5 things friday, special edition: dance

“When are you going to get a real job?”

I’m sorry. Does this not look like the product of a “real job” to you?

I am always polite when I get this question, although I do seethe inside. My husband always cringes when he hears it being asked of me. I respond with a smile that is definitely a little too wide.

Today’s special edition post goes out to all of my dance students, and fellow faculty.

If I’m being fair, in comparison to the majority of my friends, family, and peers, my “work life” might be categorized as being very much that of an artist. I both adore and resent this concept, because I am neither painting canvases nor am I starving or chain-smoking. And because I do a lot of working from home, I can go to the gym at 9 a.m., or 3 p.m., if I want to. I can schedule a doctor’s appointment right in the middle of the day. That doesn’t mean I don’t work my tail off, though; I’ve got a full plate between instructing online creative writing and English classes, choreographing dance, teaching it at a wonderful studio, and trying to launch my author career. I am most grateful that I’ve been able to strike this balance, because it affords me the opportunity to keep pursing the things that make me who I am.

At the risk of sounding self-important, one of the most vital and rewarding parts of my life comes in one particular position: that of being a role model. And I wouldn’t quit that “job” for anything.

And so, for a special 5 things Friday: here are 5 things that I want all of my dance students to know.

5. Humility
I went to college with a girl who went to a local studio right here in Massachusetts. She would go to dance after school and her instructor would pinch her midsection through her leotard and ask her if she ate a cheeseburger before coming. Most dancers were shocked I kept in touch with my old teachers. Other ones mentioned the anxiety disorders that they developed as a result of their time spent in the studio.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big believer in health and fitness. I run races. I lift weights. But promoting body image issues is not the lesson I want my dancers to learn. I choose to lead by example. I want them to clap for other teams. I want them to be great people first, and unbelievable dancers second. I want them to kill it onstage, and most of the time, they do.

photo credit: Steve Basara

4. Charity
If my students are anything like me and my other dance teacher friends, it’ll probably take them until their college years to realize what kinds of lessons dance instills. Confidence, public speaking, and teamwork can become second nature to those with great training. We also raise money for Relay For Life (our goal this year is $10,000) and work together as a studio to . We’re beginning to think about benefit shows. Connecting performing with helping others is a real-world lesson.

3. Honesty
Above all, our competition students are a team. We want to win. Our dancers are talented, but we don’t win every time. No studio is going to take home everything every time they go to a competition. The way that so many of these competitions are structured now fosters the “everybody wins” mentality , and that’s the wrong lesson to teach to kids. As choreographers, we want a great score just as much — if not more — as our students do.

Our girls always have fun onstage at awards. They joke, laugh, and dance together as a team. It is one of our favorite things to watch.

But what lesson I really want my students to learn is honesty. Because “winning” when you’re the only team in a category, or because you’re entered at the wrong age or level… that’s not winning.

36 dancers, 1 stage. This is winning. photo credit: Steve Basara

2. Accountability, or: You get back what you put into it.
I want them to know that I found success as a dancer in college because of the background I had at Dance Express . Non-dancers probably will not understand this, but I grew up in a school that teaches tricks only after technique. We foster the most positive environment that we can. We motivate. We encourage. We might yell — okay, we do yell — but we do not act like Abby from Dance Moms. I think. (Disclaimer: I have never seen an episode of this show.) It takes more than hours of work inside the studio to become the best that you can possibly be. This relates back to being honest with your work, too. Have you put in as much as you possibly could have?

photo by Ariel Mandeville, digital file held by J. F. Smith

photo by Nicole Chan; digital file held by J. F. Smith

1. Friendship and teamwork can go hand in hand .
Our team of teachers cares about the students first. I find joy in their successes, whether or not it’s through dance. I think back on my own experiences. I am who I am today because of my childhood role models, who have taken on a blended friend/mentor/boss role in my life now. The second phone call I made, at 2 a.m. on a Monday night after the police came to my childhood home when my father died, was to one of these very people. How many other people can count themselves so lucky as to have had role models like this?

Some of the best friends I’ve ever made have been through dance. I love seeing how strong my students’ friendships are.

You know that saying about how you can’t choose your family? Here, you can. I did. We are a family, which is why our alumni come back, year after year.

When you’re onstage this weekend, girls, think about this stuff. And throw that “dance like no one’s watching” mantra out the window. We’re all watching you, and we’re proud.