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The old me….

Tomorrow, Mark and I will be going to Sarasota for a few days to help Cory set up business management systems for SRQ (the new school located in the previous FLEX building) and to teach some dance classes. I am looking forward to the trip, but I dread it too. Don’t laugh- it is possible to feel both sides of the spectrum in a case like this.


I’m looking forward to dancing and working with young students again. I miss the creative process and the energy of the student/teacher exchange. Mark and I both look forward to sharing what we know with Cory about building a stronger school. Mark will spend time with him in the office to set up systems to talk about the nuts and bolts of budgeting, taxes, etc… I must admit, I look forward to walking into our previous business without fear of being thrown out or treated with distain. Glad those days are over.


But I hate leaving my life here, even for a short while – I worry about the safety of my animals and I am uncomfortable stepping away from the daily routine I’ve come to enjoy. There is an intimacy connected to our relationships here. The people we encounter at shops or in the street all are quick to stop to chat and the general atmosphere is jovial and warm. I always go through culture shock when we step back into “civilization” – which seems rather uncivilized by comparison. I also hate canceling lessons with Kathy whenever I travel – which has been more often than you’d expect considering we are semi-retired.


I’m guessing I’m in for no small amount of discomfort. I will pay a steep price for being out of dance shape. I don’t hold back when in dance mode, which means I’ll have trouble walking after my first class. Ah well – while the wisdom gained from aging is nice, the physical challenges are no picnic. I deserve every ache and pain for being a big barn potato (as opposed to couch potato)  in Georgia, considering I have a workout room/studio right in my house.  But with the weather so beautiful, who can blame me for choosing nature over the mirror? I’ll return to the more traditional dance, pump and Pilates workouts soon when the winter lures me indoors.


Since FLEX crashed, 5 new dance schools have opened by people previously connected to us. I was told tonight that there are actually 9 new schools in Sarasota. Humm…… Everyone wants a piece of the pie. Forgive me for a moment of honesty, but sometimes it feels like the vultures are circling overhead to pick over the remains. We tried so hard to keep everyone together, a united front. We could have kicked FLEX with our baby toe and helped set the place up back at it’s best again under Cory’s lead. We believed that would be in the best interest for everyone involved. But I guess the last two years took their toll, and trust was hard for any one director to gain. If nothing else, the things that transpired after we left taught everyone that talk is cheap and good intentions can fall flat. In the end, I think everyone feels safer now manning their own boat. 


I also think people mistakenly believe that all they need do is hang out a shingle and throw a few kids into a room with anyone who knows a few dance steps and a school is born. If only it were that easy. Mark and I always spent far more time brainstorming and calling upon every ounce of our knowledge, experience and creativity to piece together a strong program than we ever spent actually teaching. Heck, teaching is the easy part.  In some cases, people are opening dance schools now with no real knowledge of dance education, other than office procedures or a smattering of dance experience. In other incidences, they are trying to copy the FLEX methods, atmosphere and systems, to be the “new FLEX”, falling short of the goal because they lack heart and/or ambition overrides all propriety or integrity. In these cases, I see a lot of effort being poured into image and hype, but little focus on what it takes to deliver on the promises. As such, I doubt all these schools will be around in a year or two.  Nevertheless, it makes the going rough for those who are qualified to run a school.


I should mention here that one of the newly spouted schools in Sarasota  has been opened by our former preschool teachers. (Stagedoor Preschool). They have a dance division too.  I’d like to publicly state that we understand and support their choice. We wish them the best and send them good wishes. (I also sent them some homemade wine to celebrate! Lord knows there is nothing a school owner needs more than a stiff drink when things get frustrating.) They are lovely teachers, very devoted, and they endured two years of hell, hanging on to the bitter end with unfailing commitment to their students and FLEX during the frustrating transition period. They deserve success, and Mark and I both pray they will find it. We think they will have a fine school. A small and specialized preschool most likely, but perhaps that is for the best. The bigger you are, the bigger your problems tend to be. And loving your school and being happy is key to serving it well and staying for the long haul. Take it from two people who were driven out of the business. Sad, but true.


While we feel no ill will towards people opening alternate schools, Mark and I are giving our physical support to Cory and SRQ– not because we are playing favorites, and not because they bought the building (heck, we did have other offers), but because we believe this couple will make the best candidate for building a school that will be closest to what we founded –the fact is, our school filled a viable need in the Sarasota community and we have felt badly since its demise. We still hope something decent will rise from the ashes.  I’ve been talking to Cory for months, long hours on the internet and on the phone, and while others are quick to ask how we attracted so many customers and made money, he always circles round to “how did you create such a strong school and keep up quality?” Cory is interested in the long term. He cares about dance education, and he understands that parents, even if they have the best intentions, are not qualified to run the show like some kind of backseat dance school driver. This means, he has to hold firm to his vision and work to make it pan out – that kind of directorship means you are not always the most popular fellow in town, but you sure are the most consistent.  I think that if Sarasota gives SRQ the chance, it will provide the dance education people are seeking. You certainly can trust Cory to teach those elements of dance that go beyond dance steps – the aspect of the art that builds character.


Anyway, without saying anything more about the dance school biz, I do want to say that I look forward to teaching again. I’ve missed it.


