over time in any industry. Usually the director of a program or company has not only the individual development of each dancer/pupil to think of, but also of the organization and its goals as a whole. Directors are able to see from the 10,000 foot perspective where the student is in their training and accomplishment, and what needs to happen in a series of events, be it through level advancement (or perhaps not), performance casting, or even participation in competition, for the highest good and long term benefit of the student.
The role of the teacher is the mentor, who is responsible for the daily training activities and progress of the student as they go through the syllabus and advance through the levels. The teacher is the one who has the responsibility for implementing whatever measures are necessary to ensure the path laid before the student by the director. This includes daily training classes, rehearsals for specific roles and performances. In addition, the teacher may advise the student on other areas outside of the studio that relate to the lifestyle of dedication they have chosen: advice on nutrition, how to deal with friends and family (who often do not understand the commitment needed for training in professional level dance) and supplementary activities (chiropractic, massage, physical therapy, yoga etc.). The teacher also may encourage students to seek out other forms of artistic education through music, paintings, sculpture, as well as to explore their own views and opinions of philosophy and relevant issues of the day. In order to produce a well-rounded artist, the student must have well thought out and formed opinions about themselves and their place in the world, and then assume the natural role of an artist as an observer. They may then accurately reflect their interpretation of the world back to itself.
The role of the parent is the support system, and is the same in every endeavor. Many parents are basically along for the ride. Often having little to no experience in the activity that their child has chosen. They may feel overwhelmed while trying to make decisions without enough information. The student is the driving force behind their study of the endeavor, which can seem to be on the edge of a passionate obsession at times. This is normal. For anyone to achieve a world-class level in any endeavor, it is necessary for an extreme level of dedication and interest to exist. It is needed to drive the amount of time, training, physical pain and sometimes emotional difficulty that the student must go through in the pursuit of their dream. And they will have bad days: tears of frustration, blisters and sore muscles happen often, feeling like they are missing their school friends or time with family. Parents have the responsibility to allow their children to have this without questioning the resolve of their determination or the authenticity of their desire to pursue their goals. Allow them to cry, scream, sleep, however they deal with those emotions, and then help them to realize that this short term difficulty will lead to long term success. And most often, the entire family will be affected by this child’s pursuit of their dream….everyone will in some way be involved in supporting them through the trials, as well as the tribulations of training.
The role of the pupil is the sponge. No matter how talented or accomplished a dancer is, whether student or professional, if they are not “coach-able”, they will be limited in their ability to succeed. In order to learn, one must first accept they have more to learn, and be open to those who have the knowledge they seek. Put together an open mind, a willing and talented body, and a tenacious work ethic, and you have the makings of a star.
One of the most difficult aspects of high level training, for any endeavor, is that most of those around you will not understand why you would possibly want to give up a “normal” life, or how you could want to do anything as much as you love dance. For most this isn’t something that can be explained….it just is….it’s part of who you are, and nothing will change that. Know that there is a whole world of dance out there with those just like you who feel just as passionately about dance and performing and expression through movement—-and we are right there with you. Literally every step of the way! But it is up to you to have the courage and tenacity—the guts—-to go after it with everything you have.
And who wants to be normal anyway—what’s wrong with being EXTRAORDINARY?