Compliments and Cold Shoulders

Mar 23, 2021

I vividly remember the first compliment I received from my then 75-year-old ballet teacher. I was nine and it was my first year in dance.

She declared in front of the class that my tendu à la second was the best in the studio. She said “I wish everyone had half-as-good a tendu as Gina has.” (She was one of those old-school ballet teachers who lavished praise on certain dancers and could also deliver criticism so sharp it poked your insides.) At her praise of my tendu, I felt a rush of adrenaline go through my body. It was as if I had a huge dose or sugar or salt or caffeine and I could feel it instantaneously coursing through my body. I wanted more. Class after class, I focused with great intensity on winning the next compliment - the next word of praise. This compliment would fuel me, would sustain me, until the next, and the next.

My drive to be praised was simultaneously ambushing my social life at the studio. I could feel the eyes of the other girls, disliking me a little more each time I was praised. I could feel the cold way that they turned their shoulder toward me in the dressing room. I could feel it…and I didn’t care. I wanted this. I was good at this. This made me special, noticed, praised…worthy. So I clung to the friendships of three dancers in the studio (two of which would end up betraying me utterly when 9-year-olds turned into 13-year-olds). I tried not to feel the sadness of being shut out of circles of girls putting on their pointe shoes. I tried not to focus on the glares from jealous moms in the waiting area. Mostly, I tried to keep my eyes focused on being better – jumping higher, completing an addition turn, expressing myself more when I danced. Whatever pain I felt from cold shoulders could not hope to compete with my longing for praise and validation.

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Dancer…what comes up for you after reading this?

Are you the dancer clinging to compliments, as I did? Are you the dancer hearing an earful of compliments directed at (yet again) someone else? Perhaps you have been both at one time in your dancing life. Maybe you have felt the pang of jealousy when another dancer is recognized. Maybe you have felt ostracized in the studio - or maybe you know a dancer who is. And perhaps you, too, have clung to compliments from your teacher, director, coach - whomever - as if your very worth depended on their approval.

I offer no sage words of advice for you here in this post. This is not a “4 tips for freeing yourself from teacher pleasing” or “why being nice is nice” post. I simply want to share this memory with you and see how it resonates. Maybe whatever bubbled up for you will help guide you in your journey as a dancer this week. Usually what bubbles up, what resonates, what “sticks,” if you will, bubbles, resonates, sticks…for a reason.

In case you are curious, (let’s insert a ray of sunshine here!) we eventually moved and I changed studios. I was plunged into a much cheerier studio environment where I met new friends with warm shoulders. As difficult phases in life usually do, my experience at this studio taught me many lessons that I am thankful to carry with me through life.

See you right here, next Thursday!



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