In a moment of absolute madness, I called the local dance school. I was driving by, and I guess I was hit with a wave of nostalgia. I don’t miss owning a dance school, but I do miss the kids. I miss the laughter, the creative energy, and the funny little expressions kids make when they’re talking to you. I miss dancing with them – playing with music and movement -teasing them – provoking them to excel.
It was 6:00 on a Tuesday when I picked up my cell phone and called information for their number. No one was at the studio. No one is ever there when I pass. Imagine – a school so small that it’s empty 60% of the time. Closed weekends too. I can’t conceive of such a thing.
I left a message. I gave a very, very short explanation of who I was and said I’d love to meet the owner. I thought, as two “dance” people, we might want to make an acquaintance. Then, I offered to teach a master class – for free. I figure this little school can’t afford me anyway, and when someone pays you – well, then the act of teaching dance is muddied with practical elements. I just wanted to introduce myself and meet the students. The class would be a gift. A little inspirational jolt for the kids – for fun.
The teacher never called back. I’m not surprised. Her recital is three weeks away, and this time of year, dance schools are frantic with rehearsals and such to close the season. Nevertheless, it’s a missed opportunity for that little school. I don’t imagine I’ll call again.
I did get a call, however, from Mary, the office manager of the Blue Ridge Arts Association. They have lost their dance teacher for their summer children’s program (no loss, I’m afraid to say, from what I’ve heard) and she wondered, “If anyone in my household would be willing to help out and teach a little in the summer.” Ha – does that include my dog? Alas, he’s still lost. That leaves me, Mark or the kids.
I told her I’d come down to discuss what it is she needed.
She is looking for someone to teach “creative dance or hip hop or anything” to kids 5-8 and 9-12, four days a week for two hours. There are 6 weeks in the program. I won’t be here for two of them, due to my next MFA residency, but I’m free the others. We talked a long time about what they envision for the program. Part of the problem is that there is no vision. It is a random sort of thing.
I discussed elements that are required to develop a strong arts education program and offered to help. And don’t ya know, I agreed to teach for a few weeks. I left it somewhat open, so that, should my daughter choose to come home this summer (which at this time, she plans to avoid so she can be with her boyfriend and work at Universal), she can take over the classes. The pay is remarkably good, considering – 70.00 a class. Personally, I don’t need to be teaching beginners in a tiny corner of a courthouse. But I will. I feel the arts association needs someone with experience to help them get a youth program more established, so why not help? I will thoroughly enjoy it. I need new friends, and my best friends have always been kids. They are so unassuming and enthusiastic about life. And this will help get me in the mindset for my job in Boston in August. In addition to this, my body craves dance. I need an excuse to fling my legs over my head and shake my hips without someone lifting an eyebrow.
I left Mary one of the children’s dance CD’s we produced and literature about our children’s program. She was floored. I reiterated my offer to begin a handicapped class, and we agreed to start it in the fall. I will help her get this class off the ground and find outlets for the students to perform too, which will bring some good press to the association. She told me about the local handicapped residency, and I plan to pay it a visit. I might just offer to teach there a bit in the meantime. Volunteer work – offering an activity in their rec room if they have one. I also agreed to begin a teen jazz class in the fall. I want to do this for my son. He wants to keep in shape and I would enjoy one evening a week to hang with some young adults. Keeps ya abreast of what is cool, ya know. I need all the help I can get now a days in the “cool” department.
Before I left the Arts Association, I decided to go upstairs and look at the dance room again. It is so tiny, with a creaky wooden floor and old barres set too close to the wall. The mirrors are discarded pieces, all uneven at the top, like they installed hand-me-down chunks from other businesses that they had to piece together to make half the wall reflective.
I couldn’t help but smile. It reminded me of the tiny studios I grew up in. Our school has been huge and streamlined for many years now. Our dance space was fantastic. But there is something very dancey – very intimate – about a old dusty empty room with smudged mirrors. It is what dance used to be and probably should always be. Simple. Not a huge, multimillion-dollar building with a polished veneer, designed to railroad masses of kids through the doors. That room at the Blue Ridge arts association might seem like going backwards to some people considering the places I’ve taught,( colleges, huge studios, hotel ballrooms) but I loved it. I will love teaching there – a room that you can cross in three steps and where the sound bounces off the walls immediately. It won’t be about money or enrollment numbers or aggressive training (well, maybe a touch of that – forgive me). It will be about dance. Me and some kids, dancing because dancing is wonderful.
As I left, Mary asked if the space was sufficient. I told her it was perfect. I meant it.
