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

Advertisements

I am a writer

I’m currently reading  a blog series entitled Mastering The Habits of Great Writing.

It feels a little funny to say it so boldly. It brings to mind a conversation that happened behind me in a lecture one day when I was at university. The girl was talking about how people don’t take you seriously if you say you’re an author before you’re published, and how she was going to start saying she was author even though she hadn’t had a book published. I remember thinking to myself, “But you’re not an author unless you’ve had a book published. You can’t make a living out of nothing.” But here I am, declaring I’m a writer, which is basically the same thing.

Although, I have had a poem published. Like, genuinely, sent it off to an editor who liked it and published it. I was 11. So maybe I’ve got one up?

I’ve liked writing for as long as I can remember. And I’ve always been told that I’m good at it. To be honest, I was a bit gutted because it’s not really cool to be good at writing when you’re a kid. I always wished I’d been exceptional at sport or dancing or drama. Something recognisable to other kids my age. When I started to get older, and liking to write paid off in the form of grades, I started to be a bit more proud of it. I started to write blogs, and share my writing with other people.

I’m declaring it now, because otherwise at what point am I going to declare it? My dream would be to be a published author. But I dont think I’m really going to feel like a writer just because I’m published. I don’t feel like a wife just because I’m married – I still feel like insecure, confused me. So I’ll declare it now, while it feels as true as it will ever feel.

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?”

How to get the most out of your dance class (a Wednesday dance post)

Being a dance teacher means that I get a special insight into the ways of champions. There are certain things that a dancer does that increases his or her chances of suceeding in dance. Here is a list of 10 ways to get the most out of your dance class.

1. Be ready to dance when the class starts. If your class starts at 5:45, then you should be outside the class at 5:44 with the correct shoes and clothing on, ready to go. You should not be running to get changed when your teacher opens the door for you to come in. You should not bring your shoes into class to put on while the class warms up. Your teacher should not have to wait for you. Every minute you waste getting ready once class has started instead of taking the opportunity to grow as a dancer, is a minute that you will never get back.

2. Wear the correct attire. Your dance class is at the same time each week. It is not a surprise. “My uniform is in the wash” wouldn’t be an acceptable excuse at school, it’s not going to fly at dancing either. When you get home from dancing, put your dance clothes in the wash that day, and then make sure they are washed and dried for your next class. And know where they are. It is not okay to wear trackpants to ballet because you forgot your tights.

3. Put in your best effort. If you give a poor effort, you’ll get poor results. If you give a good effort, you’ll get good results. If you give it your best effort, you’ll get the best results that you can get. If you don’t try your absolute hardest, there is nothing your teacher can do to make you a better dancer.

4. Know what you’re good at. It is amazing the improvement that comes simply from a dancer starting off with the attitude of “Oh yeah, I got this.” I don’t mean that you need to be cocky, just confident. Confidence starts with what you tell yourself, so stop putting yourself down and start telling yourself what you’re good at.

5. Know what you need to improve on. And then want to improve on those things. If you aren’t so good at leaps, when it’s time to do leaps in class, give it everything you’ve got. It’s easy to get stuck in this cycle of hating what you need to improve on, and so not trying, and then falling even further behind. Be determined, and tell yourself that you want to work hard on those things that don’t come so easily.

6. Pay attention. The best dancers are the most focused dancers. You won’t learn anything if you’re fluffing around or talking. Your teacher should not have to ask you to stop talking or to pay attention. If you want to improve, you’ll do that anyway.

7. Take on corrections, even if they’re not aimed at you. You aren’t perfect yet, so every correction that is given in class can be applied to your dancing, even if the teacher is talking to someone else. And when your teacher corrects you directly, or corrects the whole class, take that on. Your teacher should only have to tell you to point your toes or tuck your tummy in once. If she or he needs to tell you more then once, then you are slowing down your own progression.

8. Take notes. It is an extremely good idea to keep a dance journal where you write down corrections after each class.  Also write down the choreography you learn, and the things you need to remember to master certain technique or tricks. This will help you remember what you learn far more then just keeping it all in your brain will.

9. Practise. You will not improve if you don’t practise. For one thing, dancers who don’t practise are lucky if they can remember choreography, and even if they do they almost always forget the corrections they were given. Don’t have time in the evenings to practise? Get up 20 minutes earlier in the morning. If you’re serious about dancing, you’ll make the time.  

10. Decide where you want to go, and then work to get there. Set a goal for yourself. Do you want to get Honours in your exams? Do you want to win competitions? Do you want to perform in Cirque du Soleil? Figure out what you want to do with your dancing, and then do everything in your power to get there.

Because it’s a Wednesday, I will finish this off with a funny story. I have a little girl in my 6 year olds class who likes to tell stories. She’s told us all about her twin sister, Lucy (she doesn’t have a twin sister), and about how she can do the splits, but only when she’s wearing her sparkly sandals (um, no, she can’t?). Yesterday, she told me that her dad was 152 years old. I know her dad, he’s good friends with my husband. I can’t wait to tell him how old he is.

But how we got onto that subject was a little bit akward. Two of the girls were fighting over the fact that one had bumped into the other, and I (stupidly) said “It’s okay. We’re all okay. No one has died” and one of the girls said “My grandad died” and then they all started talking about people they know who have died. So I was very happy that the daughter of a 152 year old piped up.

“To dance is to be out of yourself.  Larger, more beautiful, more powerful.” 
– Agnes De Mille

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

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