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Category Archives: Exploring the Arts

Creative Landscaping

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When we purchased our property and began landscaping, I was constantly struck with awe that David allowed and encouraged me to express myself to my heart’s content. My former husband considered himself the artist of the family, and as such, he took charge in all things pertaining to the design of our home (inside and out). My creativity was not considered much of an important contribution to our world since a more gifted “artist” was making decisions. This doesn’t mean he purposely thwarted my ability to have a voice in our life , and I don’t’ believe he ever intended to dismiss my input, but the dynamic of our relationship definitely put my need for self expression and exploring or developing my artistic gifts second string to his. So, my creative energy, needing a place to go, was channeled into choreography or writing or developing a business –the kinds of pursuits that would not interfere with his joy of creating, step on his toes or rob him of the pleasure of manifesting his vision(s). When you love someone, sacrifice comes naturally, and we make choices to support the object of our affection’s happiness, so my decision to defer to him in artistic areas was never resented nor did it seem unfair. His self-identity and feelings of worth were more wrapped up in being an artist than mine, so he was afforded the role of interior designer of our home, the landscaper, the gardener, the Christmas decorator, etc. I did the laundry and strived to drive the business to keep resources flowing forhim t do his thing. That is just the way it was.

Life is different for me with a new marriage dynamic . My husband, David, is a highly creative man as well, but his interests seem more directed to the mechanics and structural design of things. He harbors a deep appreciation for my creativity and as such, nurtures and encourages it. In the beginning, I felt I had to seek his approval for anything I wanted to do, least he take offense. I didn’t want him to resent me or undo my work, changing anything I put labor into to make it something more his ideal. But over and over, he’d look at me and smile, making clear that he didn’t need or want to impart his own opinion or tamper with my ideas. If I wanted to buy a plant for the garden, and I’d ask his opinion. He’d smile and say, “If you like it, buy it. I can’t wait to see what you do with it.” If I wanted to create a landscape stilllife, he’d simply say, “Gorgeous!”.

Suddenly, my creativity was free to go whatever direction it wanted to go. My only problem now was, if something I did came out stupid or ugly, I’d be the one having to take ownership of it. Ha, a new level of creative concern.

In time, with more and more leeway and never a repercussion to dampen my joy, I gained both the confidence and a sense of value of my own “visions” and creative landscaping is one of my greatest joys.

First, my attention was directed to creating the Chakra garden. The garden was a big investment, so it took both of us brainstorming to envision just what we wanted (and could afford). Creating the garden became a very poignant mutual effort for David and I, with him building the koi pond and using his engineering to figure out and build the basic design, lighting, pathways, sprinkler system, arbors, flowing waterfall, etc… but when the big picture structure was done, I was invited to enjoy putting personal touches around through detail work. I planted flowers, set up colorful pots, hung air plants and orchids, strategically placed crystals, statues, birdbaths, and made mosaic tiles to delineate chakra areas. David’s big role was done when the key components of the garden were in place, but my role has been never-ending. Nature evolves seasonally and as such, I am forever moving plants, added new elements, retiring others, and shifting the placement of décor when the growth of nearby plants changes the juxtaposition of the whole. I often sit out on one of our meditation benches, just letting my eyes wander to the grand scheme, and inevitably, I begin tinkering, moving a statue to the left, noting the need for a new succulent pot to fill a hole, and reaching for my tools to cut back or remove overgrown plants.

When the basic garden design was complete, I moved on to landscaping the areas around the yoga center. The primary project then became the bottle garden. I love stain glass for reasons I won’t get into here, and I’ve addressed the bottle garden before in this blog, so I don’t feel I need to go into too much detail, but the project began with my hanging dozens of colorful bottles from a big oak branch alongside the studio. The bottles had been collected over years from flea markets when I was making cordials, which I have since moved into clear bottles. I delighted in the way the sun lit up the glass hanging from the trees outside. So I added big bottles in the ferns underneath and a few other glass items. We recently put lights on the tree branch to make the bottles show up at night, but I kept saying I just wish the would illuminate more. Just last night, 18 months after our first bottle found a home out here, David put landscape lighting under concrete blocks holding up my bottles. The bottles now light up magnificently at night. I am thrilled! It is perfect.

I added mosaic tiles on the walkway alongside the bottle garden, and hand made grapevine wreaths and bird houses on the yoga studio to further decorate this space. I asked David if he could make me arches to add drama to the gateways. He did, and I planted passion flower vines that quickly covered everything to add gorgeous flavor. It is like entering the secret garden.This area too, will be a work in progress forevermore. I have plans to make a big glass yogi out of bottles to position out in the ferns behind this living art. Will be a challenge, but with David’s help, we can do it, I’m sure.

With bottles a part of our theme now we addressed a particularly ugly area in front of the yoga center. We removed leaning trees and tons of grapevine and weeds to create a clearing. And David then cut up the trunks of those fallen trees and with the help of my son, we created a short log wall that seems almost like another outdoor meditation altar . I tucked in ferns in the crevices and scattered lights about, and loaded this too up with bottles, clear ones this time.

There is more of course. The pond next to the house that David created, covered with blue bottles and plants in blue pots. Just this morning David and I were brainstorming ways to light these bottles as dramatically as those near the yoga center. The curtain arbor to keep cars from parking near the yoga center, a peace pole added by Soraya, my trusted teaching assistant, and a remarkable artist by her own right.

