Category Archives: ballet

A failure to prognosticate.

Amongst my many skills is a soup├žon of ESP inherited from my maternal grandmother, who occasionally used to help the police in the smallish city in which she lived (trufax). While I have had the odd experience in my day, I have never believed in my ability to tell the future, which I suppose means that when I worked as a telephone psychic (more trufax), I was something of a charlatan. All of which explains why I am unable in normal circumstances to predict the future, or discern the unknowable. This inability has annoyed at least 3 people this week.

The first person was a student who wrote me an email in which he presented his essay topic as a sentence fragment. I wrote back asking for clarification, at which point I got a grudging sentence, which made it appear as if he had decided on a position in advance of gathering any evidence, so I sent another query. It took 2 more emails for me to understand that he did actually seem to have a grasp on the task.

Now, this is nothing out of the ordinary. Witness “child porn” girl from the previous episode. I make my students develop their own topics, because I think it is pedagogically valuable, although it does make them whiny. The reason I don’t make a list of essay questions, my dear snowflakes, is because I can.

Anyhoo, the student with whom I had the email exchange, and let us now call him Covert Genius, was apparently quite butthurt that I questioned his ability to write an essay. He came and told me so in class, saying OF COURSE he knew how to get evidence to support his point, and how dare I assume otherwise. He is a 4th year student. My response was along the lines of “given that this is a FIRST YEAR class, and all I have to go on is your sentence fragment of a topic, I was doing my JOB and making sure you knew what you were doing,” but with more ego-massaging in.

This was apparently not good enough, since he later posted a really really really long post in the class discussion forum about how he was an award-winning writer, and how dare I not know about his genius, presumably just by looking at him, since his writing is in no way remarkable so far. Dude, if you are such a genius, why did you procrastinate on doing freshman comp until your final semester?

I was contemplating some kind of sarcasmic response to him on the forum, but another student jumped in and smacked him down for being both boring and inappropriate. Awesome.

The second case involves a student from Winter semester. That’s two semesters ago, for those of you who are counting.

This student was doing well in my class, until she disappeared for several weeks. I was mildly perplexed, but these things happen. I then got an email from her saying she had been in hospital and was still very ill. She was worried about the class. I did what I could to reassure her, saying we could worry about her options when she was well.

A few weeks later, at the end of semester, she sent a bunch of panicked messages worrying about failing. I told her to come and see me, which she did. I suggested, since she had missed more than half the semester, that her best option was to take a compassionate W on the class and try again when she was well. But she had been getting an A! True enough. If you get an A once, you can probably do that again, I suggested.

She was pretty adamant that she wanted to take an incomplete and finish the work, and since she had been a good student, and since I was going to be teaching in Spring Semester anyway, I agreed. I gave her a list of the work she needed to do, and instructions about keeping in touch via email, and completed the paperwork.

I never heard from her again. I was mildly perplexed, but these things happen.

Then, this week, I got an email from the Registrar’s office saying that the student was asking for a very late compassionate W. Two semesters later? Is that even possible?

The reason for the late request, according to this email, was that I had “pushed the student into taking an I when she wanted a W” and been “negligent” since I had not seen “that she obviously was in no position to make decisions about her academic life”. Really? So now I am supposed to be a doctor and a mind reader? I suppose I should know that trying to be nice to students has a 50% chance of biting me in the ass.

The third case comes, oddly enough, from my actual life outside my job, in which I have recently taken on the volunteer duty of emailing person for my daughter’s ballet show. Now, I took this on thinking that unlike the previous emailing person (who is firmly of the opinion that the internet you use for the email is different to the internet you use for the web surfing), I had some idea of how to use a computer and an internet, and therefore it wouldn’t be all that onerous of a duty, unlike, say, building sets, which I did last year.

What I failed to take into account is that Ballet Moms (and yes, yes, there are a few dads and a few – well, TWO – boys, this is ballet and it is mostly girls and their moms) are even more speshul snowflakes than students. I kid you not. They don’t read emails; they misread emails; they need 4 emails to explain what “regular rehearsal time” means; they ask me to do stuff that is clearly outside my portfolio; they want me to email them separately from the bulk email; they refuse to believe me when I say I am getting error messages from their hotmail accounts (seriously, HOTMAIL? Is this 1998?); they generally act annoying and whiny.

The one who takes the cake, though, is the Mom who complained to me, in the smarmiest patronizing tone ever, that I had caused her daughter to miss a rehearsal on Thursday because I hadn’t sent out the rehearsal schedule for the week. “But I sent the schedule on Sunday morning,” I said. “And I didn’t get an error message from your account (mirabile dictu).” Well, as if that is good enough. “You should have known I didn’t get it and called me,” she said. Seriously? I should have divined, from no evidence at all, that she needed me to phone her?

My ESP skills are utterly inadequate.

My life as a Nutcracker.

Okay, look. When kids are involved in performing arts, you have 2 choices. One, let them be kids, in which case they will fuck up, but the audience will say “Aww, look at the sweet little things expressing their creativity”. Two: run your production like a Nazi death camp. StepLadder belongs to a ballet school that subscribes to option 2. Srsly, we are in rehearsal or class at least 3 times a week for the duration. She thrives on it, though. Today, she was all, “look at this,” as she stuck her leg out perpendicular to her body. “Most of the girls in my class can only hold that for a couple seconds. I can do it for ages.” Which she proceeded to do.

I am happy that she is lapping this up, but it does make me into a ballet mom. Just saying. There will be dispatches.

I’ve written about the teacher before, and she really is awesome. Today, she was herding the 5 and 6 year olds who have the parts that last all of 30 seconds, but by gum, they are going to do it right. Srsly half of the rehearsal time is spent getting them to learn their “marks,” so that they are not wandering aimlessly all over the stage. The thing is, they are perfectly capable of getting it, which is a serious lesson in managing expectations. There are schoolteachers who need to learn this.

Generally, during rehearsal or class, I sit in the lobby and knit, which means people feel compelled to make conversation. Ballet parents are not all entirely snobby wankers, although there are a number of those. Mostly what they have in common is that they want their girls (again, I could be PC and say kids, but the gender ratio is like 100:3) to be exposed to music and “high culture” (those are air quotes) and physical activity. Knowing this about them makes them mostly tolerable. Hot topics this afternoon: why my knitting is not crochet, do you give your kid Tylenol for fever, and my that girl from our ballet school who is in So You Think You Can Dance, Canada, is talented, but why is she wasting her time on a show where they make her do a Hip Hop number and then criticize her for not grabbing her crotch hard enough.

The girls are so into The Nutcracker, they are great fun to watch. The ballet company of the school (that is, the core of dancers aged 9-19) make up the bulk of the cast, although they hire a professional dancer to be Cavalier, and then there are a few parents plus all the little kids under 8 in the party scene, and one dad gets to be Mother Ginger, lucky devil.

Because the whole company is doing the whole of the rest of the show, there is a lot less angst about who is Clara, which I find refreshing. They all throw themselves into whatever they are given, and the prized parts are often surprising. StepLadder is hugely delighted to be a soldier this year because “they have swords that look like real,” but the mice (played by older girls) have a better part: more jumping. “The jumping” has been her favourite part of ballet since she was three.

Nutcracker also inspires a lot of the children for the graft that is the rest of the year in ballet, and it gives all of them a rare gift in 21st Century North America where most kids are raised as Speshul Snowflakes who are praised and ego-massaged within an inch of their lives – it lets them experience the satisfaction of working hard in order to do a good job.