I probably should have avoided making a commitment – given myself time to think about it. I discussed this entire thing with Mark this morning before going down to visit with Mary. I wanted to make sure my going back to teaching wouldn’t make him uncomfortable and I promised I wouldn’t agree to anything that would put a crimp on our summer family time. He said, “Just promise me it doesn’t snowball. . .”
I vow to keep that promise.
A couple of weeks ago we read in the paper that The Blue Ridge Arts Association is looking for a new Artistic Director and Administer. Mark said, “You should take that job. You’d be perfect.”
True. I have the experience and the required formal education. (BA in business – soon to have an MFA in an artistic field) They are looking for someone with grant writing experience (have it) and the ability to devise programs (no prob) and someone with a flair for fundraising (piece of cake) who understands art (I do). They need someone who can move in the higher financial circles and speak the lingo of the rich. I can do that too, even though I hate to admit it.
I couldn’t help but ask Mary if they found anyone yet. Just curious. She said they are receiving some résumé’s but haven’t found a proper candidate yet. I asked how much they were paying, and she said 24-30K a year. Sad, because I’m thinking for that kind of money they will never get anyone with the skills necessary to accomplish what they need and deserve. Ah, the catch-22 of the arts. No money in it.
She said, “Why, would you take the job?”
Um… do I want to do the same thing I did for my own school for ten times less money and fill my every waking hour with work and stress so I can’t pursue my own passions or perhaps, begin a new empire when the spirit moves me? Gee hard decision.
I told her I’d love to, but I am not ready to go back to a full time job. She nodded understanding, “It is a full time job . . . and then some,” she said, looking tired.
The thing is, I was itching to say, “I’ll send you a résumé.” I looked around that office and my mind exploded with ideas to promote the place and develop the programs. I’d be so darn good at that – I’d put that arts association on the map so fast it would break the sound barrier. I’d love exploiting all the resources available to a non-profit organization to see just how far I could stretch the tentacles of arts awareness. I’d love to organize fundraising events and hob knob with money people with evil intent to take them for as much as I can (for a worthy cause, let me point out). At this time, the BRAA doesn’t work with the schools or utilize the paper or any of the easy avenues to grow more established. They’ve made a great start, getting the former courthouse as a permanent home, etc… but they need someone at the helm to make the programs, festivals and other activities they sponsor continue to grow. They just aren’t tapping into opportunity.
But I sat on my hands and just said, “The way I can be the best help is by volunteering for specific projects. I am not prepared to make a long term, on-going commitment to an organization.”
That’s a fact.
I walked outside, looked up at the glaring sunshine and the blue sky, and reminded myself that I can go anywhere and do anything I want with my days. I don’t want to fill them with obligation to thwart my energy away from living, no matter how attractive the challenge. Once again, I thought of how, if my kids were all grown, I’d make different decisions. Man-o-man, would I love to sink my teeth into that arts association. But not now. Now, there is a world of living that has been evading me for eighteen FLEX years. I need to get to it.
I talked to Jill from the Toccoa Technical College today, and she is calling the sheriff to arrange a few hour long visits a week to the jail so I can resume my reading lessons with Kathy (behind bars – wow, my life is like a TV movie – do ya think they will frisk me?) And on Wednesday, I will become a member of the new task force (think tank) for the college and literacy collation to help them promote their programs and inspire more people to get a GED and/or vocational training. I’ll start writing for the paper (might even slip in an article about the new dance program at the arts association with the new, remarkable dance teacher in town. – Ha. I have no shame.)
Then, maybe I’ll begin working with the handicapped individuals in the area soon. This is important to me. There are gaps in my life – things I’ve left behind whose absence leaves me feeling empty. I need to do something to fill the holes, so a flood of heartbreak doesn’t pool inside. Enough said.
Anyway, I am slowly making footprints in the earth around me in this unchartered territory of Blue Ridge. Feels good to feel the mud between my bare feet for a change. Before this, I couldn’t feel anything due to the hard callouses that teaching dance (at the expense of all else) left behind. My footprints might not be permenant, but for now, they prove I’ve arrived and I’m walking a new path.
Obviously, my creative energies are leaking out all over the place now that I don’t have FLEX to channel them all into. I am going in every direction –(which is sort of like going in no direction at all – I am very aware of that.) But who said we have to travel in one direction on a linear path, anyway? Not me. I can’t do everything that tweeks my fancy (Lord knows), but experimenting – trying on new things for size – feels good.
Then again, slipping into an old outfit that is really comfortable is good to. So, Miss Ginny will be dancing again soon. These kids in Blue Ridge don’t know what they’ve been missing. Time to show ’em. Ye-haw!!