Reconnecting to My Roots — The Gift of Teaching

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Sorry I’ve been MIA lately. I’ve been growing a baby – an excuse I’ll use liberally now, because I will not be able to use it much longer!

Not long ago I was with a couple of friends reminiscing about the wounds they incurred from the social stress of jr. high life. Though, it’s really more accurate to say that they were reminiscing, because I really couldn’t relate. Want to know what I remember about my thirteenth and fourteenth year of life? Wanting, with my whole being, to be cast as Clara – Clara in the Nutcracker. It was an I-could-die-happy kind of wanting. Some girls wanted their first kiss; I wanted center stage.

me as a little dancer

Of course, this is why we are called bun-heads. While other tweens worried about where they fit in at school and who’d gone to what base with whom, my world was thirty-five miles away at Long Beach Ballet. While other girls were praying for cleavage, I was thinking up ways to remain under the five-foot-one audition line. I thought ballet would forever be my world.

As a fifteen-year-old summer student at Boston Ballet, I attended a seminar describing other careers in the ballet world besides performing. I listened as they told us about the people who worked in wardrobe, lighting, and sound, about those who choreographed, and those who taught – it was bone-chilling stuff! I couldn’t imagine the misery of being involved in dance but not dancing, so I made a little agreement with myself: If I don’t make it as a dancer, I will instead do something completely other than dance. I will never do any of the things they are suggesting, and I especially will never teach!

I lived by that pact until about two years ago. Of course, far more motivating than the pact I’d made at fifteen, was the severe doubt I experienced when, during my quarter-life crisis, I reflected on whether or not a childhood and adolescence devoted to ballet had been good for me. Generally I felt like dance was responsible for lots of good things in my youth, but lots of pain as an adult. At twenty-three I left dance, hoping to never look back, hoping to find my ‘completely other’ calling and start a fresh life.

It took me several disorienting years to figure out what everyone seems to understand about the art of living: you don’t just get to start from scratch. You don’t get to slice part of yourself off and move on as if it never happened. You must be patient and persistent, and willing to evolve. So after years of working at Starbucks like Cinderella, waiting for something brand new to sweep me off my feet, I went back to the studio I grew up at and asked for a job teaching. And you know what? I really love it. I love being reconnected to the people and the place that meant so much to me for so many years. I love learning to work with the kids and experiencing their growth and enthusiasm. I love learning to hone the craft of teaching and have come to appreciate it as an art form all its own. It has been refreshing to reconnect with my roots.

me with little dancers -- my new roots

At the same time, however, I often still feel unsatisfied. I crave more: more creativity, challenge, and expression. But teaching is certainly a start. I am closer to finding my way now than I was as a green-aproned-barista – a small, but distinct victory. I am also more honest about the role dance played in the my difficult twenties…

 

Reflecting on the good and bad of my ballet education, I’ve realized that the positive things gained–such as physical intelligence, great adult influence, creative expression, musicality, responsibility, and a sense belonging to a community–have made my life rich and maybe even saved me from the wounds of jr. high social stress. Additionally, I’ve come to see that most of the negative things–like an undeveloped speaking voice, an undeveloped understanding of the professional world, an immature relationship to authority, along with physical injury and insecurity–are highly personal, largely a product of my personality and family dynamic, rather than a product of my ballet training.
It is with this clarity that I can now teach in good faith. My twenties have been hard because growing up is hard. The sense of self I gained through my years of ballet training is eternal and worth nurturing in others.

I’m proud to be a teacher now, even as I aim for something additional or more. I am learning to nurture my heart into a posture of willingness to evolve and grow. As I tune my ear to the opportunities around me, I hope this posture will take me on an adventure toward professional growth and satisfaction. It will be interesting to see how adding a baby to our family mixes things up too. Time will tell.

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  • Sara
    Reply

    what an insightful piece of wonderfully expressed writing. i particularly appreciate making the distinction between the character building influences of the dance world, and the stuff that is just personal or family.well done and much appreciated.
    selfishly, i would love to know what inspired this piece.

  • kristin
    Reply

    Thank you, Sara 🙂 This piece was inspired by Candice who suggested I write on how the transition to teaching was for me, because I couldn’t seem to come up with anything to write about on my own!! The transition was very laborious because I’d felt so let down by ballet and didn’t know if I could be part of the bringing up of other dancers. It is new for me to realize that while the things I have struggled with over the years may have been reinforced by my ballet training, they did not actually originate there. Personality and family culture, coupled with the disorienting effects of trauma (maybe I’ll write on that sometime) has everything to do with the issues I’m currently working to overcome in life. I have to believe this as a teacher. I have to believe that my students will struggle in life no matter what, because life is hard! But I can give them lots of good, character-building things in our time together and trust that it won’t save them from struggling through life, but it does make a difference and it does matter. