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At the dance crossroads

I think I’m opening a dance studio in August. I know I said
I’d never do this again, but I’m really think I’m going to. Shoot me.

 Actually, it isn’t going to be a dance studio. It’s going to
be a center for the arts, with the foundation built upon a dance and yoga
program (for starters). I’m setting up a wider umbrella for this business so it
can evolve to include literary arts (writing classes) and other specialty arts
that may lead to teaching many of the things we’ve explored these past few
years – woodturning, basket weaving, soap making, etc…

Mark plans to continue his work in real estate and hopes to
transition to building houses and creating wood arts full time, but he has
agreed to be my ballet teacher a few hours a week afterhours, and he will participate
as a consultant and help out with performances and other endeavors on a limited
basis. Considering the size of our community, I’m assuming the school will stay
small (at least compared to our past success) so his part time involvement will
be perfect. I’ve promised not to drag him into this new endeavor beyond what he
is comfortable with. He misses dance, but not running a dance school. He will
enjoy teaching again, but he refuses to submit himself to dance school drama.
Amen to that.

 I, on the other hand, do miss running a school I’ve been
wrestling with the idea of returning to my profession for several years now,
usually talking myself out of it (I don’t forget the reasons we left FLEX) but I
do need to go back to work – for financial reasons and for my own saniety. As I
told Mark when we first discussed selling our business, if I ever had to go
back to work, this is what I would do. Teaching is authentic work for me –
everything else leaves me feeling sort of dead inside, but working with young
dancers engages me fully, physically, emotionally and intellectually. It’s not
a job, it’s a calling.

 Of course, I am not dismissing my age. I’m still able to
teach dance proficiently, but my years as a dynamic jazz teacher are limited,
fading as we speak. This is why I’m transitioning into a yoga teacher as well,
and I’m designing a school that will provide opportunity to teach writing
classes as well – journaling as a path to self understanding, perhaps. I will
always be able to train quality dance teachers, considering teacher’s training
is my forte, so I don’t fear staffing a dance school with quality instructors.
All in all, at any age I will be a strong director who can plan programs and
choreograph, but I will simply have to evolve as an artist, and make room for
new blood in the area of jazz in consideration of my changing stage of life.
But . . . .not quite yet.

 Our community needs a good arts center desperately. Positive
role models for young women are few and far between here, and other than a few
community sports offerings, there aren’t any healthy activities to keep young
people engaged. Our community has a huge drop out rate – 30% of our young women
get pregnant and married before they are 18! The kids here don’t aspire to more
because they can’t picture themselves achieving greater things and sometimes
they are not even aware of the possibilities in life. I can’t help but feel the
girls in this area need the inspiration, motivation and self-confidence that
can be gained through involvement in a quality dance school. Dance widens a
child’s horizons, and keeps them out of trouble (gee that sounds condescending,
but it’s true). This place needs a FLEX.

 For a long time, Mark and I felt all our hard work and
commitment didn’t make a difference to the kids we taught anymore– society and overly
indulgent parents had tied our hands so we could no longer influence students in
positive ways – It was one of the reasons we chose to retire – but after FLEX
crashed we watched changes occur in our former students, behavior we had to
contribute to the loss of our influence, and we had to admit that even if we
didn’t make the measurable impact we aspired to make, we probably were making a
significant difference in the lives of many children.
  Huge revelation!

 So, despite the massive mountain that I will have to climb
(again) to build a school from scratch, I’m going to take on the challenge. I’ve
carefully thought through what I loved and was proud of in our last school, and
what made us miserable and dissatisfied, and adjusted my vision accordingly.
I’ve done my share of soul searching and considered what I am and am not
willing to invite back into my life. I plan to keep the positive elements from
our last school, the terrific energy, creativity and commitment to arts
education alive, but I also have a decisive plan of action that should curtail
the dance school madness that made life a constant frustrating drama. Due to a
variety of factors, which include the general attitude and behavior of people
in my gentle community, the wisdom I’ve gained from past experience, a four
year sabbatical that has refreshed and revived my resilience, and the fact that
we don’t need to support a family of five on this school, and therefore won’t
have to make compromises or grit our teeth and sustain emotional abuse out of financial
necessity, I believe I can develop a school on the principals I believe are
right and true. Something wonderful can happen here.