I am busy putting mosaic tiles on birdhouses to cover a fence behind the yoga center in a whimsical way this week.  There are dozens of other projects, gates and small building and more that David has built, too many to mention, and I wish I’d been blogging to share the joy of each project. Ah well.

So now, with living art all around us, we are turning our attention to another very special project. A labyrinth. We’ve been researching, brainstorming, envisioning…..

I’ll write about that next time. Such a dream project deserves a post of its own. The point is, life unfolds in small steps – just as a garden or a retreat center does. The beauty is in the small details, and the extra efforts we make to bypass “good enough” and create a world that is “uniquely special.”

Our lives, and the environment that surrounds us each and every day, deserves our willingness to go the extra mile.

My New Studio opens today!






(My lobby area -not quite finished. Um… excuse the vaccum cleaner. It isn’t a permanent thing. I guess it was late and I was tired when I snapped a few quick photos.)

It’s been a crazy busy 6 weeks because, shoot me, I’ve been expanding my business. I made the decision to do so back when David was here. He offered to do all the construction for me, was going to be one of the evening teachers, and because it would be financially possible thanks to his contribution of time and talent, we decided to take the plunge.  So I negotiated with the landlord and began the process. Then, David got his job offer and he had to abruptly relocate. Suddenly I was stuck with a project I felt totally unprepared to do all alone, but there was no turning back. So I just dove in and found creative ways to make it work.  David flew in twice within a month to help, killing himself to squeeze in all the work he could in a short visit (and trust me that is not the first choice of how the man wanted to spend his time at home). He did all the electrical work, helped me buy and put in the bamboo floors, and repaired the drop down ceiling after we took out a couple of walls (no easy feat since the ceiling was at a slant due to poor planning from previous tenants).


Panicked, because I didn’t really have the money to invest in this project if I had to hire out all the work, I sent out an e-mail asking for help, and a plumber, a painter, and a construction guy came forward. Talk about the universe giving you exactly what you need.  The universe even sent me a storm that closed the airports up north for two days, extending one of David’s visits just long enough for him to get work done that only he could do. Convenient luck or something more? Anyway, I opened this new studio on a shoestring, using nothing but creativity…. Last night I finished, and today is my open house. The place is drop dead beautiful and I expect a crowd to come help us celebrate.  

I sent David pictures and he exclaimed. “Remarkable! It has “Wow” factor!” He added that he is even more impressed because he knows what I had to work with and where everything came from, and he is amazed what I’ve accomplished with so little resources. (Ha that is the story of my life.)

I did most of my shopping at Goodwill. My staff makes fun of me because almost every day I come in dragging something more from Goodwill; I have this little car that I load with way more than it should hold. There is always something hanging out of the trunk, sticking out of the windows, or teetering on the canoe roof rack. But eventually, I had to rent a truck and David and I brought the big stuff over on his last visit. 



(Still a work in progress, I have yet to finish hanging tapestrys and brochure holders etc…) to make the lobbyinviting. I have plans to soften the lighting, rework the sales display because I sell mats, slings and other yoga things). But one thing at a time…. I also have totally ignored the little kitchen in the back… Don’t need it today…)
 

 I found a big L shaped front desk, a Chinese screen, a wall unit to hold props, a wall unit for tea, bookshelves, a bamboo bakers rack for the bathroom, silk plants & trees, a full size stainless steal refridgerator forthe kitchen, a small fridge to hold waters for sale, end tables, wall sconces, a glass and brass rack to hold crystal bowls and sound instruments, furniture fo the new massage room (no pictures yet) knick knacks, and more – all for practically nothing at goodwill, and put the place together that way. I guess if you have an artistic eye you can create a beautiful environment out of very little. It is simply a matter of trusting your creativity and enjoying the challenge. And the yogi in me loves that I am recycling resources, treading lightly on the world rather than consuming valuable resources.

I even took an ugly picture I got long ago at Big lots to my Mom’s and asked her to paint me a Buddha head for the lobby.She did a lovely job, and I appreciate that I have something with meaning decorating the space. My mom is not getting any younger, and there is something poignant and heartfelt about my keeping a part of her with me in the day. I also have pieces I gathered from ReFlex, from my home, and from the former Flex, all embedded in the decore.Its as if my entire history, family and life experience is all circling about, reminding me of who I am  and how I ended here.

Anyway, I am delighted with the results. Last night the night watchman stopped by to say hello. He walked through he place, whistled and said, “Man, when you do something, you do it right!” I thought it a very nice compliment.”

My new studio, designed just for yoga, has natural bamboo floors (bought on closeout at Lumber Liquidators). I have beautiful adjustable lighting and infrared heaters in the ceiling (bought on closeout 9 months ago) for hot yoga classes – thanks to David. I have a second massage room now because I’ve added a facialist to the staff, and this place has a little kitchen too. I have set this up for yoga teacher’s training, which is vital to my long term vision. There is a great energy in the place. Not only is it welcoming and beautiful, but “blessed” because a team of reiki healers came and put their positive energy into the space while also doing a ceremonial smudging to cleanse and make the space sacred. Don’t laugh. The world of Yoga has untold levels of spirituality, ceremony and meaning, and I embrace it all with respect, curiosity, and sometimes I admit, a leap of faith. More on that “hippy stuff” (as my mother calls it) later.

