AttenDANCE and Commitment

One of the reasons I love dance so much is because there is always something new to learn, always a new way to improve, a new way to grow as a dancer and as an artist. However, once you reach a certain age and skill level, dancing requires serious commitment. Unfortunately, I have been seeing my students’ commitment levels and attendance lacking recently. And this isn’t new, it seems that every year at this time, there are more and more absences in class, less focus and concentration, less desire to learn.

Likely everyone has spring fever and is a little burnt out come mid to late March. Everyone is ready for spring break and to give their bodies and minds a much needed break. Which is completely understandable except for two important things : a) I’ve noticed my students’ commitment levels drop drastically over the course of this year, not just the last few weeks and b) its recital season and teachers are busy preparing routines and I’d like to address both concerns.

When you are a dancer on a competition team, in a performance group, and/or you dream of a dance related career, you generally have to dedicate your growing up years to being in the studio. Not only to you have to build your skill set and develop your artistry, but you have to maintain and perfect the skills that you already know. As much as dance builds muscle memory, if you don’t practice, you loose what you’ve worked so hard to gain. Think of a football team. Last season, the team members worked hard during practice, running drill after drill and their hard work paid off with an undefeated season. This year, the team tries to skate by on last years success and skip half their practices and don’t put their all into their drills, however, they begin to loose more and more games.

Being committed to dance is very similar. If you don’t give 100% in your classes, not only are you not going to improve, but you are going to regress. While everyone around you is pushing and giving their best, you can’t sit by and wonder why you aren’t getting good scores on your competition numbers or earning the solos in your productions. And we as teachers can only give so much. I will come to class with lesson plans, give you corrections on things to work on in class, set goals for skill sets and advancement, and overall do everything in my power to help you grow and succeed. I am rooting for you. However, if you don’t give me focus, concentration, hard work, commitment, and dedication, you won’t improve and my lessons become meaningless. The harder you work, the more dedicated you are, the more you come to class, the more I become one of your biggest cheerleaders because I can see your commitment and that you work hard and WANT to improve.

Attendance is even more important during recital season. Teachers are trying to set routines and the more interesting choreography involves more than just dancing in unison in two staggered lines. However, changes in formation, timing, and groupings require all students to be present in class. It is almost impossible to set new choreography when there are several people missing in class. Its unfair to the teacher who is confused as to where each dancer stands, its unfair to the other students who have to remember where their classmates are and go over the same bit of movement over and over as the teacher shows it week after week to people who are missing, and its a major disadvantage to the students who are absent because they miss vital information.

In George Balanchine’s famous piece Serenade (link at bottom of post), he worked only with the students that were present during rehearsals. Everyone not in rehearsal the day he set a section of the dance was not included. Its a great demonstration of how vital attendance is to rehearsal as you watch dancers exit the stage because they weren’t there to learn the next part. I think its an excellent policy to kick dancers out of a section of choreography when they aren’t present when you are at a place like the School of American Ballet, but in a more recreational level, it becomes more difficult to justify. Parents have paid $50+ dollars for a costume, $20+ per recital ticket, and a year’s worth of tuition- they want to see their child on stage for more than 30 seconds.

Now, I don’t mind going over choreography several times if you are confused on the steps, timing, etc if you’ve been to class, in fact, I am happy to do so. It only becomes an issue when there are lots of absences and I have to rework spacing, timing, and reteach the same steps week after week. I have been working the last few weeks to set an ending on my recital pieces and it is taking longer than anticipated because I was missing people in all my classes. One class- the one with the most movement left to set and the most complex choreography, 1/3 of my class was absent last week, and a different 1/3 was absent this week.  The poor students that were present both weeks were confused because their spacing and timing was changed slightly, and the students who were absent were confused because they didn’t know what was going on despite having worked through that section without the music.

I understand that dancers have other obligations to family, church, and school. I want my dancers to attend their sibling’s end of year choir concert. I don’t want to be what keeps a child from her relationship with God. And I want my students to succeed in school and to get all their homework done. I do ask that if you know that you’ll be absent, to please let me know ahead of time and to please meet with a classmate to go over the choreography that we went over in class so you aren’t as far behind next week. I also ask that my dancers plan their homework and school projects out with their dance schedules in mind so that you are able to both get your schoolwork done AND come to dance class. As I become my dancer’s cheerleaders during technique, I also become your cheerleader during rehearsal. The more you prepare on your own, the more committed you are, and the more you attend class, I become more and more willing to work with you in or out of class in the rare case that you do have to miss class or rehearsal.

So students, I ask that you do everything in your power to come to dance class and give me 100% focus, dedication, and commitment as soon as you walk in the studio. Do whatever it takes at home and at school to be able to attend class. Your teacher will thank you, your classmates will thank you, and more importantly, you’ll thank yourself as you see faster growth and steady improvement.

Links to Serenade:

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