Privilege, Training, and Checking our Biases as Instructors
I was taking a workshop from one of my favorite teachers, Sarah. As we did warm up kicks, someone (me? Her? Another student?) commented on my good technique. Pleased, and proud, and in an acculturated effort to downplay my strengths (more on that later), I said something along the lines of, “All those years of hard work in dance class had to pay off somehow”.
Sarah said something like, “Ah, what a huge privilege to have dance training when you were young”.
BAM! The familiar feeling that, as a cis, white, able bodied woman, I find myself experiencing often. The feeling of tripping over an unexamined privilege.
I had always thought of my dance training as something I worked hard for. I sought it out, I paid for half of it (my parents’ policy was to pay for ½ of anything educational we kids wanted to do). I gave up social activities, I suffered through soreness, injury, and disappointment and struggled with my body-image and self worth for it. I found my strengths (flexibility! extension!) and learned to accept weaknesses (I will probably never have fast feet like the best ballerinas). Even in the acquisition of this privilege, I experienced oppression in the form of lewd jokes my classmates and teachers made about lesbians during warm up and changing room time.
But that does not negate the fact that Sarah is right - to have access to dance training as a young person was an enormous privilege. One based in my family’s economic status, my parents’ values and care for their kids’ passions, the area where I grew up (I could literally walk to my dance school), and the fact that I had choice and time for hobbies.
Not everyone has those. And here, my dear aerial teachers, is the lesson I learned - not every student we get has had those either. It’s easy to encourage students who show what we may think of as “natural talent”, and to accidentally and subconsciously discourage those who are “uncoordinated” or “don’t have good body awareness”. Sometimes I feel that new aerial students who come from gymnastics or dance are already part of the club, they just don’t know it yet.
But what does this say about how I view those who DON’T?
It doesn’t say anything good, my dears.
So, this is something I (and hopefully we all) will always be working on. Always be checking and referring back to our assumptions about what makes an aerialist, how we encourage our students, and how our own backgrounds inform those things.