Classical Ballet Teachers' Intentional and Unintentional Influence on Body Dissatisfaction

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Classical Ballet Teachers’ intentional and un-intentional influence on their students’ body dissatisfaction and self-image

Introduction

Dance could be understood as a phenomenon, where classical ballet in particular, may be considered a niche of its own. Classical ballet dancers are widely known as people who like to push themselves to the limit regardless of possible strain of physical injuries, where personal traits commonly assigned a classical ballet dancer may be perfection, virtuosity, discipline, dedication, talent and character amongst others. The desire to possess such qualities in turn results in a shared pattern of behaviours, beliefs and mindsets that are very specific to the ballet community. When it comes to young classical dancers, they undergo the same developmental phases as ordinary teenagers that are coupled with their specific challenges. However, due to high demands and level of competitiveness among young dancers, they are easily exposed to the sometimes destructive influence commonly present in the artistic world. This in turn, exposes them to a higher risk of developing a negative self-image and sense of self during a vulnerable developmental period.

Ballet teachers play a key role in their students’ development of skills and attitudes towards the profession and recognition of self (Clegg et al., 2014). Research have shown that classical ballet students are more likely to say their teachers exert a negative influence, while compared to students in other dance genres (e.g. contemporary, flamenco or Spanish dance) (Dantas et al., 2018). Taken as an example, a teacher might appear and act neutral in its stance towards physical appearance, abilities and personal traits of their students when asking them, but act differently in a ballet class, by favouring specific features or physical characteristics of a few individual students.

It is not uncommon by students to perceive teachers’ comments and attitudes in a destructive manner, and for example, remarks regarding weight (no matter how small or insignificant they might sound) might be interpreted as a confirmation of the valued significance from the teachers’ perspective attached to being thin (Dantas et al., 2018). As concerns peers’ opinions and remarks on features such as weight, the occurrence named by Dantas et al. (2018) as so called “fat talk” is widely known and commonly present, sometimes considered the norm rather than an exception, in particular among students. A dance teacher has an important role in influencing such attitudes, but is a topic clearly under-researched as of today (Clegg et al., 2017). Given the existence of a rather problematic picture testified among young ballet students, coupled with the current lack of research, there is a pressing need to develop programs to deal with such issues. In particular to reduce students` potential negative body image, and to improve their sense of self-confidence, a personal trait highly desired for a professionals dancer.

The research will take place at a summer ballet school course held in connection to the normal study year curricula. Thus, it will be easier for the researcher to enrol a course and immerse herself into the daily life of a ballet student at the relevant institution. By means of participant observation within a specific class where many students have been together for several years, the goal is to closely study the social interactions, rituals, working patterns and behaviours within this group, with the endeavour to study the positive or negative influence the teacher might have on the group dynamics and/or specific attention paid to individuals within the group.

Background

At the core of ethnographical research studying the phenomena of dance, lays the engagement with concepts such as power, empowerment, dominance, repression and individual vs. group attached identity (Source). Their discussion has the potential to reveal valuable insights into socio-cultural and political contexts (Barbour, 2013). Classical ballet is widely known for implying a hierarchical relationship between not only the students and their teachers, and a similar relationship is also a common reality between professional dancers and their company choreographers (source). Traditionally in the classical ballet system, teachers and their students are divided by knowledge and power in a relationship of more or less static character, that in a worst case scenario entails no room for openness in terms of student-lead inquiry or aspiration towards new levels of knowledge (Alterowits, 2015). STANDARDS As a response to forceful teachers, pressure to meet the standards may result in dysfunctional physical habits and strategies such as hyperextending knees, forcing turnout, weight-related issues or other bodily ailments that in the end risk to end up in physical pain and emotional distress (Ibid., 2015).

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Additionally, by further extending the conversation beyond the teacher-to-student power dynamical relationship and studying the interactions and relationships between and among the students themselves, another key aspect emerges (Source). As dancers on a daily basis take class and rehearse together, a specific ‘community’ is created in the endeavour toward unreachable ideals (Alterowitz, 2015). Thus, a critical aspect in dance ethnography emerges when the researcher takes part in the dancing themselves, which in any other practice of physical nature, is specific knowledge only accessible by means of embodied participation (Wulff, 2008). Thus, an honest commitment and involvement with research participants is a key aspect to ethnographic research, in everyday life as well as in extraordinary practices (Wulff, 2008).

Object & Aim of the Study

A critical ethnographic approach will be employed in the current study, such an approach has emerged in response to the current society, in where systems of power, prestige, privilege and authority has the potential to marginalise individuals in more vulnerable positions (Creswell, 2018, p. 92). Given the existence of a rather problematic picture testified among young classical ballet students, there is a pressing need for programs in professional dancing schools and educational programmes to reduce students` potential negative body image, and to improve their self-images. The aim of this study would be to explore in-depth, the views and believes among classical ballet teachers of the potential influence they might have on their students, and to contrast it with the perception of their students, regarding the teachers possible influence. Central object to this study will be contrasting the intentional with un-intentional influence of the teacher on their students’ body dissatisfaction and image of self. The study will contribute to the literature by in particular focusing on the actual teachers’ themselves, increasing awareness on un-intentional behaviours and attitudes that may negatively influence or even harm the students.

