Two conversations with Menfolk

Chatting with a coworker over some handsewing the other day. He took ballet in college, even some pointe, so he’s my go-to work ballet chat person.
Told him about the rough class I had the other day. With the correction I didn’t understand, and how I was thinking I might have to find a class where the teacher can physically correct me, like, push the offending body part back or place an arm, or whatever.
And he was like, “No! Nononono. A teacher should Never touch you.”
I was like, um, what?
And he was like, “A teacher should use words, or demonstrate, or have someone else demonstrate, but a teacher should never manipulate your body.”
And I was like, uh, really?!
And he continued, very adamant, “If a teacher pushes you or pulls you, how can they know if they’re doing the right thing for your body? They can’t feel what you feel. You could get hurt! Plus you need to be in control of your body! Figuring something out for yourself and then doing it with your body will make it stick, just passively being put into a correct position teaches you nothing!”
So I was like, wow. Dang. That’s, like, something to think about.
And then another mind boggler after ballet class:
Smirnoff is double-caning it through the lobby on the way out to his car, stops by me and says, “Good! We had a good class today. Last class was not so good but today! We had a good class!”
So I said, yes, it had been a good class, hard work, did some neat moves, more fun than last class.
And he said, “My Dear, do you know why that last class was not so good?”
And I though, ‘me, right? It’s ’cause of me?’
He said, “it was [that new girl who is so slim and pretty]. She was the weak link in the class. Because she doesn’t try. She was confused with the step, but she wouldn’t try. And when people don’t try, I have nothing to work with.”
And, Gentle Reader, I had two simultaneous thoughts:
1) That I was feeling jealous of this girl, and that I can stop now. The Adult Beginner has struggled with some petty and not very adult feelings when this girl receives a lot of attention in class, and everything she does looks lovely, even when it’s not fully pulled-up or straight-kneed or pointed.
But it’s true, she will hang back and not do the things she doesn’t get.
I know that if there’s one thing I’m good at in ballet, and it may be the only thing, it’s trying stuff. I might not get it, but I’ll damn well do something vaguely resembling it, and maybe that is as valuable as natural loveliness.
2) My poor teacher! Sheesh! This man’s life work cycles around women and their fragile little egos! He’s not just dealing with our natural abilities and our level of ballet knowledge, he’s also got to get a whole class full of women to not self-destruct! Poor bastard!


About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
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19 Responses to Two conversations with Menfolk

  1. roriroars says:

    Hm… I’m not sure if I agree that physical correction should NEVER be used. I don’t think it should be over-used. Verbal correction first. Imagery. Demonstration. Whatever. But sometimes I’m not finding the right words. Or the student just doesn’t see the difference in the mirror when I show them what they should be doing. I find that a physical correction (usually just a tap or a gentle lift of the elbow that’s going dead-bird, I’m not doing chiropractic manipulation or anything!) is all it takes. Many students (myself included) will take a moment to try to put that in their muscle memory. If the student is totally passive and doesn’t take the time to integrate the physical correction, that’s the student’s issue.

    I mean, for visual or auditory learners, sure, fine, hands-off. But for kinesthetic learners what, do you just let them flounder and be like, “sorry, I guess you just suck at ballet… I could help show you what you need to do, but no touchy, so… you will just have to keep sucking.”

    As for the effort thing, yeah, I gotta say, nothing pisses me off as a teacher more than the whiner/giver-upper. Which is funny because… I can be a bit of a giver-upper. I get frustrated and self-conscious and just want to get out of the spotlight. I’m trying to be better about that. An actor friend of mine was recently talking about performing arts and how the key is to be willing to make a fool of yourself. It’s very true. If you’re not willing to look stupid you generally won’t make much progress. Still trying to fully integrate that concept!

    Interesting post… sorry for the excessively verbose comment!

    • Yeah, a good actor is fearless. Shameless. Heard a criticism recently that was along the lines of, ‘there was just something about the performance where you could tell that the actress wanted to make sure people knew she wasn’t really like that in real life, so the whole thing was just kind of disconnected and off.’
      I like getting a teacher’s perspective!

    • candice says:

      Little story.

      Years ago, modern dance company class, every saturday morning. Some film students are filming us for a documentary project and I’m wearing a bright red leotard and nursing a hangover.

      Doing something particularly hard (involving quick handstand move thing) director stops the whole class and asks me to demonstrate. I do, mess up the handstand as usual and keep going- he then points out “You see, if you screw up just keep going, don’t stop and freeze or retrace your steps, stay on the music like Candice.”

      I’m about the color of my leotard there but hey. Points for trying?

      And three months later a bunch of my friends are at screenings and they come give me trouble about that leotard….

    • Kylara7 says:

      I agree 100%! I am also a kinesthetic learner and can “get it” much quicker if someone pushes and pulls and prods me so that I can feel what the correct position is supposed to be like. And I am also a not-the-center-of-attention person and get flustered when too much is focused on me, but I’m trying to get better at shaking it off and focusing on what I can learn from those moments :)

      • It is hard to be the center of attention when you’re not a center of attention kind of person, but I find it helpful to remember that I know nothing and no one expects anything of me.
        It’s not exactly true, but it takes the pressure off.

