In the dance classroom, particularly in classical dance classrooms, classmates share a long term relationship. Many of them join their teacher when they’re very young and stay with them for several years. This not only makes the bond between the teacher and student a crucial one, but it also binds the students together. “My senior”, “my junior” and “my classmate” identify and label students of dance for the years they study together and even after they have launched their individual careers.
One would imagine that these seniors, juniors and classmates are great friends largely due to the fact that they are thrown into the same room week after week, year after year. They share the same teacher, the same learning material and the same triumphs and anxieties. While it is true that some become and remain friends, it is not always the case.
In the competitive world of dance, classmates do not always look out for each other. They exploit each other, tell on each other to the teacher, and are subtly nasty to one another – fighting for the spot of the favourite student. In reality, this relationship can be very cruel indeed. Of course, not all classroom dynamics in dance are like this, but the grim side of it does exist and it is worth examining.
Some students do fall victim to this cruel relationship. In these situations, at best, some students privately celebrate the failure of their peers, and give bad advice disguised as guidance that will unfavour the student with the teacher. At worst, they lie about each other to the teachers or publicly discredit each other’s talent. The insecurity that drives the competitive atmosphere in the classroom is further fuelled by favouritism on the part of the teacher. Having a favourite student is not wrong, maybe its even natural to be drawn to talent. But blatantly displaying the favouritism can lead to such unpleasant relationships between the students.
Some might argue that competition is healthy and that every classroom – be it an academic one, or an artistic class – has some amount of competitiveness that drives the students to excel. Moreover, some may contend that the will to one day be the ‘star student’ inspires each student to do their very best at all times. But underneath this all, what happens in some situations is a slow sedimentation of an attitude that becomes so deep-set in the minds of the students that it does not leave them even as they leave the classrooms.
As some of these students mature, and step into the professional world – becoming dancers, performers, teachers and/or critics, this attitude wears on. Peers do not have any nice things to say about one another, they do not wish to work together. Not always scrutinized by the gaze of the guru anymore, they put each other down in order to rise high enough above the rest to catch the eye of the public now. Just as they had done previously in the classrooms with their gurus or teachers. One hears and sees that dancers are reluctant to praise their contemporaries, subtly and sweetly criticizing one another. Two dancers cannot work with each other because one dancer is threatened by another’s youth or slim figure. These are signs of disturbing trends, the roots of which may lie in their earlier years of training.
The point I’m driving at is this – it all begins in the classrooms. The professional world of dance will not elevate itself from the petty, backstabbing state that it partially (not entirely) exists in, unless teachers and students nip the problem in the bud.