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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

One of Those New Years Posts

I'm not big on getting sentimental on New Years' Eve or treating the changing of the year like some momentous occasion. Tonight I'll probably change into my pajamas at five o'clock, drink some cocoa, read a book and fall asleep at nine.  It's tempting for me to feel negative about the past year because, in all honesty, it's been a tough one. Instead of dwelling on the difficulties of 2013, I'd like to focus this post on the fun, rewarding things in my dance life.  I performed and choreographed almost constantly this year and taught so many talented, engaged students.

In January, I became a certified Pilates instructor. I've wanted to teach Pilates for years so successfully completing the course and teaching my first classes felt like a big accomplishment. I'm hoping to complete a more extensive certification in the future and learn more about other fitness methods as well. Maybe 2014 will be the year for that?

In the spring,  I taught my first college ballet and jazz courses. Students from the nearby college take the class at my studio for physical education credit. Teaching these short, half-credit courses gives me new respect for school teachers and college professors and the amount of time they put into grading! Spring 2014 will be my third semester with college students and, hopefully, the semester I finally stay on top of my grading.

In May, my studio produced its annual spring showcase. Directing shows, even dance shows, is way outside of my comfort zone but I'm proud of how it all turned out this year. We had great audience turnout and the kids all seemed to have fun, despite my 36 nervous breakdowns during show week. To everyone I snapped at and to the janitor who may or may not have found me curled up in a small ball in the sound booth when I discovered gigantic ink stains on twelve pairs of brand new tights--I am sorry.

Right after the spring showcase, I leaped into rehearsals choreographing a local production of Rogers & Hammerstein's Allegro. I'd choreographed musicals before, but never one with three separate extended ballet sequences. Most of the cast had minimal dance experience--another challenge. Overall, I was happy with how it turned out and loved being a part of such a good but rarely performed production.  Somewhere in the middle of all those production numbers and jazz squares, my little boy turned one year old and we moved to a new house.

September saw the beginning of a new dance season with all of the usual stress and excitement. We have a solid and growing student base and while there are still times when I feeling like throwing in the towel and becoming a goat farmer or something, I really do love what I do.

Fall whizzed by and I finished the year with another play, Wise Women at The Valley Theatre. For the past week, I've been enjoying a nice break from all teaching and dancing, though I have started the arduous process of ordering costumes for this year's spring showcase--an abridged version of Swan Lake--and begun rehearsals for yet another play.

Looks like I'm in for a fun ride in 2014!

I hope you have a happy new year! Ring it in with at least as much style as me.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Saying "No" and Finding Freedom

 Self-employed people tend to be self-motivated people.
You have to be if you want to pay your bills and feed your family. 
I've been self-employed in some capacity since I was eighteen and realized I could either sit around waiting for someone to give me a job or I could go out and create a job for myself. When I moved to a place where jobs were scarce and jobs in my field practically non-existent, I decided to take the risk of throwing myself 100% into freelance writing. A few months later, I opened a brick-and-mortar business (HMAC). I've lived and supported my family (with varying degrees of success) off of those self-created* jobs exclusively over the past two years, but not without a lot of hard work. There's no such thing as a salary raise without enrolling more students, teaching more hours or writing more words. Sick leave is non-existent and health insurance has been a continuous nightmare.

While I don't think anyone would fault me for wanting to make a decent living, sometimes I admit my fear of not making it becomes a little bit of an obsession. I've got a little Scarlett O'Hara in my worldview and that's not usually a good thing. Sure, business owners should want their businesses to grow and be mindful of profit, but in the past year or so, I've stretched myself too thin trying to keep my head above water. 
This past week, I did something I've never done before:

I turned away students. 

I couldn't figure out a way to squeeze extra bodies into an already-full class without the quality of the class suffering. I couldn't figure out how to manage an extra class in my packed spring schedule. 
So I said, "No." 

Saying that word felt terrible. I apologized profusely and made sure to give the prospective dancers information about early enrollment for summer. For hours afterward, I couldn't shake the guilt that I'd both disappointed a small child and turned down a potential opportunity to grow my business. 

Then, I felt relieved. One simple "no" had made me a little bit freer. I realized that I don't have to say "yes" all the time to be successful or well-liked or responsible. 

I think I'm still going to tend to overbook myself and that's okay; I like busyness. But I'm learning to be open to new opportunities without feeling enslaved by them. I hope, when the time comes again, I won't be so afraid to say "no."

*Self-created is a funny term because I really couldn't have made these businesses work without the help of many, many people. Especially my clients. But y'know. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Dance Teacher Boredom

I love teaching dance. I really do. But like every teacher, sometimes I lose my motivation. It's easy to go through the motions of teaching a class, giving the same combinations with the same corrections I usually do. It's easy to "check out" when I feel exhausted or sick or discouraged. Just like I need to prevent my students from getting bored or frustrated, I need to be careful not to let myself become unmotivated.  Here are a few of the ways I try to keep my classes fresh and my mind engaged when teaching dance: 

Stay Inspired 
I stay up to date with what's going on in the wide world of dance by reading my favorite dance publications, especially Dance Teacher magazine. Reading about what other successful teachers and studio owners are up to not only gives me great idea to use in the studio, but helps me remember that I'm not alone in this crazy industry. Live dance performances, good music, art and books can also provide inspiration even when they're not dance related. 

Change Things Up
I follow a syllabus for all of my classes, but allow myself the freedom to change up the combinations and music choices regularly. Bringing in new class music also helps keep my students from getting bored, so it's a top priority for me and something I don't mind spending money on (if I'll get enough use out of it). Even changing where I stand in the room to demonstrate combos can help keep me (and my dancers) engaged. When I can afford it, I treat myself to a new leotard or fun top to wear to class. It sounds trivial, but feeling confident in my appearance helps me maintain my energy and enthusiasm in class. 

Take Breaks
This is the hardest one for me and, I imagine, for a lot of self-employed people. I'm tempted to cram as many classes into each week as possible both for financial reasons and because I enjoy them so much. This fall I've maintained a teaching schedule of about 20 hours per week, which is nothing compared to what school teachers put it, but still draining. Add to that the preparation time for each class (total of about 5 -7 hours per week), administrative duties,  freelance work and raising a toddler and I've got my hands pretty full.  Whenever I'm able to take a week or two off from teaching, I always feel so much more excited to return to the studio.

