Never Say You Know the Last Word About Any Human Heart

The last year has taught me so many lessons it is difficult to keep track of it all. The first lesson is to never underestimate the cruelty of people in a charitable or non-profit ballet school. They are never either charitable or non-profit. They are ambitious. But within an organization, one will find that most of the ballet professionals in it are basically good, or some of them, anyway. This is what really matters. But what everyone does, good or bad is cover their behind-or try to. You have to keep really good records. Print out entire website pages, if you have to, just to remind them what they promised-it’s getting to be like Krogers. There are other places to shop. Sometimes it might be a want of feeling, but they say dancers have plenty of those, so it might just be a bad business model and customer service input cause that to improve, if the right people are at the helm. It reminds me of the excitement that surrounds a good idea and sharks in the water. Too often, the opportunity is lost or the broo haha not enjoyed because one does not sit back and enjoy it, making decisions about their business consciously and conscientiously, but let other people take the best bits for themselves, leaving the dregs to everyone else. It is still a business and subject to business rules, and departments. One of those departments should deal with the parents and children signed up in the school-you cannot ignore them. They pay the bills. You would not go to a regular school or university if you did not have a program designed for you, if there was no recognition or sense of achievement, or if you were last, or if your were ignored-well some people might like to be. But fortunately large institutions draw a lot of brains, and small schools usually have parents. Those large, competing schools are rated by mainstream organizations on several levels, and in Business Week, People, etc., but who says ballet isn’t just as (or more) expensive than they? Shouldn’t there be basic criteria for everyone, such as time-management and record-keeping? They are not transparent enough, and like NYU, can accumulate a lot of wealth and holdings because they are a university, but so can the Queen. She does not consider it part of her income, but it is part of her worth, and she considers these things hers, even if she is the people’s Queen. The difference is NYU is a school, and no person owns those works. An entity does. NYU is private, not public. A school might or can just fly by night with a lot of money, and time, too, calling it volunteer(s) work, but even that has a value. Would you go to a university that was manned by your child’s parents? Then why would you go to a ballet institution or dance school that was? Better not! Not if you are serious and you expect to be treated equally.

But this is not an important lesson to learn. It is a situation to avoid. If you want to do something, you cannot let other people dissuade you, no matter how hard they try. You might have to change schools to get the attention you need, somehow, someway, but if you need something, you had better try to get it-no matter good intentions, or it will be too late. It may be a matter of whom has the most money-it usually is, in fact, because ballet training is very expensive, and schools do not have to cater to teachers for privates, and would not, if attention were given in the school but, competitions are a draw for students, believing they can win, which is fine, but not at the cost of training, or technique, discipline, and if they bring additional money into the pockets of teachers, no one is going to disallow that at a ballet school. Try it at Laguna Beach High School, and you will find it does not sit well with the rest of the board and faculty. One tennis pro we know, was fired for giving privates to students on the side. It is a formidable source of income for most teachers, but frankly results in those students becoming pets of the teachers and no one else getting that “personal attention” or encouragement-preference. I believe he was warned. As the school pointed out to him, there were plenty of ex-pros and coaches to take privates from. If he accepted a position at the school-it was to teach every student equally, for him to pledge his intellectual intelligence to the students of the school fully, and to not reserve some of that knowledge for certain students who were willing and able to afford “privates.” I feel the same about ballet schools. With pressure to do competitions, the temptation is too great for the average student, or their parents, to believe they can “win,” and their money, causes them to invest heavily in those privates and the school to suffer, really, at the expense of one or a few students who are catered to, featured, “exposed” and taught one variation. It sets up most of the students for heartbreak and disappointment and further drives a wedge between the students themselves; who has the ability to win a competition, and who doesn’t, but may be a better dancer overall. What the world needs is more better dancers. I can hardly call this enterprise non-profit. It is a shame when you see one teacher at that school focusing on the students, sharing his/her knowledge, and doing things in a correct and academic way, and for other students to go volleying off the course to do a competition, not taking their classes, doing privates, doing other things to get attention, but this is not the art of ballet. This is commercialism, modeling and pr! I do not know a single one of them who deserves the title. Yuan Yuan Tan does fewer interviews per year, posts less FB pictures and has far more interesting opinions. The old adage is get off the stage, leave, and leave them wanting more. Not oversaturate. It’s a racket. Do not be that kind of school if you do not want someone writing about it! Or thinking it, which is worse, because no one will probably read what I write, but many more people will be torn, unhappy and spread the word from personal experience.They will leave.

