WARNING: This article discusses matters of consent and sexual assault.
As my loyal readers and supporters know, I am currently in a Master's program at New York University (NYU) getting my graduate degree in dance education. Naturally, this new program has come with new experiences. One that stands out to me is the range of generations represented in all of my classes. I am on the younger end of my cohort, as it is not uncommon to take time off between earning an undergraduate and a graduate degree. Many of my classmates have had professional performing careers, have choreographed around the world, and have become seasoned dance teachers. While age is just a number, it has been an eyeopener to hear their stories and learn from their practices.
This experience has made me think about what my own generation stands for. I think about the issues I have faced, and the issues I face now. While consent has been an issue for many generations before mine, I've grown up in the #MeToo era and consent was a huge topic of conversation during my undergraduate years at Bridgewater State University (BSU). With social media providing a platform for survivors to speak out, it is more important now than ever that dance educators start discussing how these issues are presenting themselves in their classrooms, and how we can positively impact our students when it comes to teaching basic principles of consent.
The first matter is physical corrections. Traditionally, especially in ballet classes, teachers will fix a student's alignment by moving their arms, legs, head, shoulders, torso, etc. by moving it with their own hands. It isn't rocket science to understand that there are certain parts of the body that are off limits to students of all ages. However, teachers have questioned why touching even a finger can be controversial. Is it really harmful to fix a student's arm to get them to lift their elbows properly?
The answer is yes. Although there may be no sexual nature to a physical correction, consent refers to all physical interactions, not just sexual interactions. Consent is about allowing a person to make decisions about their own body, and staying in control of it at all times. If someone has been previously abused, they may feel uncomfortable with all kinds of touch or anything that makes them out of control of their own body. We can't generalize everyone, but this is a very real feeling for many survivors. Even when this isn't the case, you are sending the message that you are the one that controls their body.
So what can you do to empower students to stay in control of their own bodies and make decisions for themselves?
Ask for permission!
Before fixing their arm, ask, "may I touch your arm" or "may I fix your arm placement". By doing so, you are allowing students to decide for themselves whether or not they are okay with being touched. You are also filling them in on what the touch will be, so that they can give informed consent.
But what happens if they say no?
Be okay with a "no"!
By being okay with a student refusing physical corrections, you are not only letting them stay in control of their body, but you are reinforcing the idea that it's okay to say no. As a dance teacher, you should have enough training, experience, and creativity to find another way to make the correction. Oral corrections, visualizations and imagery, and demonstrations are perfectly effective ways to get your point across.
If they say no once, should I just not bother?
That may depend on the student. Some students, like myself, are highly uncomfortable with strangers touching me in any way. However, once I get to know a teacher, I begin to feel more comfortable and have no problem with physical corrections. When you continue to ask, continue to accept any answer you receive, you are building a trusting relationship with the student. And that should matter above all else.
Some teachers choose to ask at the beginning of class whether or not students care for physical corrections. This is a step in the right direction, but you should take into account that we cannot generalize all physical contact. Some students may be okay with the arm correction, but not okay with the shoulders or torso. Asking at the beginning of class also does not allow room for students to change their minds. If they said they were okay with it at the beginning of class, but later don't want that contact, they may be reluctant to speak up.
How do I get my students to practice the same protocol when interacting with each other?
Make it the norm.
Many teachers will establish "classroom agreements" or "community norms", collaborative rules to follow while dancing and learning. If you class will involve any partnering work or peer corrections, consider adding "asking before coming into contact with a friend" to the list. When you lead by example and set this standard, your students will follow. If a student is not comfortable with partner work, on any given day and for any reason, but okay with this, too. If the choreography calls for it, a further discussion may be needed to ease the student into it (depending on setting and student population), but for definitely have a back up plan for day to day activities so that a student does not feel excluded or like a burden if they would rather not complete physical partner work.
By implementing asking for consent and honoring every students' answers, you are not only practicing consent and "avoiding a lawsuit", but you are modeling how consent should work outside of dance, including in sexual relations.
I am certainly no expert in sexual violence, but I do know from growing up in this generation and from personal experience that one major issue is that people don't know what is consent and what isn't consent. When you implement these practices in your classroom, you may be providing a student with crucial exposure to informed consent. If you're still reading this and you're feeling annoyed that you have to do something extra in class, consider this: this is one of those moments when you realize that as a teacher, it is not just your responsibility to teach your content (teaching students how to dance), but to use your content to teach students how to live.
