You Can't Please Everybody

I had a very interesting experience last week. Something happened to me that has NEVER happened before. It took me awhile to figure out exactly what was going on and to determine how to digest the situation. A disgruntled student contacted one of my many employers and wrote a scathing three paragraph email attacking my integrity as an instructor and my personality outside the dance studio. I won't go into specific details about the message that was clearly meant to disparage my employer from continuing to work with me. But what I can tell you is that I was completely and utterly blindsided that a student who has only taken my class a very few times would go as far as trying to affect my employment because they disliked my attempt to share my art with them and improve their skills. Luckily, I have amazing friends and peers who have helped support me through this situation. And as a few of them have said, I officially have a HATER, which means that I must have made it! 😂

The dance world is a place that is brimming with judgment. We judge ourselves every day in the mirror, while teachers and peers are judging us, as well. Now, this judgment doesn't always have a negative connotation. A majority of judgment in a classroom setting comes from your instructors, whose job is to give you combinations, judge your execution, and offer corrections to help put you on the right path towards success. Your peers may judge you in order to determine what you are and aren't doing well to help them along their path, too. Once you leave the studio and step onstage, you are putting yourself on a platform that opens up a whole different world of judgment from the general public. Some of these people are critics, some are couples on dates, and others are ballet aficionados that spend as much free time as possible sitting in the anonymity that the darkness of a theatre provides. A performing artist is setting themselves up to be critiqued constantly.

Judging Art
One difficult reality that dancers must face is that judgement of their work often feels like a personal attack on one's character. A dancer creates their art by physically exhausting themselves and tapping into emotional parts of their life experience to portray certain roles. When a bad review comes out, a dancer may feel that their own being is under attack. This often isn't true, but that doesn't take away the pain of a negative critique.

There is a great deal of judgment and critique in our careers that is never intended to be malicious. But, then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, somebody comes along who just doesn't like you. Whether it is a critic that never likes how you perform a role compared to other dancers, a colleague that you always rub the wrong way, or somebody who you somehow offend with any and every action you take, there will be some people that you just can't please. This has been the great lesson of my career as of late.

As an instructor in dance, I have passed beyond the sometimes selfish period of my performance career. When I am in the studio working with my students, class has nothing to do with me and everything to do with getting my students to achieve the impossible. I am heavy in the correction department, try to inspire honest conversation among students, and try to provide valuable feedback to each student in my classes. Where a performance career involves a great deal of focus on oneself, a teaching career is the complete opposite. In fact, I say that the only way I can be successful as a teacher is to help my students become successful. Being a teacher of dance differs from a performance career in the sense that an instructor's sole focus should be to give fully to their students.

Working w/dancer on my new work for Columbia Ballet Collaborative (Photo: Eduardo Patino)
At the end of my time teaching a class, I often wait afterwards to talk with students and answer any questions that have gone unanswered in the fast-pace environment of a technique class. During this time, I also often receive feedback from my students. Nearly all of this feedback is positive. It is rare to never that a student comes up to a teacher with a complaint (they usually reserve this type of feedback for management). But it seems that while many students enjoy a class, it isn't uncommon for a student or two to have an opposite experience. If these students choose to express their discontent, having received opposing positive feedback, an instructor may find it difficult to understand where things went wrong and how to resolve it. The same can happen with a performer. Perhaps, after a show, a dancer receives a plethora of gracious comments and positive attention from peers, management, and friends who have watched their performance. But when that review comes out and tears them off of their performance pedestal, it can be painful and confusing to read something written for the public and to assess where things went wrong.

What I have learned in my most recent experience with my hater is that it is impossible to please everybody. As a friend recently told me, "I am not everyone's cup of tea." As dancers and former dancers, we tend to strive for this ideal that everybody around us will like us as people and artists. I feel that many people, non-dancers included want everybody to like them. But this is just completely impossible. There are so many people on this earth with so many different personalities, lifestyles, expectations, tastes, and more. And to have the expectation that you can please everybody and leave this life with every person you touched feeling positively about their experience with you is one hundred percent impossible. For instance, some students prefer an aggressive teacher that really pushes a dancer outside of their comfort zone. While other students want to attend class to have fun and prefer not to be corrected once. It is impossible to please everybody in the room, in the company, in the theatre, and in the world.

Sometimes, it is baffling to comprehend that those who choose to express their opinions have seen the same performance. One person's taste may differ greatly from another. Or one person's education and knowledge of dance may be vastly different from the people sitting next to them. The same goes for an instructor trying to impart their knowledge upon a studio of dancers. Some students may thrive under a challenging teacher, while others may collapse into negativity. Luckily, there is great beauty in having so many people involved in our field. Every teacher and every dancer is not someone's cup of tea. And that is fine. There are a range of options for each person to choose from. As long as we understand this concept, we can move forward from negative feedback much quicker. Yes, you should assess whether you feel that feedback is true and could potentially help you grow and cultivate your craft. But you can't please everybody and you absolutely shouldn't lose grasp of the type of artist you want to be just to please somebody who may never actually be pleased with you. You may just not be their cup of tea!


  1. Hi Barry, I am a pod cast fan of yours. I enjoy listening to you talk. I have been a ballet teacher since 1986, so I relate to your discussions. And come away with ideas I can use teaching. So the next step is to read your blog. I find it very difficult to read the colored print. I find if I accidentally touch my screne in the wrong place, your blog disappears! Help!! Wish you could read it, & I wouldn’t have these problems. Sincerely, Helen Collette

    1. Helen: Thanks for reaching out to me. I'm glad you have been enjoying Pas de Chat! I apologize that the color is difficult for you to read. I had it this color scheme since I began writing in 2012 and rarely received mention of the colors being difficult. Since this is archived, I won't be making any more changes to it. You can always copy and paste the blogs into a word or Pages document and it should come up black and white (or you can change the text color in those documents). Also, I am now writing on a new blog called Dancing Offstage (www.dancingoffstage.wordpress.com)