  2. Johanna says:

    I have to agree with Rory, again. While visual and verbal instructions and corrections make up most of the class, and are very necessary, nothing beats the hands-on approach. But it is never passive! My teachers are usually just laying a gentle hand on whatever body part / muscle that needs it. It´s often a much a much better and quicker way than figuring it out on your own. Or not figuring it out ever. The thing is that you should never be allowed to acquire the wrong kind of muscle memory! If a teacher´s gentle prodding stops you from dancing on the wrong track, you will be saved years of back-tracking..

    Of course that teacher must know what she/he is doing. You should never push limbs anywhere without knowing your pupil´s limitations! But, if it had not been for my teachers showing me manually where my feet and legs and turn-out and arabesques and pirouettes and what-nots are able to go, I would never have advanced to this point! Even if your teacher is giving you the initial correction hands-on, it´s still you who has to do the dancing.

    Sorry, about the word-count monster, but I feel pretty passionate about this! With the effort thing I agree completely.. Although I must admit that I´ve been desperate in class, many times. And that my teachers have been left up picking the pieces, more than once. I guess you need to be part therapist to teach ballet to less than perfect wannabe-ballerinas.. ;)

  3. amy says:

    Great post! Actually I completely believe in being physically manipulated by a teacher you know and trust, to a certain degree, like only if, after some time, you are just not getting the position. This has helped me immensely. Once the teacher put me in the correct position, she made me hold it without her support, so that I could feel the muscles used, and look in the mirror to see that yes, my body can actually do that, so I couldn’t use my physical limitations as an excuse.

  4. Acacia says:

    My teacher corrected me last night when we were practicing sur le cou-de-pied. She turned my foot so I could see how it was supposed to feel when done derriere (my avant was ok). I think physical corrections are vital when does by a qualified teacher, just as it is in yoga. If you don’t know how the pose or movement is supposed to feel, how will you remember it?

    • Yes. Things done derrière. It’s like left and right sneakily switch themselves around back there or something. I mean, before muscle memory kicked in. Now they’re all sorted.
      Asked my dentist one time if it had been difficult to learn to work in reverse in the tiny mirror. She said no. She said the dental students who have a hard time getting the hang of it are weeded out pretty quick.
      Good point with yoga, those teachers give a ton of physical corrections and yoga is, like, way less strenuous than ballet.
      aaaaaaaaaaand cue responses from angry yoginis.

  5. Physical corrections have been very helpful whenever I’ve received them. I’m a fan. The light tap was especially great in those early classes where I was using muscles I was not really familiar with, feeling a tap helped me actually make the connection with those muscles.
    How to stand up straight required a whole lotta pushing and holding. On a class by class basis. So glad that teacher was hands on.
    And sometimes I do sit-ups the night before class with the intent of having slightly sore abdominals and obliques, so I can really tell when I’m using them, kind of a self-imposed physical correction. Or maybe just a reminder.
    My coworker was just so vehement about it that it made me wonder if this hands off thing was really a thing?
    I mean, I thought he was going to say, ‘oh, good idea, which studios are you looking at?’ but instead he just went off. Wonder if there’s a story there.

  6. And no apologies! Feel free to leave long replies! You guys have really interesting things to say, and it’s not like there’s a 140 character limit or anything!

  7. Joana says:

    “I know that if there’s one thing I’m good at in ballet, and it may be the only thing, it’s trying stuff.”

    That’s why, apart from the mirror in my class, this blog is a great one too:) Simply love this place!…

  8. Guyenne says:

    The hands-off thing really only works when your students can actually understand verbal imagery. Can you imagine trying to teach the youngest students stuff without touching them? Recipe for disaster.

    It’s also true for many until they’re solidly intermediate level, because I have met any number of people who could not figure out ballet hand-signs and verbal descriptions below that. It’s just too foreign a language for them.

  9. Nichelle says:

    Must agree with the ‘never is a very strong word’ camp. Different learners most definitely have different needs. Verbal imagery falls like a rock and just sits there for some people… blank. stares. And it depends on the correction, too. Sorry, but there ain’t no better way to show how the hip can fall into perfect placement with the leg extended than when I physically take the student’s leg (and its weight) in my hands. Why hello, aligned pelvis! So nice to see you here today. Please join us for the next exercise, won’t you?

    And give me a willing and eager stumblemuffin over a blasé ballerinoseintheair any day!

  10. flyingwind66 says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever been in a ballet class where the teacher DOESN’T take a hands-on approach. Methinks your friend was in a beginner college class where people are shy … most adults are used to having a personal ‘bubble’ that really doesn’t register to a long-time dancer in class. I found that teachers for adult drop-in classes give less corrections and ‘poke’ more than they would grab a leg and push your lower back forward lol

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