There I was, another late night at the studio, contemplating what to write about this time....A student is sitting in the lobby waiting for her ride.
I ask her, "Jordan, what should I write about for this blog?"
Smiling and joyfully she shouts, "ME!"
I laughed and only after she left did I realize she was on to something. I could actually write about her because I know a lot about her. And then it dawned on me that I know a lot about all of the kids at the studio. I know each personality, which means I can play to their strengths. I can joke and have fun with some kids and others are all business all the time. I know which dancer is going to always be prepared and the one that can't manage to get a clean pair of tights in their bag. If something is left at the studio and it ends up in the lost and found I can probably tell you who left the shoe or shirt or the water bottle or the brush...the list just gets longer! I know who made the mess in the dressing room or which dancer is working over time at home on their skills and flexibility. Why do I know so much about them all? I pay attention. Not because I am a particularly detailed person, I just really care about all the dancers that come here. I care about their training, I care about injury prevention, I care about their mental health, I care about making them life-long lovers of dance, I care about their physical health. Kids are special, all kids, not just the few and far between extremely talented kids. Never count a kid out. They will surprise you and then have you second guessing your own judgment. Any kid can be a great dancer, it just takes dedication, patience and observation from caring teachers.
I took some dancers to a one-day convention this past weekend. For many of them it was their first time. The day is long, intense and loud but very productive. I asked the dancers what they thought about the whole experience. One dancer said, "It really opened my eyes." I prodded further and asked her to elaborate. "Just to see how good everyone is and to see how hard they work was really inspiring. The combos were super hard, but now I really want to get better." Music to my ears. This is exactly why taking dancers to conventions is great. On the flip side, attending too many conventions can be hard on the body since they dance on carpet over concrete. And conventions cannot replace valuable technique classes. But taking classes from industry professionals who always have a positive message helps me do my job back at the studio. Taken in stride, dance conventions inspire dancers (and me!) to keep going and realize their dancing dreams.
Season 3!!? August is the start of our third season here at Chandler Dance Center and so it is time for me to reflect and evaluate where we've been and where we are going. This past year, we competed solos, performed a Holiday Show and had an AMAZING recital. There are girls at Nationals as I type this, I am drinking more coffee than should be legal and listened to more judge's critiques than I would have liked. But I have to stop in the middle of all this and think about a new road map. Unfocused energy is chaos. Going through the motions produces nothing. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. 5. 6. 7. 8.
I like where we are. We do our own thing here at Chandler Dance Center. My families can confirm. We do not require "company" and in fact we don't even have one. I like this concept. Dancers taking classes together to laugh and learn and support each other. When a dancer is ready for a solo, I let the parents know and leave it up them. I set group dances for girls who are ready and families who are ready for the commitment. Regular classes never morph into competition rehearsal. My dancers are not burnt out and injured. Yes, I like where we are.....for now:)
The competition season is upon us and it's a perpetual whirlpool of costumes, rehearsals and make-up. Your child finds bobby pins in their hair days later and the eyelash glue is STILL sticky. You spend your entire weekend at a high school or professional auditorium wondering how many sad, depressing, slow "contemporary" songs you have to sit through. Parents wait for their child's turn and proudly whoot and clap to show their never-ending love and support.
The teachers are backstage hoping their dancers can out-dance everyone else. The judges are talking so loudly into the microphones that the dancers can actually hear them as they're performing. And after a crazy weekend of tears, drama, cheers and trophies the tireless armies of dancers and teachers return to their normal routine of classwork and rehearsals with critiques in hand. As a dance teacher and choreographer it is always good to hear an outsider's opinion; "Great dancing." "She is too cute!" "Clean up those lines." "Needs a little more technique." "Great passion and timing." "Awesome choreography!"
What I do not enjoy hearing are comments such as "She needs to wear earrings next time" or "She could use a little more make-up" and "Those girls need more lipstick" ......Really? They're 7!! The judges are sitting less than 10 feet away. Do they really NEED more make-up? Is this a pageant or a dance competition?
Where am I?
There are a few dance competitions who focus on the dancing and not the superficial. I applaud and thank you!! Always remember what it is all about and why you or your child is dancing. It is about entertainment, passion, love and emotion which is exactly what Chandler Dance Center is about.
Ballet in combat boots? Sounds crazy, right? If you already know me then you understand something others don't; I am NOT your typical ballet teacher. Maybe that's why kids love my classes. I heard a student tell her mom, "She wears boots in class, that is soooo cool." I aim to please.
Actually, the whole thing was born out of necessity. Teaching every day is hard on the feet and muscles. Combat boots are comfy. I did my time in tight little ballet slippers and pointe shoes and I still wear them when I take class. But teaching is a different story. There are times when the boots come off and you know you better pay attention. Like when I demonstrate going through 3/4 pointe in tendu, or showing students how to properly align the ankles. After all, some things must be shown how to do.
I suppose ballet in boots is a reflection of my attitude. It's not a ballet rebellion but a ballet revolution. Yes, ballet is the most important discipline for kids to learn. And yes, ballet is stereotyped as being super-dooper serious with a Russian accent. But amazing, solid dance training doesn't have to be boring, slow and dry. Because ballet is so important my goal is for dancers to LOVE it. I have never really fit in the ballet box full of hair nets, bobby pins and hairspray. I will not try to put your dancer into a neat little box. I certainly won't bore them to death with ballet! People have different shapes, heights, abilities and talents. Dance educators are supposed to help young dancers find their way, not stifle their individuality. I challenge you to be unique and confident.
Post your pictures of ballet in boots on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/chandlerdance. Then come dance with me AND my boots.
After being open for classes for almost 2 weeks I am exhausted, sore and happy. I always wanted to open my own dance studio spreading the love of movement and music. I've had time to reflect on my own experiences growing up as a dancer. Things were different, I was different. It never mattered how many kids were taking class with me, if any of them were "amazing" or who was coming to guest teach. I was simply there to learn and dance. I wasn't expected to take 20 classes a week and compete every weekend and have a solo and be in a top placing group number. But I did have to dress out for ballet EVERY time, try my best, love dance and continue to grow as an artist. Don't get me wrong, there were days I loathed putting my hair up, doing tendus for the umpteenth time and continuing to fall out of pirouettes. But I kept going, that's what dancers are trained to do. You fall on stage, you keep going. You're too sore to walk let alone dance, you keep going. Your blisters are bleeding through your shoes, you keep going. I showed up for classes when other girls were at the football games because I knew no one else would be there. After all small classes meant more attention which equaled more progress. I knew that teachers handed out golden nuggets of expertise and advice but you had to pay attention to get one and if you blinked you missed it.
People dance for different reasons; love, perfection, emotions, fun, to win. It doesn't matter why you dance only how much HEART you put into it.