Do not be afraid to leave and find somewhere else better to go, if you are serious about your principles and your beliefs (and your dancing). It is not up to a parent to make their child a diva. Misty Copeland had no mother (really) and despite her issues, I have more respect for her for her own effort, poverty, and personal triumphs, and she IS a hard-worker, than anyone whose parent fights “tooth and nail” to get them a role! If no parent says anything because they are afraid, nothing changes. I believe if you want to accomplish something, and set out to achieve it, then you will find a way to, if you really try. If you need work on specific areas, bring it up, mention it, ask for it. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Nice people finish last. This can be learned in your local competition studio and more, such as those children whose parents work there get the most attention and if you have a lot of money you can anything, except talent. And lots of people are just really crazy and actually believe that 10/10 dancers in a school will become famous artist. I do not. Just can’t. Odds are very, very low, no matter how good the training. It starts with the student and the teacher. When they feel they have no more to learn, they have a lot more to learn. It is about numbers unfortunately and if certain people are encouraged you can bet it is those people the school will underwrite and you can stay, but only if you have enough money to compete, and you can continue to pay to fund everyone else’s educations and training. I think, in a local school, the best thing to do, is to separate young children from those moving up, then separate again, and again, until those with the highest abilities are in a completely separate atmosphere with a closed door and no one can peep in, be jealous, and where all levels get their own stage, so to speak; and not at the school where my child is paying to be taught certain things, perform certain things and keeps getting no opportunities to perform because there are not enough performance opportunities for everyone, so she is merely support for one of the students to be featured. Why do full-length ballets at all, for everyone, if there are not enough parts for everyone? Why not just do individual performances of variations every week, so that everyone gets a chance to do them, practice them and be considered in them? Isn’t this a better way to encourage whatever you are trying to, instead of making an entirely different statement. One about money. Ballets exist with enough dancing roles for all older students, students in a certain level, and even younger children? Why be mean to certain students and give only other certain students the roles, the coaching, the opportunity, the attention? All dancers become better with personal attention. I do not know one who does not. Why not privates for everyone for free, or classes that help with specific needs of each student? That is a scholarship motivator. A funding motivator. Parents would be beating down the doors of such an institution. We will take what you can afford to pay and train your child. I can get sponsors for that. That gets press. That works. Why does anyone stick around-just for the training? It is because they are victims, believe they have no talent, or have no self-esteem. Who would in such an environment?

