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 


Parent, talk to your child about the end of the world

A lot of what I do is based around building relationships with children and young people. I have had thousands of conversations over the last few years, ranging from the mundane to the really serious stuff. The conversations I have with these fabulous little people allow me to have great insight into what is on their minds. One thing that I have noticed a lot lately is the anxiety that children, particularly 7 and 8 year olds, feel about death, dying and the end of the world. Often, I am the first adult they have had the chance to talk to about this, which makes me really sad because it means their parents aren’t talking to them.

I know 7 and 8 year olds are babies, and they seem way too young to need to know about this stuff, but they are picking up bits and pieces and without an adult to talk things through with, they’re getting afraid. This is particularly so with this year being 2012, the year the world is supposed to end. Parent, you need to talk to your child about this. Pretending it isn’t an issue won’t help. They need to know that there is nothing to worry about. Here are the three most common questions I am asked on this topic (my answers are based on what I would say to an averagely intelligent 7 or 8 year old):

1) What happens to you after you die? 
I know many parents choose not to tell their children their beliefs about an afterlife, preferring to let them figure out their own beliefs. I challenge you to tell your child what your beliefs are. She will figure out her own beliefs as an adult regardless of what you tell her – children go against their parents’ beliefs all the time. At this age, children are developing their core values. These will have been developed, for the most part, by age 10. They are figuring out the world, and they need your guidance in doing so. You can start with “I believe…” and finish with a disclaimer that they may believe differently, and that’s okay, if you want, but give them something. Even if it’s “I believe that dying is like having a really long sleep.”
When talking to children in a religious context who ask this question, I say, assuming I have explained the concept of sin and Jesus’ sacrifice:

“The really cool thing about Jesus is that He died in our place, so that when we die we can go to Heaven and be with God. The Bible says Heaven is a really awesome place, with only good things. When our bodies die, our souls (the part of you inside that holds all your thoughts and feelings) go to Heaven. Our souls already know the way, so we don’t need to worry that we won’t know how to get there.”

Hidden questions (the real reason they’re asking) include: Will I know anyone in Heaven/the afterlife/where ever? Will you be there? Will I be lonely and afraid? How will I know how to get there?

2) Is the world going to end in December?
There are adults who have fallen for the hysteria surrounding this, so is it any wonder that children are falling for it? Yes, it is true that the 21st of December 2012 brings to a close the 13th Bak’tun, and almost 400-year long period in the Mayan long-count calendar. But this is like the year ending on our calendar. It’s the end of an old phase, and the beginning of a new one. There is nothing to suggest that it predicts either the end of the world, or a phase in which the world will decline to it’s eventual end. If you are still convinced that there is serious cause for concern, I point you back towards Y2K, when the new millennium was starting and everyone thought that the computers weren’t going to handle the changeover and subsequently the world was going to descend into chaos and then end. Or the countless times a “prophet” has predicted the coming of Christ, and then that day has passed like a normal day. Or the days dated 666 in some way.
With that in mind, I confidently tell children:

“When I was just a little bit older then you are, everyone thought the world was going to end because it was the new millennium and they were worried all technology would fail. I went to bed that night and I was so, so, so scared that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. But I woke up the next morning, and guess what! The world hadn’t ended! And the world isn’t going to end in December, either. Some people like to say they know when the world will end, but it never comes true. There is nothing to worry about.”

I say this which such confidence because not only is it probably not going to happen, but if it does we’re not going to know about it, because we’ll all be dead. Children don’t yet know how to discern truth from scare tactics from the media. They haven’t had enough life experience to know that predictions such as this don’t tend to result in the world’s end actually happening. The last thing they need is adults buying into the hysteria and scaring them more.

3) When will the world end?
This one usually directly follows the above question. If it’s not going to end this year, when will it end? Spiritually speaking, Jesus could come again at any time. But no one knows when that time will be. The Bible is very, very clear about that. A lot of Christians think that the time is near because current events seem to line up with the prophecies in the Bible. But they have done so since the beginning of time. You don’t think they thought the same thing in either of the World Wars? In the Dark Ages? During the periods of revolutions? The writers of the New Testament clearly thought it would happen any day. No body knows when Jesus will return. Physically speaking, when scientists say “soon,” they are talking within the context of several billion years. Remember that when reading about global warming, imminent eruptions, etc.

“No one knows exactly when the world will end, but chances are it won’t happen while you are still alive. It will probably be thousands of years from now.”

This question scares us all, because we don’t like the idea that we can’t control what will happen. I think that’s why people get so caught up in end-of-the-world predictions. If we can predict it, we can prepare ourselves. The world might end in December, but you might be in an accident and die next week and therefore never know about it. Worrying does nothing to prolong our lives. God knows what each one of our days holds, and no matter what happens between now and the end, all will be alright in the end.

It’s been awhile…

I’m sorry it’s been so long.

Since having left my last job, life has been significantly less busy but far more full. I’ve got a lot of photos of a particularly awesome part of the last few months that I want to share, but most of the photos are on my husband’s phone, so that will have to wait. I figured for now, I should just catch you up.

