As I wrote earlier this month, E had her latest Cecchetti exam (Grade 7), along with six other dancers from her studio. They all received a “Highly Commended” result – from Grade 1 to Grade 7. This is not a small accomplishment. Students are examined on many different areas of the grade-specific exercises, combinations, etc. and can range from 20 minutes to over 2 hours. A large part of the students’ success is Ms. Wendy, their teacher. A little background is needed. She has been a professional dancer and teacher for many years for students age 3 to adult. She has given her expertise, heart and tears into every student she teaches. She is also continuing her learning as well, being tested in the Cecchetti exams just a few years ago, just like E is doing now, as well as continuing her Pilates certifications. Her studio, The Dancers Studio, is not large in the number of students or the size of the studio and classes, but the quality of classical ballet education is huge, in my opinion. I have chaperoned and attended several other conferences and classes with E over the years and Ms. Wendy’s students are always well prepared, highly attentive and well-mannered. Ms. Wendy encourages all of her students to the extent of their abilities. If she observes that a dancer can even do more than he/she thinks, she will push. In an age where average and “good enough” is the normal, I find it very refreshing to push students past where they think they can go – be it in academics, a sport, a talent, or just getting out of their comfort zone.
Some parents don’t want their children pushed, and I respect parents’ decisions when it comes to raising their children. Don’t get me wrong, I am a Mama Bear when it comes to my kids, even at this age – you mess with them, you mess with me. But we have also raised our kids that they need to step out of their comfort zones, aim higher than they think they can achieve, do something “afraid”, stretch themselves academically, socially and physically, and yes, even fail sometimes. But most important, to take accountability for themselves and speak up when they need to. As young adults, we want them to be able to express their needs, pains, and desires. Too many young adults that come into our hardware store have very little poise or self-confidence. E never wanted to compete when she started getting serious with ballet, so we opted not to be part of a studio that did that. But Erin never liked the idea of being tested on her ballet technique, and we did push her in that area, as we and her teacher saw the long-term benefits (and she tells us she is glad we did most of the time).
But I digress. I am writing this post to encourage parents of younger dancers to take the time to talk to their teachers (set a time outside of normal classes, don’t disrupt the class or others’ classes). Let the teacher know of what your child may be frustrated with, what they think about the class, and what they might want to do next year. Get more serious with ballet? Take different types of classes? Are they ready for the next level? Do you as a parent know what that means in terms of commitment, finances and time? Admit it – we, as parents, are biased that our kids are the best in the group. But really listen to your child’s teacher. Unless you danced for many, MANY years, your child’s ballet teacher (if he/she has been trained) does know and want what is best for your child in the area of ballet, just like you do. They may suggest summer classes to continue with their training. They may ask your child to be more of a leader in class. They may hold your child back a class. These types of discussions need to be held on a yearly basis with your teacher, or more so if your child is having issues or problems. I am the first to admit, I’m not perfect, I have not always done this with E. I want to encourage parents to give your child a chance for them to speak their thoughts to their teacher, to give them a chance to voice their opinions – it is their dance education and they may have different expectations than you do. Then, hopefully, when you dancer is a teenager, they have the confidence to work out differences and challenges with their teachers on their own, in ballet and academically. We want our children to be highly commended for their efforts and training, and their teachers are a crucial part of that accomplishment.