After two yfears of soul searching and considering what I do and don’t want to introduce back into my life, I went ahead finally opened a new dance/yoga studio on August 17. It’s called the FLEX Arts Center – not because I wanted to recreate the school we left behind, but because I already have a logo, theme song, t-shirts and tons of literature written about FLEX as a springboard for the new school.This FLEX is an “arts center” rather than a “dance school” because I wanted to set a foundation for future growth that could venture off into any direction. I have a different sort of vision for this school, one that encompasses a variety of art forms and has a very strong yoga element – which ties into many of the natural arts and journaling/writing as well. What can I say, I love dance, but my interests have expanded over the years, and I have no desire to repeat what I’ve done in the past in the same way. Life is too short not to grow and try new things.
Anyway, I’d been working on the project for a few months, writing a business plan, doing research, and talking to a builder to see what the start up costs would be.I had a fancy loan package for banks, but was hitting walls due to the economy and the area banks weakened position. But I was persistent. I was planning to rent a certain space in an older strip mall that was small and not so glamorous, but affordable -which seemed the way to go considering this studio would be starting from scratch in a town that isn’t dance or yoga oriented . . . yet. When all my ducks were in a row,we called to sign the lease and discovered that after two years of standing empty, someone else had taken an option on the space. I was back at square one. Because a dance studio is seasonal and it was now the mid July, I figured it would be at least another year until I could get the project underway successfully, and since it’s past time I go back to work (and there is nothing available for me regarding employment in this tiny town) I started applying on line for jobs. I even applied to be the arts director for a town in Florida – the person who plans arts festivals etc…. All my other leads were from distant towns as well. This meant I’d have to temporarily relocate and the plan was that I’d return to visit Mark every two weeks or so. His real estate career is just taking off and our family and finances are now tied up here, so it’s not like we can up and go on a whim. Needless to say, this did not go over well with the spouse. He immediately talked to some realtor friends and the very next day had a new space for me to look at. I guess he figured it was better to find me a studio quick than wait to see where my path would venture next – especially if he wasn’t going to be beside me on a daily basis to keep up.
The space was larger, much nicer, would require only 1/3 the cost of build out – thanks to the configuration of the space and the nice raisedwood floors – and it was not that much more for rent, at least not for the first year thanks to some good negotiating. And with less build out, we could have that school up and running within two weeks. Amazing! This just goes to show that adversity is sometimes good – a sign that things are not meant to be and you should shift direction. Something better was just around the corner for me, and I’m so grateful now that the first space didn’t work out. Anyway, we signed on the dotted line and for the last month, I’ve been in dance school overdrive. It’s been like the movie Ground Hog Day, as once again I found myself painting the children’s dance room and watching Mark hang favorite dance pictures.
This is, afterall, the eleventh studio I’ve opened in my lifetime. Everything felt so familiar and routine, yet so out of place here in Georgia at the same time. The good news is that each time we begin fresh, we get better at the process, having brought what we learned from the past into our new venture.A
A view of the lobby from the yoga loft.
The new FLEX has two dance rooms (one a specialized children’s dance center in the Kiddance fashion, of course.) The other is a traditional dance room.
(Those of you that have worked for me might appreciate the “dance around” in the corner. After years of effort and money trying to have a spinning dance wheel built, I found this perfect teaching aid on e-bay for a song. I can easily attach dance pictures or words or instructions to the pie shapes, or even write on the it with a dry eraser. Simple. Go figure. An ex student, Jill, who now has a studio of her own, came to visit and help me paint and I showed my new find off all gloaty and bragging about how my children’s program was gonna be the bomb. That night, before she even went to bed, she had gone on e-bay to get one herself. Ha. We had a good laugh over that.)
Stragetically placed track lights means our two way mirror actually works the way it should for once. You might note the children’s pink yoga mats (with butterflies) in the corner, the bears that match FLEX colors, the GOOD sturdy chairs. I have a special blacklight unit that is used by nightclubs, as well as a colored mirror ball. Ha – big upgrade in the children’s room thanks to a D-Jay website I stumbled upon. We are good to go. Bring on the kids.
It isn’t a FLEX without parents peering into the window, chuckling over how cute the kids are inside – and no classes are disturbed. We set the rules from day one and so far, everything is running smooth and perfectly.