At the time of my last life related blog post, I was a week away from finishing working in full time ministry. That was a crazy time for me, because I’d spent most of my life leading up to the moment where I would work in full time ministry, and now I was coming to the end of it. It was quite surreal. Now, I teach 11 dance classes and two Bible-in-Schools classes a week, am finally finishing my English degree, and am trying really, really hard to be a domestic goddess. Our house has become that which we always wished it would be – people feel comfortable enough here that they come over just to hang out with us and we don’t even need to entertain them.

1. Dancing

I am loving my job. I get to be creative and hang out with children – two of my favourite things. There is something so wonderful about watching children dance and knowing that they can do that because you taught them how. I get a real sense of accomplishment watching a dance I choreographed be performed on stage, more so then I ever got performing myself. I love seeing kids achieve their goals, and I love the thought that I might be a positive influence in their lives. My hope is that one day, should any of my students ever need to talk to an adult about something and they feel they can’t talk to their parents, that they would trust me enough to come to me. 

I’m really conscious of their confidence, and my greatest fear is that I would effect this negatively. All of my students are wonderful, I absolutely love them, and I hope that I would never make any of them feel otherwise. I worry about it, sometimes to the point of being a little bit nuts, because I know the power a dance teacher has over their students. I’m really aware of not making them feel bad about their bodies, and I worry that this will naturally happen anyway because of the nature of dance. I’m so fortunate to work for a woman who is determined not to let this become an issue in her school, and I think so far she’s been really successful in that.

I have some really talented, determined students. I’m so excited, because I can see them going so far in dance. At the start of this term, my boss, one other teacher and I went to Auckland to watch the SDNZ hip hop national championships and then attend an RGDANCE seminar, and we came back so inspired. The energy in classes since then has been incredible. I hope we keep it up. The kids have really caught on to our inspiration, and the different in them is incredible. I’ve spoken to so many parents who have said stuff like “I walked into the laundry, and she was in there stretching!” and “Every time she sees a wall, she does the wall split stretch!” It’s really awesome. I can’t wait to see the improvement in these kids.

2. My husband

He is good. I have the most wonderful husband. He does night shifts at the ambulance, because he’s studying to be an EMT, so at least once a week I will come home from work two hours after he’s left. Every time, he leaves the heat pump and the little heater in our bedroom on for me. He is so thoughtful. I adore him.

He’s doing really well in his study. He had a meeting with one of the tutors, who told him he would make a great advanced paramedic (several steps up from EMT), so I’m really proud of him about that.

My man really is incredible. He’s a great leader, he’s logical, he’s honest, he’s caring. I feel so lucky to be married to him.

3. Friends

The saddest part of this whole post is that five of my really good friends are moving overseas/going home (overseas) in the month of June. I’m planning trips to see all of them, but that doesn’t change the fact that, until then, I’m not going to have those people as part of my every day life any more.

But other then that, we’re seriously living the coolest life in regards to friends at the moment. My husband loves having people over to our house, and since we’ve moved into a proper house (more about that to come in a later blog post), we have the room for me to actually be able to stand it. People come over to our house all the time and, believe it or not, I actually love it. One weekend, we had a whole bunch of people over after church on Friday night for fish and chips. Very early the next morning, my husband took a few of them out water skiing, and then they all came back to have pancakes for breakfast. The best part though, was that a couple of them stayed until about 4 o’ clock that afternoon, just hanging out in our house. I love that people feel comfortable enough in our house to do that. I hope we always make people feel so welcome.

4. Other little things

I have so much going on in my head. I’m putting together a program for primary-aged children that I don’t really want to say much more about, because I’m not ready to hear opinions yet (haha).

I’m really enjoying studying, and I am so thankful that my husband works hard so that I can do what I want to do. I’ve got marks for my first two assignments – an A, and a B+. I’m pretty happy with that, considering it’s been three years since I last studied.

I love teaching Bible-in-Schools. I feel so privileged to be able to go into schools and tell kids about Jesus.

Oh! and:

5. Daphne

I got a kitten. This is a photo of her the day we got her – on my birthday back in January. She’s now quite a lot bigger.

Officially, her name is Daphne, but I don’t think she knows that. Everyone just calls her Kitten.

She’s a bit nuts. She’s so playful, I don’t think she ever sits still. When we first got her, she was so tiny and such a baby. We had to ask my friend to babysit her while we went out for lunch for my birthday, because she got stuck behind the freezer. The first night, she cried and cried and cried, so we let her come into our room. She just walked around the bed all night, and every time she fell off she couldn’t get back up again, so she cried and I had to get up and put her back on our bed. After that, we shut her out of our room every night until about a week ago. Now she sleeps on the foot of our bed. It’s a bit sad, she’s growing up. At first, she didn’t know how to play. Now we can’t get her to stop playing. She is the exact perfect kitty for us, we wouldn’t have liked a boring, quiet cat.

So… that’s life at the moment. I’ll try not to let it be so long before I write again. In fact, I’ll try to do one tomorrow.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
– Albert Einstein

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

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.