An Open Letter To My First Dance Teacher

(This letter is actually two letters. I started dancing in 1995, when I was six years old. My teachers were a mother/daughter team, and they often alternated classes. I can’t remember who taught my very first class, so I’ve written a letter to each of them for this post)

An Open Letter To My First Dance Teacher

Snowflakes ’95. I am in the front row, second in from the right.

Dear Natasha,

When I came to you for dance classes, I was a day-dreaming, imaginative, chatty little girl. As a dance teacher, I now know that I must have been rather annoying to teach. You may have found me cute, but I wouldn’t have been one of those kids who were a pleasure to teach. I wasn’t focused, I wasn’t all that interested in improving. I just came to dancing to have fun. To be honest, I was probably quite painful to teach.

But you delighted in me. You encouraged me. You laughed with me. Never once did you give me the impression that I was annoying, that you’d rather spend your time with a child who was serious about dancing. You taught me that I was wonderful. Twice a week, I came into your dance class and had my self-esteem topped up by you, who appreciated me and loved me the way I was. You were always kind, always patient.

Though I was probably the last student you would ever expect to have a career related to dance, I am now a dance teacher. I teach some of the most wonderful girls and boys, many of them just like me. Because I remember how good you helped me to feel about myself, I am determined to enjoy every single child that I teach. You have inspired me.

Thank you,

Courtney

– – – – –

Dear Mrs Hodson,

You were a fantastic dance teacher. Strict, but fun. As a dance teacher now, I appreciate how hard it must have been to enforce the rules you did. I find myself saying “When I was a child, we would NEVER  have…” to my students all the time. How did you get everyone to take off their shoes and put on a jumper before leaving the building? How did you do costumes without having any one complain? How did you get us all to practice? 

Thank you for teaching me discipline. Thank you for expecting me to be well-groomed and well behaved. Thank you for always trying to get the best out of me. And thank you for managing to be kind while doing so.

Thank you,

Courtney

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The way you go from exhilarated to dizzy when the roller coaster stops

Right now, I am wallowing.

The dance studio I teach for just finished their show, and it was amazing. My mum and step dad came and looked after Madelyn so that I could focus on helping backstage, and the kids all did so well. It was such an awesome weekend.

But…

It’s been a long time since I’ve been nervous before a show. Instead, I find myself feeling really down once the show finishes. It happens the second the curtains close. As they go down, sadness wells up inside of me. And a certain amount of hopelessness too.

I didn’t do enough. I should have done that differently. I looked stupid. 

It is a sort of calm after the storm. The way you go from exhilarated to dizzy when the roller coaster stops. I can’t talk myself out of it, only wait for it to pass.

Tomorrow, I will feel differently. I will be buzzing, excited that the show went so well, just as others feel immediately after the show finishes. But for now, I am wallowing.

For it is not the same river

Having finished work for the year, I’ve found myself feeling rather sad these past few days. Although I plan to still teach several classes next year, most of my students will go to other teachers, who will have the privilege of seeing them grow as dancers and as people, instead of me.

The truth is that teaching dance has never been about dance for me. Some teachers get into teaching dance because they love dancing, and they see it as a way to continue dancing forever. For me, to get to dance is a bonus. I do consider myself very fortunate that I get paid to be creative and to do what I love, but the reason I teach dance is not because I want to dance everyday. I teach because it really, really matters to me that the children I work with know that they are loved and of worth. I teach because I love them, and I know that having one more person in their lives who loves them can only help. I teach because it’s one thing I know I can do to make the world a better place.

I wasn’t prepared to have to stop teaching so much next year. In fact, the plan was for the exact opposite. I am thankful that I don’t have to give up teaching entirely. I am thankful for an understanding boss, who is allowing me to take the first few months of the year off and come back in the beginning of May. I am looking forward to a new adventure and changing priorities. But, still, I am a bit sad.

From here, things are different. The things that have mattered to me, the time I have been able to take to do those things, that will all change. I am a mum now.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” 
― Heraclitus 

5 for Five: Week 5

I accidentally skipped Week 4. I had exams all week, and I just got so busy that it was already Friday by the time  I realised I hadn’t done it. Oops.

But I am back, and so are my five weekly goals.

http://www.fantasticallyaverage.com

First, how I did in Week 3 (goals I achieved are in green, goals I didn’t are in red):

1. Cook dinner at least one night this week
I made enchiladas before going to work on the Wednesday. I made heaps, because there was more mince than I thought. And what’s better, a friend of Angus’s was over (not for dinner), so I looked like an especially awesome wife when I said “Help yourselves to dinner, there’s plenty there” while running out the door.

