December 2013 | EditorSpeak

New Norms

Here’s an observation that’s been getting a lot of press lately: providing people with information doesn’t make them change their behavior. It’s easy to think of examples of this: we all know smoking cigarettes can cause lung cancer, yet many of us won’t quit; a sign says dogs must be on leash, but people let their pups run free. In the world of dance education, a common rule, or piece of information, is that students can’t miss rehearsals and still be on the competition team or in the recital.

But when that rule is put to the test, often it fails. There are good reasons, it’s thought: the girl who’s going to miss the dress rehearsal has a key role that would require rechoreographing the piece if she weren’t in it; the only tall boy’s absence would mean that a lovely dancer who works so hard would be denied her chance to dance a pas de deux. In such cases, when the rule is bent or broken, it becomes merely information, and as such it doesn’t change behavior. The information, despite its logic, is for others, not those who ignore it.

Enter Matt Labrum, a high school football coach in Utah. He was frustrated by his players’ behavior—skipping classes, getting poor grades—and distressed by allegations of cyber-bullying. What did he do, lecture them? Post new rules in the locker room? Threaten, “If this happens again . . .”? No. He suspended the boys, every last one of them, one week before the big homecoming game. The season was over, he said, unless their behavior changed.

Labrum laid out a list of requirements each player would have to fulfill before he could play again. The details don’t matter. What does matter is that Labrum did the one thing that affects behavior—he changed the norm.

What does that mean? It means that if a situation doesn’t result in the behaviors we desire, we have to change the situation. I’m not suggesting that you cancel a performance if one dancer misses a rehearsal. But what a message that would send. —Cheryl A. Ossola, Editor in Chief


Real Life, Not Reel Life

There they were again, those oft-seen, iconic images: the ballerina sewing ribbons, naked toes swathed in Band-Aids and gauze, a smile on her lips. An upcoming New York City Ballet AOL On web series was promoted as a “behind the scenes docudrama,” but is a chat about the one-ballet shelf life of pointe shoes the “docu” or the “drama”? Thanks for the bourrées in slow motion, guys. I’ll pass.

This reminded me of a recent family dinner when I shocked my non-dancing relatives by announcing I didn’t always watch So You Think You Can Dance. “I thought you’d be glued,” one sputtered. “Why not?”

Truthfully, I couldn’t say. Last winter I braved ice-cold hours in line so I could sit in the back row of a Boston theater while the good, the bad, and the ridiculous strutted their stuff before Nigel, Mary, and Adam. I could have sat there until daffodils bloomed on the Common, yet when that audition episode aired I turned it off before it was over.

I adore dance. I think about dance for 40 hours a week, and spend another 20 choreographing, teaching, taking class, or talking about dance. I’m 51 and have dance posters on my walls. I know funny anecdotes about Jerome Robbins. I own tights. But the other day my “must-dance-till-my-feet-bleed” daughter and I admitted that we can’t stand Breaking Pointe. The world stopped for a teeny-weeny second.

I enjoyed Bunheads, but I think I was mind-numbed into submission by the rapid-fire dialogue. Cancellation was like a hypnotist snapping his fingers. Poof! Haven’t thought of it since.

If I could remember which night it aired I would watch Dancing With the Stars. That show has a hokey charm, like those rec kids who make you smile as they blissfully ignore rhythm, technique, and your carefully taught choreography.

(And don’t forget the dance-show-that-must-not-be-named.)

I guess I don’t watch TV dance shows for the same reasons I don’t watch TV cooking shows. Where’s the fun when there’s a flat screen between you and the blue-ribbon four-layer chocolate cheesecake? Somebody get me to a studio, fast. —Karen White, Associate Editor