With our studio Christmas break approaching, I've decided to take a solid two weeks off of all dance teacher related jobs (including private lessons) to rest my mind and body before beginning an even more packed teaching schedule in January. 

When it comes to your job, what do you do to keep yourself motivated? 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Podcast: Dancers and Eating Disorders

   I recently had the pleasure of being a guest on the Eating Disorder Pro podcast with Dr. J. Renae Norton to discuss eating disorders and body image in the dance community.

I talk a little about my own experiences and how I approach the issue of body image in my own dance classroom. You'll also hear me talk about my new book project. (Blog post with more details coming soon!) I don't claim to be an expert on eating disorders or nutrition, but I was very glad to share my own perspective on the show.

Click here to listen to the episode. 

Monday, December 16, 2013


I ostensibly moved to New York, like gazillions of other young adults, to perform. During my four years in that city, I performed in only five or six different productions. I did book a couple of other jobs that I was unable to accept due to my college schedule. (I couldn't bring myself to drop out mid-semester to tour the country as a dancing bear for $300 a week. Stay in school, kids. ) Still, five low or non-paying gigs in four years kind of sucks. Like most young dancers who move to the city with no job prospects, I was too busy trying to keep my head above water to actually, well, dance. At seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, I lacked the courage I needed to succeed in such a competitive industry.

When I left NYC, everyone acted like my dance career was over. I tried to keep my chin up, swearing up and down I was working on demo reels and had plans to come down to the city to audition all the time, but in my heart, I was scared this was it. I was twenty-one and washed up. In some ways, I was right. I'm no longer waking up at 4:00 am to line up in the freezing cold on w. 46th in the hopes of being allowed to double pirouette in front of a casting director. I spend more time teaching others how to dance than taking class in overcrowded studios with 43 other people.  But I'm performing all the time. More than I ever did in New York. I dance at churches and chapels and outdoor festivals, participate in community theater and constantly brainstorm ways to bring dance to new audiences.

I would still like to perform on a professional stage again, sure. It's something I miss terribly, despite the stress and struggle of audition after audition. For now, though, I'm enjoying the opportunity to do something I love for people who seem to appreciate it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Finding the Right Dance School

     A typical dance student in suburban America  has a myriad of options when it comes to choosing a place to learn dance. There's the big studio with flashy competition trophies in the window, the small school with a heavy emphasis on end-of-year recitals, and the ballet school which may or may not be tied to a professional company of some kind. While each studio owner will declare his or her training method the best for your student, you need to take special care to make sure you're choosing the right dance environment for yourself or your child.
    I've taught at many different kinds of dance schools over the years and trained as a student at many more. To help new students and parents without a dance background feel less overwhelmed when deciding where to spend hard-earned money on dance lessons, I've put together a little guide based on my own experiences.

Step 1) Determine what type of training style suits your goals.

While no two dance studios are entirely alike, I've divided types of schools into two major categories, for simplicity's sake: the dance studio and the ballet school. Some schools (like the one I own*) blur this line by offering different kinds of programs, but most of the time you can use the following lists to determine into which category your neighborhood studio falls.

     Think about your child's goals and personality types to decide what kind of school to look for. Is she interested in ballet primarily, jazz or hip-hop, or even many different styles equally? Remember that you don't need professional aspirations to benefit from the more focused training offered by ballet schools, though they do tend to require more commitment even from recreational students, especially as children get more advanced.
      If you opt for a dance studio with combination classes, make sure adequate time is given to teach style. I have taught at schools who have required teachers to teach as many as three different styles in 45 minute classes for teenagers. With that little time, the teacher is only giving a sample of each style, not full instruction. In my opinion, combo classes for students older than 8 should devote at least 30 minutes to jazz and tap and 45 minutes (preferably one hour) to ballet. Students older than ten studying ballet need at least a one hour class each week (preferably twice per week) to develop proper strength and technique.

Step 2) Get to know the studio owner and teachers. 
Ask questions about the owner's training history and teaching experience. Dance related degrees and certifications are great, but the teacher should also have solid training (never study dance with a teacher who has no formal training of his or her own) and a teaching philosophy that's compatible with your goals and desires for your child. Ask to observe a class. Look for the following qualities of teaching excellence:
  • A thorough warm-up. If you're watching a ballet class, this should include at least five to ten exercises at the barre (depending on the age and level of the class). Teachers who don't include a warm-up in their class are setting students up for injury. 
  • A balance of praises and corrections. A teacher should give encouraging and constructive feedback to his or her students. Be wary of teachers who seem constantly negative or--to the other extreme--do nothing but praise students without offering suggestions for improvements. 
  • Friendly, but commanding respect. I'm not a fan of teachers who try so hard to be their student's friends that they lose control of the classroom. On the other hand, a student should never be afraid to approach her dance teacher. 

Step 3) Practical considerations. 
      How far are you willing to drive? What is the cost of classes? Keep in mind that dance classes can be pricey but rates vary greatly depending on location and years in business. You may spend as much as  $100/month on a 60 minute weekly beginner class or as little as $25. You should also ask about recital or performance costs and registration fees (which many studios, including mine, charge at the beginning of the year to cover administrative fees). In my experience, recreational recital-focused studios can be even more expensive than prestigious ballet schools once you factor in the costs of recital costumes and participation fees.
      If you feel strongly that your student belongs at a school but are worried about associated costs, it never hurts to ask the owner or office staff about other options for covering expenses. Many studios offer fundraisers, scholarships or invite parents to volunteer office hours in exchange for free or discounted classes. Remember, though, that studio ow ners are still business people and have a reason for charging what they do. I personally make a lot of sacrifices to keep costs low for my clients and nothing is more frustrating than someone claiming that I'm overcharging.

Step 4) Dance!
Some studios offer trial classes for new students, but if yours doesn't and your research has indicated it may be a good choice for you, go ahead and sign up. I encourage you to stick to your chosen studio for at least a full year  (unless you discover something is very wrong with the program) so you get the full experience and to teach your child the importance of following through on commitments.

There are so many factors to consider when choosing a place to learn to dance, many more than I can discuss in a measly blog  post!

