Monday, September 2, 2013

A Dance Teacher's Labor Day Confession

My name is Keesha and it has been three months since I last took a dance class.  

I am about to start teaching tomorrow and I am a nervous wreck.  Do I remember how to teach?  To move?  What does alignment mean?  Being on your leg?  I mean, who do I think I am, standing at the front of a mirrored studio and asking people to DANCE?  


This happens every year.  I've been teaching for almost twenty years, and every year at this time leading a class of students feels like planning to sail to Spain in a bucket.   

Students aren't the only ones who get the back-to-school jitters.  I remember thinking that teachers waltzed in the room with a master plan, feeling in command of everything and everyone in the room.  

Maybe some do.  But I'll speak for myself.  I'm anxious.  In fact, I'm kind of a mess. I've spent 95% percent of the summer playing butler/waitress/valet/nursemaid/teacher/chauffer/agent to my children.  It was like being a marine sergeant demoted to herding cats, but most days we could schedule the day as we wished.  

Lunch at 1?  Nap at 3?  Bed at 9:30/10?  Yes. Yes. And yes.  

Starting tomorrow the curtain goes down on that.  Back to school and activities for them and back to work for me.  Our machine goes from dormant to high-production. 

And after spending the summer in mommy mode, I'm worried about my transition back to dance teacher.  To planning classes, and choosing music, and leading a room.  To helping students become the best dancer they can be.

I want to have a great year.  I want my students to have, if not a transformative experience,  a year to remember fondly (at least most of them, I know I can't please 'em all).  I want us to learn from each other, to challenge each other and come out not just better dancers, but better people.  

Perhaps, I set the barre, pun very much intended, too high.

But still.

I want to have a classroom that rewards excellence while encouraging students to risk failure.

I hope to seek out opportunities to get to know my students, not only as dancing bodies, but as multi-faceted human beings.

I hope to build students who are the dancer I wish I had been at 18, 19 or even 25.  Students who have been saved from the mistakes I've made without my devolving into a zealot continually on the lecture circuit. 

I hope to keep up the enthusiasm of Week 1 even in the doldrums of Week 11.  To stay positive in Week 4 when the novelty has worn off and the question "Will the real students please stand up?" has been answered loud and clear.  

I hope to keep myself motivated and inspired, while realizing that every day will not be brilliant.

I want to plan great classes, but to also have the power of spontaneity to redirect the class based on what students need on that day, in that moment.  

And of course, I need to be able to have time for friends and family.  To devote energy to being a great mom and wife.  To stay on top of my writing commitments.  To stay true to the things besides teaching that I need in my life.  And, of course, to take time for myself.  

To those of us on an academic calendar, Labor Day presents the greatest opportunity to throw everything out and start all over again. In January the academic year is already underway.  

To me, Labor Day is the real New Year.   And therefore, it is far more stressful.  

But in a couple of weeks there will be a new normal.  Lofty goals will interweave with old habits as well as necessity.  There will be victories and challenges. Days when I feel BAD ASS and days where I have my ass handed to me.  And many days in between.  

But, living in the moment, trying to enjoy the present, not focusing on perfection, both in the studio and in the world -- that's the real work.  

Simple, but not easy.


  1. I love this post!! Even though I'm not a teacher I feel the same way about being back to real "mommy game" once the new year starts.

    I am going to share this post with my son. He is a wreck about starting school on Wednesday. I always tell him teachers feel the same way but this is the proof I needed!! Thanks again!

    1. Thank you, Kathy! I hope this helps your son understand that back-to-school is challenging for everyone. And it doesn't seem to get any easier with age, which I guess is both comforting and a little frightening.

  2. I just stumbled upon your blog on Pinterest. I totally agree, The beginning of the school year is the real new year to me. I am also a dance teacher of sorts. I direct and choreograph in a high school theater department. My biggest challenge is finding the time to plan my numbers, to actually come up with the choreography. Time I am not working with my students I'm mommy. When do you find time to get the creative work done?

    1. Happysuz- I am so glad you found my little corner of the Internet. It is so challenging to get creative work done at home, especially when the house is strewn with laundry and toys and STUFF. I get far too little sleep - planning at night after the kids are in bed. Either that or I use empty studios during breaks at school. And yes, I'll confess, I do a lot on the spot these days. Sometimes with great results and sometimes less than great. But at this point, until I have a staff like Gwyneth Paltrow, this is the best I can do.

  3. This was really beautiful, Keesha. I know you're an amazing teacher because you were able to articulate all of this so clearly and to bring us all to the barre with a new understanding. I love reading your words. Happy New Year.


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