Bad habits die hard, but by changing your ways, you will be having a positive impact on all of your students. At the end of the day, this isn't just about protecting yourself; it's about being a good teacher. Part of quality teaching is reflecting on your practices and how they are affecting your student. As a member of this generation of dance students and the next generation of teachers, I am calling you all to action. Implement basic principles of consent in your classroom to create a safe learning environment where everyone can learn how to dance and learn how to live.
If you or someone you care about needs assistance coping,
please call the confidential National Sexual Assault Hotline
at (800) 656-4673
or visit their website.
Photo from the Royal Ballet Academy
There is a special beauty in turning your hobby into your career. Dance played a big role in my childhood. After school, I couldn't wait to get my tights on and head over to the studio. I practiced at home, stretched in front of the TV, and read every dance book out there. Dance was a huge part of my identity, and I loved it so much I decided to share my passion with others and become a dance teacher.
The first step on my journey to becoming a dance educator was to dance at the collegiate level. I enrolled at Bridgewater State University as a dance major in 2015. I was so excited to receive academic credit for my art. During my freshman year, I took multiple classes in my major during the day, participated in dance extracurriculars at night, hung out with dancers, and continued to feed my obsession for my field.
Being a dance major is one of the opportunities I am most grateful for. I grew as an artist, a dancer, a teacher, and a friend. However, it was at BSU that I experienced my first bout of burnout. According to Dancing Opportunities, "burnout is a state of consistent or unexplained tiredness, poor performance in spite of normal training, negative mood state and increased incident of illness or injury; burnout is often seen in dancers where training, rehearsing and performing schedules do not give them sufficient time to rest and recover". Being a dance major isn't as glamorous as my fifteen-year-old self expected it to be. Dance is physically demanding. Movement classes were fun and fulfilling, but were often hard to drag myself to after sitting in lecture-based classes all day and staying up with my friends all night. There was one semester I had three movement classes back to back, then a four hour rehearsal immediately after. Although I had danced my whole life, I wasn't used to this much movement all at once.
Dance can also be creatively and emotionally draining. In composition classes, I would often be working on emotional pieces and bringing up thoughts and feelings through movement that I otherwise wouldn't. Bearing my soul, testing my confidence, and growing in a competitive environment challenged me. There wasn't a single class I could sit in the back of class and blend into if I was having a bad day. I had to be on and active at all times, something students in other fields may not be going through.
Not to mention the outside of class components. I had performances, observation hours, volunteer days...you name it, I had to do it. Even when I wasn't physically moving, I was writing about dance or talking about dance and working in dance 24/7. There were many "breaking points" for me during this time. There were many tears, a few failures, and lots of heartache as a result. Somehow I found myself trapped in the love of my life.
It's very difficult for me to talk about the burnout I experienced in college. For one thing, I worked so hard to chase my dreams that I felt so ungrateful complaining about it. I also worry that others would tell me I wasn't cut out for it or I should try to do something else.
My burnout did not get any better until I made a change. After a 24 credit (at a school where the average student takes 12-15) semester including two shows, 20 observation hours, a research project, and much more, I decided I needed to take a step back and figure things out. One of the best decisions I made was getting involved in non-dance activities on campus. I became a Resident Assistant (RA) my junior year and got involved in other clubs. I loved the girls I danced with at BSU, but having friends outside of dance gave me a chance to explore other interests. I became more involved with the theatre department and lightened my course load.
I am not saying all of this now to complain about my experience or scare anyone out of becoming a dance major. My time at BSU were some of the best years of my life, and I could talk endlessly about how much I love the Dance Department there. However, it's important for me to acknowledge the dark side of turning my hobby into my career so that I don't end up completely burnt out and turned away from the dance world too young. I want to dance and teach for a very long time, but that involves some self care and strategic planning.
Now that I am in graduate school and still studying dance (thank God), I have come up with strategies to avoid spreading myself too thin and burning back out. Here are some of the ways I take care of myself and avoid burnout...
Practice Self Care
I try to eat healthy, balanced meals at as normal of times as my busy schedule allows. When I have to be at school for long periods of time, I try to keep snacks with me so get me going before each class. This semester, my goal is to meal prep and plan ahead to make sure I'm eating well and taking care of myself. If my body doesn't have an energy to dance, my mind certainly won't!
Know Your Limits
Your body has limits, both mentally and physically. If you've suffered an injury, give your body some love and know when it's time to back off in class. The world will not end if you don't do the floor work this one time. Your life doesn't depend on how many relevés you can do at the barre. Be kind to your body, and it will be kind right back.