What is the most important quality in a dance school to you?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wise Women

The cast of Wise Women

I'm in the final stretch of rehearsals for Ron Osborne's Wise Women, a comedic play set at Christmastime, 1944. That's right. I'm saying words on stage with nary a jazz square or kick ball change in sight. It makes for a nice change and is definitely a challenge for me as a performer who prefers moving over speaking. I'm thoroughly enjoying the role and the show and can't wait to see how it all comes together when we open next week. This is the third show I've done with The Valley Theatre and might be my favorite so far!

     Check out the full press release and, if you're local to western NY, reserve your tickets!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


If not for Vera-Ellen, I'm not sure I'd have become a dancer. 

Maybe that's too extreme. Maybe my worn out tape of Balanchine's The Nutcracker (starring one Macaulay Caulkin circa 1993) would have been enough to prod me to join the ranks of the bun-headed. But even more than wearing a glittery pink tutu and twirling on my toes like a perfect ballerina, I longed to dance like the leading ladies in the musicals of Hollywood's golden age. I wanted Ginger Rogers' elegance, Leslie Caron's sweetness, Ann Miller's charisma and Cyd Charisse's body. 
     Then, in the Classic Musicals aisle at Blockbuster,  I found Vera. Vera was the whole package, the real deal. She was blonde and petite, like me, similarities I embraced wholeheartedly when I finally realized that the genetic odds were against my ever having legs as long and shapely as Cyd's. She did it all--graceful ballet en pointe, fast tap numbers, athletic stunts and romantic duets--seemingly without effort. Vera-Ellen had this way of being both as cute and innocent as Shirley Temple and as sultry as Rita Hayworth. She just had it. Everything. 

     Vera's not very well remembered--not compared to the likes of Ann, Cyd or Ginger anyway. A couple of leading roles alongside big names like Gene Kelly and Donald O'Conner, a lot of second-billing dance roles in the 1940s, then nothing. Some blame the studio's unwillingness to give Vera "meatier" dramatic roles. Others point to her suspected anorexia and difficult personal life. Whatever the reason, I still feel a little personally slighted that my great dance role model is mostly forgotten. 
   What people do seem to remember is her standout role opposite Danny Kaye in White Christmas
     And her insanely small waist.
     But mostly White Christmas.
     It's a tradition in my family to watch White Christmas the day before Thanksgiving every year, usually while baking. When I was a kid, my big sister and I would take a break from rolling pie crusts and simmering cranberries to swoon over Vera and Danny's dance sequences and sing along with Bing and Rosemary. For a while there, we were the Hanes sisters. I took on the dancing role of Judy and my singing sister played Betty. We never took our floor show on the road to any rural Vermont inns, but that's on us.  Through every major change or move in my life, I've guarded my pre-Thanksgiving White Christmas tradition. I've watched it on an air mattress in a college dorm, barely 18 and barely functioning my first Thanksgiving away from home. I've dutifully played the DVD on laptops propped up on flour-dusted kitchen counters. I've practically forced my in-laws to project it on to their living room wall. It's not my favorite of Vera-Ellen's movies (that would be On the Town), but it's the most personal. For a while there, my sister and I were the Hanes sisters. One of us the dancer, the other a singer. We never took our floor show on the road to rural Vermont inns, but that's on us. 

   Few films capitalize so well on Vera's multifaceted dance abilities like White Christmas She has a few nice moments of "Fred and Ginger" elegance in "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" broken up with fast, jazzy tap sequences. The choreography for Mandy showcases her acrobatic abilities and crazy flexibility and no one can rock the three (four?) inch mustard heels like she does in "Abraham" (featuring my dream dance partner John Brascia). 

   To me as a young girl Vera-Ellen in White Christmas represented everything I thought a dancer should be: powerful, funny, feminine, beautiful, graceful wearer of twirly skirts. Vera's why, despite my focused ballet training, I could never quite shake the desire to be a song-and-dance performer in high heels and long red gloves. 

Some other great Vera-Ellen films to check out:
Words and Music (1948) -  "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" ballet with Gene Kelly
The Belle of New York (1952) - with Fred Astaire 
Wonderm Man (1945) - with Danny Kaye

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sit Down!

I am not good at sitting down.
     When I teach a ballet class, I get physical. I like to demonstrate steps full-out whenever possible. I walk around the room during combinations to offer individual corrections and hands-on assistance, if necessary. I'm the teacher who has a really hard time not doing the choreography with students as they practice. I'm more comfortable conveying ideas through movement than speech and, well, I just like to dance. 
     Yesterday, I got hit hard with a gross, icky stomach bug. One minute, I was feeling fine, prepping my afternoon classes and starting on costume orders for our spring performance. The next minute . . . well, I'll spare you the details, but it wasn't pretty.
    It was too late to call in a sub and or cancel, so I knew I'd have to figure out a way to make it through at least my two beginner ballet classes. I resigned myself to sitting in the front of the room, letting my assistant demonstrate as I called out steps and corrections.
     Despite feeling miserable, I actually found I enjoyed the new perspective sitting down offered. When I was sitting still--not pre-occupied with flitting around the room correcting everyone--I found myself noticing different strengths and weaknesses in my students I hadn't noticed before. I saw them moving more musically and organically. I better appreciated the progress they've made since the beginning of the year.
     Sitting down also forced me to use my words to offer corrections more than my hands. While I still think manually correcting alignment and placement is helpful for some students, I discovered that some of my dancers seemed to understand better when I spell things out verbally. Having to translate my correction into their bodies seemed to help them "get it" in a way I hadn't seen before.
     I don't think I'll ever let go of my energetic, bouncing-around-the-room teaching style, but from now on I plan to be more intentional about finding moments in class to be still, observe and appreciate my students.

    Fellow teachers, have you ever tried (or been forced to) sit down while teaching a dance class? Did you find it difficult?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Intuitive Eating, Normal Eating

     One of the best things I did, back when I was beginning the recovery process for my eating disorder was to see a registered dietitian. At the time I thought it was pointless. Like a lot of people with disordered eating habits, I knew about nutrition. I knew what foods were healthy and which were full of empty calories. I knew the difference between so-called "simple" carbs and complex carbs and which vegetables had the highest amounts of which vitamins. I could have told you the exact calorie count of every thing on your plate and the saturated fat contents of every box of crackers on the shelf at the grocery story.

     It turned out that the benefits of seeing a dietitian, for me, had less to do with learning to eat healthfully than learning to eat normally. Some eating disorder treatment plans call this the "re-feeding process." I prefer to think of it as a re-learning process: re-learning how to eat like you did as a child, before fears of cellulite and white leotards and what people might say if you go ahead and eat that extra serving of mashed potatoes.

