Here’s a hypothesis that I have: It shouldn’t be too hard for you to think of somebody in your circle of acquaintances who has either learnt to play a classical musical instrument or has taken up ballet at any one point in their lifetime. Nor would it be any more demanding for you to pick out those who have stopped taking lessons while they still were (considered) novices or amateurs—in very pedantic terms, one would roughly have to have stopped at about Grade 5.
Starting and stopping lessons as and when we please has almost become a norm, even though we haven’t achieved a respectable level of what we’ve set out to learn. I find this disturbing because not only does it reflect our half-assed natures, it also suggests that our society lacks a vital understanding of the discipline and the strength that is vital these arts. When we pursue music and ballet without really being prepared to work hard at it, things get messy.
But things get even messier when our teachers themselves aren’t fit to be our teachers. Despite not having attained proper qualifications, some open music schools and dance schools without realising the implications will follow suit. With an art like ballet, this becomes a problem because ballet is something that is extremely demanding—physically, technically and artistically—more so than playing, say, the piano.
The dance requires more strength than what meets the eye, and if the teacher conducts the lesson without having mastered the technique, her students become susceptible to getting injuries. And these physical injuries will be sustained in the tens of years ahead of them. Assuming the age at which one gets injured is 12 years, you can only imagine what the unsuspecting student will have to bear for the rest of her life because of the lack of integrity on the part of her ballet teacher.
Few of us are aware that the arts is also used as a means for business, in these teachers’ efforts to cover up their incompetent artistry. Not that building a business from the arts is a bad thing, but when you don’t have the skills to begin with, such an endeavour becomes much frowned upon. The more business-oriented schools offer extremely lucrative packages—you may hear of deals like “Learn ballet and violin and pay only RM XXX!” Others make money from selling little “extras”: overpriced shoes, leotards in all sorts of colours, music books we use only once in a while. We pay and pay for things we don’t really need, not getting what we paid for in the first place.
So what happens then is that the focus of the arts shifts from something that can be pursued to a professional standard, to something that people do for leisure’s sake. In our society, we hardly hear of people who actually become professional musicians or professional dancers because none of us really take it seriously. Remember that somebody in your circle of acquaintances? I bet he or she thinks so too.
We don’t put in the time, effort and dedication that is needed if we really do want to become professionals. Some of us would be appalled to have to spend six hours a day, five days a week in the dance studio or on any one instrument, practicing and practicing. But at the higher levels, that kind of determination is what is needed to become good. We’ve adopted this habit of undertaking all sorts of things but not excelling at any one of them. What is the use of learning the piano and the violin and taking ballet lessons, but not actually being good at any of it?
While what is implicitly learned will be beneficial in the long run, this pattern says something worrying about our society: that we never pick our battles wisely. I make a comparison to the way our students involve themselves in their co-curricular activities—it isn’t actually possible to be committed and to excel in a Uniform Unit, a Club and a Sport. If we don’t begin distilling our interests, we will never actually master anything.
And really, what’s the point in that?
This begs the question: Is our society really up to mastering these arts—classical music and ballet? With the number of people who dabble in the arts, it’s rather sad that so few of us become professionals. For the stereotype of the arts is that it is a viable path for those who are academically challenged. It doesn’t help either that we measure our involvement by the grades that we have passed, further proving that to us, grades come before anything else, even artistic development in the arts.
Maybe if we had better platforms to go professional, we’d be able to produce herds of ballerinas, like The Bolshoi does. But right now, these arts just don’t seem to gel with our culture.
salamanda thinks that the arts requires the same determination and hard work as that of sports.
Image taken from here