When I started the process, friends asked if I was excited. I wasn’t’. It felt routine at first. After all, I’ve opened 11 separate studios in my life, two before Mark, and three after him. The first studio in Sarasota (FLEX) was expanded 4 times, which meant 4 negotiations with the landlord, four remodeling projects to convert a former store into a dance space,  buying and installing floors, mirrors, barres etc… So it feels like I’ve opened 15 studios. All of my locations have had between two and four rooms too, so all together I’ve put 29 studio spaces together.
 

(Pictures don’t do it justice… by the way those are not fans overhead – they are infrared heaters. When they are on, the entire place glows as if you are doing yoga at sunset. Gorgeous!!!!!)

This is the first yoga only space, and it has a few different considerations, but all in all, it feels like I’m designing another dance studio. I felt lonely and stressed during the process. This kind of thing always stirs up lots of memories of my marriage, but the fact that I did it alone felt great at the end. I did the negotiating myself, designed the construction plans, the décor, the schedule, hired the teachers, did the marketing, etc… It reinforces my sense of independence and going through this process has shown me just how much I personally contributed to my former successful business and how important my input was as compared to what others were doing. Frankly, I have a great deal to be proud of from my past, and I’m feeling confident and proud of my future too.   Hard work teaches us important lessons. I’m really good at what I do. Nice to recognize that and not feel I have to apologize for or downplay my gifts. Nice to learn just how much of my past sucess was due to my own business accumine, work ethic, and creativity.  
So, in the end, I did get excited. I love the new studio and everything my creating it represents. I love the possibilities I see in the directions I’m taking my life.

I’ve known since the beginning that I would have to eventually separate the dance and yoga portions of my studio because I’ve been running two totally different businesses under one roof. In some ways, a dance and yoga studio are compatible and one can support the other, but the energy, attitude and resource demands or each enterprise can be stifling to the other too. I’ve had serious obstacles to growing the dance portion of the business because I can’t build enthusiasm and do outrageous, fun promotional events when I’m telling kids to hush all the time so they won’t’ disturb yoga classes. And it is hard to instill a sense of serene healing (important for yoga) when your customers have to step over kids playing in the lobby or listen to laughing in the hallways during savasana (the final quiet meditative rest in a yoga class).  For the first two years, I‘ve met the challenge with creative scheduling and compromise, but this year (the start of year three), the studio has grown big enough that I had to make a decision. Did I want the studio to lean towards dance, or become a serious yoga facility? Clearly I would never get my business as successful as I want it to be until I had chosen a clearly defined vision and “voice”.  I’m a natural entrepreneur with years of experience and a degree in business all driving me to follow my instincts and establish a trademark. I have to do something, or the studio will flounder forever – or worse, deteriorate due to its wishy washy projected image.

The problem is, which way to lean? I love teaching dance and for the first time in many, many years I have students with great promise and attitude. I am deeply proud of how my program is unfolding. I am teaching truly advanced, sophisticated classes to students who have professional talent and focus. There is no drama or disgruntled customers at my school, no ego running amuck to make my life (or others) miserable.  I simply don’t tolerate that behavior this time around. I handle issues with kindness, respect and nonattachment, and when I sense someone is making trouble, I respectfully convince them to leave my school and find someplace that will be a better fit.  Amazingly, my mindset as a director changes everything about the dance studio experience for everyone involved – me, my staff, students, and my dance parents. Anyway, the future looks bright in the dance area. My enrollment is not huge, but it is healthy and growing. My studio is gaining a fantastic reputation. I’m building beautiful dancers and my children’s program is once again innovative and filled with future innovation.  One thing life has taught me is that Dance is my dharma. It feeds a part of my artistic soul in ways I never want to live without – or at least not until I am too old to do the job effectively. Frankly, thanks to yoga and my new insight about how to retain integrity in art and teaching, I’m teaching stronger classes today than ever. Despite the years, my body is still able to do things that no one my age should. That is a gift from nature that I recognize and feel grateful for every single day – but sometimes I think it’s because this is my life’s work. Every time I try to leave dance, the universe constructs a situation where I’m thrown back in, and while I come back kicking and screaming, deep down,  I love it too.  I am totally at peace, filled with a sense of purpose and drive when I’m in a room with dancers and we are choreographing, inventing and exploring movement. It is good to do what you love.