    On one of our first meetings, she asked me what I thought normal eating was. I can't remember what I said--most likely, I just stared at my feet defiantly as I was prone to do in early treatment--but I remember that she pulled out some piece of paper and read the following piece (which I learned later was written by Ellyn Sater: 

"Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it—not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is eating mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings." 

     I've carried this with me over the years, particularly, for whatever reason, the part about the cookies. Probably because I really like cookies. 
     What I like about this idea is that it allows room for all the different reasons we eat. In dance, we're often taught to think of food as fuel and nothing else. God forbid you enjoy food or choose what you eat based on taste or mood once in a while.  The whole approach in the dance and exercise world always seemed to me like, like, "it's really annoying, I know, but you need calories to get through this variation, so eat these chia seeds and raw nuts and drink an organic cold-pressed juice and you're good." (For the record: I like all of those thing but as we've discussed, I also like cookies.) 
     A few years later--after I'd moved to NYC perfectly "recovered" only to start a long cycle of bingeing and restricting--I attended a talk by Susan Berry of Evolved Eating. She talked about the concept of intuitive eating. My world changed. 
    Intuitive eating can be different things to different people. For me, fundamentally, is just means paying attention. Eating just what I want when I'm hungry (what I really want and not just what I think I should want) and stopping when I'm full or don't want it anymore. Some days this might mean I eat pretty much just fruits and vegetables, because that's what I feel like, then the next day eating lots of grains. Sometimes I take two bites of my sandwich before I'm full and other times I clean my plate. Sometimes I over eat--like holidays or special dinners or when I make something that's just really, really delicious--and I've learned that that's okay sometimes. It doesn't mean I have to restrict at the next meal or run five miles or cry or purge. It's just food. If I notice eating a certain food before I dance makes me feel sluggish or gives me a stomach ache, chances are I won't feel like eating it again the next time. Intuitive eating is a process of learning to be tuned in to your body, to trust yourself, to be still and listen.
   For various physiological and psychological reasons, this approach may not work for everyone, but for the most part I think intuitive eating is a wonderful, unfortunately radical approach in our diet obsessed world. Sometimes I still have bad days: days when I don't want to eat or I want to do nothing but eat. If I don't want to eat, I try to pay attention and ask myself why. If it's because I'm not hungry, I respect that and wait until I do. If it's because I'm stressed or tired or feeling fat or worried of eating in front of people, I work through that and try to feed myself. I'm not perfect and I don't have all the answers, but I'm trying. One day at a time.

  [P.S. How does vegan eating fit in with all of this? Pretty simple for me. I tell myself that if I really want something non-vegan I can have it. But because of my convictions and tastes, I rarely do.]


Monday, November 11, 2013

Baby Ballerinas: Teaching Creative Movement

A dozen three and four year olds.

A big, open room. 

Thirty minutes.


     Three and four year old dance classes are a staple of most recreational dance studios. "Creative movement" classes for this age group are becoming more and more common at even the most serious pre-professional schools. While kids this young aren't developmentally ready to learn much technique, they are ready to move, explore music and, most importantly, to love dance. From a business perspective, it may also be wise to open your doors to younger students and their families in hopes of inspiring loyalty to your school. 

      As a new dance teacher, I was full of enthusiasm for this baby ballerina set, but unsure how to go about teaching them. My preference has always been for working with older kids who have the patience for my nit-picky corrections. How could I teach these tots to dance and lay the foundations for proper technical development while still respecting and encouraging their need to learn through play? 

     At first, I structured my "Creative Movement" class (originally just for three year olds) a lot like my Pre-Ballet class which is geared toward five and six year olds, just with fewer exercises. This was fine and the kids still had fun, but they didn't retain much from week to week and certain kids had trouble focusing on the steps and standing in lines. I did some research, observed classes by other teachers and evolved my creative movement syllabus to make it more focused on, well, actual creative movement, than formal dance. I thought I'd share my ideas for fellow teachers: 

 Predictable, but Exciting 
     Most kids at this age thrive on routine. Following a set class structure helps kids know what to expect each class helping them feel less overwhelmed. My students also like naming their favorite activities and "telling me" what part of class we're doing next. Every class follows the same basic structure:

  • "Hello dance" - a song with guided movement from a creative movement CD 
  • Circle stretching 
  • "Ballet time" - working on two or three very basic ballet/technique ideas like sixth position (and first position later in the year), demi plie, port de bras
  • Across the floor/follow the leader
  • Games 
  • Goodbye dance - bowing together and clapping for ourselves
  • Stickers/reward 
     To keep their interest, I scatter my introduction of new steps or concepts throughout the year and try to rotate the games we play each week. 

Use Props Wisely
      Some teachers use a lot of props and toys in their creative movement classes which can be great. I don't like to use as many props because of both the logistical problems (time it takes to take out and put away in a 30 minute class) and because I want kids to focus on their own bodies and how they move. Some simple props I like to include are yoga mats or large floor "spots" for jumping activities. I have kids practice lining up behind the mats or spots then explain to them that the mats are rain puddles. 
      We jump in and out the puddles with both feet ("splash!"), then practice leaping over the puddles from one foot to another foot. I also like to use scarves to demonstrate slow movement and fast movement or to let the kids dance with during the games portion of class. 

Learning with Games
Games are a fundamental part of my creative movement class. Sometimes I'll devote as much as 1/3 of the class to them. I use games to emphasize different movement concepts we've learned such as dancing different speeds or telling stories with out bodies. 
     One of my favorite ones for this age group (and up to age 7 or 8) is the "magic elevator" game. I have the kids line up by the barre and pretend it's a magical elevator. I'll say, "The elevator doors are opening and today, we're in a [place]. Show me how you move in [place]." The place might be an ice rink, under the sea, a jungle, high in the air, outer space, or even a room full of sticky jello. I might call out descriptions of the place or, if they're stuck, suggestions for how to move in different spaces, if they need guidance. I always finish with the elevator taking us back to the ballet studio so we can move on to the goodbye dance. 

Be Flexible
Kids can be unpredictable. While I never let kids dictate the class or the activities, I try to stay in tune with the general mood of the class. If their attention is wavering during "ballet time" I'll move right to across the floor activities, even if it means abandoning a step I was trying to teach them. If they don't seem to be responding well to one game, I'll try another. Every group of kids is different and what works one day might not work the next. 

