Pamela Moberg

Physical and mental abuse

29 posts in this topic

There is something rotten in the state school in Gothenburg. This story has even made the headlines and the TV news. There is a national ballet school here, you have to audition to go there. I have some inside knowledge because DD went there (she was injured, gave up ballet and is now an attorney). It is a vocational school, DD always said that the discipline was very strict, classes every day including Sat. morning. That was a few years ago and I have no personal insight since then.

However, there have been reports in the papers and on TV that ballet teachers abuse pupils verbally and mentally, punching in the stomach, hitting them on the head - one pupil was thrown out of ballet class for having yawned.

One irate parent wrote a letter of complaint, called it worse than North Corea. The Board of School Inspectors have been called in and found that pupils indeed had been ill treated in a number of ways. The headmaster said that they try to work in a democratic manner, the ballet teachers defended themselves with that pupils must be toughened to be able to stand up to life as professional dancers. A real storm has broken, but the real sad thing is that the general public reads the papers and will say: Well, now at last we know, ballet is unhealthy and a despicable form of entertainment.

I will follow this debate with great interest.

Yet, only about half a year ago, there was another debate in the newspapers, this time in Stockholm papers. Well, it was to the effect that of all the pupils examined from the national ballet school, hardly anyone gets a job with the established companies in Sweden. Because they are not good enough! In stead foreign dancers are employed. True, check the lists of artists of the Stockholm Opera House and the Gothenburg Opera House, you will find very few dancers with Swedish names.

Must say that I fear greatly for the future of Swedish ballet.

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That is very sad and troubling.

I have not heard any official reports of abuse in the state schools here, though I have heard from students who were there (one DD, among others) that some less-than-desireable things happen. (I am pretty sure this is the case everywhere; we just usually do not hear about it. It is very individual, I think.)

As to the employment situation:

How many companies are there in Sweden which hire full-time dancers, do you know?

Is it "easy" for the companies to procure work-visas for the foreign dancers?

Did any of the dancers from other countries finish their training in Sweden?

It is not that much different here in Germany, either, as far as I can tell, as far as the hiring of dancers goes. Most dancers in the companies are not from Germany originally, though many did finish their training here at one of the state-schools.

-d-

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EU employment laws make it easy to hire from almost everywhere in Europe, apart from Norway, Albania, and countries that were once Yugoslavia.

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There are four professional companies in Sweden: Stockholm Opera Ballet, Gothenburg Opera Ballet, Malmö Ballet och The Cullberg Ballet. Then there are some free groups, not attached to a theater. Stockholm does the classics, the other companies are mostly modern.

If the employer applies for a work permit I dont think it would be that difficult.

It seems that most of the foreign dancers received their education elsewhere, of course it is possible that some one with a foreign name came here at a young age as an immigrant and received all their dance training here.

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Yawning in class is not a sign of a good student actively involved... It is rude and disrespectful... I am not surprised that a student would be disciplined for this, particularly if it were not the only offense... "Punched in the stomach" might be a student's hyperbole and not the way the teacher would have described it... one might tap a student on the abdomen to get them to tighten it up and it might be a firm tap, but a punch implies a fist which seems extremely unlikely...HOWEVER "hit on the head" is absolutely inexplicable!!!

Verbal abuse? That's an old tradition. I wonder if it has any common antecedents to drill sergeants... I'm not sure where I stand on that one... I've heard some rather famous dancers talk about how teachers broke them down only to build them back up again... Maybe it gets rid of hubris... Maybe it is hubris. Different teachers have different styles.

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Amy, you do make some points; I was also trained in the "old traditiion" of verbal and the occasional physical abuse. (although I more often had to watch others getting the brunt of it than suffer it myself)

There are methods of getting results without abuse, of course, but these do not seem to "work" with everyone.

There are - it appears - some students who do not seem to respond to anything but the most overt and "abusive" corrections, only then do they appear to "wake up". (drill sargeants do come to mind!)

Oh, and yes, there are sometimes those with an amazing amount of hubris, though I do wonder how they got that far (to a big, professional school) with still so much of that intact! (usually reality takes hold earlier!)

Actually, these students should probably not be trying to be professional dancers, if they need to be so pushed to feel motivated But, who am I to say who should do what? I am probably missing something. :D

Work visas:

Where I live the allotment of work-visas seems to differ from one state or even city to another; in some places it appears to be fairly easy for non-European-Union members to get visas, in others: not so much. Perhaps it also depends on the person behind the desk; I am unaware of any hard-and-fast criteria, other than that the dance-co. must "prove that there are no European Nationals available who could do the job". :)

-d-

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Some abusers are just cruel, sadistic, vindictive, and mean. Some don't know any better, having grown up learning by example. Some don't have composure or self-control. Some need to be taught themselves.

