A reflection by Caroline Yost who is a senior in the School of Dance at GMU:
I feel there’s a progression the college level dancer endures over the course of their four years of study. When you’re a freshman, your main objective is to please your professor; if Professor X told you “Good, Caroline!” then you did your job for the day. Professor X is the authority figure and he or she already had a career so what they say must be true. In my freshman eyes, any words coming of any professor’s mouth were golden. I held no one’s opinion, not even my own, above any of my professors. When I was a freshman I whole-heartedly believed that if my professors thought I was talented, then I was. If my professors thought I was going to be a professional, then I was. I failed to take any responsibility for my craft or my career.
Naturally, when I received my first technique class “B+,” Intermediate Modern Dance, I was horrified. I couldn’t fathom how if I was doing everything correctly, attending class, and pleasing my teacher he could offer me anything short of an “A.” I found myself recalling all the verbal confirmations I’d heard in the semester, sizing up that number with the awful “B+” staining my transcript.
This class taking strategy lasted through my sophomore year. With a different palate of teachers I found myself hitting dead-ends left and right, trying to please those around me. And still, my mentality failed to change.
More B’s and more frustrations piled up and I found myself considering other career options; options I now realize never fulfilled my true passion (I fondly refer to these options as “copping out” now-a-days). However because they offered immediate and greater validation (an A on a paper I had worked so hard on, receiving an internship with one of the top American modern dance companies in the world) I thought perhaps they were for me.
I can pinpoint when everything clicked for me. It wasn’t a long realization either, it was acute. I recognized… I admitted… I surrendered to the truth, that I wanted to dance. Up until that point the ever-looming cloud of failure had been so dense it had led me astray. Even before my college years I was lost in a labyrinth looking for constant justification. It was after that submission the way in which I took class changed drastically.
I no longer found myself looking at my professors and waiting to hear encouraging words. I was speaking them to myself. I was hard on myself too, getting upset when I failed to pick up combinations at a sufficient rate or messing up things that should have been innate to my technique. Looking back on class and giving myself daily evaluations became a regular routine and regardless if I was spoken to or not, if I felt I had a good class, then I was satisfied.
Taking class became more rewarding as well because I wasn’t in competition with my peers. The thirst to get Professor X’s attention had dissipated. I no longer found myself stressing when the dancer in front of me was acknowledged and I was not. For the three hours of technique class I was in my own world, taking changes, making decisions, and in many ways, falling back in love with the art form. Not every day is perfect and there are some days I really do wish Professor X would recognize how hard I’m working or the fact that I just hit four pirouettes, because that yearning is human, it’s natural. But to be liberated from it after so many years of feeling inadequate because I wasn’t this teacher or that teacher’s cup of tea, well that has been truly magical.