Research Questions

What are the core beliefs and elements of a ballet teacher that construct their conscious and unconscious attitude and relationship towards their students? Of central importance within this context might be the ballet teacher’s own individual dance training and personal experiences, being it good or bad ones. What does it imply with regards to their individual teaching style? What impact does it have in reality, directly/indirectly in regards to how they approach their students. What specific details do they notice during training, as well as outside the classroom, and how do they respond to needs of the individual students? Central to the inquiry will be to consider both intentional, as well as unintentional acts, comments.

Research Methods

The specific setting of this research will take place at a (extracurricular) summer ballet school course held in connection to the normal study year program. Thus, it will be easier for the researcher to enrol a course and immerse herself as a participant into the daily life of a ballet student at the relevant institution. Given the strict/distinctive of the ballet community in order to allow for enough time for the researcher to submerge in the ballet group, In order to get a thorough background understanding of the current level of knowledge in the field, a review of previous research & literature will be made. At the core of the study lies the endeavour to present an ethnographic investigation into the working patterns, social interactions, behaviours and even rituals (individual or group specific), that may be particularly explicit to a tied-up group of classical ballet students in a pre-professional dance school setting,

Ethnography has described by Creswell (2018, p.) as an appropriate research design for defining how a cultural group works, exploring the beliefs, language, behaviours and issues facing the particular group. By means of participant observation within a specific class where many students have been together for several years, the goal is to closely study the social interactions, working patterns and behaviours and even rituals that take place within this group, with the endeavour to study the positive or negative influence the teacher might have on the group dynamics and/or specific attention paid to any individuals within the group.

Research Approach & Design

Ethnographic Research Design was chosen, mainly since an ethnographic approach allows for an in-depth analysis of a culture-sharing group in everyday settings (Creswell & Creswell, 2018). More specifically, a critical ethnographic approach will be employed in the current study, an approach that has emerged in response to the current society, where systems of power, prestige, privilege and authority risk marginalising individuals in more vulnerable positions (Creswell, 2018, p. 92). Additionally, this design allows for a more complete picture and in-depth investigation of the interactions and possible influence the ballet teacher might exert in view of these key concepts and its potential impact on their students.

Data Collection

The fieldwork is based on conducting observations during ballet classes (during repertoire & training) where the goal is collecting a wide variety of materials: taking pictures and making video recordings, images and audio recording. The researcher will take part in the daily training classes and observe how the individual students act in preparation before the class (warm-up), interactions during and after these classes, and in preparation for repertoire (i.e. performance training) classes. In order not having the interviews having on impact on the role of the researcher as member in the group, interviews will take place after the course has been finalised.

A detailed description of the culture-sharing group will be compiled by using thick description. The goal is to explain behaviour specific for this group from the “natives point of view” (p. xx), being as systematic as possible in collecting this information by using tape recorders and cameras. In the field of performing arts, making use of such media is generally seen as normal during rehearsal and preparation in time for performances. However, while other certain types of information collecting (such as note taking) is not common practice in this specific setting this will be used more sparsely since the researcher does not want to stick out from the group as a whole. Other methods for collecting data will be participant observations and reflections of the researcher. Additionally, in-depth interviews will be held with the students and their teachers at the end of the study, the reason being the subtle nature of the relation between the teacher and their student.

Data Analysis

The collected data and repeated events and concepts will be categorised into explanations of recurring phenomena. The proposed procedure below will be used for careful coding analysis of the data. In qualitative data analysis, open coding is generally the initial step and necessitates a process where the goal is to identify and code concepts of significant importance from the raw data. At this first stage, the goal is creating a multi-dimensional framework to assist at later stages in the analysis. At a later stage, focus lies on grouping these into conceptual categories that consists of abstract illustrations showing for instance events, relationships or interactions (Khandkar, 2009). Axial coding continues the process to categorise arising phenomena (possible negative comments or physical feedback; recurring situations) into explanations. Next, selective coding continues the procedure/process by further integrating categories into a central paradigm, i.e. creating a larger picture of findings by building relationships (for instance; possible interactions and influences between the students and their teacher). Subsequently, the goal is to conduct a comparative analysis, where identification of central phenomena across different dimensions may facilitate an understanding of social, physical, or even hierarchical structures in place (Rae, 2018). At the final stage a theoretical model is created, where existing theory will be embedded and based on the results of the analysis (Ibid, 2018). In order to ensure protection of the personal data of the study subjects involved, names and answers of the participants will be anonymised and coded as dummy-variables. Ethical approval will be sought for due to human subjects involved and sensitivity of the data collected in the study.

Researcher Bias

In ethnographic research, defining researcher bias is of outmost importance. It would be impossible to conduct such an in-depth ethnographic study in the classical ballet field, without the researcher themselves having a background in this art form. Given this particular field, finding a researcher that holds the unique combination of academic skills together with skills at sufficient level to enrol a pre-professional level course at in classical ballet is an unusual event.

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Classical Ballet Teachers’ Intentional and Unintentional Influence on Body Dissatisfaction. (2020, December 14). WritingBros. Retrieved February 25, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/classical-ballet-teachers-intentional-and-unintentional-influence-on-body-dissatisfaction/
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Classical Ballet Teachers’ Intentional and Unintentional Influence on Body Dissatisfaction [Internet]. WritingBros. 2020 Dec 14 [cited 2024 Feb 25]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/classical-ballet-teachers-intentional-and-unintentional-influence-on-body-dissatisfaction/
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