Above all, enjoy your students! Encourage their joyfullness. Listen to their worries. Let them love you and let them dance. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Thousand Things Before "Thin"

As I work toward group exercise certification, I'm discouraged by how much rhetoric in the fitness industry and even study manuals is concerned with fat and thinness and weight loss. I love helping people improve their lives through exercise and better health. Sometimes, yes, this means weight loss, but I've never believed that a lower weight is automatically equivalent to better health. When I think about "fitness", endurance, strength, energy, and overall mental and physical well being matter so much more to me than a number on the scale. After a treacherous struggle with weight preoccupation, this is a good place to be.

I'm planning to write a little bit more on my no-diet diet philosophy later this month. In the mean time, this quote from my heroine J.K. Rowling sums up my thoughts on the matter:

     "'Fat’ is usually the first insult a girl throws at another girl when she wants to hurt her. I mean, is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? 

     "I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin’. And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do. Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons.” 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Reasons I Eat Vegan

Happy World Vegan Month!

My close friends and family know that I maintain a vegan diet  but I tend not to be outspoken about it or the reasons why I chose to start eating this way almost eight years ago. For one, I hate preachy vegans. I don't want to be lumped in with "them" (whoever "them" is). For another, I dislike inconveniencing or offending others. When I'm at a dinner party or out to eat with a new group of people, I try not to make a big deal out of my eating choices and don't even bring it up unless asked. 99% of my family and friends are meat eaters and dairy lovers and I'm fine with that. It does not offend me. I do not wait outside their houses to shower them with red paint. However, I'm always happy to give advice, offer encouragement and share recipes with those interested in reducing the number of animal products they consume.

    It's trendy right now to go vegan for health reasons or as a way of dieting. While I definitely think vegan eating is healthy (as long as it's not exclusively tater tots and french bread) I am not vegan for my health (as evidenced by that plate of tater tots I consumed on Wednesday).

In honor of World Vegan Month, I wanted to share five of the several dozen reasons I choose not to eat dairy, meat or eggs:

       1. Factory farming is really messed up. 

       2. The idea of eating animals weirds me out. I just can't see the difference between a puppy and a pig, ethically, other than that one is socially acceptable to eat.

       3. There are too many other tasty foods in the world. When friends of mine discuss trying to eat vegetarian or vegan I always encourage them to focus on all the foods they can eat. Every vegetable, fruit, grain, bean, legume; herbs and spices; nuts; spices; dark chocolate.  Even Oreos are vegan, you guys!

       4. It's less expensive, most of the time. Yeah, you can do super expensive versions of veganism by purchasing a lot of pre-packaged meat substitutes and fancy vegan cheeses made from cashews and organic Himalayan raindrops, but you can also build your diet around beans, grains and on-sale produce. Meat is pricey!

   5. I feel better, mentally and physically. I like knowing that I'm not supporting inhumane practices or animal suffering by eating my dinner. Sorry if that makes me a big smelly hippie.
Also, my stomach likes not having to digest lactose. The end.

Now go make some delicious vegan chili!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pilates: Why I do it

Getting in a daily Pilates workout at home isn't always possible with this guy hanging around! 

   I discovered Pilates young, at a summer ballet intensive where it was a required daily class along with ballet technique, pointe and modern. I took to it more enthusiastically than a typical pre-teen old, mostly because I saw it as a way of "getting ahead" in dance. I knew (or thought I knew) that I needed a slim stomach and lean legs to excel in ballet and I saw Pilates as another way of achieving that aesthetic. I practiced it on and off throughout my teen years but never very mindfully. Injuring my back at age 15 made me more aware of my body's fragility and a slightly more aware and intentional Pilates practice helped me repair and restrengthen my body. 
      Fast forward to freshman year of college. Over the course of my first rough year in NYC I sprained my ankle twice and had to take three months off of dancing. The injury forced me to leave the pre-professional program I was enrolled in and focus on academic studies. This break from dance gave me a whole new appreciation for my body. I started to understand the important of a proper warm-up in more than abstract terms. I saw and felt how a weak, unbalanced body spelled disaster. I slowly reentered Pilates by signing up for a weekly class geared toward dancers.
       "You're always smiling through class!" my teacher told me after my third or fourth session. "You love Pilates!" I did and still do. 
     After having a baby, Pilates (along with yoga and ballet) was instrumental in helping me regain strength in my core and engage with my new body after months of weird growth and the stress of childbirth. It appeals to my methodical, perfectionist ballerina mindset. There's a right way (or ways) and a wrong way in Pilates. There is technique and form and discipline required. When I teach I love knowing that I am passing down a proven system practiced by generations of people before me. Pilates is definitely personal and "customizable" but there's nothing experimental or extraneous involved. Every movement serves a specific purpose.     
     These days, I feel simultaneously overwhelmed and thankful by how much I still have to learn about this exercise method. I teach one mat class per week, but also try to do at least 20 or 30 minutes of practice on my own most days. Every session, I discover something new about the way my body works. I might be executing an exercise I've done a thousand times before but suddenly, by using deeper concentration or activating a different muscle group, it feels different. It's remarkable. 
  For me, Pilates is a way of stewarding the body I've been given. It's a means for gaining mental clarity, along with physical strength, and a way of celebrating all the amazing, wonderful things the human body can do. 
   Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing a few basic Pilates exercises anyone can do. To reap the full benefits of Pilates study, sign up for a class with a certified instructor in your area.

Friday, October 25, 2013

25 Things in my 25th Year

I turn 24 on Monday which means I'm entering my 25 year of life. I'm a little freaked out by this. People often remark about how I've accomplished so many things for my age, but it doesn't feel that way to me. My goal-driven personality, for better or worse, is always looking for a new big project to tackle.
 Instead of thinking of this 25 item list as an ultimatum for myself, I'm considering it means of inspiring myself to keep growing in all my varied roles.  So enough with the hippie-dippie talk. To the list!

1) Establish and commit to a regular writing routine.
2) Finish a short story.
3) Finish a non-fiction essay.
4) Submit something to another literary magazine.
5) Finalize my MFA program applications.

6) Become certified to teach the ABT curriculum.
7) Audition/submit myself for at least two dance (performing) jobs.
8) Lay the ground work for establishing a new company in western NY.
9) Expand the theater and voice offerings at my studio, including establishing weekly classes in music and acting.

