Friday, November 30, 2012

Problem solving, yet again

Years ago, Dancer had a ballet master who, while normally excellent, was downright brutal during tech week. He was pretty good about not blasting the younger kids, but the things he'd say to the older ones -- oh my! Jaw-dropping. It was as if he thought tearing down a soul could build up a dancer. I had serious qualms about letting Dancer stay there when she got old enough to be vented upon.

So as I walked Dancer down to rehearsal, I'd say, "You know he's likely to be stressed, because he wants you all to look your best for the performance. If he screams, what are you going to tell yourself?" We'd review healthy self-talk; sometimes a reminder of what to expect and how to handle it is good, prophylactic medicine.

Ballet is an art learned through mistakes; students learn to consider it an honor to be given a correction, because it means you've got enough potential to be worth correcting. But when you're dealing with a highly emotional director, there's a fine line between taking correction and taking abuse. For a long, long while I wondered how to teach Dancer to be strong enough to withstand the kind of blast that was likely to come her way some day.

And then one day light dawned: this wasn't a problem of strength, but of discernment. What we need when dealing with difficult people is the ability to distinguish between the seed of useful truth they can offer us, and the gale in which it travels. We need to grab that seed, plant it, use it -- and let the rest pass by.

Fortunately, that ballet master has moved on. Dancer's school now has incredibly supportive teachers. And we've all learned a little bit more about how to take criticism constructively, even when it's not given that way.

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