I did something that felt a little bit radical back in January: I bought a day planner. Yes, even in the midst of the continued uncertainty of these “pandemic times,” I stepped out in faith and spent $25 on a fancy calendar. Things are returning to normal-ish here in Arizona, and I am hopeful that this year’s planner will get a lot more use than last year’s! Something I love about this particular planner is that it has a section where you can list your “big idea” or intention for the month. I’ve dabbled in intention setting before, both for myself and with my students. I decided that 2021 was the perfect time to return to this practice.

I chose the intention of service for February in part because Valentine’s Day puts the spotlight on love. Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of this Hallmark occassion, but since my preschooler adores the pomp and circumstance associated with any and every holiday, I’ve found myself coming around to it. We do the glittery heart crafts, the boxes of chocolate, and the pink cupcakes covered in sprinkles. But more importantly, we talk about love and how you can show someone that you love them. These conversations reminded me of this quote, paraphrased from Mother Theresa: Service is love in action!

With this in mind, I set my intention of “Service” and reflected on the following questions this month:

  • How can I be of service to others – my students, my communities, and my family and friends? How can I see their needs and work to meet them in creative and compassionate ways? How does serving others impact how I feel about myself and the world around me?
  • How can I allow OTHERS to serve me? To be honest, is a little harder for a “people pleaser” like me. But the truth is, we all deserve to be loved, and when you allow others to be of service to you, it can help improve their mood, confidence, and self-esteem! So, what do I need this month? How can I voice those needs, and accept help when it is offered?

 

I truly believe that the desire to be of service to others is part of the intrinsic fabric of who we are as humans – and as artists and educators, we feel it more than most. Service is, after all, and act of generosity, and artist/educators are nothing if not generous. We thrive on the good feeling we get after giving an impactful class, after creating a special experience for our dancers in rehearsal, after helping students master a new step or overcome a challenging situation, and after audience expresses that our work provided a respite from their worries, brought them joy, or helped them think about important ideas in new ways. So much of what we do is for the benefit of others – even if it makes us feel good, too!

The truth is, though, that much of what we actually have to do as artists and educators doesn’t come with that good feeling associated with making a difference through service. There is a lot of “stuff” associated with our work that is necessary, but doesn’t necessarily feel great: the endless stream of email, the music editing and costume procurement, the weekly review of lesson plans, the grant-writing, the self-promotion. I tend to look at some of that stuff as a hassle and an imposition. I can, at times, get downright greedy with my time and energy outside of the studio.

This month, I decided to try to shift my perspective, and to see these aspects of my job as service. Because it’s all part of making an impact for our students, dancers, and audiences, even if it feels less than inspirational. I’ve been trying to reframe my attitude, seeing the “to-do list” as an opportunity to serve, not suffer. And I’m hoping that, in doing so, I will develop a new appreciation for everything that goes into serving the world through dance. It’s a work in process, but I do think this shift has had a very positive impact for me so far!

Because the truth is, service doesn’t always look the way we think it should. This month has really brought that realization home for me. Sometimes, service is going to volunteer at the food pantry and the good feeling I get helping fight food insecurity in my community. Other times, service is wrestling the kids to bed by myself at night so my husband can take what feels like his 100th church committee meeting of the month. I don’t get the glory or the good feeling, but by making it possible for my husband to serve, I am in fact serving too.  (Side note: I’m not literally wrestling the kids, of course, though often their disdain of bedtime makes it feel that way!) It’s all service, and it all matters.

In addition to serving others, it is important for us to consider how we can be served as well – how others can show their “love in action” for us! I think one of the most important ways we can show ourselves authentic self-love is to ask for help when we need it. That can be really hard, especially for those of us who have made it our life’s work to serve others through dance. My husband constantly reminds me that I don’t need to be a martyr. I don’t need to take on everything alone, I don’t need to put my needs last, I don’t need to consider asking for help a weakness. The same is true for you. Whatever your circumstances, there are people who love and who will feel great joy in serving you. Whatever you need, it’s okay to ask for help. For each of us, that will look a little different:

  • Maybe it’s ordering a meal kit service for a few weeks to ensure you are eating healthy foods without adding stress or work for yourself.
  • Maybe it’s getting your partner to massage your aching feet at the end of a long night of rehearsal.
  • Maybe it’s applying for a scholarship or grant when there is an opportunity you can’t afford.
  • Maybe it’s asking a friend to let you vent for a while on the phone.
  • Maybe it’s seeking counseling to help deal with stress, depression, anxiety, or addiction.
  • Maybe it’s posting a question to a dance teacher group on Facebook, even if you think it’s silly. (There are NO silly questions in The Holistic Dance Teacher!)
  • It’s been almost a full year since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in the U.S., and it has been a hard year for everyone. Some of us have faced greater challenges and trauma than others, and may be in greater need of some help. If that is you, ask for what you need, and know that others will want to help you and will in fact benefit from doing so. Some of us have made it through a little easier, and are in a better position to help others right now. If that is you, make it a point to find a new way to serve others this year. And no matter who you are – take the opportunity to reflect on what service means to you, and how you can shift your perspective to find more joy in all the ways we serve the world as artists and educators!

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