Did any of you watch this show last night? I was interested to watch it mostly because it was filmed here in Pittsburgh and many of our dancers here at Point Park University attended that dance school before college. One of my students who just was in my class this spring teaches for her and will be on the reality show this season.
I followed Twitter and Facebook while it was happening and I was equally as horrified while the show was on. Everyone was saying what a horrible, evil person the dance teacher was and how awful those moms are for taking their kids to her.
But the more I think about it to today I'm not sure I really disagree with much of what Abby Lee (the dance teacher) was doing. Some of her tone and statements were absolutely out of line, but her bottom line of "I'm training serious dancers to be professionals and that requires tough discipline" is really true.
I look at Olympic athletes or professional musicians/dancers and we all celebrate them. But they didn't just roll out of bed and win an Olympic gold did they? They were trained, hard I suspect, by people who probably always weren't sweet and loving and encouraging. I'm sure Mary Lou Retton's coach was tough as nails on her. Same with Michael Phelps. I wonder if people were calling their parents horrible parents for subjecting them to that kind of training. If you want to be the best you have to be able to take the criticism and improve.
I do think that we often over-compliment our kids. Everyone gets a prize, everyone is told how wonderful they are. That's great on some level, but if we're really trying to make our kids be better, smarter, more skilled, then there comes a point where we have to say "no, that's wrong, here's how to do it right". The author of the book Tiger Mom got an awful lot of criticism last year about her tough-love parenting style, but she had some valid points in my opinion. Much like Abby Lee, though, she probably could have given the same message but with a better attitude.
I'd love to see how this dance teacher interacts with her non-competition classes. You know the four and five-year-olds who are just taking dance for fun. Is she just as abrasive to them or is she just reserving that for the competition dancers? The answer to that would say a lot about her in my opinion. If these girls (and their mothers) on the competition team want them to be serious competitors and get into great dance programs at the college level and beyond, then Abby Lee is quite possibly doing the right thing (although she sure could do it a lot nicer, I think).
Two years ago our dance program at Point Park got a lot of flack for something called "The Fat List" where they supposedly had a list of dance majors that they needed to talk to to discuss their weight. The college newspaper broke the story and everyone was up in arms.
The Dance department and instructor Peter Merz handled the complaints with discretion and said 'what's been lost amid the criticism is the fact that there are very real expectations about physical conditioning and aesthetics that aspiring dancers will face as they look for work. He said faculty try to give students a realistic sense of what to expect. "Certain body weights are necessary to become employable". Read the full story at the Post-Gazette here.
It may not be something any of us like, but it is the current reality. Sports (including dance) are competitive and you need to have a certain level of talent, skill and discipline to be successful at it. If these girls really want to grow up to be professional dancers, then this might be their reality to face.
I guess the other side is that we should try and change the industry rather than continuing to support it and conform to it, but that might be an impossible task.
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