If I had a dollar for every time I said the words “it’s about so much more than just dancing,” I’d be on a beach in Bermuda right now. Actually, let’s be real, the truth is I’d probably still be in the dance studio, but I’d be buying some amazing costumes for this year’s show. My studio building is a bit of a maze…stairways to the second floor, a catwalk over the main studio, a rehearsal studio over the top of the community theatre, which backs up to a costume room. I make my way through this path which whips and weaves through classes of bouncing dancers, racks of sequin-covered costumes, a black box stage with actors shouting out prose, a room full of kindergartners shaking maracas – I love the energy of this organized chaos. But the other day, as I walked this familiar trail, a few obstacles were in the way.
I started in the back studio where my Mini Team was rehearsing. The teacher was having issues hooking up the music and it kept cutting out. As I helped, one little boy yelled out, “this music sucks.” One glance in his direction and he immediately wished he could suck the words back in to his mouth. I calmly walked him out of the classroom and knelt down to eye level. I explained that his comment was not an appropriate or helpful thing to say. He was immediately remorseful, walked back in and apologized to his teacher. He even freely doled out a hug with the apology. It’s about so much more than just dancing.
On to the student lounge, where the studio suddenly turns from a professional business to a teenage girl’s bedroom. The typical cast off backpacks, empty cups, and Birkenstocks (we do live in Eugene) littered the floor as two of my teen dancers lounged on the couch. “Look at all of these things looking for a home. I’m sure you can find a place for them to be,” I remarked as I walked through. I swear I could almost see the words “but it’s not my stuff” formulate in their brains, but based on failed past attempts, they knew better than to mutter them aloud. Instead, I heard “okay, no problem” as they hopped up and started putting the “not my stuff” in to cubbies where it belonged. It’s about so much more than just dancing.
Downstairs to the lobby, a mom looks frantic and a little girl is attached to the arm of the couch like it’s a life preserver in the middle of rough seas. As I meet eyes with the mom she blurts out, “I don’t know what’s wrong with her, she begs to come to dance class and now she won’t even go inside!” I laugh to myself, place a hand on her shoulder and say, “what’s wrong with her? She’s a toddler!” I sit down next to little Miss Obstinate and start chatting about her pretty tutu (the clench on the couch loosens), then her pretty new ballet shoes (she’s on my lap now) and finally if she thinks they are going to use the ribbon wands in class today (that closed the deal). Little Miss Thing grabs me by the hand and pulls me in to her classroom with hardly a wave to mom on the way in. As I tiptoe back out, mom hugs me saying, “thank you so much, this is the only time all week I get an hour to myself.” It’s about so much more than just dancing.
It's now been nearly an hour of failed attempts to actually reach the dance floor when I see one of my former dancers stroll in to the lobby. She says “do you have a minute to talk?” and of course I do. We go in to the staff lounge and she tells me that she’s heard from some of my current students that another dancer may be struggling with depression. This grad has had similar issues and has the scars on her arms to mark her battle wounds. I spent many a time holding this lovely girl’s hand and shouldering tears through her high school years, so she knows where to come when the chips are down. She looks at me with sincerity saying, “I just knew I needed to tell you, she really needs someone in her corner.” It’s about so much more than just dancing.
So you see, this particular afternoon, I never even stepped foot in the studio. So if I only included “teaching dance” in my job duties, I may have considered that day to be a failure. Instead, I believe my job description includes the words “leader, teacher, mentor.” I may not have taught dance steps that day, but I’d like to believe I taught a few things that matter even more.