2. Spend at least half an hour a day on house work
It didn’t help that I went away on the Thursday, and that I was studying. There were days where I just never got around to it.

3. Actually fold and put away all of the clean washing 
I didn’t get it done. And I was right, my husband did decide to clean all of the dirty washing in the laundry. So now my pile is massive. Ugh.

4. Clean out the inside of my car
It helped that we took my car away (to Sistas, a women’s conference, which was awesome), so I needed to clean it out so that we could all fit in it. I was determined to keep all my junk out of it from now on. That lasted until yesterday.

5. Start studying for my exams
Only just, haha.

Three out of five. Not quite five out of five, but at least I managed to achieve some.

Here are my goals for this week:

1. Cook dinner at least three nights this week.
This time, it is totally achievable. I hope.

2. Get all of my dances finished and looking good before the dress rehearsal this weekend.
That means I’m going to have to start getting grumpy at some of my dancers, but it really needs to get done.

3. Do at least half an hour a day of housework 
This keeps being a goal of mine because it’s something I promised my husband I’d do. I really need to do it.

4. Buy new prizes for my Bible-in-Schools kids
The situation is getting pretty desperate. I have four little prizes left in my prize bag. Not exactly a great motivator to get to dig into this massive bag to choose one of four prizes.

5. Write at least one other blog post apart from this one. 
Preferably with another bump photo, because it’s grown heaps again over the past couple of days.

I hope I can achieve all of these things, because I’m not doing much else now that I’ve finished for the semester. Achieving all 5 goals will simply mean I’ve had a productive week with minimal laziness haha.

Everything I know about submission in marriage, I learnt from ballroom dancing

It seems I’m going through a bit of a stage of attacking the big topics.

One thing we don’t really like to talk about is the part in the Bible where it says that the man is the head of the household, and that the wife should submit to the man.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands  in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of His body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:22-33

We like to come up with all sorts of ways to explain how that passage is not really saying that wives must submit to their husbands. How it’s actually saying that wives should submit to their husbands, and husbands to their wives. Or we like to say “Yes, but look at what it says to husbands!” as if to draw the attention away from ourselves.

Now, I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I think that passage is pretty clear. Wives, submit to your husbands.

The problem with this is when it is misused. I have heard of husbands using this verse to abuse their wives, often without ever having read the passage, or it’s surrounding context, themselves. So, I must make it very clear that this passage does not say “Husbands, control your wives.” This passage is not giving husbands permission to treat their wives as doormats.

As a young wife, I can only comment on my own marriage, and my own role as a wife. I must admit to having had trouble with this passage as well. It seemed so archaic and wrong. And then I began taking ballroom dancing lessons.

My husband is a dancer, too, and a very good one at that. So it was really powerful for me to see how we interacted when dancing, and to draw the parallels between dancing and marriage.

Here is what I have learnt:

1) When I chose to marry my husband, I chose him to be the head of our household
In ballroom dancing, when a man wants to dance with a lady, he holds out his hand to her. If she takes it, she wants to dance with him. If she doesn’t take it, she doesn’t want to dance with him. Now, because marriage is a far bigger decision then who to dance with, you’re going to consider who to marry a lot more seriously. But when my husband proposed, he was asking me to dance. When I said yes, I was taking his hand. I could have said “no.” I could have said “no” right up until “I do.” If a man asks me to dance, who I dont want to dance with for whatever reason (maybe he’s creepy, or he smells bad, or he just can’t keep time), I don’t dance with them. When deciding to marry my husband, I considered several important things. Is this a man I can respect? Does he make wise decisions? Will he be able to provide for me and my children? The answer to all those questions had to be yes, for me to say “Yes.” It was his decision to ask me, but it was my choice to say yes. I chose my husband as the leader of our household.

2) His leadership is instigation, my submission is response
When dancing, the man takes a step, and the woman takes a step in response. If she doesn’t want to take that step, she doesn’t. If she doesn’t take that step, the dance doesn’t work. If she does, the dance does work. He instigates a step, a respond by either stepping or not stepping. If I choose to just do my own thing, and not worry about what he’s doing, we’re not going to dance well together. It will be disjointed, and we won’t reach our end goal.

3) He needs to wait for my response before moving on
My husband is an extremely good dancer. He has been dancing, on and off competitively, since he was a small child. There have been a few times, especially while waltzing, where he has taken steps that are far too long for me. I was still getting my mind caught up on the movement, and my feet caught up on dancing in heels, and he was ready to charge off and be strong while I was beautiful. Usually this ended in one of us standing on the other, and me reminding him that he needs to stay at my pace. If my husband makes an instigation that I am uncertain about, he needs to wait for me to be certain, or it wrecks the dance.