Know what you can handle mentally and emotionally, too. If you thrive off a good challenge, push yourself to be creative during improv. If you're feeling self conscious spending the day in front of the mirror, it's okay to sit out and cheer your friends on when the teacher says "anyone who wants to- one more time". You are the only one that can decide what you need, and the decisions you make in class should best reflect those needs.
Explore Other Interests
Part of the reason I started my blog because I love to write so much. Putting my thoughts into words helps me process my feelings and express myself. I'm also an avid reader, and I self identify as a "young adult realistic fiction junkie". I've spent the last five summers working in an amusement park where there's never a dull moment. I like spending my Saturday mornings watching TLC with my mom.
Although being a dancer is central to my identity, not everything I do every second of the day has to be about dance. One of my favorite high school teachers once got on her soap box and talked about how we are more than what we do for a job. I am my career, but I am more than that. And getting excited about other things isn't something I should feel guilty about, but be proud of.
Admit How You Feel
Be honest with yourself. If you wake up in the morning and are excited to get to that open class in town, pour some coffee and get yourself over there! If you wake up and need a day of retail therapy, head to the mall. If you wake up and regret it, hit the snooze button and give yourself a break. Life is about balance, and it really is okay to choose non-dance related activities in your free time. Some may argue that you're not going to grow if you don't dance every minute you can, but I'm going to challenge that and say that if you continue to do so eventually you won't choose to dance at all.
Keep Dance Fun
You're not going to love every class you take if you study dance at this level. That's just the reality of college in general. But if you've chosen this path, there is something about dance you just can't get enough of. When I'm feeling burnt out, I try to find fun dance activities to do, like taking a pointe class or designing a creative movement unit plan based on Frozen. I try to balance the parts of dance I struggle in with the parts I could do all day long.
Remember Why You Choose This
The best cure for my burnout is to teach. During college, I worked with both a children's and high school theatre company. Even after a stressful week at school, I loved getting to work with those students and I found so much joy in teaching them. Student teaching was also a challenge, but I left school everyday hoping I would get to work in a school with students that I loved just as much. I keep my card from my 4th graders hung up in my room now, so that when I'm starting to feel burnt out I remember that this is what I was put on this earth to do. Even if I'm stressed now, I don't have to be stressed forever. I can find that joy again.
Burnout is a reality many dancers and teachers will face in the course of their career. Burnout doesn't have to mean it's all over for you, though. Keeping your passion alive is going to be challenging at times, especially in a career that is physically and emotionally draining. Taking a little break here and there does not mean you're any less dedicated or you love dance any less than the next person. If you balance your time, your body, and your mind, and you can stay on the path to success and keep your love of dance alive.
Photo from Dance Magazine
An Ode to the Teachers
1. Justin Timberlake- Can't Stop the Feeling
2. Kenny Loggins- Footloose
3. MKTO- Classic
4. Starley- Call on Me (Ryan Riback Remix)
5. Alice Merton- No Roots
6. Selena Gomez- Kill 'em with Kindness
7. Sheppard- Geronimo
8. Coldplay- Sky Full of Stars
9. Demi Lovato- Neon Lights
10. Capital Cities- Safe and Sound
11. Selena Gomez & The Scene-
Love You Like a Love Song
12. Katy Perry- Roar
13. Carly Rae Jepsen- Call Me Maybe
a guide to applying to undergraduate dance programs
College was always in the cards for me. I attended a college preparatory high school, and from day one of freshman year I told my guidance counselor that I was going to be a dance major. I spent the next few years explaining to people in my life that yes, majoring in dance is in fact a "thing", sifting through dance magazines looking for colleges to apply to, and Googling dance programs into the wee hours of the morning.
There is a lot to know that I really didn't know when considering which programs to apply to. While I am no expert on the subject, here is the best advice I can offer a high school student looking to take dance to the academic level, things that I feel would have been good to hear when I was going through this process...
Know Your End Goal
Do you want to dance professionally, choreograph, teach, or some combination of these or other possibilities? Look into the different programs out there and find out what the focus of each program is. You can do this by looking for specific majors (i.e. a degree in dance vs. a degree in dance education) and looking at the curriculum to see what courses you would specifically be taking. Some schools have dance as a concentration rather than its own degree, but the courses may still prepare you for your future.
Additionally, look into the type of degree you are applying to. Typically, a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) program is geared towards professional dancing and students will spend the majority of their time taking technique or choreography classes. BFA programs are also known to be more competitive programs to get in to. BA (Bachelor of Arts) programs usually have a more diverse curriculum. The level of competition to get into a BA program will depend on the school. If you are looking for a two year program, schools like Dean College and some community colleges can offer you this.
