This past weekend, I went to the birthday party of a girl that I used to dance with at my old studio. She still dances there, so I got to see almost all of the girls from the Company that I performed in for the last four years because most of them were at her party as well. The “birthday girl” was a part of the group of five girls on my level (close in age/same dance skill). We all took classes together and danced together the most. All of us attended the party. After the party, the five of us went back to the “birthday girl’s” house for a sleepover. At the end of last year, I wasn’t the only girl who left my old studio. Three girls, including me, left. It just so happens that we were all on the same level, so that means that three of the five girls at the sleepover no longer dance together. One of the girls moved out of town. I decided to go to another studio. And the other girl just quit dance altogether. So, that leaves only two of our group still at the old studio – the “birthday girl” and another girl. I left my old dance studio for several reasons – the biggest of which was that I needed to grow as a dancer and felt that I would learn more at another studio. But, there were other reasons too.
Well, at the sleepover, the “birthday girl” told me that she is having a really hard time this year and it’s only September. And to tell you the truth, I noticed that she was having a really hard time last year. She was new to our group last year and new to the Company. She replaced another girl who we had been dancing with since first grade, who moved out of state. She didn’t pick up on choreography as well as the rest of us who had been dancing longer and often required more practice on routines. This weekend, she told me that the studio owner, who is also one of the teachers, doesn’t like her and treats her bad. She told me some of the things that have been said to her – out in the open during class in front of the other girls, and it sounded kind of harsh. Her mom also talked to my mom and my mom wouldn’t tell me everything, but my mom mentioned that she is glad that I got out of there and it sounded like we left just in time. Though I feel like some of the things that have been going on probably would not have happened to me because my mom is pretty no nonsense, I do believe the things that the “birthday girl” is telling me. I remember what it was like. And even it those things wouldn’t have happened to me if I had stayed, that doesn’t make it right that it’s happening to my friend. Last year, the girl who quit dance was having a problem with another one of the teachers (the same teacher who said that my hair was greasy and gross and that I told on for “black-ifying” people’s names). That teacher was doing some of the same kinds of things – she was very critical of this girl, very mean, and she did it out in the open in front of everybody all the time. Her mom tried to talk to the studio owner about it, but she just blew her off. From what I learned at school, she was being bullied – by a teacher! And nobody seemed to care. What I noticed at the studio over the years was that the teachers played favorites, a lot. It was obvious to every member of the Company in the studio and their parents and it was talked about openly. There were a few girls who got all of the attention, all of the praise, and all of the opportunities. The studio owner denied it and so did the other teachers, but we all knew better.
It reminds me of the TV. show, Dance Moms, where all of the girls are constantly being compared to Maddie. It’s not that bad at my former studio, but it’s bad enough. I do know that there was a lot of drama there. A lot of the parents were unhappy, but they all just put up with it. One of my greatest frustrations was that I was constantly being told how good I was and how good I was going to be “someday,” but I was not allowed to grow. There were things that we weren’t being taught in class, but then when it came time to learn a routine, those same things were choreographed into our dances. Once we were being taught the choreography, if there was something we couldn’t do right off, we were called out in class and then the choreography was changed. And the teachers seemed frustrated by the fact that we were incapable of doing the things they showed us, though we never worked on them in class and were never given a reasonable amount of time to learn how to do them. They called us out in class and just said, “So and so can’t do it, so we’ll have to change the choreography!” It was so frustrating! And it never seemed to happen to the favorite girls, who were the older girls, who had been dancing for years longer than the younger girls and had been taught those things in class. This happened a lot and a lot of people complained about it, but nothing ever changed. And I kept asking my mom how I was going to be so good “someday” if I wasn’t given the chance to learn what I needed to learn today. Her answer was to change studios so that I could get what I needed and what she was paying a lot of money for me to have. And it seems after talking to my friend this weekend, things are just getting worse.
A teacher is a teacher – whether you are a dance teacher or a regular school teacher. YOU owe it to your students to be kind and to be fair. YOU are the adults! We are supposed to be able to trust YOU. We are supposed to learn from YOU. YOU are supposed to teach us, be patient with us, and not give up on us so quickly. YOU are allowed to give criticism, that’s what you are there for. But, YOU are not allowed to embarrass us in class for your own amusement, because you had a bad day, or because you are just plain old mean. YOU tell us to be confident. How can we be confident if YOU are so harsh with your criticism that you tear us down and make us feel bad about ourselves? YOU are our teachers. BE KIND. BE FAIR.