4) I can see behind his back
In ballroom dancing, the partners often dance facing each other, meaning they can see what is happening behind the other person. If we are dancing, I may see that we are about to crash in to someone or something. If I stop dancing and pull him out of the way, we have an argument. If I tell him that I can see the obstacle ahead, he adjusts his steps so that we do not crash. Now of course, there may be times where he ignores my warning. I don’t have enough life experience to really know what to do about that, I’ll come back to it in 30-odd years. But I have learnt already that sometimes you just need to let men make their mistakes. I’ve heard it said, “If I let him lead, he’ll just lead us in to ruin.” I don’t know about big stuff, about ruin, but I do know about the little stuff, and I don’t think it’s healthy to micromanage everything because you’re worried that he won’t do it right. Let him learn from his mistakes with the little stuff, and he might have learnt his lesson when it comes around to the big stuff. In dancing, couples tend to only go crashing to the ground once or twice, before figuring out how not to do that again.

5) He can see behind my back
On the flipside, he can also see what is going on behind me. That’s why I need to trust him.

6) It takes practise to get it right
There was once a man who was having trouble dancing, and this was being made worse by other beginners who hadn’t quite got following down yet. My teacher sent a competitive ballroom dancer in her 50s over to him and said “She’s like a well-oiled machine. She’ll follow you.” The couples who have been dancing together for years do this leading and following thing so seamlessly, that it looks like they’re doing choreographed moves even when they aren’t. It takes practise to learn how to follow. I am not going to submit to my husband perfectly, and he is not going to lead me perfectly.  It doesn’t really come naturally. But over time, as we get more and more practise, I think it will become a lot easier.

7) An interesting point: In a ballroom dancing hold, the man is under the woman
I always just thought this was interesting, as I was drawing comparisons between dancing and marriage back when I was engaged. The man holds the woman from underneath – her hand is on top of his, his other hand is under her armpit. I don’t have a big spiriutal application for this one, but I can see how my husband supporting me has enabled me to become so much more of who I am.

Can we dance all night?

This week at dancing was one of those weeks that reminds me exactly why I do this, which I was so thankful for because I started off the day with a complete lack of motivation.

First, I have discovered that teaching the littlies is kind of like being a children’s show host. I’ve developed this admittedly kind of lame routine where I say “Now, where do our hands go when we’re skipping? Do they go on our…head?” (while placing my hands on my head) and they all giggle with delight and yell “No!” So then I reply “Where do they go? You show me” and they all put their little hands on their hips. This carries over into everything – “What do our feet look like? Do they look like… a farmer’s feet?” (and I flex my feet), “What do our faces look like? Do they look… grumpy?”, “How do we stand? Do we… slouch?” They get a kick out of it every time.

But the funniest part is that I tried it with my next class up (6 and 7 year olds), and they all looked at me like I was a freak and said “Um, no, your feet are pointed.”

This week I just had so many moments where my heart melted and I could see the bigger picture of why I teach dancing. It’s so easy to get caught up in just trying to get the technique taught and the dances done. I was so grateful for the little reminders to slow down and be purposeful about creating a positive, supportive environment where confidence can be built.

By far the best moment of the night happened in my last class (10 – 13 year olds),  and it happened so fast and so quietly that I almost missed it.

One of the girls said “I don’t want to leave yet. Can we stay and dance all night?”

Who they are as people (a Wednesday dance post)

I think this might turn into a regular thing.

Yesterday, we got the jazz exam results back. I was very nervous to see how well they did. Hip hop is the big thing at our dance school, and so while we get some good results for jazz, we often don’t get anything outstanding. I’d missed two calls from my boss, and the email she had sent me was very positive, so I was really, really anxious to get to the studio to see the results. I’d hoped that a few of the girls who had tried really hard would get in the 80s. But I never would have thought that two would score in the 90s, and that one would get 94.5! (Which is what happened) Even for schools where the kids dance more then once a week and also do ballet, 94.5 is an incredible result. Two of my other girls scored in the high 80s, and the rest all did really well. I am so proud of them all! Teaching was so fun last night, because they were all on a buzz from knowing that they can get such awesome results.

I did lots of competitions and games for my two youngest classes. Both classes seem to have had brain farts with their concert dance, they ate it all up in the first few weeks, and now it’s like they can’t learn anymore. So we’re just adding on a little bit each week, and then learning lots of new technique, stretching and practising stuff they already know. They’re all getting really good at skipping, most of them are now actually getting their foot up by their knee every time. Success!

