Abuse No More in the Arts

Do you feel like no matter how hard you try, it’s just not good enough for your teacher?

Do you feel pushed down, and small when you go to class or your lessons?

Do you feel like you can’t do anything right?
Like you are always wrong?

When was the last time you left your class or lesson and felt GOOD about yourself, and your progress with your Art?

If you can’t remember, there may be something deeper going on…and it actually has nothing to do with you.

If you have been feeling frustrated with your growth, it may be time to look at your teacher….

 

I took a year off dancing when I was 11.  I was living in England at the time, and my mother took me out of the ballet school I was attending in Bury St. Edmunds, because the teacher was holding me back.  I was the only American in the class, and even though I worked so hard, and my level was just as high as the others, I was the only one not allowed to move to the next level.

My mother was furious, and spoke with my teacher, hoping to gain understanding.  My teacher was a stone wall, and my mother deeply believed I was being discriminated against, after the conversation.

Rather than subject me and my love of dance to another year with this woman, she took me out.

We moved to Germany, and I got back to dancing once a week, and got my first pair of pointe shoes.  I was over the moon, but not really growing as much as a dancer.

Then we moved to Montgomery, Alabama and I was accepted into the Baldwin School for the Arts, and was taking dance two hours a day, five days a week at the advanced level class with a former Royal School of Ballet teacher, Leslie Caruso.

I was one of the WORST dancers in the class.  The year off from dance had affected me, as had the ho-hum teaching I had received when I was 13, once a week, at a studio on base in Heidelberg.  This was really the first time I was getting quality training on an intensive schedule…and something magical happened…I grew.  Not only my confidence, but my technique, my expression, and I started to choreograph.

I was excited to go to class!
I WANTED to go to class.

And I ended up receiving an award for Most Improved at the end of the year.  Leslie Caruso gave me a solo on pointe at the end of year recital to celebrate my journey.

I gained clarity that I was not going to be a professional ballerina, but knew I would be a performer.  I wanted dance to be a part of my life moving forward.  I was in love with it again!

From there, my father was stationed at the Pentagon, and I found a dance studio in Northern Virginia called the Russell School of Ballet.

I showed up for classes so excited to GROW, to learn, and to take everything Leslie had taught me and take my dance to the next level, especially with pointe.

And then the Russells held me back.
They told me I was only allowed to wear my pointe shoes at the bar.
And when they cast the Nutcracker my first year, I was cast as one of Clara’s friends…..not doing the gorgeous Snow number where I would have been performing on pointe.

I tried to justify it, and enjoy the performance, and just get back to working hard. But it felt horrible.

And then the following year when they cast the Nutcracker, I was cast as one of Clara’s friends…AGAIN.

I came home absolutely crestfallen.
I felt so frustrated.

My friends were doing Snow, and I felt so embarrassed.
Why wasn’t I being given the chance to shine?

And a belief was forming,
You’re not a strong dancer.
You’re just not that good.

Have you ever felt like this?
Torn down by your teacher and then believe you are hopeless?

How has this affected your Art today and your confidence?
Are you where you want to be?

 

Who is your teacher to you?
Who are they supposed to be?

I gained my education in the Arts at a time when the models of teaching were changing.  For a long time in the dance world, humiliation was the major tool.

Publicly shaming students was commonplace.  Some of the most successful choreographers and teachers were also deeply abusive to their students, yelling at them and breaking them down. Some were also deeply manipulative, using their power position to dominate over and sexually abuse.

That’s NOT right!
Did you come here today to WASTE my time?
Stop crying….no one cares.
That looks TERRIBLE…do it again.  Do it until you bleed and learn the lesson.
I will tell you when it’s acceptable.

For some students. this would work…but only for a time.  At the end of the day, the damage done was monumental to the students’ psyche, and would inevitably lead to addiction, depression, and burnout.

Humiliation is not sustainable.

And take a moment and check in,
How do these statements FEEL in your body?

Does it make you want to create?
Does it inspire you?

It didn’t for me. Not only that, it deeply stunted my growth as a dancer.  Being held back and demoralized only convinced me I deserved it.

I remember having a powerful conversation with a dear friend who is a professional opera singer, and also a master voice teacher.  He said,
The mark of a good teacher is in your results.  If you are not seeing and feeling big changes right away, so somewhere else.

I didn’t hear this until I was in my mid 30’s, but suddenly things begin to clarify.

I thought of my huge growth in dance and choreography in college, and attributed that to my amazing mentor, Spence Ford, who taught me how to be a professional dancer and choreographer.

I thought of my voice teacher in college, Dr. Susan Boardman, who opened me to the fact I was actually a soprano and had me singing high Cs, after I was convinced I was an alto.

I thought of my high school theatre teacher , Mr. Maiden, who taught me how to act, and all the roles I played in school productions, and how I decided to do musical theatre as a profession because of him.

I thought of my voice teacher I had for 12 years in the city, Linda Glick, who taught me how to belt healthfully, and all the jobs I booked because of that work.

And of course, it all comes back to Leslie Caruso.

When I examined what she did, I realized she actually created a powerful environment for me to learn, one where I was ENCOURAGED. An environment that was safe.

At the end of the year, I went to her and thanked her deeply saying,
Ms. Caruso.  I was one of the WORST dancers in your class at the beginning of the year.  Why did you put me in the advanced class instead of the intermediate?

She looked at me and smiled simply, saying,
I saw potential in you.

And there it is…..the largest difference between humiliation and abuse…..the INTENTION and what the teacher sees.

Leslie saw the BEST in me.  She believed in me, and held me high, everyday.  THAT is why I grew.