But what about yoga? Ah, I love yoga too. Yoga is not a job or a calling, it is a life path. I started off just scratching the surface of yoga, teaching because it seemed a logical thing to do, but making yoga my business provided me with the resources and the motivation to dive deep and explore the path in depth. I will save commentary on all the things I’ve discovered and embraced in this journey for another blog entry, but let me just say that yoga is far more than a physical practice to me.  I have studied a huge gamut of yoga techniques and styles, learned about the history of yoga, the energy system, chakras, nadies, quantum energy, eastern philosophy, and more. I’ve become a reiki healer, versed in gong and crystal bowl meditation, and many other non-traditional practices that I would have balked at a few short years ago. I am now in school to be an Ayurveda counselor, learning the “science of life” from the Eastern perspective. All of this makes me an extremely insightful yoga teacher, but in truth, I don’t teach that much yoga –at least not the one hour physical practice on the mat. I have instead become a yoga teacher trainer. And wow, has that taken me new places. I’ve always been a teacher’s teacher, and I am gifted at organizing material, communicating technique and theory in down to earth ways. I’m told I’m inspiring. The subject of yoga is broad and hard to wrap a brain around, so I designed a program that is very different from others. In my area, the local yoga studios train about 12-18 people a year, and they have been in business for years. My first year offering of yoga teacher’s training, I had 47 enrollees.  People are talking about the program, recommending it.  I keep adding sessions and they fill. Next year, I’m offering 5 sessions as well as the higher level of training and I’ve already got a waiting list for it. Amazing! Best of all I love, love, love yoga teacher’s training. Every time I teach the 8 limbs of yoga to others, I reinforce the principles and my own mindset. I keep going over the philosophy, reaffirming my beliefs, researching and learning more to share.

Anyway, I will write more about yoga later. For now, I have to run to Sam’s to buy paper goods, cheese and wine. I have to get to the studio to meet my fantastic, humor-filled staff for an open house that will be filled with good wishes, laughter and a few Oms. I’m teaching partner yoga today, and we are offering free gentle yoga, aerial yoga, and our first hot yoga class. Got the towels ready! We’ve had dozens of calls – people are excited. Everyone wants to see our hot yoga setup. It should be fun. I will share pictures later.

 As they say.  If you truly love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life…..
There are days I could argue that… but today I’m inclined to agree….

Yoga leads to all kinds of gifts

Check out my lovely gift necklace – up close it says “nameste” which in sanskrit (the language of yoga) means “the light in me recognizes the light in you”)

 
Today, I thought I’d talk about my yoga students. I won’t be using their names or specifics, of course, out of respect to their privacy, but I’ll talk about them in a general way, because the most unexpected and enriching benefit I’ve received from embarking on a yoga journey has been the interesting, diverse people I’ve met. Yoga classes (and I’m talking about the real deal, not health club fitness yoga, which is nothing like a serious yoga experience) draw a certain sort of individual, usually someone with an open mind, an underlying sensitivity and/or intellectual curiosity. In many cases, yoga students are seeking relief from the stress and pressures that are a part of our current culture. Yoga also draws people battling physical problems. It’s amazing how many doctors & physical therapists send people my way.  

 I have quite a few students who take class regularly to handle their siatica. One or two cancer patients. I have people with limited mobility in their neck, shoulders, knees or back, often from old injuries that continue to flare up or just because middle age is raking them over the coals.

 Last week, a man came in who has muscular dystrophy. We talked before class and I learned his body gives out in different places as if there is a roaming weakness that circulates through his system. His doctor recommended yoga as a way to strengthen his body, though there will be times when he won’t have the strength or coordination to get through a class. My dearest childhood boyfriend, Joe, a fellow I dang near almost married at 18,was a guitar player. Some years after I last saw him I ran into his parents and found out he had muscular dystrophy, which caused him to lose dexterity in his hands. I’ve thought about Joe a great deal over the years, thinking his illness was the greatest tragedy. Music was his entire world and I can only imagine how frustrating this particular physical problem has been for a boy who had such vitality and lust for life.  Thinking of Joe, I took to this new student immediately giving him a great deal of attention, working to make the class as restorative and helpful as I knew how.I hope he returns, because my assisting him felt poignant and significant, as if my efforts would result in someone helping my old friend Joe wherever he happens to be today. Is there such a thing as friendship karma transference? Hope so.

 But moving beyond the cases of students with physical ailments, my other students are fascinating just for who they are. People living in the Georgia Mountains all seem to embrace life as an adventure, and as such, they lead interesting, diverse lives, and add to this the fact that the people who take yoga all seem to have a grace about them – warmth and a giving spirit, you have a recipe for some pretty terrific people.

 One woman, a former teacher of Neva’s, started taking my class and one night out of the blue, she brought me a gift. A yoga necklace.Her husband collects flat, smooth river rocks when they go hiking and, for a hobby he paints them with precise detail and the loveliest designs and writes yoga words upon them, such as the symbol for OM, or “Namaste” in Sanskrit. He then drills holes in the decorated rocks and threads it through a cord or leather so it can be worn as a necklace. The finished product looks like a piece of organic, nature art. I was really touched by her unexpected gift and wore it often when teaching. Denver was jealous and kept pretending she was going to steal it, and when the student witnessed our banter, she came in the next week with a necklace for my daughter as well. And then, because everyone kept admiring our necklaces, she gave one to Mark and Neva and offered one to another student who expressed strong appreciation for the work. I told her that if her husband wanted to market his crafts, I’d give him space on my shelves to do so. Yoga students would love the opportunity to purchase one of these beautiful, original pieces to wear. But she said, “No, he only does it for the joy of creating something special. He prefers saving them until he finds someone unique he wants to give it away to as a gift.”

       Only in yoga would you find people willing to turn down an opportunity to make a buck for this symbolic connection to others.

