I am well aware that what I am about to post might make me sound like a hypocrite, given my current state. It’s Friday afternoon, and instead of going downtown for tap class and jam like I often do, I’m starting my weekend like a winner–in my pajamas on the couch with a huge mug of “happy juice” (aka coffee). Truth is, I’m taking advantage of this opportunity now because I won’t actually be having much of a weekend. Come to think of it, I really haven’t had one of those in a couple of months. It’s peak performance season in dance teacher land, and the past few weekends have been blur of extra rehearsals, conventions and workshops. This weekend and next, my company dancers will take the stage for competition and their annual benefit concert. It’s all very exhausting, at times stressful, and when it all goes well, one of my greatest sources of joy. The lines between my work life and personal enjoyment are severely blurred, and I’m pretty much okay with that. Dance teacher friends–I know you can relate.
I’m not talking about my students winning ultimate-super-platinum at competition tomorrow. Although, I’m not gonna lie, that’s a pretty good feeling too. But, if I can help it, our weekend at competition will not look anything like an episode of “Dance Moms”. I’m talking about winning at this whole game of being a dancer. Or to take it a step further, what it means to win at life. I like to think that I’m giving my dancers the sort of training they would need to pursue it as a career if they wanted to. But more so, I think a lot of the lessons you learn as a dancer help prepare you to be a better human. I define success as getting to do what you love every day, checking a few of your crazy dreams off the bucket list, and if you are really lucky, using some of the proceeds to help pay your bills. If dance is somehow part of that equation, even better. That’s what I call #winning.
“Ability determines what you can do, but attitude determines how well you can do it.”
If there were a quote to describe my philosophy on life, this would be it. I’ve spent a lot of time recently observing and participating in classes with my students. I’ve had a chance to watch dancers from other studios as well. At a convention the other week, as an observer in the intermediate ballroom, I noticed that in one of the classes, most of the dancers did not know what they were doing at all. Hot messes everywhere. There were maybe a handful who really had the combination, and everyone else was on the struggle bus. But when one of my students came up to me frustrated and wanting to give up on the class, I sent her right back in. Because it’s not just those who “get it” right the first time who come out on top, but the ones who fight through, put in the work, and stick it out until the end. I know this because it takes one to know one. I won’t bore anyone with epic tale of my dance journey in this particular blog post, but let’s just say that I didn’t have half of the opportunities or natural ability as I see in many of my students. (I know….blah blah, kids these days…)
“You get what you work for, not what you wish for.”
This has been the theme of my Euphony Tap Ensemble company rehearsals recently. As much as I often try to police my students on their attendance in classes, and encourage them to practice on their own, there is only so much I can do to influence that. All I know is that technique class is the key to getting ahead in any style of dance, and practicing comes in a close second. I’ve always been a big fan of the whole learning process, and still love taking class. Lately I’ve been trying to take more tap classes, and I think it’s helped me relate to what it’s like to be in my students’ shoes again. I’ve been reminded that repetition is key, especially for tap, and that as little as a few minutes a day can make a big difference in what your steps sound like and how you feel about your dancing. (I’ve also learned that if you substitute tap class for ballet class that 5th position is REALLY hard the next time you decide to go.)
“Turn our cheeks to the ground and feet to the sky and take it from there.”
Here I go with the song lyrics again…this time from Lulu and the Lampshades’ “Feet To The Sky”, which four of my tappers will be dancing to this weekend. What does it all mean? Not really sure, but it makes me feel hopeful. There have been some struggles for me this season as a company director, and chances are that a lot of my dancers have felt the pressure of those challenges as well. The encouraging thing is that many of my students have recently shown me that I can trust them to pull through for their team, which is more important to me than any award they could ever win. I’ve seen some dancers really step it up the past couple of weeks in little ways. Coming in on their own time to work on things and to help each other learn choreography. Sticking around until the end of the day to support each other, even though they have a million other things to do. Showing up to rehearsal (just a little bit) sick. Trying classes that are out of their comfort zone. It makes me feel really good about life. So I’m going into this “weekend” a little more excited than nervous. And I’m hoping that they are too.