Yawning is not disobedient; it is involuntary. Do people get disciplined for having a cramp? I hope not.

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There are those who think being bored is a problem with the teacher and there are others who think the problem lies in the student... Is boredom a sign of intelligence or lack of initiative?

The yawn may have been involuntary, but the state of mind that lead to the yawn may have been voluntary.

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There are those who think being bored is a problem with the teacher and there are others who think the problem lies in the student... Is boredom a sign of intelligence or lack of initiative?

The yawn may have been involuntary, but the state of mind that lead to the yawn may have been voluntary.

thought police now?

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Aside from the fact that yawning isn't always a sign of boredom, if a person is bored, a person is bored. Not every moment in a class or in the studio is going to be fascinating, and it seems to me that learning to deal with boredom on one's own and learning to re-focus are a far better life skills to learn for when that person is a professional, when there won't always be a teacher hovering around to yell at them, and they have to be self-motivated and self-correcting.

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Yawning can also be a reaction to moderate fear. In this instance, it strikes me as completely appropriate. Of course, it could also mean that the youngster didn't get enough sleep the night before, a common effect of too much stress.

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All possible. "Boredom" is a fairly recent concept, I understand it came into the language not long after "electric dynamo". As a child I was surprised by a grandmother who, when I complained of being bored, said she had thought I was too smart to be bored. Up until then I hadn't run into the concept that boredom was a weakness of the mind rather than an indication of intelligence. Sitting and waiting for hours on a plane/bus, etc.. is one thing... being bored in a dance class is another. Sure a yawn can be due to lack of sleep, etc., but if a teacher is going to be annoyed by a yawn, it's probably not the first yawn or the first indication of lack of attention... A yawn can also be stifled.

By now, I'm sure I'm boring all of you... but I would tend to go with Helene's last post...

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With all the heat generated, it is surprising it doesn't happen on stage sll the time...

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Yawning is not disobedient; it is involuntary.

Yes, but...aren't we teaching our youth how to MASK a yawn any longer...? I did learn as a kid, and I still occasionally do it during less than engaging social situations. Yes, yawning can come unexpected, but then there's a difference in between doing it explicitly, loud and with open wide mouth regardless of who's in front of you and doing it discreetly by covering your mouth and lowering your head. Family is responsible for teaching those tricks.

re: teaching methods. I come from old school too, and fear of teachers was very likable to be linked with classroom quietness, but then, back then and there classes were not supposed to be fun. The teacher's message was always "It is your choice...you either cooperate and learn or I'll make your life miserable and and you won't pass"

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^^You are right, cubanmiamiboy, it could very well be taught how to "mask" a yawn so as to not appear to be disrespectful. (I often have to stifle a yawn whilst teaching some of my later classes; I am not at all bored! Just really tired and in need of fresh air and a break, both of which are not going to happen right then)

And, you also make a point about classes - any classes - being "fun" or not.

Those were days when not everything was meant to be "fun". I think that in many places that has changed now.

I find it troubling; that and the expectation that it is really important to "be happy", the implication being that we have to "be happy" all the time for our lives ot be fulfilling.

-sigh-

-d-

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It's true, "fun" and "interesting" don't have to be the same. I remember a great uncle wondering when "fun" became a requirement even for adults... It must make training classical musicians very difficult these days... For me, "fun" is being able to do something "interesting".

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I don't think "fun" is meant literally, but we all know from our own experience (and supported by research) that we learn better when lessons engage us. When teachers don't convey any enthusiasm for their subject, students aren't likely to develop any, and learning becomes a chore. Learning in life isn't like that. I wonder why people think school must be.

The yawner -- does anyone know how old she was? I think ejection from the class was harsh, but it also makes a difference whether she was eight years old or eighteen.

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I don't think "fun" is meant literally, but we all know from our own experience (and supported by research) that we learn better when lessons engage us.

The problem being that kids-(and many adults, as I realize)-can't draw a line between the "fun" and "funny" concepts. The classes that I remember the most in the past-(my music class, literature, history and Spanish language)-were captivating, fascinating, and many other things, but not particularly "fun". When interest rose, you would get very passionate and attentive, but I don't remember any effort on the teacher's side to make it any "fun" at all.

