Every Student Deserves to Be Seen

Dance is an ever-evolving world

What was considered acceptable during my young training days may not meet today’s standards.

Back in my youth, teachers were allowed to use derogatory names like “Fat,” “Lazy,” “Stupid,” and “Terrible,” and they could even predict your failure. For some, like myself, this tough love served as motivation to prove them wrong. It fueled my determination and made me work even harder, but those hurtful words left deep scars. I was never content, always feeling like I fell short and battled against insurmountable odds.

At the age of 13, I journeyed to Edmonton to attend a ballet summer school at what was then known as the Alberta Ballet School. My goal was to audition for full-time enrolment in the professional program since my family was relocating to Edmonton. Sadly, my dreams were shattered when I was summoned to the principal’s office. There, I was bluntly told, “Your thighs are overdeveloped, and I don’t have time to correct this issue. You won’t be accepted into our professional program. Good luck, but your improvement prospects are slim.” I left her office utterly devastated, questioning my ability to dance. Was I not good enough? Was I too heavy for ballet?

Returning home on a Greyhound bus, my future appeared bleak. I cherished ballet with all my heart, and giving up was not an option. So, where could I turn?

In August, my family moved, and my mother contacted the Edmonton School of Ballet. They were in the midst of their summer intensive program and allowed me to join for the remaining weeks. I stepped into that school with apprehension, knowing only one fellow student who wasn’t at the recommended level. I felt isolated and dreaded hearing the same verdict.

I attended classes that week and grasped the work surprisingly well. It was my first experience working with teachers like Maria Bokor, David Adams, and Clinton Rothwell. Never before had I been taught by a male ballet instructor. I worked diligently, absorbing every piece of guidance. By the week’s end, they offered me a place at a higher level, praising my potential. My mother, wise as she is, objected. She understood I still had much to learn and believed that training at that level would lead to injuries due to gaps in my development. I, however, was on cloud nine, convinced that someone saw my potential. My mother’s perspective became clear to me with time.

We embarked on a quest to find the right teacher, and our search led us to a small studio called Marr Mac Dance and Theatre Arts. I attended an elementary ballet class there one evening, and Mrs. Florence Skinner took the time to speak with both my mother and me. She was candid about my overdeveloped thighs and recognized that I hadn’t learned how to utilize my turnout properly, relying too much on my quadriceps and glutes. She told me it would take two years to retrain me and turn the new techniques into muscle memory. I was overjoyed that someone saw me, someone believed I was worth helping. The journey was arduous, and I experienced moments of excruciating pain. Some doctors even advised me to quit. However, my teacher and my mother, perceptive of my struggles, found a physical therapist to assist me. Over those two years, I learned so much about myself and my body. This experience deepened my connection with my body and underscored the importance of good teachers who see each student as an individual, each with strengths and weaknesses. This holistic approach to teaching has remained with me throughout my training and into my teaching career.

I’ve dedicated myself to understanding the human body and the intricacies of movement. I strive to comprehend why bodies move as they do, so that I can help every student who crosses my path reach their fullest potential. After all, isn’t that what every student deserves?

If you ever find yourself feeling overlooked and undervalued in your dance journey, rest assured, you are not alone. The dance world has operated under these outdated practices for far too long. It’s high time we rewrite this narrative. Those who dedicate their time, passion, and hard-earned resources to this art form deserve to feel seen and valued. Every student, regardless of their background, deserves the same quality of attention and guidance. The dance community must prioritize the individuality of each dancer and recognize their unique strengths and weaknesses. We owe it to ourselves, our students, and the future of dance to usher in a new era where every aspiring dancer, from the smallest studio to the grandest stage, can confidently say that they are getting the true value they invest in their dance education. It’s a collective responsibility to ensure that every dancer’s potential is nurtured, celebrated, and allowed to shine.

If this is the positive experience you want for your child, we are here to help. Email us for more info or register your child for classes today.

Erin Madsen
Madsen Arts Centre

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