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The interrelationship between teachers and students, ethics, and power relations

There are a few studies investigating the teacher-student (or choreographer-dancer) relationship in the context of western theatre dance. These are affect by the power relation, hierarchical structures and ethics that are embedded in the dance culture


Authoritarian teaching

In a sociological perspective linked to Bourdieus’ concept of ‘doxa’ (i.e. the things that are taken for granted and been implicit socialized; Rimmer, 2017), findings show that the traditional authoritarian structure and formality of the dance technique are not easily changed (Rimmer, 2017).

This was also confirmed in a longitudinal and ethnographic study based on the experiences of 12 young ballet dancers tracked over a period of four years during the process of ‘becoming’ a ballet dancer (Pickard, 2012). The results revealed that the teachers, as having symbolic power, used their power against the young dancers, in the form of approving or disapproving (Pickard, 2012).

The same tendencies were also found in Haraldsen’s (2019) doctoral thesis from Norwegian classical ballet context, where discrimination by teachers, based on students’ competence, motivation and/or obedience was reported by all interviewed dance students (Haraldsen et al., 2020, 2021).

Finally, an American study that investigated dance teachers’ beliefs (and use of) critical‐thinking activities with high‐advantage (able, knowledgeable, motivated) versus low‐advantage learners, established an ‘advantage effect’ (Warburton, 2010). High‐advantage learners thus received enriched instruction that resulted in high‐level performance that in turn made more enriched lessons more likely.

Hierarchical structures and asymmetric power

There exists evidence to claim that the relationships between dancers and teachers (or choreographers) are often defined by a particular hierarchy in which the teachers or choreographers hold more power than dancers.

However, these power dynamics have been challenged since the 1960s through the emphasis on more emancipatory artistic and pedagogical practices. Yet, dance artists still negotiate positions of power and control (Duffy & Beauty, 2019).

In a study of power dynamics between dancers and choreographers, from the choreographers’ point of view on the collaborative values and experiences with the dancers, the findings are more nuanced and positive. A commonly held downside is that it often takes more time to collaborate, especially with dancers who may not be open to or experienced with it (Duffy & Beauty, 2019).

Studies from Norwegian context

There are also two studies set in the Norwegian dance education context (Hellem, 2017; Rothmund, 2019), that contribute to this matter in the recent Norwegian context.

Findings from the study of upper secondary dance school (MDD), showed that relatedness was an essential part of the teaching, and the dance teachers invested in a close, supportive, positive, and student-centered relationship with their students. The dance teachers seemed both aware and cognizant of the ethical dilemmas in the power unbalance and the risk in having a too close and personal relationship with their students and they mainly demonstrate use of this power in a professional, ethically sound and positive manner (Hellem, 2017).

In the Rothmund (2019) study, the inter-relationship was studied over a three-year period in a contemporary dance bachelor program, showing that the students view of the teacher’s role and the relationship were changing and evolving over the three-year period, in parallel with the students own learning and development process and their transformation towards increased independence, agency and autonomy (Rothmund, 2019).

Assandri, E. P. (2019). Is ‘touching’essential when teaching ballet?. Research in Dance Education, 20(2), 197-207.

Duffy, A. B., & Beaty, A. (2019). Flexibility of artistic roles and shared ownership between dance educators and students in choreography and performance. Research in Dance Education, 20(2), 130-147.

Haraldsen, H. M., Abrahamsen, F. E., Solstad, B. E., & Halvari, H. (2021). Narrative Tensions in Strained Junior Elite Performers’ Experiences of Becoming Elite Performers. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 1767.

Haraldsen, H. M., Halvari, H., Solstad, B. E., Abrahamsen, F. E., & Nordin-Bates, S. M. (2019). The role of perfectionism and controlling conditions in Norwegian elite junior performers’ motivational processes. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 1366.

Haraldsen, H. M., Nordin-Bates, S. M., Abrahamsen, F. E., & Halvari, H. (2020). Thriving, Striving, or Just Surviving? TD Learning Conditions, Motivational Processes and Well-Being Among Norwegian Elite Performers in Music, Ballet, and Sport. Roeper Review, 42(2), 109-125.

Hellem, T. S. (2017). Relasjoner mellom lærer og elev ved danselinja-En kvalitativ intervjustudie om betydningen av lærer-elev-relasjoner sett fra dansepedagogens perspektiv (Master’s thesis, NTNU).

Pickard, A. (2012). Schooling the dancer: The evolution of an identity as a ballet dancer. Research in Dance Education, 13(1), 25-46.

Rimmer, R. (2017). Negotiating the rules of engagement: exploring perceptions of dance technique learning through Bourdieu’s concept of ‘doxa’. Research in Dance Education, 18(3), 221-236.

Rothmund, I. V. (2019). Å gjøre dansen til sin: Bachelorstudenters levde erfaringer i moderne-og samtidsdans (Doctoral dissertation, Institutionen för kultur och estetik, Stockholms universitet).

Warburton, E. C. (2004). Knowing what it takes: The effect of perceived learner advantages on dance teachers’ use of critical‐thinking activities. Research in Dance Education, 5(1), 69-82.


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