Search This Blog

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.