Most schools have these performances because they sell tickets. The money-making opportunities often influence the educational opportunities, steering, and that is not why I am paying for my child to “learn”. In fact, that is not what I want my child to learn. If a school does not uphold etiquette and fairness, but is petty and mean, then I think they are saying “we are elite”, “no, we have a mission”, “no, we provide community opportunity,” “no, wait”-they do not know what they are providing and they have not formed a clear mission statement or a purpose which sets them apart from everyone else. These businesses do not need to be charities or non-profits. The owners make a lot of money, they share costumes with their non-profit arm, while making a profit. If you are going to make a profit, declare the profit. I think it would be miraculous to find a school which was for-profit, had a good business model and still provided scholarships. That is the way they used to be. They actually just need to have good planning, organization, management and accounting. If I wanted my child to be a bit part player, I would hire her out (making money) to do bit parts-I am not loaning her out to a school to be injured, to do their “work” and to make a profit, while paying for the privilege. If children spend the entire year doing YAGP, The Nutcracker, and other money-driven performances, then I should get a discount-not be charged a performance fee. It brings a teacher or organization prestige, and more students, but does the price go down? What if my child has no benefit of winning, or doesn’t win, it keeps her out of classes, deprives her of her teachers, then why should I sponsor that program or that school? She has lost the value of the program and we have a major problem. Outreach, local performances, charity is all so the school can fulfill their non-profit or charity status, and promote their school. Paying no taxes does not provide more scholarships and provides no benefit to the community. There are other schools. Scholarships, opportunities and support for the students is essential and that is all that is. If the program is basically for some children who can afford to pay for privates then it is not a FAIR program. Housing. Education facilities. Food and nourishment, choreography opportunities, physical therapy, injury prevention, conditioning, academic learning, history, languages and acting, arts, like music. These are important, not whose child is going to get such and such a part-that is bad. No parents should be involved in those decisions OR HAVE ANY BEARING ON THEM. That is a unique mission, one that not everyone has. Because the US is currently looking very closely at non-profits, a lot of businesses may lose that non-profit, or the like, status. In the name of self-promotion and glory, does not equate with barring children from participation, and is not a non-profit position. It is a for-profit one. Define profit. A school has to take a stand. In fact, a school might get more prestige and notoriety by not becoming another competition school, and it can hardly claim non-profit status if it is. I know about thirty or more ballet school owners and some actually give scholarships. Of course, it is up to them, but I know because they are usually doled out on the basis of need-merit would be implied by the fact that you attend the school. These people would not see a child denied of the chance if they could not afford it. People come to this country to take advantage sometimes, without understanding that we frown upon being cruel to the needy, expelling someone because of rough times or need. Our greatest leaders have come from poverty. I even know one school who gives out partial and full scholarships to students to take privates and perform, but again, it is based on need and that is a non-profit. There are others.

What I did not understand was how ballet teachers could be so cruel. It really does no good in the long run. Usually it is the parents. The best teachers I have known were ones that communicate to students kindly and with empathy and understanding. They can still be firm, funny, but not mean, denegrating, or cruel. I understand ballet mothers, they can be the worst people on earth-and they should stay away from the studio. The better their children, the further away they need to remain. They do not “need to be there.” They are vicious. They may not count themselves so, they may think they are Christian, imperfect, but they are dealing with a delicate balance and the ones who are there to act as support at home, can be the very ones who undermine your child in the worst way, or are just jealous, and ruin your child’s opportunities or education. They are putting themselves in a position of power to control their own children’s careers, and frequently their own children do not want what their parents want, so it is a mistake to understudy them-you will not get the part. They are very cliquy. SAB is not cliquy. Kay Mazzo is a wonderful adm. She always has been. It is a respectable institution of higher learning and you cannot have that if you do not have teachers with power, a horizontal management structure, especially with dancers. They have ideas, are creative, and will usually have energy to be a part of the decision-making process. They really do not need parents and do not allow them control of functions which result in their children getting privileges or opportunities other students do not, ability or no. It is a school, not a company. If Balanchine wanted to work with a dancer-he hired her for the company, even at fifteen. The rest of the students stayed in school. Not parents who do not dance, sponsoring children who do. That has very little to do with art. It teaches children nothing when they get out into the real world and cannot buy opportunity and advancement. You have to work for it. The Bolshoi would not allow this-no professional school would. Many schools farm out their scholarship decisions to an outside, neutral board of directors, who have no connections with the parents or the school themselves. Names are submitted, backgrounds are checked, financials are viewed, decisions are made. That’s it. Voila-scholarship recipients. Rules broken, scholarship is gone. Again, if you do not have the merit, you are not invited to the school. They do not just take the money!

It has to be a balance with a small school, local, patronized and handling students from out of the area. A school can grow into a going-concern, without making enemies along the way, and by keeping principles in balance. Most importantly, children should be considered individually. Sometimes it is necessary to help one with things and sometimes another, but it should be fair to all students. Discriminating due to financial reasons, is just as bad as discriminating for other ones. It hurts the child, the institution and the field.I’ve heard it all before and I am still right. A truly revolutionary model is FAIRNESS, FAIR COMPETITION, INDIVIDUALiTY. Not, reproduction and copying, divas are not dancers! Artists are not artists if they are the same as everyone else, but children are not artists. They can only be taught to dance. Art comes later.


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