Mark tried teaching an adult tap class. Many more people have said they want to
come next week but we are not sure his knees can take it (still having physical problems). I might end up teaching this one.
Note the big black light fixture at the ceiling. Ha. I put what is called a “mushroom” in, which flashes out colored lights like a disco. We don’t use it in classes, but it will be useful for special dance events or parties. I have electrical sources here as well to add perhaps a green lazer. Theater is what dance is all about, after all. Mark makes fun of me for liking these superficial elements, but I figure anything that makes kid’s eyes light up and makes dance more fun is worth putting in. Hey, I have no shame when it comes to making kids adore dance. Not like I do this INSTEAD of training them. It is just the bonus element.
Upstairs there is a large balcony and this has been converted to a yoga loft. It’s a serene space, open and airy with artwork highlighted by pin spots and recessed lighting to keep the mood reflective. I’ve decorated the windows with peacock feathers (from my own peacock, of course) and I have neatly stocked yoga mats, blocks, blankets and other props. It is a beautiful, uncluttered, welcoming space. More about yoga in a minute.
Sorry, can’t blow this one up – this was my first ever Yoga class. Fun!
Office in the front (and because it is exposed, I have to keep my desk clean. Talk about a challenge!) You might recognize the old FLEX benches (we dragged them out of the dumpster when the new owners tossed them out because we knew they were made so well, were in mint condition and we couldn’t bare to see something so usuable tossed like garbage and replaced needlessly – we never dreamed they’d end up in another FLEX, but we thought we might use them someday for something. Frugality counts in the dance world – at least that is how we kept things up and running. Now, it is nice now to have bits and pieces of our former school planted in our new space – like combining past and future for something very special. Guess I’m being grossly romantic, but that is nothing new.
Small retail area in the corner – it just has some old FLEX shirts and some yoga mat cleaner, yoga mats etc… for now. We’ll add dance supplies when the student body merits a store (and when we can afford it), and we are hoping to make an empty part of the lobby (not shown) into an art gallery featuring Denver’s silver jewelry, Mark’s hand turned bowls etc.. and yoga candles, incense etc…. Who knows…. It has it’s own entrance so it is a perfect set up for retail. For now, we are concentrating on the greatest need – making the programs sound. On the wall we have testimonials from the students who were kind enough to send them to us. Most are from an early generation of FLEX dancers – kids that were very special to me. It is very grounding to see their faces as I come out of class. These dancers from the past remind me of what I am working for and why. It’s very meaningful for me to have their spirit (or at least their words and image) in this new space.
Running a dance school is something I can do in my sleep, and after years of opening locations (and thanks to dozens of files in my computer from the previous business) getting ready wasn’t all that frustrating. I already had the best staff a dance school could ask for. Me (no cracks from the peanut gallery, please) and Denver (perfectly trained in the FLEX methods) as the full time employees, and then there is this terrific ballet and hip-hop teacher that comes in a few times a week when he is not selling houses. Yes, Mark has donned his sweatpants and baseball cap once again to do what he does so well. Because he only has to be involved part time and can pick and choose what he will and won’t do, he’s enjoying it, at least so far. And in case anyone was wondering, we still got it. Shocking (especially to us) but true. Thanks to yoga training, I haven’t even been sore, but I’ll admit Mark and I both felt as if we’d been runover by a truck last week. It wasn’t physical; it was something emotional stirring up deep inside. Teaching dance in this new place, a space so like our old school, yet so different, touches something raw inside. It makes you want to celebrate your past and mourn it all at once. Mostly, I’ve been desperately missing the familiar faces that were such an important part of FLEX to me. I miss the teachers I laughed with and the students I was so proud of. Aw… I don’t’ want to talk about that now.
