As promised, we’re back with part 2 of the post on giving back from Contributor Lucy Vurusic Riner…
If you missed the first part of this, read it here. Here’s the rest:
4. Don’t base your assumptions on the purely physical.
As dancers ourselves, we already know what if feels like to be judged by how we look. Be truthful with your own experiences and concerns but follow this up with encouraging feedback that reiterates to them that you are projecting YOUR lived experiences, and that those DO NOT necessarily have to be theirs. Young dancers bodies are changing every day. If you tell your students that they won’t make it in the dance world because of their body type you better be confident that over the course of the next ten years you can be sure that child’s body is not going to change AT ALL. And if you can’t be that confident, you shouldn’t make the claim.
5. Try not to pigeonhole their view of the dance world.
What does this mean? It means that there are A LOT of dance companies in the world. I have plenty of students that will never be in the Royal Ballet….ok….probably none, but that doesn’t mean I can tell them that they won’t be in ANY ballet, because I don’t know every ballet company out there. More importantly, you don’t know in what ways your students’ interests will shift as they grow. I have plenty of ballet dancers that have gone to dance for very successful modern companies. I have had modern dancers who get to New York and see a musical and they become Broadway babies. Beyond that, the dance scenes in Europe, Asia and Africa all have such different aesthetics and philosophies that we can’t know how our students might bode someplace beyond our full understanding.
6. Tough love is different then demoralizing.
Tough love is telling a student they can’t perform in a show because they missed too many rehearsals or didn’t show up for company call. It’s a hard lesson learned but it teaches them to be responsible. Demoralizing is telling a student that they have poor turn out, aren’t flexible enough or that their body has odd proportions for dance. The only thing they gain from comments like that is low self-esteem and self doubt. Good teachers recognize hurdles their dancers might face and find ways to work with them. Constantly knocking someone down in order to have them try to build themselves back up is counterproductive and wastes time. Some teachers call this technique of teaching “old school.” I just call it “old.” Let’s work on nurturing their talents.
7. Your lived experience belongs to you.
The dance world is a forever-changing place. Yes, some things stay the same. There are companies that have been around forever and will hopefully continue to do so. But even in those scenarios, things change. In my lifetime I have seen the Graham, Limon and Cunningham companies go through significant changes. I’ve seen second companies spring up for Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey and Hubbard Street. What we knew to be truths when we might have been budding dancers has changed in varying degrees, and I think for the most part, in good ways. So try to be objective. And when you aren’t sure if you’re giving the best advice, just tell your student that. That is honesty that they can respect.
I think back to how both my good and bad teachers have influenced who I am as a dancer today. The successful teachers taught me that dedication, determination and resilience would get me ahead in my dancing. They also helped me recognize where my shortfalls were and work with them. The not so successful teachers taught me all of the things that I have listed above, and for that I have to be grateful as well. As teachers, we all have different styles in the way we teach and motivate our dancers. Consider the long term effect you would like to have on your students and the choices they make. I want my dancers to remember me as a teacher that understood their dreams; not crushed them.
Contributor Lucy Vurusic Riner is a native Chicagoan who has been supporting and contributing to the dance community for over twenty years. She received her BS Degree in dance and dance education from Illinois State University. Lucy has been a member of Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak Dance Company, RTG Dance Company and Matthew Hollis’ “The Power of Cheer.” She has also had the opportunity to be part of the community cast of White Oak Dance Project and David Dorfman Dance.
Lucy has taught modern, hip hop, and jazz at numerous studios and high schools in the Chicagoland area. She has been the Director of Dance at Oak Park and River Forest High School since 1999. In 2005, Lucy completed her Masters Degree in Education from National Louis University and also received the Midwest Dance Teacher of the Year award and was the youngest of four finalists in the running for the National Dance Teacher of the Year award. Lucy and artistic partner, Michael Estanich, formed RE|Dance in 2010. This dancer theater company investigates humanity in movement through long distance collaboration. Lucy has also begun work on a long-term project entitled, “The Moving Vessel” which explores the impact of motherhood on the professional dancer. When Lucy is not working with independent choreographers and producing her own shows, she is at home with her two great kids, Margie and Luka, and her very supportive husband, Jim.