I am having so much fun with my 7 and 8 year olds concert dance. They are loving it, which really helps. They’re really cute and love performing, so the dance they are doing is perfect for them. I can’t wait to see the audience’s reaction to the dance, it is going to be so cute. We’ve actually almost finished the dance. I’ll have to try and slow the teaching of it down, otherwise they’ll start to get bored of it. But my creativity just comes alive with them, because they’re so fun and are catching my excitement.

My brain is having it’s own little fart with my 9 and 10 year olds, but I’m not too worried because this is a class made up of excellent dancers. I’m just teaching them new technique stuff and hoping ideas for their dance will come to me. They’re all great performers, I think their dance will have a very funky feel.

I am loving working with my 11 and12 year olds at the moment. Their dance is a huge realisation of the choreography that happens in my head when I listen to pop music (they’re doing it to a Lady Gaga song). It’s extremely layered and, suprisingly, they are pulling it off. I’m actually going to try and film it next week to show them, because it just looks so awesome. I had a major laughing fit this week, I was putting them into places for the start, and realised that the three girls I’d chosen to start off the dance were two of the tallest and one of the smallest, and it just looked so funny. I ended up moving the other dancers around to make it not look so weird, but for a second there I actually had to pull myself together because I was about to lose it (I imagine this was also in part due to tiredness). One of the girls was like “Are you on a sugar high or something?” which made me laugh even harder. But anyway, I can’t wait to see their dance come together, it’s going to look so cool.

One thing I’ve been thinking about, especially with getting these exam results back, is my role in helping these kids to grow into functional adults. Growing up, my dance teacher played a huge part in my self image. If I had a dance teacher who put everything she had into me, encouraged me and was committed to seeing me grow, my self esteem was extremely high, and I actually did better in my life outside of dancing, too. But if my teacher favoured other students over me, or gave up on me, my self esteem was extremely low. To the point where I actually got inflamed nerves in my stomach and back due to anxiety at one point. It kind of scares me that as a dance teacher, I have that power. I never want to make a child or young person feel the way that teacher made me feel. One of my girls was disappointed with her result (she actually did very well, it just doesn’t come naturally to her), and she came to me after the class to talk about it. Looking  back, I am so happy that she did that. It means that she can trust me to help her feel better when she’s feeling stink about herself. I hope I did.

“It is more important who they are as people and only then is it important who they are as dancers.”
– Marcia Haydee

A bit of insanity in dancing

I know, it’s been ages since I last wrote a blog. A lot of what I do I can’t legally blog about, and that’s been all I’ve been thinking about lately. But my good friend, Rachel, just went back to England after living here in New Zealand for 6 months, and she used to be my person who would hear all my funny stories from the dance classes I taught. She pointed out to me that I haven’t written a blog in two months, and also mentioned that she missed me brightening her Wednesdays with my stories about dancing. So, because it will soon be Wednesday morning for Rachel, I decided to make all her dreams come true in one go.

First, a little light comedy in the format of “kids say the darndest things.” For my littlies, we make pizzas to help us stretch. We sit in a circle, with our legs out to make ‘pizza slices’ and then we go around the circle and choose one thing we want to put on the pizza (the whole class then puts that one thing on the pizza), then we ‘put it in the oven to cook it’ (we lean forward and hold it for a bit), and then we eat the pizza (they go crazy). So yesterday, my 5 and 6 year olds and I were making our pizza, and we got to this one little cutie. When I asked her what she wanted on her pizza, she said “I want a strawberry pizza, and with that I want chocolate chips, sprinkles, cake and yoghurt.” So I was like “You want a strawberry pizza with chocolate chips, sprinkles, cake and yoghurt on your pizza?” and she replied “No. Ham”

Now for some drama. I was teaching my 7 and 8 year olds, and in the middle of running through the CUTEST DANCE EVER (to Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini), one of my 9 and 10 year olds (next class up) came in and told me that one of the girls had fallen and hurt her ankle really badly. I asked if there were any adults out in the waiting room, and she said there weren’t, so I started the music again and told the girls to do the dance and then if they finished before I got back, just to keep dancing. I went out to the waiting room where the little girl was lying on the ground crying, and her ankle was swollen like nothing else. And I realised that I had no idea where I might find some ice. I sent one of the girls to grab my cell phone, and another one into the class to start and stop the music, and my first thought was to call my husband because he’ll know what to do, haha. By the time the little girl got back with my phone, I’d actually thought it through, evelated her foot, and called my boss to ask where some ice was and to see if I could call the girl’s mum. She said she’d call her mum, and told me that there was a freezer in the kitchen in the church. Just as I got off the phone to her, another little girl arrived with her mum and I just breathed a sigh of relief. I asked her to play musical statues with the 7 and 8 year olds while I went into the church to find some ice. I got to the freezer, and all that was in there was bread. So, bread it was. I came back out into the waiting room and put frozen bread on the poor girl’s ankle, and got her sitting up, and then went back into the studio to finish teaching the 7 and 8 year olds (I thanked the mum profusely and asked her to sit with the little girl until her mum got there). I got back into the studio in time to stretch with the girls, and then gave them each a huge sticker for being so mature. Once I’d let them out and the next class in, I went to check on the little girl (her mum had arrived by now), and she said that she wanted to stay and watch her class. So we helped her hobble in and she and her mum stayed and watched. Her mum sent me a message on Facebook to say that her ankle seems to be just bruised, which is a huge positive. I love our dancers, and I love our dance mums.