 

So, what does your teacher see in you?
Do they have your best interests at heart?

Or are they too steeped in their own frustrations and failures?

You want a teacher who KNOWS what they are teaching, and you want a teacher who is CLEAN.

Clean of misguided anger, and truly in service.

And you can FEEL it in your body.
You can feel when your teacher is truly there for you, guiding you.

And this doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges!  Of course there will be.  Learning your Art means you will come up against all your demons, doubts, and fears because it means so much and because it takes quite a bit of SKILL to be a professional artist. We have to arrive to our classes and lessons OPEN and willing to learn.  That is our work, and responsibility.

But, is your teacher SKILLFULLY holding you as you grow?
Are they encouraging you?

Or tearing you down?

Take stock of the teachers where you have had the most growth, and if you are feeling super stuck right now, it may be time to have a heart to heart with your next steps.

Thankfully, times are changing, but there are still many teachers who abuse their roles of power.

Know you always have a choice to leave.
You have the choice to CHOOSE who guides you as you become Unstoppable.

 

I see you.
I see your brilliance.

Tune in to what actually feeds sustainable growth in your Art.  Tune into what actually OPENS you and allows you to tap into your unique artistic voice.

I’m holding your vision high.  And the right teacher for you will see this too.

 

 

 

Photography: Caitlin Cannon Photography

Your Personal Screen

Do you ever get to the end of your day and feel like NOTHING got done?

It can be so frustrating, right?

You are staring at your Creative Projects, and feeling like they are just in stand still mode. You woke up this morning with the best intentions, you woke up inspired and ready to take action on your Art and truly be Unstoppable…..

And then,
Email
Texts
Laundry
Shopping
Facebook
Unexpected Family Issue
s
Phone Calls

All these OTHER things pulled you from your Art. And the voice rises up so loud,
You’ll work on this WHEN these other things are taken care of.
There’s TOO much to do!
Let me just take care of this one more thing now…..

You feel like a ping pong ball, scattered in a million directions and end your day frazzled, overwhelmed, and no closer to receiving the acclaim you desire. And your inner critic is having a parade in your head saying,
This will NEVER Happen!

Have you ever felt like this?
How do we turn this around and actually have our days work FOR us instead of against?

 

I’m settling in more, living in New Jersey suburbia.  My body is settling too, and I found myself putting on some weight.  I realized the pace of running a business out of a home is very different than running a business out of an apartment in NYC.

The biggest thing missing?
The walking of public transportation.  NYC is a place with exercise built in, the streets, the subway steps…something I had taken for granted, until I was living in a home and had a car as transportation.

So, last week, I found myself at a gym, and as I climbed onto the elliptical, what struck me most were all the TVs plastered across the walls above the mirrors.

So many of them with blinking screens and flashing lights…
Talk Shows
24 News Channels
Reality TV

Close Captioning bold letters moving across the screens,
Trump’s latest Tweet
Rain Expected for Days!
Fatal School Bus Crash

And I could feel my chest tightening.  I could feel the initial urge to want to read every word. And then I looked down at my elliptical machine screen, and saw an option,
Courses.

When I clicked on this, I saw I could choose a course titled :
Grand Staircase Hike.

As I am a HUGE lover of outdoors, I clicked right away and found myself immersed on a hike through the National Parks of Utah.  I felt my chest relax, and realized the course was taking me on a path.
One single path.

Every now and then, I would gaze up at the TV screens calling me to get involved in Russia, Weather systems, or endless footage on a continued repeated loop of an angry tennis player smashing a camera. My path was still laid out in front of me, and yet these other screens were taunting me with their headlines.

And in that moment I thought of you.

 

Distraction is the destroyer of productivity.

And it comes in SO many forms today.  We have devices and screen ALL around us vying for our energy.

And while we wake every day WITH energy, we only have so much, and that tank is dependent on how much sleep we got, our general health, our mental well being, and our nutrition.

As our day continues, that tank lessens and lessens before we need to recharge again with sleep.

So, how do you want to use your energy?
How are you beginning your day when your tank is most full?

And most importantly, what is your path?

What is your vision, that juicy desire that brought you to your brush, your music, your dance, and your pencil?

Too often, we just throw ourselves into our work with no real vision of what we truly want.  Since we aren’t connected to what’s most alive and important to us as Artists, we will get easily distracted.

And there is a LOT of garbage on those screens.

Take stock, and ask yourself,
What helps me stay focused?
What inspires me to stay on my path of receiving the acclaim I desire?

And check in with your body.

What causes constriction?
What pulls your mind in a million pieces?

I can say for myself, News Channels are a one way ticket to a black hole.  I can feel every creative element in me shut down.  Reality TV does this too.

Having visual inspiration is vital for our Art, as most of us are visual learners, however, our minds can only focus on ONE THING at a time.  Multitasking is actually a fallacy.  It’s exhausting your brain, overstimulating your nervous system, and putting you into overwhelm.

And how does that affect your Creative Flow?
It shuts it DOWN.

So, if you only chose one screen…..what would be playing?

And my invitation is to turn the others off.

I used to have a DVR so full, I literally couldn’t catch up on all the shows I thought I “had” to watch.  In truth, the hours I was spending every night in front of the TV were just distractions keeping me from the fact my whole marriage was falling apart, and I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my performance career.

When the bottom fell out, one of the first things I laid a boundary on was the TV.  I shut out all the crazy noise so I could actually connect back with what was most important to me.

So, what is most important to you?

Recognize the distractions for what they are, and come back to your path.

 

What is your path that inspires you and energizes you?

Turn off the other screens.
They were just draining you anyway.

Walk on your Grand Staircase, and ENJOY the single view.