A few months ago, your teacher snapped at you for smiling too much. Today, you're keeping your expression neutral when your teacher abruptly cuts the music and walks over to you, pretending to knock on your forehead. "Hello? Is anyone in there? Your face is always blank." Your classmates look just as frozen as you feel, their eyes darting back and forth between you and your teacher until the music resumes and class goes on.

Being bullied by a dance teacher can be painful—and confusing. You may have more questions than answers. What's happening? Am I just too sensitive? Is this really bullying?


Teachers who bully often handwave their behavior as "strict teaching." However, there is a difference: Strict teachers build students up, while bullying teachers tear students down.

bullying teachersStrict teachers build students up; bullying teachers tear them down. Photo by Natalia Figueredo/Unsplash


"Teaching is about imparting skills, technique and knowledge to students. Some teachers do that with an open and relaxed manner, while others prefer structure and strictness," says psychologist Dr. Deborah Serani. "Benign strict teaching can be an effective way to instruct. However, when teaching becomes more aggressive, demeaning and hurtful, that is not teaching—it's bullying."

Physical abuse is always inappropriate, but bullying doesn't have to be physical to be damaging. Helena Wulff, a professor and the deputy head of the department of social anthropology at Stockholm University, has witnessed many student-teacher interactions while researching the international culture of dance. She identifies "negative tone and wording, slapping, or picking on one student in particular" as behaviors that cross the line.

Not sure where your teacher's behavior falls? These signs can help you recognize whether they've gone too far.

Red Flag: Your teacher's behavior benefits them, not you.

Bullies hurt others in order to gain something. Students afraid their teacher will call them "quitters" are more likely to continue paying for classes. A choreographer who screams at dancers will receive prompt and frightened obedience. A studio director who publicly humiliates students attains a feeling of power over their community.

Responsible authority figures help students gain skill and discipline; bullying authority figures hurt and manipulate students to benefit themselves.

Strict teachers have high standards, but the behavior is for the benefit of the student. Photo by Vadim Fomenok/Unsplash

Red Flag: Your teacher repeatedly targets specific students.

Teachers are only human, and may occasionally snap at a student or berate the class. Bullying, on the other hand, is an ongoing pattern of behavior that targets a specific student or group of students by manipulating, mocking, excluding, humiliating, controlling, ignoring or lying to them.

Red Flag: Rules and consequences are unofficial or unreasonable.

A healthy studio environment has established rules—and reasonable consequences for breaking them. A bullying teacher may have irrational penalties for poorly-defined transgressions like "disrespect," or give informal punishments like public humiliation or the silent treatment.

Red Flag: Reprimands are used to attack rather than educate.

"Good teaching is a pattern of 'caring' with encouragement and kindness, but allows for a teacher's specific reactions to the work of students who are repeatedly not doing what they are capable of," says Myron Howard Nadel, a professor of dance and the head the University of Texas at El Paso's dance program. If a teacher needs to reprimand a student, their words should be "meted out judiciously, not out of anger, but love; certainly not for a teacher's misplaced self-gratification."

Red Flag: Your teacher is preventing you from learning.

Some bullying teachers target students by giving them less rehearsal time, fewer corrections or no chance to finish class combinations. Since dance skill grows primarily through practice, consistently preventing students from practicing is a powerful way of harming their dance training.

If punishments hurt your ability to learn, a teacher's behavior has crossed the line into bullying. Photo by Ahmed Odeh/Unsplash

Red Flag: When other adults are in the room, your teacher behaves differently.

Strict teachers have nothing to hide: There's no reason they can't assign students sit-ups or remind them to point their feet in front of other adults. Bullies tend to conceal the extent of their bullying by using their most abusive behaviors when no other adults are present.

Red Flag: There's pressure to remain at the studio.

The most effective way to protect yourself from a bullying situation is to leave it. Implying that students who leave the studio are "quitters" or "traitors" discourages targeted students from walking away, and helps teachers maintain enrollment through fear rather than solid teaching.

Red Flag: You're struggling with body image issues or disordered eating.

In dance, bullying is often combined with body type judgement. While dancers and teachers may need to talk about structural characteristics like musculature or range of extension, pressuring students about weight or eating is never appropriate. "As an arts administrator in a college, I've had to scold a ballet teacher more than once for forcing female students to lose weight," says Nadel. "Several of those students had been in counseling for anorexia."

Red Flag: Confronting your teacher makes the problem worse.

