Teachers have the power to heal and also to tear down.
This is especially true in the dance community where we are judged almost completely by our outer appearance.
Through the years, I’ve observed that many professional dance teachers struggle with ego and insecurity issues. In class, they project this energy onto their students by praising the dancers who boost their ego and putting down the dancers who they find talented, but threatening. I know this behavior is fueled by jealousy, personal bias, and insecurity about their own talent.
As a professional dancer, I am familiar with the dancers’ ego, especially after moving to NY, but the experience I had in a recent master class was unlike any other experience I’ve faced before.
I followed my usual routine of warming up and stretching before I joined the class. I did this outside of the room as there was more space but I could also sense the energy of the room felt off.
The majority of this group was non-dancers who all appeared extremely nervous and fearful to move or even speak. Everyone sat quietly on the floor in small clusters observing each other and making small talk.
I re-entered the room when it was time to start dancing. As a side note, it has taken me many years to conquer my own fears and insecurities as a dancer. I remember how I used to be the quiet dancer hiding in the back of the room secretly hoping not to be noticed. Now, as a 28 year old dancer, I have come a long way in my confidence. I stepped to the front of the room, not because I felt I was better than anyone, but because I knew this was a masters class in a style that I loved and felt confident in. I wanted to soak up every moment.
However, as soon as I took my place, the instructor boldly asked me to step to the back of the class because of my height. As a professional dancer I knew that this was not the correct protocol. It is the dancers’ responsibility to place themselves in windows so that everyone can see the instructor and be seen. Furthermore, it’s custom for more experienced dancers to stand in the front so that the class can remain in sync.
As the class continued, it became more clear that the instructor, a petite blonde woman, had some personal dislike towards me. I knew that it had to be something about my physical presence as we barely had any conversation upon meeting.
I knew it didn’t feel right, but I went to the back of the class and focused all of my attention on creating positive energy through my dancing. Later on, it was time to learn information from the manual. A few times I tried to engage and ask questions about the content, but the instructor was dismissive towards me and seemed anxious to call on other students.
I observed her as she continued to focus her attention on the two male trainers in the room. She made a point of giving them positive feedback, asking questions, and clearly answering all of their questions. At one point, I asked her to repeat a piece of information for clarification. Instead of answering my question, she directed me to ask one of the male participants who she enjoyed speaking to during class.
In general, I am someone who strives to focus on the positive, especially when it comes to my passion of dance. I tried my best not to have an emotional reaction or jump to conclusions about why I was being treated this way. But the truth is, the situation did bother me and made me think more about the issue of dance teachers and ego trips. This is not the first time I have experienced or witnessed a dance teacher intentionally using their position to put down another dancer…how can someone who calls themselves a professional have such a problem with another person who they don’t even know?
I would call this a mild experience because I know that there are many dancers in the field who have experienced even worse treatment because of their appearance-size, color, shape, dance level, or physical ability. Dance is meant to be a form of expression and emotional release, but there will always be those who are stuck in their own ego, personal bias, and superficiality.
The dance scene is a tough business. In many ways, I appreciate that because it has helped me to build a thick skin when it comes to being bold and confident while being publicly observed and judged. At the same time though, I don’t believe in putting others down to feel better about yourself or for any other reason. Because of this, I’m conscious of who I invest my energy in. I refuse to waste time and money in a dance class or community that doesn’t value the basic principle of treating all humans with respect and dignity when I know that there are plenty of welcoming spaces where I can learn in a positive, inclusive atmosphere.
The way to survive in this field is to find like minded creatives who support you and your vision…that is your tribe. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate you for who you are, does not deserve your time, energy, or talent.