10) Finally master all Teasers on the mat.
11) Take an apparatus class.
12) Earn a second Pilates certification
13) Become certified to teach another fitness discipline (group exercise, personal training or yoga)

14) Become a more consistent meal planner
15) Finish decorating and furnishing our house
16) Finally get our wedding photos and A's baby photos printed and framed
17) Spend daily time in scripture.
18) Plan and grow a more varied garden
19) Take a much belated honeymoon/five year anniversary trip with Graham
20) Go an entire week without using social media.
21) Take a class in something completely new.
22) Be intentional about serving and participating in church life
23) Donate at least $100 to a worthy cause or family in need.
24) Figure out a more effective way to organize our budget.
25) Take better care of my marriage, including taking at least two baby-free dates with Graham every month.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


My 24th birthday is next week .
My age must be showing. The following quotes are direct from six and seven year old students in my Primary Ballet class yesterday while we were stretching: 

Me: Everyone make your butterfly wings and bend forward as far as you can!
Student #1: Miss Sarah, I can go farther than you! 
Me: That's great!
Student #2 (to student #1): It's because she's old.
Student #1: Yeah, her bones creak. 

There you have it. I am officially old. Too old for butterfly stretch. The end. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Stuff I Like: Fall 2013

Some things helping me keep my spirits up in this busy new season:

     1. Good books. It's been a good few months in my reading life. I recently finished How to Love, a debut novel by Katie Cotugno and it captured my hear the way a good book should with lyrical writing, good storytelling and compelling characters. I also just finished Leah Stewart's The Myth of You and Me, which I picked up on a whim at a library book sale. Good call, past Me. I just picked up a few more fall reads, including Sophie Flack's Bunheads and this collection of essays, which I'm looking forward to reading. Find me on Goodreads for more book talk.

      2. Gilmore Girls. I have a good excuse for being about thirteen years too late to join the Gilmore Girls bandwagon. This show's original air dates (2000 - 2007) coincided with my years in ballet training prison.  During these years, I almost never arrived home before 9 pm and barely had time to look at a TV (except to watch Center Stage on VHS on a loop) lest it make me fat and lazy. Now that I run my own training prison, I've  barreled through four seasons of Gilmore Girls in as many weeks, getting way too emotionally invested in the lives of fictional characters in the process. Thanks, ballet, for making me spend my twenties catching up on media I should have been obsessed with as a teen. Thanks a lot. 

     3. Ken Levine's Blog. A must read if you're a retro TV aficionado or interested in television writing at all. (Ken's written for some of the best sitcoms of the last forty years, including Cheers and M.A.S.H.). 
Agave sweetened gummy bears.  Addicting.
     4. Loose leaf tea. I just picked up a few ounces of this breakfast blend from a local tea shop along with a cinnamon spice variety which is just delightful, even though I'm not usually into flavored teas. Something about fall makes me want to put cinnamon in everything, so.
     5Peter Hollens. My husband introduced me to his YouTube videos a few weeks ago and I can't get enough of his music. Especially this a capella rendition of Shenandoah which I'd love to use for a ballet piece.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Work/Life Balance

     This year I've been trying to be more intentional about separating my work and personal lives. It's been effective, sort of. Anyone who owns a business, works from home or performs an all-consuming job they care about deeply, will understand the struggle. I often inhabit the mindset that I am my work and my work is me. I'm still trying to figure out how to make the distinction, where to draw the lines, and how to carve out space for non-work Sarah to make and do things that are worthwhile and fulfilling. Going to New York on a personal mini-break was a good first step. Taking a couple of hours after class every evening to turn off my email, put my phone and choreography notebooks down and just read a book or hang out with my family is another.
    A good friend of mine in a similar situation suggested compartmentalizing my life a little bit more. She recommended scheduling different tasks for different days or times, which seems simple and obvious enough but is actually really difficult for my scattered brain to implement. So far I've set up regular "office hours" for myself during the day (first thing in the morning, then during my kiddo's nap time) to focus on answering emails, prepping classes and working on freelance writing assignments. I take some afternoon time off to focus on mom stuff, then (around 3 pm) I head to the studio to begin my official work day, usually teaching until 8:00 or 9:00 pm. I don't answer work-related texts, emails or calls after this time unless it's an emergency. A real one. I also finally, finally, finally got a separate phone line for my business which helps with this a lot.
       I've given myself Saturdays off with the exception of some occasional private lessons and short teaching gigs in other towns.  Augustus, Graham and I might actually be able to spend entire weekends alogether every now and then. We also decided to cancel all Sunday commitments except for church in order to have one day entirely devoted to family hang out time/wearing sweatpants and reading books all day. I'm almost positive that's what God meant when he commanded us to honor the Sabbath day. Sweatpants. It's still early in the dance season, but this approach is working so far. I'm happier. My family is happier. Things are good. I
    If you have an all-consuming job or a business, how do you find that balance between work and personal life? How do you keep yourself from taking business failures or successes personally?

Monday, September 16, 2013

A City Excursion

    A few days ago, I turned to my husband and said, "I just need to go to New York for a couple of days." Maybe it was the stress of the dance season starting again or an old college photograph. Maybe it was just one of those I'm-going-to-go-crazy-if-I-don't-get-out-of-here moments I feel every now and then in this small town, country life. I just needed to leave. So I bought a cheap bus ticket and left at 4:00 am on Saturday morning for Brooklyn to stay with one of my closest friends, Mia.
    Mia and I met in ballet school twelve years ago. We share a long history, including a couple of years as roommates in our first "grown up" apartment--a run down, almost windowless place on a seedy, but colorful, block in Bushwick. We took drastically different paths in life but no matter how much time passes between our  phone conversations or weekend visits, we seem to be able to pick up right where we left off. Returning to NYC felt the same. When my feet hit the pavement, it's like I never left. I go on autopilot. My pace quickens. My scowl becomes more pronounced. I feel strange wearing bright colors on the subway.
    Despite an obnoxious, persistent cold, I made dance classes a priority during the weekend and managed to get into some of my former regular teachers' classes. It felt like coming home, in a way. I also spent some time wandering a few of my favorite neighborhoods, startled at how everything had remained exactly the same, but somehow different. Like, that iconic no-frills coffee place in the east village is still there, but it's now a full-service brunch cafe, complete with mimosas and sidewalk seating. That second-hand clothing store I loved in college now specializes in overpriced vintage hats no one should  ever wear. On the Upper West Side, H&H Bagels is gone, but my beloved Zabar's remains. I made sure to pick up some bagels and schmear to bring home, as per tradition.
     I also spent a lot more time in Brooklyn on this trip than I have on most of my recent visits. I never particularly took to most neighborhoods in the Borough, preferring the less trendy but more affordable and quieter westernmost blocks of Washington Heights where we lived our married years in the city. Mia lives in Williamsburg, a hip neighborhood that's enjoyed great gentrification over the past fifteen years. I often refer to it as a "hipster playground" and stick out like a sore thumb with my conventional clothes and lack of over sized glasses. Where you find hipsters, you also find good vegan food. I ate a lot of it. It was delicious. I get the Williamsburg love now, sort of.
   My trip was brief--just one night. I hated to leave. I still often feel like I didn't give life in the city enough of a chance. I feel like there's still more I should do there, like our time together is unfinished. As a compromise, I've decided to make weekend city trips a priority every couple of months or so. The city is a sort of home base for me, even after three years away. I need it.
     While I loved the chance to get away and spend some time reconnecting with this city I love and an old friend, I was happy to return to my sweet son and husband. Somethings are worth leaving for.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Permission to Be Happy