 Another student walked in one day who paused at the door and said, “So, this is what happened to you. I had no idea you owned this place or even that you were a yoga teacher.” It just so happens she is a member of the bookclub I joined last season. About a dozen intelligent women have been meeting each month for over twelve years to discuss literature, and as you can imagine,I was delighted when I happened upon them. For about 9 months I joined in their discussions, but once I opened the studio, I was no longer available on Mondays when they meet. I asked to be kept on the Internet loop regardless, and I continued reading the books. I think book club selections are a good way to collide with really interesting books you would normally never reach for on your own.  Anyway, this week she came in with the book they are currently discussing and she said, “I thought you might really enjoy this one, so I wanted to bring it by.” I thought it so sweet that she thought of me, and while I may not be able to have an involved discussion with the entire group about this story, I imagine I’ll be able to exchange a few insights and opinions about it with this fellow reading enthusiast.   

  Things like this make me feel as if my students are also friends. It makes coming to work a much more inviting prospect and I find myself more devoted than ever to bringing a great yoga experience to the table.

 Yesterday a new student came in, a woman who was 64, who claimed she’s wanted to take yoga for years. She convinced her husband to give her classes for Christmas, but she wanted to come in for a trial class to be sure she really would like it before asking him to invest.  She loved the class and so pondered the schedule considering how many weekly classes she might fit in, because her time is limited. She travels to Atlanta regularly for work. Naturally, I asked what she did for a living.  She explained that she got an MFA in fine arts a few years ago thinking she would teach in a college, but that with the economy in the state it’s been in, there were no positions anywhere.  So, she had to get a different job in the meantime.

   I gestured to the new studio and said, “I know. I ended up doing that too.”

    We talked a bit about the entire MFA experience, and then she explained she got a job working for the weaver’s guild of America. “This happens to be an organization focused on fiber arts, which is spinning and weav
ing and basketry and stuff,” she said.

    I said, “I know, I do that too.” And we talked about spinning and dying wool, and how I raised llamas and angoras for awhile and had taken lots of classes on basketry, spinning etc. at the Campbell school (with a teacher she also happens to know).

   Then she explained that what she actually does is edit the organization’s magazine. “It’s a periodical that features articles on fiber arts”, she explained.

    “I know of it – I happen do that too. I’m a writer,” I said, and I told her how I had written a piece about spinning and submitted it to the New Southerner Literary Non-fiction contest and it won. I mentioned that it was selected to be included in the yearly anthology, and she said she’d love to see it someday.  I happened to have a copy on the shelf behind me, so I gave it to her. (And just like that, my work is in an editor’s hands – not that she can do anything for me as a writer, but it sure is nice to share your words with someone who will appreciate them.)

    Taking up the conversation on the llama issue again, she commented that her daughter has horses and teaches dressage and competition. “I took a few classes in that. I have horses too, but I’m really only interested in them for casual recreation,” I said. And next, our conversation slipped around to horse stuff and riding, until eventually it churned it back to yoga once again.

  Another student of mine, who happens to take class about four times a week and is getting to know me pretty well, was listening in. After the woman left, she said, “I’m shocked. I thought you were just a yoga/dance person, but you can talk to anyone about anything. I didn’t know all that about you. ” 

   “We are all more than what we do,” I pointed out. “Or at least, we should be. “  But it occurred to me that that hasn’t always been the case for me. For many years, I was just what I did. A dancer. My journey in Georgia certainly has expanded my horizons in unique ways. I couldn’t have connected with that woman 6 years ago half as well as I can now. It seems I can talk to most people about anything now a days, but usually my half of the conversation is me asking questions. I love getting to know people beyond the surface. My family has a nasty habit of warning people before they meet me that I’ll know their shoe size before the evening is done. Makes people brace for my inquiry so it doesn’t occur naturally. Hate that.

 Back to interesting students . . . I have a student who takes every Saturday when the weather is bad. He is about my age, and has a traditional job, but he is a river guide on the Ocoee in season. He also mountain bikes and hikes when the weather is good. I told him I was jealous, these were all the things I hoped to do when I moved here, but life sort of got in the way and my focus and resources were diverted to other things, primarily our homestead project.

“Never too late,” he said. “I can turn you on to all the best places to go.”

 The very next day three woman took my adult ballet class and I found out they all work together as river guides too. (As I said, yoga draws active, open-minded people, but it tends to draw people who love nature too.) They range from 40-60 years of age and they are all single, full of life, and share the thrill of adventure. Two of the women also happen to be massage therapists by trade. Of course, I had to pick their brains about their work since I’ve been thinking of going that direction too, and they were very supportive and informative. Before we were done, they had promised to take me down the river as soon as winter breaks as well.

 It’s funny. I’ve lived here for 5 years and my biggest disappointment has been that I can’t find someone, ANYONE who’s willing to get wet and dirty with me (my family is active, but not sporty in this particular way and it’s generally believed that when Mom suggests anything that involves a canoe or kayak, she’s suggesting a subtle form of torture.) Eventually, I gave up hope of having this kind of adventure in my life so I decided to go back to what I know, working & running a dance studio. But now only three months into my new project, voila, I have a fistful of potential river rafting friends. It just goes to show, fate works in mysterious ways.

There are other, wonderful students, such as myTuesday/Thursday morning crowd of 55 & up ladies. They are a very social, upbeat group and I start class ten minutes late because I hate cutting them off as they exchange happy news about their lives. I so admire them because despite the fact that they are aging, here they are, keeping healthy and vibrant through fitness activities and fun interaction with others. They kick butt in yoga class too, by the way. 