We had a soft opening last Monday with free classes for two weeks. It was very weird. All my life, whenever I’ve hung up a dance shingle, students converge, eager and excited. Naturally, this is what I expected again, but it was the yoga classes that had the town buzzing. Go figure. My first few yoga classes each had 12 students, which is about all my entire yoga loft can fit comfortably. Everyday I get more calls and people are spreading the word. My classes average from 6-15 students, which is remarkable considering the limited advertising I’ve done and the size of this small town. And they all want to purchase cards for a series of classes. Denver and I are looking at the schedule now, considering where we should add classes to the schedule. Meanwhile, Denver is preparing to go to Yoga training this October so that four months from now I’ll at least have her as a substitute and second teacher. I’m thrilled that the yoga is catching on and I love teaching the subject. I enjoy working with adults; enjoy the inherent calm and pure goals of yoga. I enjoy working with the older (65-75 year olds) that have found me, as well as the younger, experienced crowd. I enjoy working with the men, admiring that they are open enough to tromp through the door to find peace and physical awareness in a class that is predominately women (so far), and I even have a yoga class for teens. I adore introducing young minds to the richness of yoga – teaching them to f
eel more centered, balanced and emotionally in control. Heck, I even bought colorful children’s yoga mats and plan to introduce 5 minutes of yoga (like a dance exercise) in the youth classes when and if I ever get the youth program off the ground and solid. If I ever train serious dancers again, I will demand they add yoga to their repertoire of movement studies. It is the perfect antidote to the ravages of dance (both emotionally and physically.) Not all yoga is created equal, and I admit, I didn’t take to it much when I tried it in Florida years ago– but how you feel about a subject is all in the teacher and the introduction. I am determined to be the kind of teacher that makes yoga sing in your soul. I want my students embrace the benefits for a lifetime, and that begins with being a teacher that explains not only how to do yoga, but why. I’m reading a great deal about yoga as therapy etc… so I know my stuff inside and out and learning more everyday. I have plans to continue my training to the higher certification, but that may mean spending a month in India (which will take some time to work out) or two two week sprints in Penn. One way or another, I want that master’s certification. I feel I can help people through this new medium – but I want to be truly great in the field – no faking it.
As it turns out, I am a natural yoga teacher. I’m told I have a smooth, melodic voice (obviously, my yoga voice is not the same as my dance teaching voice where I am forever making sound effects and raising the volume to make a point). I guess without conscious thought, I use my voice as a vehicle to communicate movement dynamics. It comes naturally to me to use inflection and tone to enhance energy and shading when trying to teach accents in dance, just as I shift my tone to help students feel relaxed and open in yoga. Glad I’m not confusing the two and making students feel they’re in the yoga army. If I confused my dance teacher persona with my yoga persona I could see it now.”Hey You! Keep breathing and wrap your leg around your head NOW! Don’t make me toss you over the balcony for being a slacker!” Eek.
I adore hands on assisting, which is gently laying your hands on a body to enhance the goal of a pose – increasing the warmth in a muscle, helping the student relax into a deeper stretch, etc…. so I’m all over my students, loving the way their breath releases and the muscle gives in because I am present, my hands encouraging calm acceptance of a stretch so they get greater benefits. I was told at yoga training that I have a great touch, but I wasn’t sure if people were just being nice to say so. Since I’ve begun teaching on my own, my student’s reactions to my hands-on make me think perhaps it truly is one of my strengths.Yippee. Considering that any touching done in dance education is clinical and unemotional, I was unaware of the power of compassionate touching as a teacher. You can bet I use it now. (In dance as well.)
I read poetry in my yoga class – the reader/writer in me can’t resist this opportunity to blend thoughtful prose with reflective thought and movement. All in all, I’m enjoying my journey into teaching yoga –it’s the perfect evolution (and compliment) to dance education. And most importantly, it keeps me sane. When dance parents come on the rampage (and it’s only a matter of time until they will), I’ll now know to breathe, be non-judgmental, and not to take their emotional response personally. And heck – I’ll just invite them into yoga so together we can chill out and put the dance stuff into perspective (At least, that’s the plan.)