It’s funny. When getting my MFA they taught me to “read like a writer.” After that training, I can’t pick up a book, without seeing it through different eyes. I am no longer oblivious to technique or style, and as such, I can’t ever really lose myself in a story. I am always calculating how the author accomplishes his goals.


After years as a teacher/choreographer, I now listen to music as a dancer too. I never hear music and just enjoy the sound of it. I am always choreographing in my head, or contemplating how it could be used to teach a movement concept. I see huge production numbers in my head, always featuring my past students, I guess I see them because their body types and movement idiosyncrasy are imbedded as my last ingrained dance memory. Even tonight, as I listen to music choosing what to bring to the studio, I feel movement seep into my body and I see past students orchestrating it. The energy builds inside of me and with it, steps, concepts and teaching objectives – it is as if the ideas come through me, not from me. I am out of shape, yet just the thought of returning to the classroom makes me instantly feel like a dance teacher with lots to share once again. I wonder if this dance persona will ever leave me, or if this is some kind of art residue that will linger forever.


My only disappointment is that I know the students we will be teaching this trip will be new faces, or younger students that we were not heavily involved with during our tenure at FLEX. Working with young, eager dancers from any source is always a joy, but I will miss the faces of the students I knew and loved. They have all moved on to other schools, and their time and focus is carefully controlled and manipulated by their new teachers in ways I can’t begin to understand. It sure is peculiar from a mentor’s point of view, but what can you do? I’ll never get over their lack of respect or their rude dismissal after years of our involvement. But as I’ve said in the past, I can’t be accountable for the influences they’ve had after our term as teachers. Obviously, what we tried to instill about honoring and respecting those that contribute to your artistic growth didn’t stick. Or maybe it is just that our society (and the dancers in it) has changed and the new generations haven’t got the time or inclination to waste effort on anyone or anything that doesn’t serve their immediate interests.


Whatever . . . if nothing else, it makes me very glad we retired and left the dance world behind. I am old-school and I haven’t much tolerance for the “what’s in it for me NOW” approach to dance training. I guess my attitude is perfect proof that I’m an old fart. You know you’ve become crotchety when you start saying, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to…” and “when I was young, I walked 10 miles in the snow, uphill both ways, to pay homage to my teachers.” And the younger set rolls their eyes and blows you a big raspberry.


Ha. I am not as offended as I sound. I’ve long since passed the offended stage. I landed on disappointed and resignation long ago.    


So tonight I am preparing to reenter the dance world for few days. I had a busy day  getting ready to leave town. I tutored Kathy (*side note – cool thing happened today. She was reading from a book, her finger slowly tracing the words as she stumbled over them, and she came to a big word. She sighed, and then gave it a try. After sounding out the letters, she looked up at me with a grin and said, “Marvelous?”
“Yes… and isn’t it marvelous you can read that word?” I said.
She hooted with excitement, then slapped me five, because it really is a hard word, and not one she would have gotten a mere month ago. That brief moment – her beaming with pride and celebrating a simple thing like reading the word “marvelous”- stuck with me all day. Little things like that make life fun.)


Where was I? Oh yeah, I did laundry at a mat, because my laundry machine is broken and I have to have some clean clothes to pack, and I cooked some peach preserves, because I didn’t want my big bucket of peaches to go bad while I was away. I am now waiting for Denver to come over so I can take her on the animal rounds because she will keep the ranch creatures fed and cared for while we are gone. So after this busy day, tired and ready for a break, I am going down to the studio downstairs to pick out music and work out a few ideas in front of the mirror. Nothing like waiting for the last minute to prepare. But I know some of my best classes are the ones I do not plan – and you really can’t prepare a class when you don’t know the students in advance.


It is hard to believe that tomorrow at this time, I’ll be teaching jazz in the very space we practically lived in day and night for eighteen years. Mark will be teaching ballet. While visiting, we will go out with the teachers who maintained a relationship with us through it all, and they no doubt will make fun of me and my winemaking and peacock rearing experiences, as they are so fond of doing. It is fun celebrating friendship now that we are not “the boss”.  The ease between us and old acquaintances (and the laughter) is precious. We will teach again on Friday. On Saturday, Cory set up a master class where all the proceeds will be donated to my upcoming cancer walk. This was his idea, and I’m truly grateful, although his generosity didn’t surprise me a bit. It is just like Cory to give something back even though he has barely gotten organized himself in this new endeavor. That is the spirit of dance I’ve always tried to instill and one more example of why we feel good about him taking over where we left off. Anyway, it will be meaningful to me to teach in support of a cause I believe in. A nice way to end the visit.


Tonight, I will go to bed dreaming of dance, feeling like the old me. Thoughts of donkeys, llamas, horses and bees will be pushed to the back of my mind as I revisit my first and foremost love, dance. It feels good. I am grateful for the opportunity to teach again in the building that holds so many happy (and some not so happy) memories for us. I hope I will leave at least a small, but positive impression behind, a humble contribution to help set Cory’s dancers on a positive learning path. But mostly, I am glad to have an opportunity to walk through the halls of the place that will always be FLEX to me, to convene with my memories and make peace with the final end of an era.

It was a good school. A good school will take its place. Life goes on.


 

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

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