    Dancers tend to be perfectionists and I'm no exception, at least when it comes to dance and professional pursuits. (I am, sadly, not blessed with the perfectionism that results in an organized sock drawer or a sparkling stove.) In ballet, you are never "finished." Your technique can always be cleaner, your jumps higher, your footwork more precise. I tend to apply that same mentality to general life. It's difficult to allow myself happiness when things aren't perfect, you know? I tend to think I'll be happier when I have a larger business and more students or, conversely, when I have no business to worry about at all. I think I'll be happy when I make more money or finish writing a book or have a master's degree or eat more chocolate or lose ten pounds.

     But it's okay to be happy without those things. It's healthy to be happy without those things. Happiness now doesn't have to mean permanent complacency. Being satisfied with life doesn't mean I can't continue working, improving and growing. It doesn't mean things won't get better. It just means I won't drive myself quite as crazy to get there. 

So, today, I give myself permission to be happy. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Music for Ballet Class

     In an ideal world, every ballet teacher would have an accompanist on a baby grand piano provide the music for daily class. There's nothing like dancing to live music, even if it's provided by an old, bitter Russian lady who takes swigs from a flask between combinations. (Stereotypical, but sometimes true.) Most of us are not so lucky and rely on CDs players or iPods to provide accompaniment for our classes.
    I make a conscious effort to update my ballet music library every few months or so because, when you teach 10 - 15 ballet classes a week, music gets old fast. I do often find myself falling back on a few old faithful standbys. I like tracks that can be used for different kinds of combinations, with a strong down beat and a nice melody. Since I know many of my ballet teacher colleagues are doing the same right now, I thought I'd share some of my favorite class music and accompaniment resources.

1. Between the Barres by Michael Roberts 
This was one of the first albums I purchased upon opening my studio and is still my go-to album for intermediate and advanced barre. I like that Roberts provides as many as three or four different tracks for each exercise with different beautiful melodies and lengths as well as tempos. Cons: Most of the tracks tend toward the slow side (at least for my classes which are allegro heavy) so I often will choreograph quick combinations at double tempo for my advanced class. Because it's designed primarily to accompany barre work, there aren't a lot of good tracks for center work (especially jumps and turns) included.

2. Princess at the Ballet by Lisa Harris
I love many of Lisa Harris's CDs, but Princess at the Ballet is my favorite so far. It contains a lot of familiar melodies--show tunes, pop songs  and TV themes--set to nice, even tempos with an energetic quality and tone that's fun to dance to. With 39 tracks, I can use the CD for several classes back to back and barely have to repeat any music (though I tend to play the same 10 - 15 songs over and over again). Cons: I find some of the tracks are very short, especially for an intermediate/advanced class.

3. Ballet Class iPhone app.
 If you don't have a smart phone, it's almost worth getting one just for this app. It's one of the only apps I've actually dropped money for, and it's definitely worth every cent. (There is a free version as well with just 10 tracks or so). Ballet Class includes musical accompaniment for every kind of ballet exercise. You have the option of selecting the same track in different time signatures and can adjust the tempo and even the number of bars in the song to suit your choreography. It also allows you to make playlists within the app, which is useful if (like me) you teach several different classes and levels. Cons: The music isn't the prettiest and the sound quality is lacking compared to most CDs. Pre-planning is also required if you don't want to have to stop to count the number of bars in your combo before starting the music.

I'm always looking for new class music suggestions so throw 'em at me in the comments!

Monday, August 19, 2013


     I like routine. 

     This summer has been a strange one because it's been relatively unscheduled with little consistency in my day-to-day routine. I thrive on routine, full schedules and predictability. I like that ballet class always starts with plies, and that my mornings always begin with the whirring of the coffee grinder and a boiling kettle. I enjoy books even more the second time. I watch the same TV shows over and over again. I am not the carefree, adventurous sort. 
    I haven't been teaching as much as I'd hoped over the past few weeks--really, only one Pilates and aerobics class each week with a few private lessons here and there--and I miss it. This is good news for me, since I was facing serious burnout just a couple of months ago and questioning the whole existence of my business. Now I can't wait to get back to work, see my students and just dance. 

   The break in my teaching schedule allowed me to take on a couple of other projects: I choreographed and performed in a production of Rodger's & Hammerstein's Allegro with a local theater group. The original production included three separate ballets choreographed by Agnes de Mille (one of my all-time favorite choreographers) so this was no small task. We ended up shortening most of the dance sections due to the small cast, but I hope they stayed true to the spirit of the story and the music. I've never been super confident in my skills as a choreographer, but Allegro pushed and challenged me creatively in a way that I think I needed. Working as a teacher for little ones, it's easy to get stuck in a creative rut, making the same dances over and over. 

     I also took on new work writing fitness and dance oriented pieces for a content production company. While it's been nice to use the knowledge I gained studying for my Pilates certification (and in my time working with clients), I tend to get antsy after an eight hour day spent in my computer chair. Most of the work I do for this job is fairly mind-numbing, as I have to adhere to strict style guidelines with little room for creativity or personal touches. Since this is work-from-home stuff, I have to figure out ways to keep my toddler occupied while I work. Sometimes this means taking him to a sitter for a couple of hours when I can afford it, other times it means trying to bang out as much work as I can during his 90 minute nap. 