A bully who feels they are being "questioned"—no matter how respectful your approach—is likely to retaliate. This doesn't mean no one should address their behavior, but it's safer to tell another teacher or studio administrator rather than confront the teacher yourself.

"Know that if you're being bullied, it's likely other students receive this kind of abusive behavior, too," says Serani. "Seek them out and share your experiences. Talking about your victimization can help you feel less alone about the abuse. It's important to report any bullying to others, be it a friend or a loved one—and to administration."

Red Flag: You feel anxious, ashamed, or constantly "on guard" outside of class.

Bullying authority figures may dismiss their behavior as "how the real world works," but they're actually undermining students' professionalism. An abusive studio environment trains students to use submissive body language, feel ashamed of their appearance and abilities, and remain on guard against the constant threat of mistreatment—all behaviors that make it harder to navigate school, relationships and the professional world.

The Conversation
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Tade Biesinger and Kandee Allen, photo courtesy of Biesinger

It's officially the one month out of the year that's exclusively about gratitude, and there's nothing dance enthusiasts are more thankful for than our dance teachers. They're everything to us!

Case in point: we reached out to Marymount Manhattan freshman and former Billy Elliot: The Musical star, Tade Biesinger, and asked him to write a thank-you letter to his hometown studio owner/teacher Kandee Allen. The result brought tears to our eyes! How Biesinger feels about Allen is how all of us feel about our teachers.

Allen and Biesinger. Photo courtesy of Biesinger

Check out what he had to say, and then write a thank-you message to your dance teachers in the comments of our Facebook page.

Trust us: It will be well worth it! —Haley Hilton

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Happy National Princess Day, people! This is a day you were all BORN to celebrate (because you're all princesses obviously). Enjoy this blessed day by watching two of our favorite ballerina princesses light up the stage!

We know this dream was a wish your hearts have made, so you're welcome! Oh, and bibbidi-bobbidi-boo!

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We've compiled a list of healthy Thanksgiving foods that are sure to satisfy both your cravings and your desire to eat well. Try them out this holiday season and you'll be able to enjoy the best meal of the year guilt-free!

YOU'RE WELCOME!

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Dancer Health
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The human head weighs somewhere between 8 and 12 pounds. For many of us, our youngest students included, that comparatively large weight spends on average at least a couple hours a day hunched over a screen. While you may not consider your students as average, there is no denying we spend more hours than ever looking down at handheld mobile devices. "I think of it as 'tech posture,'" says Blossom Leilani Crawford of Bridge Pilates, "when the head is forward and the shoulders are forward. People don't know where their heads are anymore, and you certainly can't turn well with the weight of your head forward."

Forward head posture seems to be the very antithesis of the open chest, lifted spine and presentational sensibility of most classical dance training. But beyond the aesthetics, this misalignment can affect balance and coordination in developing dancers and, at the extreme end, can be associated with nerve damage and pain down the arm.

According to Dr. Marshall Hagins, physical therapist for the Mark Morris Dance Group, there are really two things going on when you see forward head posture. First, the skull is projected forward in front of the body (as in when we look down at a phone). But then, because we are social creatures who want to see and interact with the world in front of us, the head rotates backward on the spine, thrusting the chin up and out. "The muscles in the front of the neck are short and relaxed," he explains, "while the muscles in the back, which are keeping the head from falling further, are lengthened and overworking." The neck muscles have a very high density of proprioceptors and the nervous system feedback is working to fight gravity all of the time, all of which can result in a levator scapulae that is overused and painful.

Hagins offers a tent analogy for balancing the head in three dimensions without simply resorting to a military posture. "All the surrounding neck muscles need to have just the right amount of tension to keep a heavy object, such as the head, balanced atop the tent pole of your spine," he says. "When it leans one way, the corresponding wire becomes loose and the other wires have to pull harder." He notes that it can still be possible for dancers to move in and out of the proper positions even if the resting posture is slouched. However, assuming such a posture for most of the day can lead to injury.

The phenomenon has caused Crawford to modify the abdominal exercises in her mat class. "I sometimes ask for the head to stay on the floor for the single-leg stretch or double-leg stretch," she says. "I call it 'angry turtle' when you work to draw the back of your head into the floor. Once that is understood, it is easier to transfer into lifting the head off the ground properly."

