I have lost count of how many times I’ve heard someone recently say “oh, that’s just ‘old school’ training mentality” and wondered if when we use the term ‘old school’ we oftentimes are justifying training methods that are…
We’re living in a time where our students (and oftentimes, ourselves) are on edge constantly wondering about our safety, our health, our purpose in life (dramatic…), etc. At what point do we as educators acknowledge once and for all that some of the ‘old school’ training methods simply are outdated and need to go? Why are some of us so stuck in our ways that we can’t see that while yes, you might be training a brilliant dancer, you might also be damaging them in the long-term? That overstretching, that time you told them ‘it sucked’ without some positive reinforcement that you know they can do better and believe in them, the moment you made them feel less than on purpose… this is not ‘old school’, this is abuse.
We seem to have, as a community, allowed these type of circumstances to be described as ‘old school’ for too long; there is a big difference between a mentality of hard work, and praise being offered for that hard work (actual ‘old school’ mentality), versus abusive behaviors being justified by the term. In my training, I was not praised unless I had done a good job/deserved/earned it, that is not ‘old school’, that is knowing a compliment is coming from a genuine place. The current culture of metaphorically telling our students they are pretty for every single thing they do is an unbalanced effort… if everything is great then nothing is great. This is not because something isn’t actually exceptional, but because if(??) praise is given for all things, then it has lost its meaning for what is actually done very well. ‘Participation trophy’ dancing… simply showing up, in dance, is not actually enough; we do our students a disservice when doing this, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, while praising someone for doing very little is not ‘abusive’, it is also knowingly not setting them up for success, which is improper as well.
This article by Michael Mignano discusses emotional abuse in sports, which has been studied more than it has in dance, and is a great piece of insight as to how emotional abuse in training scenarios happens. The power dynamic between teacher and student in dance is very similar to that of a coach and player in sport – these ideas, while not exact, are in alignment with what happens in abusive relationships in a classroom. I would love to hear your thoughts, and what we can do as a community to ensure our students are being trained with real love and integrity.