And finally, some violence. Last week, I was teaching my 11 and 12 year olds a new leap and they were going across the floor in pairs, when I heard a huge bang. I looked to the back of the studio, where there was a very embarrassed looking young lady, and a foot sized hole in the wall. I honestly stood there for about 30 seconds with my hand over my mouth before finally turning the music off and going over to check out the situation. She was fine, just worried that she’d get in trouble. It was mainly just really funny. The stories that came out of it have been even funnier. Some people have heard that she broke her leg, others have heard that it was a completely different girl then who it was (like, she’s not even in that class). This week, there’s another little hole lower down, so we joked that some little kid thought it was so cool that they wanted to make a hole too.

I love my little dancers. They are some of the coolest kids in the world.

There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good. 
– Edwin Denby

What I want my dancers to learn from me

As a dance teacher, I recognise that I have a significant amount of influence over the children I teach. My dance teachers have been among the most influential people in my life. That is a lot of responsibility. I don’t want to just let myself fly by and accidently influence my dancers in whatever way it may be. I want to be purposeful. So I’ve made a list of what I want my dancers to learn from me, not just in dance, but in life.

1. Confidence
I want my dancers to have confidence in themselves and their abilities. I want them to learn to put doubts aside and to concentrate on the positive aspects of their personality and achievements. I want them to believe in themselves, and I want them never to be driven by “I can’t.”

2. Determination and Perseverance
I want my students to work hard. I want them to be able to set goals and to see them through to completion. I want them to not just be happy with the status quo, but to constantly strive to better their situations and their world. I want them to never give up, never back down and always try again when it comes to something that is important to them.

3. Responsibility
I want my dancers to learn the sense of achievement that comes with taking responsibility for themselves. I want them to know that they won’t improve in dancing until they take responsibility for their own improvement, and I want that to translate into whatever they decide to do with their lives. I want them to be able to assess themselves and be able to recognise what needs to be done to get to where they want to go.

4. Effort and Hard Work
I want my students to work harder then anyone else in whatever they do. I want them to see the benefits of being the one who puts the most effort in. I want them to learn integrity through practising at home, when I’m not there watching them, and by using the corrections that I give others, not just the ones they get themselves.

5. Passion
I want them to love what they do. I want them to recognise why it matters to them, and I want them to learn to let that passion drive them. 

“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge”
Charles M. Dickinson

Loving on Willow Smith

As a dance teacher, ever since Miley Cyrus has become *ahem* more adult, I’ve been struggling to find relevant music to use for my classes that is still appropriate. My girls (and one boy) used to rock it out to Hannah Montana almost every lesson, because they loved the music so much, and I loved that I could trust that Miley was a good role model with clean lyrics and appropriate clothing.

It’s been a journey. Clean music that isn’t babyish and has a strong enough beat is hard to come by. I’ve always used music from DCOMs (Disney Channel Original Movie), especially Camp Rock at the moment. I used a bit of Glee music, but then found that I wasn’t too impressed with what was happening on the show. I wondered whether it was okay to use ‘Firework’ when the rest of Katy Perry’s stuff is so disgusting. I wondered the same about Rihanna’s music, until ‘S&M’ came out, and now I won’t use any of it.

So you can imagine how happy I am to have found an young artist with the most awesome sense of style, clean lyrics, and a cute song that is catchy and just annoying enough to make it a kids’ song.

That’s right, Will Smith’s 10 year old daughter is my new fave. Most of all, I love that she is still so clearly a 10 year old girl. In the world of dance, where childen are pushed to act far beyond their years in order to win, this is an attribute I’m passionate about. I’m looking forward to using her music for years.  

I do find myself wondering though, if it would have been better for her to wait until she was older to start a singing career. I hope she”ll be okay.