 Then, there are my younger students who are beautiful to watch with their lean bodies and flexible attitudes. And married couples who come to yoga together, which is a pretty romantic date if you ask me.  I can’t help but think they must all have a rather active love life too, considering both man and wife are committed to fitness, and pursuing interesting things together. Got to appreciate couples like that.

 The point is, I can’t point to a single yoga student that I don’t sincerely enjoy teaching. My workplace is filled with positive energy and interesting people who always greet me with a smile. When a person can say that about their job, they are lucky indeed.

 

CIRCLING AROUND AGAIN


The studio is creeping along just as I figured it would starting from scratch in this small town. Amazingly, it’s the yoga classes that have taken off, which is inspirational to me – I absolutely love teaching movement in this new form. In the beginning I stayed fairly accurate to what was introduced in my yoga alliance training, but that felt limiting and repetitive,so it didn’t take long for me to follow instinct and begin teaching the concepts of yoga by combining the traditional poses and yoga terminology with my understanding of physical development and movement from years of dance. It gives me this huge well of ideas and philosophies to draw from and everyday I make new teaching discoveries as a class unfolds. Sometimes suggestions or explanations come out of my mouth (inspired from what I am feeling or experiencing as I demonstrate in the class) and I wonder where the heck that came from – but it’s perfect and enhances the moment, and I feel I’m right where I belong at this stage in life. I’m in the yoga zone. It’s pretty cool.    

 My adult students come in everyday with warm smiles and open minds. This is the sort of person yoga attracts, so it is easy to feel attached and to care about their progress. More often than not, they have physical issues because yoga is so very therapeutic, and I spend my evenings reading,reading, reading, to keep up and learn about each student’s specific issue. If someone comes in with fibermylasia, sciatica pain, or arthritis, I’m ready –been knee deep in literature about these physical problems all month. I have one student fighting cancer, several with lower back issues and quite a few just battling serious stress.  I am committed to helping them. I’ve already seen progress – and so have they – they keep returning and often mention how they feel their body responding. There is something so lovely about the restorative qualities of yoga. Dance is all about art, but yoga is all about people. It is nice to focus on people for a change–to strike a more intimate connection with students at this stage of life.

 Teaching yoga (I’m currently teaching 7 classes a week –soon to add a special chair class for the flexibility challenged) keeps my own stress at bay. I have this deep sense of peace that nothing can shake. All the breathing,inner focus, and calm quiet that is a part of every class is anchored inside me now and because this makes the world feel more peaceful and decent, I want to share that inner quiet with others. I’m rather passionate about my classes –serious about making them effective.

 Meanwhile, I’m all into enhancing the comfort and ease of my students in every class while also pushing the body to new limits. So I use straps, blankets, blocks, chairs or the wall to create comfortable alignment in classic positions.  I roll and foldblankets for supported poses and walk around nestling my students into comfortable poses for deep relaxation. I’m ordering sandbags to give natural assistance to some poses and yesterday I purchased materials to make weighted eyebags with silk – filling them with flaxseed and lavender so students can feel slight pressure (relieves headaches) and enjoy darkness and aroma when they relax in the final portion of the class (savasana). It is sort of funny, because my staff used to kid me all the time about how often I used props in dances to enhance the theatrics of a piece. Heck, my children’s dance program is loaded with props to make exercises fun and the room is outfitted withlights and hands on apparatus to inspire. Is it any wonder I took to yoga props immediately?

 So, yoga is going well and I am delighted that I’ve added this to my arsenal of life experiences. Adding yoga to the dance studio also changes the entire feeling of the facility. I have a tea caddy downstairs so dance parents and yoga students can help themselves to organic tea whilewaiting in the lobby.  I take the time to talk to everyone, to learn about their lives beyond the studio. Many of my dance parents are wandering into the yoga classes, which forms a great relationship. I’m working hard to make this school a welcoming place where people connect – I want the new FLEX to be filled with positive energy, a place people want to hang out to escape from the stress of their lives – a placewhere you just soak up the creativity. Ah – I’m sounding foolishly romantic. But this is the kind of school I want this time around. I’ve had enough of the competitive, aggressive, dance fanatics to last a lifetime. I just don’t have it in me to fight the dance ego struggle with angry parents anymore. This time around, I want my dance parents to be my friends and I want everyone, parents, teachers, and students, to work together to make the dance experience lovely for all involved. I guess I’m naïve to think this can happen. So shoot me.

 Teaching dance again has been interesting. Mark and I went to Florida to teach some master classes and solos to former students. The event took place at the school of one of our previous students, now all grown up with a teaching career of her own. We’ve been careful to stay out of the dance struggles going on in Florida, especially since all the competing new schools are run by former FLEX students. The fact is we still care deeply about everyone of those now grown up “kids” struggling to build businesses of their own, but we agreed to go to this particular school because this former student has been a true friend despite everything that has transpired in the dance world.She actually came up and painted our new school the moment she heard we were opening, just to be supportive, and hey, need I point out that I didn’t go paint hers?

