Medical Problems of Performing ArtistsMedical Problems of Performing Artists

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The Artist as Teacher: A Psychological Perspective

Susan A. Lee
From: Medical Problems of Performing Artists: Volume 12 Number 2: Page 38 (June 1997)

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Abstract: In May 1995, I had the privilege of presenting my research on adult development and the artist at the first International Symposium on Career Transitions for Dancers in Switzerland. "The Dancer in Transition: Facing the Limits, Realities and Solutions" was the first working conference organized by the International Organization for the Transition of Professional Dancers (IOTPD). My goal for the symposium was to consider how practice should change, especially in professional dance, to be responsive to the developmental issues for women and to learn about trends, challenges, and policies that exist around the world. I learned a great deal from that experience. In spite of all the solid research, it was very frustrating to discover, yet again, all of the ways in which we fail to support our artists in the United States. Country after country outlined the systems for education and retraining as well as other counseling services that are available to performers. Given the amount of dance activity in this country, and the number of participants, our efforts on that front are woefully inadequate. This situation is compounded by the fact that such services are poorly coordinated or funded. However, this was not the most distressing aspect of that conference. Following very rich paper presentations and panels with case material, a very powerful discussion occurred when artistic directors, company directors, and the heads of schools "confessed" that they did not know what to do with teachers who continued to replicate negative, or destructive, teaching and mentoring practices in their classes and rehearsals. After hinting about psychologically damaging activities, the representatives began to name the behavior in earnest. Terms such as "grandiosity," "mean-spirited," and "sadistic" were introduced as a way of describing what was seen in some situations. Some administrators asked, "how can we isolate these individuals so that they can do the least amount of damage?" Still others commented, "we wish the individuals would leave or retire," and "we don't dare speak to them about their behavior out of respect for who they had been." There was general recognition that the various dance organizations felt they had not been "trained" for how to respond to such human relations issues. There was also discussion of the way in which the dance world perpetuates such practices. The group became quiet, and somewhat depressed, agreeing to keep the issue alive in future discussions. The psychologists attending the meeting tried to respond to the issue, but there was not enough time remaining in the session to begin to approach it in any depth. That honest, yet painful, forum remains with me and is the motivating force behind this essay.

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