Looking for Dilly Dankle
When my son was at Ballet School, one teacher would often remark that the children were not at 'Dilly Dankle's School of Dance, now.' At the time, this comment confused him. Who was Dilly Dankle? And what was so bad about her school of dance? A couple of weeks ago he tried out a ballet class at another institution. Lo and behold, the teacher said something like, 'this isn't Dilly's school for ballet, you know'. Is this just coincidence? Or have both of these teachers got some sort of deep seated prejudice against a real person - Dilly - who used to teach them dance. Perhaps they both bear the psychological scars inflicted on them by the cruel and unforgiving Dilly Dankle - a woman whose ambition for her students far exceeded her skill of teaching classical ballet.
However, I suspect that the main thing Dilly Dankle represents in the minds of these teachers is their own snobbery and prejudice. Dilly is the face of an eternal, and internal, sworn enemy. She embodies these teachers' beliefs that you do not cast your pearls before swine. Because, as we all know, ballet teachers are not born equal - some are more equal than others. Heaven forbid that you should find yourself teaching ballet to people who actually want to do it for fun; young people who just want to test the water, or who enjoy the discipline, or who benefit from the camaraderie, or who just love ballet. These teachers consider themselves the elite, and woe betide the student who forgets this. These teachers want their pupils to always gratefully acknowledge that they are not being taught by Dilly Dankle, because Dilly Dankle is just too humdrum. And the fear lurking in the hearts of these teachers is the idea that they might actually be Dilly Dankle after all; ordinary and mediocre.
I could paint a different picture of Dilly Dankle. Miss Dankle's school of dance is an inclusive and open environment in which everyone is encouraged to achieve according to their own individual talents. The teaching is rigorous and precise while still happening in an environment which is nurturing. Some young dancers are trepidatious around Miss. Dankle, certainly, but only because they know that she sees everything and settling for second best when you are capable of better is, for her, a failure. She wants her children to perform at their best. The Dilly Dankle school of ballet is a transient place. While some students stay for many years, some are simply passing through. Dilly's teaching is committed to all. While you are in her classes, you are given the same level of attention as everyone else. Dilly is passionate about dance, and has been for thirty years. When old pupils return, she greets them with openness and warmth, regardless of whether they are still dancing or not. She is happy to have the children of former pupils also pass through the ranks of her school. The fact that she teaches in such a small town doesn't bother her. Dilly's philosophy decrees that everyone deserves the best teaching that they can get. And even if Dilly's students have never even seen a ballet, live, in front of their eyes in a theatre, Dilly is happy so search out clips of brilliant dancers on YouTube and send out links to her students. Whenever a performance is being beamed to the local cinema, Dilly is happy to organise tickets.
The condescension is misplaced, and the elitism is bogus. There is no evidence to suggest that teaching at a school with more 'prestigious' reputation than another makes you a better teacher. The derision of the mythical Dilly Dankle is revealing. It betrays a fundamental fear that deep down we are all just ordinary and mediocre, even though there is no shame whatsoever in being ordinary. Ironically, the one person in this story who is far from mediocre and not at all ordinary; who shows resolution and self-knowledge is Dilly herself. She remains blissfully unbothered by these comments; she is far too busy teaching ballet.