To My Dancers,
Hi, it’s me. Your Dance Teacher. Maybe it’s been a while since we’ve seen one another face to face in the dance studio like old times. Even if we have been fortunate to gather for in-person classes, you may not remember what my smile looks like behind the face mask. But, I want to assure that it’s still there – beaming ever more brightly every time we dance together, whether it’s in the studio or online. Because, and I mean this with all my heart, I am just so darn proud of you right now.
Since the onset of the pandemic last year, I’ve been trying to put myself in your shoes. How would I respond if I, as a young(er) person, were navigating the world today? The more I think about, the more certain I become of the answer: Likely, not very well. Or, at least, not as well as you are, especially when it comes to your dance training.
Dance has been my passion for as long as I remember, and I knew it would be a huge part of my career path from the age of 12. But that passion was never tested, at least not like yours has been. Sure, I had my ups and downs in the studio, but … at least I was always allowed in the studio – with my face fully exposed to the world, to boot. I may have doubted my potential for a future career with a dance company or as a choreographer, but at least those options always felt available to me as a young person: I was never looking head on into the potential short-term collapse (at least economically) of many sectors within our industry. (My apologies for the dramatics, but after the year we’ve had, you deserve for us to tell you like it is.)
But when I look at you, dear students, I see the real future, beyond the immediate doom and gloom … and my gosh does it look bright. Because I see (even through the face mask) your grit, your guts, and your resiliency. I see you staring down disappointments, trauma, and political melee with an even glare, as if you are saying, “What’s next?” with a smile. I see you showing up, ready to go right now in this moment, even when the future feels so uncertain. I see you rehearsing for performances that may not happen, for competitions you may never make it to, for auditions for summer intensives that may end up entirely online or for dance companies and college programs that may not exist a few years from now – and you do it with a smile. I see you speaking up against injustice and wanting to make this world, for all the times it’s failed you, a better place for all people. I see you working through challenges far greater than those I had to face at your age, and frankly, I am in awe. You inspire me.
But I also want to know that I see you when you struggle, and that struggling is okay, too. We’re all struggling right now, on some level. You don’t always have to face the world’s current challenges head on with a smile. You can be sad, scared, disappointed, frustrated, angry, even downright pissed off – and you can express it all through your dance. After all, it is dance that will get us through these troubling times, and whatever else is yet to come. As long as you dance, you will have a safe conduit to express what you feel. As long as you dance, you will be developing vital skills that will help you overcome whatever social and emotional challenges you face. As long as you dance, you will have a means of supporting your physical health and overall well-being. As long as you dance, you will have a supportive, loving, protective community at your side … and I will always be a part of it.
Some of you are very young, and have barely known a world without mandatory masks, social distancing in the studio, and temperature checks at the start of class. At times, I envy your naiveté and willingness to accept the world as it is. But I promise you (and your parents), this is not how dance will always be. Someday, I will be able to hold your little hands as you skip across the floor, high five you heartily when you reach a new goal, and hug you tight when you face big dance disappointment. And I promise you … I will be there to do just that.
Some of you are in those tricky middle years, and may be struggling to adjust not only to this “new normal,” but also to the new stage of your dance training you are embarking upon. You’re not in the fun creative movement or kinder dance years, but also not quite ready for the thrills of advanced technique and tricks. This time of your dance career would have been hard no matter what, but missing out on the time to socialize and make new forever friends during carpool, in the waiting room, and backstage certainly doesn’t help. You might be feeling frustrated right now, but I want to encourage you to keep on persisting. The hard work you are putting in now will pay off dividends in a few years. And I promise you …. I will be there to get you to that point.
Some of your are teenagers, feeling naturally torn between your passion for dance and your desire for a “normal” life. Even in the best of circumstances, you may have been questioning whether or not the rigors of dance were still right for you. Add in Zoom classes and the uncertainty of the industry over the next few years, and you may be feeling doubly unsure about your choice to sacrifice the trappings of a regular teen existence for dance training. I want you to know that I feel where you are at. I feel that indecision, and I know how hard it is to sacrifice for your team, company, or future as a dancer. I also want you to know that the skills, habits, and qualities you are developing now, in the studio, will impact you for a lifetime. Ten years from now, you will see how your life has been shaped by dance, and I bet the house that you will be grateful you decided to stick with it. And I promise you …. I will be there to encourage you along the way.
Some of you are high school seniors, faced with a seemingly endless string of questions about the future …. Will I be able to compete in my last year on the team? Will I have a senior recital? Will I get to go to Prom or walk in graduation? Is college worth it right now? What jobs will be around in the dance industry after all of this is over? I can’t even pretend to know what this has been like for you. I just want to remind you to own whatever it is your are feeling right now, to trust your heart, and to follow your dreams. Other adults in your life may not understand how devastating it is not to be able to perform in your senior year of dance. They may think your concerns over senior year experiences like Prom or senior recital are silly. They may try to force you into the safest and most practical path available. But your feelings, instincts, and ambitions are yours and yours alone, and I encourage you to forge the path that is best for you. And I promise you … I will be there to help you do just that.
Some of you are navigating your college years, missing out on the kinds of experiences in and out of the studio that helped define who we are as young adults and early career dancers. I am so sorry that you, like your younger counterparts, are facing so many disappointments and uncertainties. But whether it is your first year on campus or you are preparing to graduate, know that the challenges you are facing at this time in your life has only made you stronger, even if you don’t feel it right now. You are part of an amazing generation who will be the first to take our present circumstances and turn them into something better, something beautiful. I can’t wait to see what you do. And I promise you … I will always be your biggest fan.
Some of you have been away from dance for a while. You may have stopped dancing a year or a decade ago, for any number of reasons. Maybe you were one of my baby ballerinas, or a former competition kid, or tried dance for a semester in college. But the availability of online classes, paired with the comfort and privacy of your own home, has piqued your curiosity and brought you back around to the dance life again. I want to tell you that I am so excited you are here. There will always be a place for you on the dance floor. And I promise you … I will help you find that place, and hold on to it.
Some of you are adults, choosing the barre over the bar (or at least the at-home wine fridge!) several nights a week to fuel your love of movement and the joy you feel when dance. I know how exhausted you are at the end of day. I know how hard it is to spare a few hours away from your kids and your responsibilities to show up for class, whether it is in the studio or in your living room. I know how lonely it can be to take class online. I know how hard it can be to tune out the news and the politics and tune into your body. I want to tell you how much I admire you for doing just that, week in and week out. Thank you, for trusting me to guide you on your journey out of the crazy and into the magical world of dance – because it can and should be just as magical for you as it is for those babies in pre-ballet.
No matter how long we danced together, no matter how long it’s been since you were in my class, know that you will always be one of “My Dancers,” and there will always be a special place in my heart for you. I am here – and will be – for whatever you need in these “uncertain times” and in the future, whatever it may hold. I know that if we keep dancing, we’ll come out alright, together.
Your Dance Teacher
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