Get To Know the Program
Familiarizing yourself with a specific program can help you decide if it will be a good fit for you or if it is likely to be an option. Many dance programs often open houses or drop in classes that you can attend to see if you will be able to keep up there. If the program you are interested does not offer this, try reaching out to their department and see if you can shadow a student or take a class with them!
If may also benefit you to look up a program's acceptance rate. Keep in mind, a school's acceptance rate will be different from your specific program (if the program requires an audition). Many schools will accept you into the institution, but not into the program if you do not pass the audition.
Make Sure You Have Options
With many of these programs being as competitive as they are, it is important to tier your schools like any prospective college student would. Which programs do you genuinely feel you have a shot at, which are safe bets, and which are a reach? Apply to a variety of these programs to ensure that increase your chances of studying dance as planned. Note: pedagogy or dance education programs are sometimes just as selective as a dance performance program, depending on the school.
Plan As Far in Advance As You Can
The harsh reality of applying to be a dance major is that it takes much more planning than your typical college application would. In addition to the researching process, auditions, audition videos, portfolios, interviews, etc. can be very time consuming. It is in your best interest to start looking into these programs as soon as you decide that is what you want to do after high school. Invest in a planner or use an online calendar to plan auditions and application deadlines. Like any other audition, start practicing and preparing for that early, too.
Diversify Your Experiences
The first experience I ever had with modern dance occurred during an audition. While it is important to try new things during an audition regardless, it will help you to seek out new opportunities in dance before this process. Dancing at the collegiate level is going to diversify your experience, but starting ahead of time can help you feel more prepared for the audition and make you a more desirable candidate. Even something as simple as taking a Vaganova style ballet class when you have always studied Cecchetti will make you feel more comfortable to walk into whatever lies ahead of you.
Ask Yourself What You Want Out of a College Experience
If what you what to do in college is just dance, dance, dance all day, everyday, then you will want to attend a conservatory style school. If you are looking for a more traditional or diverse college experience (whether you want to double major or add a minor or get involved on campus), a conservatory style program is better for you.
Make Your Dream Work
This process may be a trying time for you, especially if you watch your friends get acceptance letter after acceptance letter and all you want to focus on is the senior prom. However, if this path was meant for you, I truly believe you will get there. You may need to adjust your plans or seek alternative options, but you have the capability to make your dream work.
I hadn't heard of Bridgewater State until my guidance counselor mentioned to me that they have a dance program. I have had many failed auditions that I went into with no preparation and no potential to pass. I have submitted applications the day they were due and struggled through this process without any guidance from the dance world. Yet here I am, four years later, about to graduate with my BA in dance and will be student teaching this month. No, I didn't end up at the dream school I'd hoped to go to since I was 14 years old, but I have learned so much and have met the most amazing mentors and friends at BSU.
Do what it takes to make your dream work, even if it doesn't seem like your desired path. You might just end up in a better place than you ever thought you would. I know that's what happened to me.
Resistance bands are my favorite tool to warm up with! They come in different strengths depending on your level of dancer and are great ways to warm up before class or a performance, improve strength and flexibility, and achieve that perfectly pointed winged foot!
How to Purchase: These are available in dance stores and on many dance websites, including Discount Dance for $9.44 !
Massage sticks or rollers are also great tools for warming up and stretching muscles! I have used one of these for years and it is very useful when keeping warm backstage or re-warming up in between rehearsals.
How to Purchase: Discount Dance has one available for $30.24. They are also often seen in any store that sells exercise equipment, such as TJ Maxx and Marshalls.
Warm Up Boots
Dance boots are very comfortable hard-sole slippers that dancers love to wear while keeping warm between classes or running around between acts backstage. Mine have lasted a few years and I was lucky to receive them as a gift. They also fit over pointe shoes- a great way for your ballerina to keep her shoes clean and her feet nice and cozy!
How to Purchase: These are usually seen at dance stores or can be purchased now at Discount Dance for $38.25!
A Novel for Dancers: Ballet Shoes
There is so much literature out there for dancers to get sucked into while waiting for class to start! My favorite dance book is Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield, which is ideal for strong 9-10 year old readers and still great for older students. This novel takes dancers on three sisters' adventures of becoming the professional performers they were destined to be.
How to Purchase: Amazon has this title available for $6.99, or check your local bookstore!