 She has never failed to recognize our part in her development as a dancer – has always shown appreciation and respect for us as mentors and friends, and wouldn’t dream of turning her anger towards us when the dance world in Sarasota got frustrating in the wake of our leaving. And though she is quick to pick my brain regarding studio management and has had many long talks to collect advice for her new school – she has never asked anything from us – even though I’m sure she would have liked to. So when she called and told us one of her central teachers had left without notice just as the season was opening and now she was stuck with too many students wanting solos to service, and kids were on the fence about staying or going, we were like,“Hey, if we can help, we’re there.” We’ve seen enough damage done to dance studios by teachers leaving and soliciting students to last a lifetime. So we agreed to teach so solos.  As expected, she made the visit positive in every way, even added a master class to make sure our travel and time away from home was compensated for. Her idea,not ours. She has a lot of class.


  It was lovely seeing all the familiar faces, seeing how our former students did or did not progress as dancers in our absence. Everyone’s attitude was positive and respectful – and it’s been a long time since we’ve experienced that in Florida.We drove down, taught for two days and drove home all in 48 hours. It was a killer, and my mom wasn’t pleased (hey, we were on a mission) . But seeing everyone gave us a good idea of what the students need now.We’ll be going back in a few weeks to finish some pieces, and this time I’ll be far more prepared (for mom too). I didn’t know what to expect from the first visit, but now I’ve had time to consider the levels, training needs, etc. of those aspiring dancers who bothered to attend. If I see them again, you can bet I’ll give them a dance challenge they need and deserve.

 Anyway, coming home to our little fledgling school with beginners who don’t know how to stand properly was a poignant experience. I guess you can say we’ve come full circle. I can’t believe we are beginning the entire dance process again, but as I look into the innocent faces of our cute,clueless new students I see possibilities they have yet to dream of.  It is a prime example of life – how circular it can be. Everything changes. Evolves. Shifts. Change breeds growth and that breathes life into our days. Change is painful, but good too. And it’s not like you can avoid it.

 Anyway, while in Florida, a dear friend took some pictures for us. I grabbed a dance student and posed her for some yoga shots for my newbrochure. The dancer looks great – not too groomed as a dance model would be, and just adult enough to seem like a regular yoga student. But at the same time, she is strong, flexible and has beautiful line. (I wasn’t about to usemyself -too old to be a model for fitness, that’s for sure.) I was so appreciative to both the dancer and the photographer – good friends who didn’t hesitate to do me the favor the minute I mentioned it. So, now once again, there are glimpses of the past making a subtle presence in our new life.  I couldn’t love that brochure featuring a beloved former student on the cover more even if I had a world famous yoga guru singing my praises on the front.


 

Ah – it is time to get my kids up for school. Enough rambling. Next time, I’ll tell you about my chicken and duck sharing a nest, and getting confused about parenting the eggs that hatched. I think we need poultry therapy. It’s bizzare…… 

I HOPE YOU FIND PEACE TODAY.  OM…..

Never say never



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 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.    


  

 

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.
 

 

 

 

Piecing things together

We are home from Sarasota. It always takes a few days to “shake off” that town. The ick factor is a combination of the environment (traffic and overbuilding and absence of nature) aggressive cultural attitudes and the entire dance thing. As always, we hear about actions taken by former friends and acquaintances that are so disturbing we feel almost as if we are visiting a place we’ve never been before. (Soap Opera town or something.)


Anyway, the nice part of the trip was the actual teaching.  I watched Mark in his classes, and it was a nice reminder of what a remarkable ballet teacher he was (is). The students actually physically changed within the two hours as understanding of placement hit them like a wave. He watched my class and commented that I was still a lovely teacher, but what amazed him was that I’m still a strong dancer. I am lucky that way. My body seems to hold up well even when I ignore it. For me, all it takes is a bit of music and open space and it’s as if I never stopped. I wasn’t any more sore the next day than I was every day of my life (from 35 on) working as a dance teacher. It was a different story for Mark, however, and watching him hobble to the car, popping Advil like candy, made it very clear that he could not have continued in the field even if he wanted to.


He said, “I love teaching, and even today, after only a few hours, I truly care about those students, even though I’ve just met them. I connect and immediately feel impassioned to help them understand dance. But the pain connected to moving for me is a nightmare. And while some people can teach from a chair, I’m not one.”



We left once again with validation that we made the right choice by retiring when we did. For lots of reasons.



The most interesting thing about the trip was a two hour interview we had with a writer from the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Bill Hutchinson. We were warned not to dare talk to him, because he will turn our honesty against us, but we figured we haven’t done anything wrong, so there is no reason not to speak plainly about what we’ve experienced. He is writing an article about the Sarasota Dance Community and how it is changing. We were central to this huge dance community for many years, so we are important to the piece. I certainly didn’t feel threatened or concerned about what he might say, because in the end, he is a very thorough writer and he doesn’t react to hearsay or pass rumor on as fact. Newspaper men document everything and circle the subject matter from all angles to get a clear picture of truth – at least in theory.  To be honest, I trust him far more than our friends and/or family who we’ve watched jump to conclusions with only snippets of information that for unexplainable reasons, they chose to embrace without question or without seeking logical explanations.


I suppose the fellow could “sink us” as we were forewarned, and twist things to make us look like the dance school felons again, but hey, we’ve already been put in that position by people we once cared about – it can’t be half as bad when the person hurting you is a stranger. The paper took pictures of us and we are told the article will come out at the end of the month.