 When I first started talking about it, Mark gently pointed
out that I’m not the vivacious, kick butt dancer I was at 30 when I opened FLEX.
He said I was too old to be a dance teacher now, and so was he. Dance is for
the young, and we just didn’t have it in us to do the job in the way we once
did. (He said this while watching hip hop dancers spinning on their head on
America’s Best Dance Team, as if I‘d have to be able to do this to relate to
new movement today.) He pointed out that a very important part of what made me
a strong teacher was that students were inspired by watching me dance.
  Without that, training dancers would be
difficult. Thanks . . . I think.

 I understood his point. But the more I thought about it, the
more I felt convinced that what I lack in physical prowess as a performer at
this age, I make up for in wisdom. I feel I have more to give as a teacher at
50, thanks to miles of experience and a wider perception, than I ever did at 30.
Twenty years ago I was a newly retired performer who opened a dance school because
it was the only way I knew to make a living. Now, I’m a seasoned teacher who
feels compelled to share her knowledge because I’ve seen firsthand the power of
movement and personal discipline on young people’s lives.
  My attitude has changed drastically. At
30, all I wanted to do was make stronger dancers. At 50, my ambition is to make
stronger people.

 I’ve worked with over 10,000 students over the years, and
only a few of them went on to dance professionally. I’m proud of those dancers,
of course, but I’m equally proud of those students who went on to other
professions who now claim their years dancing with us gave them experiences and
life skills that enriched their lives. Looking back, I see how flawed I was as
a teacher in the early years, and how much stronger I was later (and our school
and dancers reflected this). I feel even more capable now that I’ve had the
much needed distance from FLEX.

 Furthermore, it’s not like I have to deal with a learning
curve in starting up a school. I have so much dance school management
experience that the planning and organization is as simple as breathing. I get
to skip all those painful lessons learned through mistakes the first time
around. Ee-gad – if I had to do it all again IN THE SAME STRESSFUL WAY as the
first time I opened a studio, I’d never consider it.
  So now, it is a matter of getting in shape, and planning a
schedule that will allows me to be as effective a teacher as I’m capable of
being.

 Yoga has been central to my shifting ideals. It’s changed my
perception of the world, taught me to detach emotionally from stress situations,
and shown me just how physically strong I still am. My body swiftly responded
to the physical asana and I’m flexible and energized again. Dance is returning
to my body as if it never left. Part of the Yoga Alliance training involves
teaching your peers, and the moment I began communicating what should be going
on with the body, I felt at home. Grounded.
 I guess you can say yoga reminded me of who I am.

 At first, I was very frustrated because Yoga training is the
exact opposite of dance training, and after a lifetime of studying dance a
certain way, I wasn’t ready to shed my concepts about movement to make room for
a different approach.
  Yoga was
unsatisfying. It felt too stationary. Contained. I hated the way there was no
absolute correct way to execute a position. In dance there is right and wrong –
perfection is the ultimate goal and you are expected to do whatever it takes to
achieve the goal – even if it means tearing up your body. In yoga, there is no
right or wrong, only what is right for this body at this time in this place. It
is non-judgmental, non–competitive, and encourages gentle adjustments to protect
the body. Yoga heals, where dance breaks down. The accepting nature of yoga philosophy,
the concern for the individual, is the opposite of dance, sad but true.

 Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop feeling dance was superior. I
love the challenge of the art – the illusive perfection a dancer chases. Deep
down, I admire dance for striving to break the boundaries of the human
condition. And frankly, I’ve always felt spiritually connected to dance, so the
fact that yoga is a spiritual practice didn’t give it extra credit.

 But then I read something in a book by B. K. S. Iyengar
(greatest influence in Western Yoga today) that put my frustration into
perspective. He states:

 “The difference
between yoga and dance is that yoga is the perfect art in action, whereas dance
is a perfect art in motion. In dance there is external expression through
movement, whereas in yoga, there is an intense inner dynamism, to the observer
it may appear static. The movement may be very slight, but the action is
tremendous.”
   

 And suddenly I understood the central difference between
dance and yoga. I could tune in to the inner dynamics of yoga, and it felt as
satisfying as the external dynamics of dance. The inner grace and acceptance
that comes from a non-judgmental, non-competitive approach makes all movement
seem beautiful now. Instead of focusing on what isn’t perfect, I’ve begun to see
that imperfection can be lovely too. What counts is the person behind the
movement- the connections the artist makes through movement – deep inner
connections, as well as external connections with the world (or an audience).

