The path that I am on right now is nothing but fate. Ask me at age 15, age 18, even age 24, if I wanted to be a ballet teacher or take over my mom’s ballet school some day and I would’ve said “Absolutely not.”
I was invested in being a professional dancer, in realizing that dream, and then after, it was about figuring out who I was without dancing. But as time and as the universe has other plans, there I was living in Chicago, working and teaching for Pure Barre, learning a small business, finishing up my degree, and other than taking the occasional ballet class, desperately missing the art of ballet.
There was also this itch to empower other women. And not only women, but young women. Girls. To help them learn from a young age who they are and help them understand how strong and capable their minds AND bodies can be.
And thus, the stars aligned. Timing is the greatest asset in the world and there it was, time for me to move home and start this journey back in the ballet studio.
Now here I am, a couple of weeks after producing Swan Lake with my dance family, and a little better able to explain what this process was. Well maybe I am…. I’m gonna try to anyway.
First off, I thank God every day that I get to do this with my own mother. To teach with her, learn from her, bounce ideas off of her. Call her 9 times a day even if it’s just to tell her that I updated the website. It is a precious gift that not everyone has the chance to do and it doesn’t get lost on me how special it is. She is a warrior and it is because of her and my dad that I have never questioned my dreams or wants in this world. As my dad once wrote many years ago, “with drive and ambition anything is possible.” My parents (& my brother and SIL too for that matter!) have it in droves and I was able to learn, myself, from these trailblazers.
Now go ahead and settle in because quick tangent: Let me take another minute to brag on them. My parents hail from the Midwest. They moved here to this Georgia town over 35 years ago and in a town where who you know, what family you were born into, or what old southern money you know or have can sometimes be a thing to be accepted in business (Disclaimer: I say this because I have observed it, not because they said this to me AND not that the observance is the norm and I mean no disrespect to any old money or established families because those things have been earned, but I’m just saying… it can be a thing. Just saying!), these two showed up, ready to pave their own way, they did it. They had a vision and they cultivated it.
And thus they had a daughter that has always decided to do it her own way. The longer I write on this little blog, the more you’ll see, but here we are. #nontraditionalroutesforthewin
And thus we are here in my third year of teaching these dancers and to say that I have grown from being their teacher would be an understatement. So my second point in all of this being, I, as a teacher am constantly grappling with what I’m putting out in the world. And after Swan Lake, that grappling is something I am truly embracing.
I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t say that sometimes I question myself as a teacher. And I use the word “question” carefully. I don’t allow myself to choose doubt. Doubt is not a valuable feeling, only debilitating. Questioning causes me to make choices. Am I doing the right thing? Am I focusing on the right thing right NOW or for the long-term? Energy? Steps? Technique? Artistry? Business ideas? Future productions? Am I aware of a students’ psyche? Am I cultivating who they are as a person today? Or is it mainly a dancer? Honestly? I think you have to constantly cultivate the person so they can be a dancer. And whether a student realizes it or not, I am tapped into EVERY SINGLE ONE of their body languages, energies, muscles, and demeanor from the time they enter the room every single day.
What I found from Swan Lake was a new trust in myself as a teacher. That this constant re-evaluating, this constant belief and hope for them to strive to dig into themselves and draw out what they can do, IS what makes me a good teacher. I’m not saying that I don’t have a lot to learn still. To be a good teacher, you must always be a student. And that’s the beauty of dance and art. There is never one single definition or pattern. We can re-define it every single day. But to see their progress, and their trust in me to show freedom and abandonment and the trust in themselves? That teamwork through this production process showed incredible progress. And that’s an incredible payoff.
To our dance parents, wow. What a trust you put in me and I thank you. The discipline of ballet and dance is a long-term lesson. It doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen in one year. It happens as the body matures and grows and understands and as muscles catch up with bone growth. Two years ago I had students that wanted to be advanced to higher levels. They were hungry for it. Ready for it in their own minds. And I know this because I was that same way at their age. But they and their parents trusted me. We created a program for them that allowed them to grow at a rate that prepped them for the future and oh how they have done that. AND oh how they have flourished and oh how they will continue to flourish. And I know they will because of their own hard work, their parents’ trust in them and us, and because I lay in bed at night and brainstorm and plan how I will continue to push them, steadily. Even without them realizing it. Because they deserve to see their hard work continue to pay off. For themselves.
Y’all. These students. I sat looking at photos from dress rehearsal this morning and I’m stunned. Not just at the photos but also at thinking about these students through classes, rehearsals, meetings, costume fittings, in the lobby, and on and on and so on. On a non-dance level, to see these beautiful souls celebrate New Years together, welcome a fellow dancer back from a trip abroad with open arms, and to even see them navigate homework and school dances together…. in a world that can be cutthroat and competitive, I have watched them grow into beautiful, supportive humans. They support each others’ wins, they stand in the wings to cheer each other on, the older ones love on the younger ones and the younger ones feel safe enough to talk to the older ones. And through that communal support, they also get to truly know their own bodies. Most times I don’t have to correct them when something is wrong, they already know it and can recognize it themselves. Thus, as a teacher I can delve into what will make their movement richer, better, give them better understanding of how their body and mind work together. To understand how beautiful they are from the inside out.
I’m aware of it. I’m seeing what I set out to do. I see them understand how beautiful and strong their minds and bodies are. I see them empowered.
As they say, I’m “shook.” Truly. To my core at how this life works. Never say never. You never know how your dreams might reshape themselves and manifest. Be open and be aware. Because it is truly a dream to watch these women grow into who they are meant to be….. the most glorious version of themselves.
To Faith at Age 29: Would you like to teach ballet and run a ballet school?
Answer: It would humble me every day.
Photo Courtesy: The Otis Redding Foundation