I must admit, I’ll be deeply disappointed if Bill does paint a dark picture of us, but not for the reasons you’d expect. We don’t live in Sarasota anymore, and frankly, we no longer care what anyone thinks.  But I liked the man so much and so enjoyed talking to him that I’ll be disappointed to learn our exchange was not authentic, but some fact finding mission to promote more scandal.


As we were leaving the interview, I said to Mark, “I wish I’d known this guy when we lived here. I’d have appreciated a friend like him. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have been so lonely and felt so isolated if I ever had the opportunity to meet normal, down to earth, non-dance people like him while we were running FLEX.”   

       

“Of course you’d feel that way. This guy is everything you admire and appreciate in a friend – not to mention he is a writer, so you have something in common. He is intelligent, down to earth, worldly, and has wit. He was supposed to be interviewing us, but every time there was a lull in the conversation, you asked HIM questions. It was kind of funny.”


“Was that inappropriate? Was I obnoxious, like I was trying to avoid the subject of dance or something?” I asked, worried that I didn’t respect formal distance or something. The truth is, other subjects interest me more than dance at this stage in life.


“It’s who you are. I’m used to it.  I don’t think he minded.”


“I didn’t ask that many questions,” I said.


Mark laughed then and said, “Well, let’s see…. We now know that Bill likes his job, especially the freedom to explore those stories he feels are interesting. We know what else he is working on now, a piece about a world class wine appraiser – another thing fascinating to you. He went to the Sarasota Wine festival once, and that was enough for him – as it was for you.  We know the title and year his two books were published (now out of print.) We know the piece he most enjoyed writing was a 30 part piece on the Myakka River, which you suggested would make a good book.  He likes to write about history and cultural change, which you also appreciate. He describes himself as “not that ambitious anymore” (he is 60, no longer a youth with a need to share his personal opinion with the world) when you asked if there are any subjects he feels a longing to someday write a book about. He has a million stories he could tell, but none feel urgent, and fiction isn’t his thing. We know he once taught someone to read just as you did, and it was a remarkable experience. We know he lived in Paris for a year and a half when he was a younger man. He said you must visit Europe before you turn 50, and you ate that up. Trust me; I very much doubt anyone else left their interviews knowing anything personal about the guy. You were still asking questions as we pulled up to the SRQ parking lot – you’d know even more about him if only you had the time.”


OK, so I was curious about this Sarasota writer. The fact is, the world is filled with interesting people, and my greatest joy since retiring from dance is that now I have the time and freedom to make friends with them. He seemed to relate to us as people, not dance gurus.  Anyway, lunch with Bill was fun – he was even natural enough to gently kid me a bit about my new interests. When I told him I was taking a soap making class when I got home, he said, “You can buy that stuff now, you know. Even in Georgia.”


He did ask some interesting questions, such as if we miss the limelight (we don’t) and if we are partially at fault for all that happened because we should have done more research about the people who purchased our business. Perhaps we could have questioned the background of the new owners more, but heck, we are dancers. We trusted our advisors, who included accountants, bankers, business consultants, lawyers, and my father, our financial advisor.  Besides which, we still feel they were lovely people with good intentions (even though they did their best to break down our reputation moments after we left). They just made some serious mistakes and we feel badly for them even now. We are opening a new business now, and this makes me think of them a lot. It is a risky thing, putting yourself and your savings on the line for a dream… I admire anyone who takes a chance like that. But it is true that we have done our share of self reflection to question how we might be at fault for the people who clearly felt betrayed by our choices. What else would explain the madness?


Bill was very insightful in assessing what motivated people to behave as they did, and he seems to have a fair, unbiased idea of how and why the dance community is changing. I expect his article will put things in perspective and be interesting. I will post it when it comes out – even if it does “sink us”.


It is nice to be home. Today, I am taking a quilting class at a very established quilt shop in the area. I already took a quilting basics class, and today I’m starting a two part series to piece together a traditional hourglass pattern throw in colors I think will go well on our porch. I plan to work on several traditional quilt patterns this winter and while most people do machine quilting nowadays, I’ve talked the store into arranging a hand quilting class for me with a very knowledgeable teacher. (I guess I like doing things the hard way.) They say they don’t offer the class much, because people rarely want to do the work of hand quilting. I think it will be interesting. 


You may laugh and think I have gone off the deep end with all these crafts and animal interests. “One more?” You may be thinking – get a job! But I feel as if everything I’m doing is connected. My interests seem to circle history and creativity and nature, and I am enjoying this renaissance to explore new interests (well, in most cases, they are old interests that I let wane when I opened a business and had kids.) more than I can describe. I hope to weave everything I’m learning  together in some kind of writing project soon. This weekend I’m taking a soap making class at the Campbell school – the class always fills, so I had to sign up 9 months ago. Can’t wait.    I don’t know how well I’ll do, considering I was born without a sense of smell and so much of the craft relies on picking scents and herbs to make the soap lovely. Ah well, I will have fun trying something new anyway, and I’ll borrow a friends nose when I need it.


In conclusion, with the Florida trip behind us, I’m off to continue the project of building a new life in Georgia – piecing it together like the quilt. Satisfaction is all about designing something functional yet pretty, which hopefully, will represent who you are and what you value most.