     Otherwise, the summer's included a lot of unpacking from our move, playing outside with the toddler, reading, trying to commit to daily creative writing, gardening and starting applications for MFA programs! 
     In the last weeks summer, I'm finding it difficult to enjoy my last few free weekday evenings. I'm just so ready, you know? Fall always offers a fresh start and a new opportunity to try new programs and methods. Along with debuting some new classes and amending my syllabi, we're making some improvements to the physical space and tightening up the admin side of things.

    As the days cool off and leaves start to fall, I find it more and more difficult to focus on anything but the coming dance season! (Hello, obsessive personality.)
Summer is so last month for some of the trees in our yard. (From my Instagram.)

What are you most looking forward to about a new school year, a new semester or new season? 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On Great Teaching


David Howard passed away last weekend.

     Howard's passing won't make national headlines or trend on Twitter, but the dance world, where his name is synonymous with great teaching and coaching, already feels the loss. Dancers, teachers, and colleagues who knew Howard better than I did (or at all) will write about his life and his legacy and how much he meant to them. I was just one of many students who'd take drop-in classes from him at Steps on Broadway every now and then, fighting for a good spot at the barre behind the retired ballerina or the musical theater gypsy or the occasional big name from ABT.
     David Howard's class was one of the first I took when I arrived in NYC as a college freshman. I couldn't figure out how to get from my college on the east side to the studio on 74th and Broadway via public transit (it would be several months before I learned to navigate the hell that is the crosstown bus) and was too shy to ask anyone, so I slung my ballet bag over my shoulder and walked all the way across central park, barely making it up the elevator and into class on time. Intimidated by the studio full of confident regulars, I spent most of that first class trying not to be noticed. Mr. Howard noticed, though, and offered a few pointed corrections about how I used my turn out.
    As I continued dropping into his classes during my years in the city, I noticed that all of his corrections focused on the whole dancer--the method behind the movement. His teaching and coaching didn't just turn out excellent technicians, but mature artists. While I never quite became a "regular" in Howard's class (so crowded!), he made an important impression on me as a dancer transitioning from my home training grounds to the wider world of dance.  
   I've been thinking a lot about what makes a great teacher lately. I never had ambitions or plans to teach full time and I often struggle with an intense longing to perform regularly again. Teaching requires a different kind of talent. Good dancers are not always good teachers and visa-versa. I used to think that teaching was something you did when you either couldn't dance anymore or failed to "make it" as a performer (what ever that means). I thought teaching (where dance was concerned) was somehow a less valuable way for an artist to spend her time.
   And honestly? Sometimes I still feel that way. When I'm correcting yet another sickled foot or trying to herd four year olds into a straight line or passing up other opportunities to perform regionally to spend my nights giving plie and tendu combinations, I wonder if what I do is meaningful.
 After two years of full time teaching, I'm convinced that it is. I watch students grow from little girls who take ballet as a hobby to mature dancers, artists in their own right. I read kind notes from parents telling me what a different dance has made to their son or daughter. I get to see the joy on an adult student's face as she performs a difficult turn with ease and grace.
    When David Howard passed, almost every dancer I know had some story or anecdote to share about how his teaching or coaching influenced them. There seemed to be even more of an outpouring from social media and dance blogs even than when the legendary Maria Tallchief died several months ago. And he did his most important work teaching others.
      These roaming thoughts are a reminder to myself about why I do what I do; one last piece of inspiration from a great teacher.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Studio Ownership, Two Years In

Hello, friends.

It's been a while. I've decided it's time to revive this blog as it's the only blogging outlet where I've felt fully and entirely myself. I've also never had the overwhelming urge to scour it from the Internet, like I have my 5657 bazillion other blogs. Much has happened in these two years. Notably:

1. We moved from one small apartment to another a quarter mile away and finally to a big beautiful old farmhouse about 3 miles from Graham's college in the middle of nowhere. I'm talking cows and fields of corn and a forest surrounding us. Real country.

2. We had a blue-eyed baby boy last summer who's changed everything about my existence.

     Two years ago I wrote about my ambitious plans for a little dance studio and performing arts center in the little town that had recently become my home. That little studio is about to enter its third year in operation. It's not quite evolved the way I'd expected--does anything?--but I'm pleased with what we've done so far, even if my expectations continue to far exceed reality.
     Owning and operating a studio is nothing like I imagined it would be: it's far more exhausting, emotionally draining, frustrating, invigorating and rewarding. Its far more emotionally, personally and creatively challenging than I envisioned and has caused me to grow in many positive ways. I'm still more comfortable on stage than teaching in a classroom and I still struggle with making the "Big Decisions" of business ownership like what classes to run, what to charge, and how to manage staff. As a ballet dancer, I was very accustomed to being told what to do and how to do it all the time; always having some authority figure to turn to and obey. I still feel a little bit like a little kid playing dress up in his dad's clothes--all clumsy and awkward and unconvincing in my seriousness.
          I love the community where we live, but it's, frankly, not an ideal place for the kind of business I'd like to run. As a newcomer in a tight-knit community, it's been difficult to find a place for myself personally as well as a place for my business in the life of the town. Despite these challenges, I feel blessed that my students and their parents are nothing but wonderful and supportive and understanding--a true rarity in this business. I don't think I'd want to own a studio anywhere else.

      The first year of my studio's life I just tried my best to hold on and survive the year. Along with launching the business and teaching the majority of classes, I was also pregnant  (my son was born a few weeks after the end of that dance season), teaching at other studios, and still adjusting to life far away from most of my friends and family. I thought I could do it all alone. It placed huge amounts of strain on my personal relationships and emotional health. The second year was my experimentation year as we tried a few different types of classes, ways of running things, and I hired extra staff so I could spend a little more time home with my new son. Some of these experiments succeeded and others did not and I took the failures personally.

    I'm feeling optimistic about this third year, confident for the first time in my abilities as a business owner and teacher. I'm making lesson plans and class playlists, choreographing combinations and eagerly reorganizing the physical space of my studio (as time and money allow). It'll also be my last full year supporting my husband through college--then it's on to graduate school for him and possible an MFA program for me, but that's another post for another day.