Lately I've been exposed to suffer a dosage of this concept, when Bernstein's daughter came to town to give some sort of lecture on music along the New World Symphony. The whole thing was hard, sad to watch. The majority of people were laughing, and then the wonderful Tchaikovsky's music became just a background for her one woman show and non sense. It was awful, and yet, as I said, people were just laughing their hearts out. I spoke to a member of the orchestra about it later, and she kind of apologized about it, and said that Miss Bernstein does all that nation wide to "get to the masses" on the classical music subject.

Question being...is that really the only way...? Does EVERYTHING has to become a Jay leno show on this earth to have a chance...?

I guess I'm TOO old school...

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cubanmiamiboy, that is exactly what I meant; you articulated it much better. smile.png

"Fun" vs "joy", perhaps.

(I almost wince when I hear a parent say to their child as the child goes into ballet class, "have fun!"; or when I have a teacher-parent talk and the main thing important for the parent is that their child is "having fun".)

So, perhaps some of my classes are not fun, and perhaps to some students I am psychologically abusive, as I do not compliment them all the time nor couch everything into a game or joke.

Of course lessons should be at least some of the time more enjoyable than not doing them, but it does not have to be an entertainment-hour where all the pupils do is "consume". ("learning can be fun!" - yes, but it is also work, often hard work. There is no free lunch. ;) )

The greatest joy - or perhaps even "fun" - comes when one is finally able to do something one could not do at first.

-d-

Edited by diane

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Another common reason to yawn is need for oxygen. At least when I studied ballet, in hot, stuffy studios without good ventilation, this was not uncommon. Granted I tried to hide it when I did it, but it certainly wasn't due to lack of engagement or interest on my part. Just a simple need for more air. While our teachers were often harsh, I dont think anyone was reprimanded particularly harshly, besides maybe the sharp remark, for yawning in class.

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Based on my own youthful experience as an instrumentalist in school ensembles, the truly captivating, even addictive feeling was one of being "absorbed" -- often totally absorbed -- in something outside myself. This was something I rediscovered when I began taking ballet classes an relatively old age.

Teachers, even strict teachers, who were genuinely committed to the work (making the most of each piece of music) were not perceived as being unfair or abusive. On the other hand, a teacher who seemed to focus on good form or behavior for its own sake WAS often disliked and avoided.

"Fun" was hanging out with my fellow musician in non-practice, non-rehearsal, non-performance periods. "Funny" was what we were convinced we were when we joked among ourselves ... on our own time.

On the other hand, working hard and learning how to do things well, with confidence, and as consistently as we could was definitely a HIGH.

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The dance school I went to when I was a teen, we had good and gentle teachers, but there were also the cruel and rude ones. I remember hearing stories from other students about how the school principal was the worst among them. Verbally abusive language sometimes could be heard, that was just the "norm". Physical punishment was observed at times however. We used to have this wooden pool cue sitting in the corner of the classroom, and some teachers liked to use it to count, the principal liked to use it as a "weapon". I never experienced any physical discipline myself as a student, but I have seen girls in class being smacked on the back of their legs with that. Everyone was just glad to get out of the class afterward.

Old school or not old school, I don't know, that was the 90's, I didn't like it too much and that's all I can say about that.

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I think there's a huge difference between strict and abusive and rigid and abusive. A fictional example is in Allegra Kent's new children's book, "Ballerina Swan", in which the older Miss Myrtle, portrayed in long-sleeved spinsterish black, dismisses Sophie, the swan of the title, from her class, but it is she, not the younger, gentler, more accepting Miss Willow, who notices that Sophie is distraught after when she doesn't see her name on the cast list for the recital. In character, Miss Myrtle is very straightforward about it all: she's just a tough one.

The stereotype about school and class that I always hear and read is that if a dancer doesn't have the teacher's attention, they're not likely to get anywhere, and even in schools like SAB, only a few each year get into NYCB, although a higher percentage get contracts elsewhere. Even there or in other professional schools, even if a PD dancer auditions for another company, the ballet world is so small that it only takes a phone call for someone from the training school to remark that the student is lazy or isn't a team player or is disruptive, or worse, to be praised tepidly. It seems to me that being ignored is the worst fate.

This makes be wonder if the teachers at this school are abusive because their students have little to lose one way or the other. If they are not being taken into the parent company, then either they are getting in no where, which must be demoralizing for the teachers, or they are getting in elsewhere regardless of their behavior, which must be demoralizing for the teachers.

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I have read an article online before that said nerves (like stage fright) can cause yawning, believe it or not. Whenever you have to go perform or be on show or do something that you are nervous about, your body can react with yawning, so it is definitely not always a sign of boredom or sleepiness, if the article I read is true. Unfortunately, I never saved it, but ever since I read that article I do notice that I yawn a lot right before having to do something that makes me nervous.

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