 Sounds a bit touchy-feely, I guess, but the lessons I’ve
gained from yoga are powerful. Not a day goes by in the yoga training that I
don’t’ think – I WISH I KNEW ALL THIS WHEN I WAS TEACHING DANCE. Lord knows,
this would have made me a stronger teacher. I could have made better connections
with my students, helped them adapt to movement without so much struggle, and
helped them embrace dance without feelings of inadequacy. All the problems of
wounded egos and the needless drama that’s connected to dance could be
controlled with a yoga mindset.

 And all this helped me overcome my anger and the self-inflicted
obstacles that drove me away from teaching. Now, I’m inspired to create a
school according to a new vision, to help students and parents find peace and satisfaction
within a strong dance-training program.
 
I look forward to combining my many years of dance with my newfound
yoga-view to make the dance experience more poignant and gratifying .

  I guess you can
say I’ve mellowed with age – or perhaps I’ve just seen enough that I finally
know what matters. Anyway, I’m ready to combine the eclectic information I’ve
amassed during this four years I’ve been on FLEX sabbatical (the humility and
intellectual growth I received from my MFA, the spirituality from yoga
training, and diverse skills and exciting new concepts I gained from the tons
of art adventures Mark and I have pursued) with my previous dance experiences
to see what kind of old-fart teacher/director I’ll be now. I’m a more
well-rounded person now – and I’ve always said that an artist is only as good
as what they have to say to the world. If all you know is dance – you have
little to say to the non-dancing world at large. I believe a more balanced,
intelligent person is a better teacher, no matter what the subject is.
  Well – at least I will try out the
theory.

 So, I’ve been in dance director mode once again. I’ve done
major work on the new Art Center’s website, and I’ve been thrilled to see how comprehensive
the foundation for this school is already. We have lots to draw from – lots of experience,
established material, supportive documents, and defined systems. I’ve even gotten
testimonials from former students, thinking they would be inspirational for
future students, but in fact, they’ve proved very inspiring for me.
  It is a great motivator.

 I’ve found a perfect 3000 square foot location for the
school with a very low cost per square foot; a nice size to start because I
know how important it is to keep overhead low until an arts organization is
established. I don’t want financial stress interfering with the integrity of
the school. Mark worked up a design and we’ve received quotes for the build-out.
I’ve written a business plan, a marketing plan, and even done preliminary
schedules. I’ve crunched the numbers, and there is little risk financially,
despite the limping economy. The only question now is, do I really want to step
back onto this particular path again? I haven’t given up writing and I’m still
committed to living a life in balance where family and nature are given equal
time to work. Do I trust that I can run a school without being sucked dry this
time around?

 All systems are go. It’s just a matter of making the motion
to get it all underway.

I’m standing on the edge of the cliff. But I’m a yogi now,
so before I act, I will meditate. I will sit in stillness and wait for the
direction that comes from deep within. Then, I will follow what my heart tells
me is right.
 

 

 

 

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.

4 responses »

  1. When you dive into this enduever full time, what will become of your managerie of animals?

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  2. Hey there! Got your message and I’ll write some amazing paragraphs about you in the next week or so. I’m enjoying the Recital process this week, better prepared the second time around. I’m very excited about you, will be there in August to lend a hand. When is the Opening??

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  3. Hey Ginny, I have been reading your blog on and off for awhile and all your adventures have been amusing and inspiring. Somehow I knew you would come back to dance…it is just too much a part of you. FLEX made a major impact on the Sarasota /Bradenton area…please don’t let the actions and attitudes of some former students give you any doubt…FLEX is still the bar other schools are judged by. I am so glad you are returning to dance, your new found “yogi peace” will only inspire your dancers more, and age is a state of mind:) I don’t know about you but most of my best teachers were way past their prime as far as execution of steps but they could tell you exactly what to do to fix yourself!I wish you the best and give my love to Mark…oh and thank you for selling the LWR building to Kerry…she and her family are really doing a nice job…no stress no garbage and the students are learning and growing slowly (didn’t steal any of your pretrained dancers…oooodid that come out….) and she has just enough FLEX in her to satisfy that need. I would rather you not publish this but I would love to hear from you. Take care Janis

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  4. I am also a dance teacher and have taken some yoga classes at the neighborhood Y. Yes, I was also very frustrated when I first started doing yoga, feeling that I was “stuck on the mat”. Now I am able to slow myself down and enjoy the process. Thanks for this article, very insightful and I’m sure the community you’re in now will benefit from the arts school you will open.

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