John Carroll: How My Meanest Teacher Made Me a Success

The Broadway performer shares how the moment of his greatest fear spurred him to achieve success as a dancer.

BY John Carroll

May 02 2012 2:32 PM ET

When I was in my sophomore year at Juilliard, I received a message that the artistic director of the dance department wanted to have a meeting with me. Let me preface that by stating that a message like that from the godfather of dance was never a good sign.

This is the school that is notorious for kicking kids out of the program. We had already lost four students by the end of our freshman year and we started with only 21. Sometimes it seemed that if you tendu’d at the wrong time, “poof,” you’re out. 

I didn’t know what to expect so I got all dolled up. I dressed impeccably, did my hair, and even curled my lashes (my secret weapon). I decided no matter how this story played out, if my head was going to be on the chopping block, that head was going to be gorgeous.

I walked into the artistic director’s office and, to my shock and awe, the entire ballet faculty was sitting there in a circle…waiting for me. There were even ballet teachers in the meeting with whom I had never taken a class. Along the circle of people, there was one empty chair and, in the middle of it all, a coffee table with a box of tissues on it, closest to the unoccupied chair —my chair.

I nervously took my seat. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears and my palms started to sweat. It was around this time that I wished I had also worn a pair of Depends because the gurgling sound from my lower intestines could only be described as, primordial. In a last ditch effort of optimism, I thought, Maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe they want to praise me for my impeccable technique and offer me a lead in the spring concert.

Or maybe not.

The artistic director began to speak. He said that he had gathered the ballet faculty together to talk about my progress in that discipline and then asked if there was anyone who wanted to get the discussion started.

No sooner had the artistic director finished the "d" in "started," than one of my then current ballet teachers said, “I’ll start.” He leaned forward so that he was pretty close to my face and continued, “I don’t think you’ve learned anything since you’ve been at this school.”

Tags: Dance

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