Anything Misty Copeland
If you are unfamiliar with the dance world and are looking for a role model for your dancer, Misty Copeland is a great choice. She is the first African-American woman to become a principal ballet dancer for a national company and is an advocate for racial and body diversity in dance. Misty has books for dancers of a wide range of ages.
How to Purchase: Amazon has a great selection of Misty Copeland books, including the one shown here!
The Nutcracker on DVD
While seeing a live production of The Nutcracker is the dream, a more affordable and quick gift for your dancer is the classic New York City Ballet version! Watch this classic from the comfort of your home after a long day of dance classes.
How to Purchase: Amazon has this film available for $9.96!
In the age of social media taking over the world, dancers are eager to have fun photos to post on Instagram. Consider giving your dancer an experience like no other by hiring a photographer (or someone with a really nice camera phone) and taking them to a fun dance photo shoot!
Usable Stocking Stuffers
Looking for fill a dancer's stocking? Items like bobby pins, hair elastics, hair nets, rhinestone earrings, scrunchies, make-up wipes, and false eyelashes are all useful ideas!
How to Purchase: Items like these could be found at Discount Dance or from your local drug store!
Go-To Dancer Gifts
Still not sure what to get your dancer? Classic items like ballerina ornaments or their very own nutcracker can still put a smile on their faces. My nutcracker collection has been growing since I was very young, so don't be afraid to go with something dance themed from a holiday store!
Happy Holidays from Ballet with Becca!
We are so quick to equate these superficial signs of "success" to the value of our dancing. We treat the glorious as the gods of dance, while we brand the less fortunate or less successful as wannabe dancers. The second we walk into a ballet class, we identify the good and the bad, while trying to find our place at least somewhere in the middle. We get envious of those that can show off their incredible flexibility in photographs. We don't skip that third class of the week in order to keep our teachers, dance moms, and classmates happy. We even perform to get the crowd on their feet in roar of applause. So much of what we do in dance is for someone else.
As I have gotten older and have taken a step back from performing and training as rigorously as I did growing up, I have had this fear of not really being considered a dancer anymore. Yes, this sounds crazy, especially considering I've been studying dance at BSU for the past 3 (going on 4) years, but I no longer have these outward attributes of a dancer. I don't have a show to rehearse for or a new move to nail. But I still have dance in me.
Last week I took a ballet class for the first time in a year. Even though I've been taking other styles for the past year, I could definitely feel that I am much less flexible than I was in the past. I was definitely one of the least advanced in the class, but I still felt like I belonged there. The familiar feeling of tights being stuck to my legs on a hot July day had not been forgotten. My technique was still there, and it felt like I had never left. Ballet had not left my body just because I had left the barre.
Dance is mine. It has been mine since I was three years old and I took my first ballet lesson. It was mine when I found out I was genetically predisposed to being less flexible than the average person. It was mine when the girls I went to school with made fun of me for doing ballet productions instead of dance competitions. It was mine when I first became injured and had to come home and ice my knee every night. It was mine when I fell into a deep depression because someone in my life discouraged me from pursuing my dreams of becoming a dance teacher. It was mine when I choreographed my first musical with my best friend, and struggled to just get my dancers to master a jazz square. It was mine when I cried at my first big audition because I got cut halfway through. It was mine when I finally got to be Clara in The Nutcracker, even if it was just for community outreach performances. It was mine when I got anxiety over modern dance classes because I really had no clue what I was doing. It was mine when I received my first card from students with "Miss Rebecca" on the envelope. Dance was mine, and is mine, through every trial and triumph, success and failure, good memories and bad, that I was been through...and it always will be.
To my future students, please know that dance is all yours. No matter where you are on your dance journey, where it begins, where it ends, or where it throws you for a loop, dance is yours. The joy you feel when you dance will stay in your body throughout your life is you let it. Don't let this false idea of what a dancer is cloud your judgment. Don't let someone take dance away from you, as they have no right to. It doesn't matter if you're the best in the class or you make it as a professional; what matters is that you love dance, you keep dancing, and you save a place in your heart for dance, always.
Welcome to my blog!
My name is Becca and I am a 23 year old dancer, teacher, writer, and advocate originally from Massachusetts.
I hold a Bachelor of Arts in dance from Bridgewater State University and I am a Master of Arts Candidate at New York University.
I have this *radical* idea that all students have a right to a quality dance education that is inclusive, positive, meaningful, and fun. Keep reading my blog to follow my dance teacher journey and reflect with my on issues relating to the art of dance.
Click the button below to learn more about me!
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