However, both Hagins and Crawford caution that dancers are often hypermobile and prone to overcorrecting, so it is important to focus on good postural habits and incremental changes so they don't move from one misalignment of the head and neck to another. Here are three simple exercises Crawford uses to help students find and feel where proper head alignment is in different planes of movement. They are great on their own, in any warm-up, or can be easily sprinkled into a Pilates mat routine.

Supine Head Float​

Elena Prisco, age 17, student at Lake Tahoe Dance Collective. Photos courtesy of Thompson

1. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet planted, with a yoga block, or prop of similar height, under the shoulder blades. Let your head rest back into this big, chest-opening stretch, with your fingers interlaced, hands behind your neck so that your pinky fingers are against the base of your skull.

2. Float your head up to spine level, chin tucked in, hands helping to
traction your neck long. Use exhales to activate the abdominals and keep ribs heavy and soft while your head is up. Hold for a few counts and then rest back into the stretch.

3. Repeat several times, being careful not to let the chin jut forward.

*If you are ready for more, float the pelvis up to spine level along with the head. Keep the pelvis in a neutral, untucked position.

Studio Owners
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Costumes are one of the most important parts of your annual recital and competition routines, yet the process of choosing what your dancers will wear, measuring them accurately and ordering your selections can be fraught with second-guessing. We compiled your questions and asked the experts—the costume companies, that is—for their frank advice and guidance.

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From left: Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet; Michael Curley, Courtesy Cincinnati Zoo.

Yesterday Cincinnati Ballet announced an exciting addition to this year's Nutcracker cast: a character based on Fiona, the world's most famous hippopotamus.

Fiona was born at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in January 2017. Six weeks premature, she weighed only 29 pounds at birth as opposed to the standard 55-120, and required round-the-clock care from dedicated zoo staff. Cincinnati Children's Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit even got involved. The zoo chronicled her progress on Facebook, creating the heart-warming Fiona Show (see the first episode below). The baby hippo's story went viral, winning hearts in Cincinnati and around the world.

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Cheyenne Murillo and her partner Sasha Altukhov at Millennium Dancesport Championship. Photo courtesy of Murillo

It seems everyone is trying to break into the ballroom scene these days, and we don't blame them—it's ALL kinds of fabulous!

But getting started can seem overwhelming for everyone involved. Whether you're a studio owner looking to implement a new ballroom program or a student looking to get started, you're likely to have A LOT of questions.

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You're welcome!

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"In part, I became a teacher because I felt the need to help others dance," says Slattery (center in all black). "Working on this project has been so fulfilling, and I look forward to it each week." Photo courtesy of Orlando Ballet

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The workshop was such a positive experience that the school expanded it to 10 weeks. Recently, I was given the opportunity to teach within the program. To my surprise, the students were capable of participating in ways I wouldn't have expected.

In a short time, I've been so impressed with the children's ability to modify movement, not to mention the joy and incredible spirit the students bring to class each week. It has been an extremely valuable experience for me as a teacher, and I have learned a great deal working with these inspiring kids.

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Photo by Jacqueline Connor, courtesy of Nowakowski

In 2015, Houston Ballet demi-soloist Jim Nowakowski made a shocking career about-face when he soared into the heart of pop culture and made Top 6 on Season 12 of "So You Think You Can Dance." The commercial world was taken by his flawless technique and perfect lines, while at the same time classical dancers were surprised by his choice to leave a coveted position with Houston Ballet. He was an enigma—and now he's done it again. He has recently returned to ballet company life and is well into his second season with BalletMet.

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Last Wednesday was National Stress Awareness Day, and all day we couldn't stop thinking about dance teachers.

Whether it's helping your students cope with anxiety caused by the pressures of our industry, unpacking your own anxiety caused by a lifetime in this industry or simply just managing the day-to-day stresses that come with teaching, you are dealing with a lot of stress, and we want to help.

Dance Teacher caught up with a Pacific Northwest Ballet School consulting psychologist Toby Diamond to get some professional advice on how to deal with anxiety. She gave a teacher's seminar at PNB on this subject earlier this year.

Try out some of her tools, and see how they can benefit your health and the health of your students!

Good luck! We're rooting for you!

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Shelby Williams via @biscuitballerina

Fall is arguably the best season of the year, and "Falling Fridays" are arguably the best day of the week on the @biscuitballerina Instagram page. So, we thought it was only fitting that we combine the two "bests" for a fall-tastic post today!

Heaven bless @biscuitballerina for making us laugh day in and day out. SHE. IS. EVERYTHING.

Get ready to laugh 'til you cry, ladies and gentleman.

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