Meanwhile, students have started wandering in to see about the dance classes. Denver is teaching wonderful, upbeat classes, perfect for beginners and every day we get more calls and more people are wandering in to try a class. Last week her 6 year old combo class had four students. This week it had 9. It will take time, but soon the dance division of the school will be up and running, I have no doubt. But we are getting students who are more clueless about movement than any I’ve ever encountered. In a place like Sarasota, the average kid at least has some physical awareness. In the early years, the kids were more like they are here, but it’s fair to say we brought dance to Sarasota, and then it took on a life of it’s own. People had an idea of what dance training looked like if nothing else. Here, kids come in who have danced for years in a small neighborhood school, and they don’t even know how to stand. I have no idea what they’ve been doing in classes all this time, but they don’t know the basics that our 6 year olds know after half a season. I don’t even have to worry about breaking old habits because they are so untrained they have NO habits, good or bad. it is weird. Of course, we don’t say anything. We just sigh and try to make each class fun so they’ll stick around. We understand we will have to dig in to begin at the very beginning. The parents here don’t know the difference between what we teach and what they’ve seen before – but in a year or two the difference in our students will make it evident enough. Now, it is a matter of putting in the work and having patience. Yesterday, I had two students come in a sign up for program – an eleven year old girl with a lovely focus and her 9 year old brother. Both took dance at the Atlanta ballet a few years back, but the mother wouldn’t sign them up for dance in our area because there was no “real dance” in town. I have two or three others that plan to join the program. I look at these lovely students and the edges of my mouth turn up like the Grinch when he has a plan. I can’t help but think, ‘Let me at ’em. these beautiful young people are the future, the first batch of dancers we will make.” And I cant’ wait. There is something so satisfying about leading young people into the dance world in a positive way. And considering this isn’t a crowd that is competition crazed or hung up on the trappings of dance rather than training (at least not yet) we can do the job right, without distraction or ego getting into the way. At long last, our work can returned to be about the art rather than all the commerical stuff.
Mark and I will teach the program students. We even have a few teenagers willing to commit. I set up a professional program in this new school and made it very inexpensive just to get it off the ground. People say, “Why is it cheaper to take all those classes (and I give them unlimited access to any additional classes they want to take too) than it is to register for three regular classes?” I really have a hard time explaining that the program isn’t about making money, but making dancers. The truth is, wanting a program is part ego (wanting to validate my work through beautiful students) but I also need a program because Neva wants to dance, and in my opinion, concentrated study is the only way to do the job. In fact, Mark and I were both shocked to discover how talented Neva is. We didn’t see that when she was younger, but now, her more mature attitude, body and natural gifts is exciting. After a few days of classes he leaned over to me and whispered “have you noticed who has real talent in that room?”
“You mean our kid? Yeah. I’m in shock.”
“Me too,” he said with a laugh. “Can’t wait to get her in a ballet class. Kinda exciting…”
I’m excited too. I miss working with young, hard working dancers that embrace discipline and true challenges. I’m straining at the bit to get my hands on some kids with potential again, and I’m curious about how the kids raised here will respond to “the real deal”. So as people question what the program is, I just shrug and say, “Try it, it’s a bargain,” and hope a few brave souls will trust us and let us do what we do best. Make dancers. And no one knows that after this year, it will be hard to get into the program because suddenly level will come into play. Meanwhile, I’m trying to keep dance affordable, thinking through costumes, tuitions and the extras and trying to offer the most we can with the elast sacrifice on the parent’s part. One of the things that turned us off most at our old school was the outrageous spending dance parents pushed for – too many competitions, pricy costumes, etc.. and since everyone felt they had to “keep up”, it eventually made dance seem only affordable for the elite. It shouldn’t be that way. Dance should be a joyful, enriching activity for both the parent and child, and if it’s constantly depleating the family coffiers, everyone is too busy worrying about the expense (and weighing it against the benefits) to enjoy the process. I just think dance can and should be different. It should be less about showing off and more about self discovery and artistic expression. As a yogi, I feel that way even MORE than I did before.
Mark taught a teen hip-hop class last week and 24 kids showed up! Needless to say, we will have to divide this class. We have at least 8 teen boys that want to start a hip-hop dance crew so Mark agreed to give them a boy’s class, as long as they are open to doing some acro as well. If your gonna be a crew, you need to be strong and know some tricks. They are all up for it. Making a dance crew out of the country boys will take some work, but Mark is up to the challenge. Considering Kent is in the group, Mark can choreograph some great stuff. Four of the boys are drummers – GREAT drummers because they are line captians in the band. Hummm.. Mark is already thinking of a stomp sort of piece, imagining what the boys can play on while dancing – ladders, drums, steal. Will be interesting.
