Hello dance world. Let’s talk about Critics, critiquing and how it seriously needs to make an appearance in the world of dance in 2017.
When I say I have been writing my current blog (not this one as I stopped to really understand why my process has been so tedious) for the past 2 weeks because I am trying to find the right things to say, I really mean it. Sentence after sentence, thought after thought I notice how my words become increasingly genuine and far less filtered. It’s not as though I write untruths; I simply find that I often erase and reshuffle my most bold and honest statements in order to appease the masses. The more I write however, the more I realise that I am a critic of sorts. Questioning everything around me is something I have always done and will always do. Constant improvement is a daily task for me and that I need to embrace the fact that I relish in setting and meeting high standards. I am by no means saying that I excel at that all the time, but I certainly make it a perpetual life goal. Thus writing the way I do is not to crap on everyone else and their efforts; it is often to bring to light the stuff that simply isn’t working the way it should based on my educated theories, opinions and research.
There was once upon a time when experts were the people who society afforded the daunting task of rating, explaining and educating the masses. We trusted names like Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, Manohla Dargis, John Updike and Robert Hughes. These professionals dedicated their lives to specialising in analysing, interpreting and evaluating their chosen craft. Their critiques held value, they commanded respect and the rest of us sought them out to help us better understand the world around us.
In a time when social media has given everyone and their dog a voice it has changed the way we exchange information. Facts are a thing of the past. Educated opinions can range from studying the subject at the highest level to reading one bored panda article. It appears that both people would have the same weight in an argument simply because we no longer value others and over value ourselves.
How has this impacted dance? Firstly, anyone can open a studio, call themselves a choreographer or run ‘master classes’. I mean anyone. Literally, anyone. Did I already say anyone. Oh well I meant ANYONE! And since this is a what came first the chicken or the egg scenario, I will simply list and explain briefly the reasons why I think dance professionals have lost their expertise:
- Government funding. Can anyone yell out what program in school, communities or professional settings gets the axe? ARTS. What does that tell everyone else? You guessed it: That the arts isn’t a serious career path or profession and ultimately holds absolutely no value in the real world.
- Parents want a bargain. Here comes the very warranted generalisations: most parents do not care about the quality of dance instruction. They simply care about how much they are paying. When employing people, yes, 100%, without a shadow of a doubt you get what you pay for. And since most people barely pay their studio bills, studios have had to continually employe cheaper, less qualified labour.
- A large portion of studio owners, teachers and choreographers have absolutely no balls and or lack serious business skills. Yes that’s right! I’m calling all you professionals out who make dance look like a hobby. You know why, because I was there once upon a time. Too weak to follow my very reasonable, very important policies and procedures. I gave in to every parent who threatened to leave, not pay bills or make a scene. But guess what? That changed when I remembered I have a business degree and that if I was in any other form of business that this would not happen. So, I stopped letting non-professionals run my business and you should too if you haven’t already!
- Parents: so many of you think you know what you are talking about because you have attended a dance school for a few years…but you almost always don’t. By berating, belittling, not paying paying, second guessing and flaunting your views online about the studio owner you hate or the teacher that wronged you, you are letting everyone know how little you value our industry. Your first job is to stop and think about it as a business. Just do that all the time and we won’t need to have this conversation again.
The next factor has to do with the plethora of online teaching resources and courses that people feel replaces ACTUAL EXPERIENCE. Syllabus after course after syllabus is flooding the internet, however, teachers have nowhere to ‘practice’ their teaching skills other than on paying costumers without a watchfull, EXPERIENCED eye to help guide them as to their proper uses. Full time dance schools in Melbourne, Victoria, for example, have fresh faces graduating from their own personal training (meaning they have been focusing on themselves for the last umpteenth years) and then commanding $80-$100 per hour to teach OTHER PEOPLES CHILDREN. And sadly, the overabundance of unskilled, inexperienced studio owners are hiring them in the hopes that someone will know what they are doing, in turn making them look like they know what they are doing. I wouldn’t in a million years hire a person to do anything but teacher train under my guidance with less than 3 years teacher experience. I don’t care if they were taught by Mikhail Baryshnikov himself (love you Mr. Baryshnikov:). It does not mean they know how to transfer their knowledge in to living, breathing, vastly different human beings.
Bah bah bah! You guessed it! Sheep everywhere. I don’t even think it is because people lack intelligence necessarily. I would say it is more due to how lazy technology has made us and how little research parents are willing to do before A) making a statement on dance; B) choosing a school; C) commenting on their experience; D) deciding what aspects of the arts holds value. Then, guess what? Their friends read it, hear it or see it and now it’s gospel! And there you have it. That teacher that kicked a student out because they were bullying other children is now, all of the sudden, the lady that beats her students because angry mommy decided to tarnish someone else’s reputation to their friends. And, because her friends are too lazy to find out for themselves, they are going to make judgements on said parents statements. Not many industries beyond the arts would have people lacking so much personal responsibility to discover the facts for themselves and its detrimental to the industry to say the least.
Everyone is too sensitive…..Yes folks, I happily went there! Dance professionals, and especially the ones that are excellent at their jobs, cannot for the life of them tell anyone the truth. I always stress that I didn’t create dance. I simply pass on its teachings and add my own creative spirit in order to design beautiful, athletic, technical performances. Don’t like the splits? Don’t blame me for it. Don’t like how we wear leotards? Don’t blame me for it. Don’t like how hard it is to do it properly? Once again, don’t blame me for it. Parents, students and educators need to stop lowering their standard of dance so that everyone can be involved in EVERY aspect of dance. Simply create forums, dance schools and outlets to suit each level of dancer. But do not, under any circumstances, get angry if you aren’t chosen for something, win an award or fail at aspects of dance. And then, do not, under any circumstances, shoot the very knowledgable messenger that is trying to explain, educate and administer truthful change in order to actually make you better. How many times do I see parents and teachers complaining that a judge only left positive feedback? Can you guess why parents and teachers judges don’t feel comfortable giving you honest feedback? Because entrants will most likely complain publicly how mean the judge was or how unfair the competition was, all because they told them the truth. Ultimately, if you don’t like corrections, hate hard work, are not self motivated to try and find dance classes tedious then DO SOMETHING ELSE! ‘Sigh of relief’. That’s easy isn’t it folks. So to all those parents trying to squeeze their square child in to a round dance hole please do the following: Maybe try another sport; Attempt to educate your OWN child on classroom ethics and how to treat educators; or how about just be a nice person who gets the fact that dance is something created before any of us laid eyes on this earth so just respect the process.
I get it. Everyone wants to live in the land of positivity; believing you can do anything, and be anything. That no matter what, life is waiting for you to conquer it! How about we start by being ok with the fact that some people know more stuff about stuff that you don’t know a lot of stuff about. That an expert writing about their expert opinion should make its way back to the forefront of education and information gathering. That as I spend hours pondering over what to write and how to write it in order to piss off the least amount of people, one thing rings true: Experts are so afraid to speak up these days so as to prevent the masses from boycotting their businesses. That positivity is big business these days and without it you simply can’t make a living. The shame is that people don’t understand that being a critic and expert does not make you a mean spirited person, it simply makes you A CRITIC AND AN EXPERT. Oh and don’t forget, honest.
I am in love with my job. I am in love with my life. I simply want to make sure I am doing the best I can to produce the best work possible. That to me always means questioning my methods, the industry and those who work within it, myself included. My blogs are often about exploring the things that aren’t working, because let’s be honest, we don’t need to revolutionise the wheel if it’s already spinning:)
Stay tuned for my next blog, cause its a doozy!!
Live Love Dance