Meanwhile, we are getting calls everyday about ballroom –that darn show, Dancing with the Stars, has everyone hot for ballroom. I don’t want this new school to go in too many different directions too soon, but we agreed we might offer a 6-week class for adults after Christmas – but we’ll wait to see if the school needs the boost first. Running a successful school is not about offering anything and everything that sells, but offering only what you can deliver with excellence. Ballroom would take some thought, study and preparation for us, soI need to think it through. I do think it would be fun, however, and our adult program is going to be strong. Perhaps it is the yoga influence bringing adults in the door, or the fact that we are older teachers now, but we have tons of people wanting Adult Hip Hop and Ballet Conditioning. Mark is the adult dance teacher, so maybe it’s just his charisma. Who knows? But it is fun to see this division of the school start strong and I appreciate having mature students to connect with. Love kids, but it is nice to share your interest with people you could share a cup of coffee with as well.
So, I’m now the director of an arts center again. I’m running the school full time as the hands on manager, director and full time teacher. Mark is involved part time as counsel, part time teacher and taking on some financial management duties (he’s the computer savvy one in this partnership). In some ways we fall into old patterns, but in other ways it is different, and that feels weird. I have no idea where this will all go, he may end up more “in” or completely “out”,but it will be interesting to see. I do know that he will never realize his dreams unless I contribute to this family rather than expect him to support us, so I am happy to see this new venture finally take root for reasons beyond my own aspirations. As for me, I feel great, as if I’ve rediscovered an authentic part of me that was lost. I truly love teaching. Love the human body. Love the way people open up and discover their best selves through art. Love that I am keeping everything I loved about FLEX, but changing the things that I feel didn’t work – adding new elements to shift the dynamics of the school to coincide with my true values. Starting over is hard, but it offers you the opportunity to get things right too, thanks to life experience and greater perspective. Mostly, I love the potential this school has – this is a town that needs a FLEX desperately – I’m excited to create that FLEX energy here.
I’ll admit, I kick myself now for not having the forethought to keep some of our teaching materials and store stock. I just never imagined I’d ever want to own a dance school again. I had two school’s worth of valuable materials, but I gave it all away to a friend thinking it would support his new dance school venture. He ended up giving away half the teaching materials (things I can’t afford to replace now as a new fledgling school, drat it all) and he somehow discarded all the store merchandize and displays as well (probably for a fraction of what it would cost me to replace) because he didn’t want a retail area. Ah well, these things were his to use or discard and it’s fair because everyone has their own vision for a school – the problem is, mine is very defined and I gave away things I struggled for years to acquire, which made them very important and useful in my mind – but when someone is given things for free, they don’t assign the same value to them, so it seems so frustrating that they were not put to serious use. Life is like that – one’s man’s treasure is another man’s trash. Now I have to budget, struggle and carefully build from scratch again to get things that I gave away only two years ago. Ah well – at least I’ll have a deep appreciation for every small addition I can add to the program once again. Anything you have to work for and make sacrifices to get has greater value …
I’ll write more about the school and how it feels to dive in to dance and yoga once again, (at 50!) later. Now I have to go teach my morning class. Yesterday I had 16 students – could barely walk through the room with the yoga mats taking up so much floor space. I have three classes today – one a private yoga lesson tonight for 6 nurses that want a slow, gentle introduction. I offered to work with them alone because if there is one thing I can do, it’s explain movement in laymen’s terms so people understand what it is all ab
out. Can’t wait.
Anyway – the moral of this story is: Never Say Never!
We have a small temporary website up – just to tide us over until we can make a more interactive, “real” site. Lots of video clips, testimonials etc.. to come. Lots of yoga information, dance information, FLEX history etc…. Check it out someday, www.FlexArtsCenter.com.
I’m also resurecting the kiddance company on-line with newsletters, youth dance education products and I’ve even found a musician I’m going to work with to produce more music for youth dance exercises that teachers can download with instructions for creative classes. Yeah – if I’m gonna be a dance teacher, might as well jump in full force. So, I am back to work, and happy for it.
Meanwhile, the country homefront is still going strong. I made sauce out of my billions of tomatos this weekend (been too busy to attend to my garden so when I went out there I was shocked – had to whip the windfall into something.) My turkeys are huge. Traded my gorgeous Saddlebred horse for a plainer, well trained calm quarter horse, much more our speed and he arrived yesterday. We are still getting to know each other. My peacock, Elmer, has stuck around as hoped. He is a cutie and when he shed his tail this spring I ended up with over 100 peacock feathers – thus the theme in the yoga room. Ah yes, I’m back in dance, but the nature girl is still there too.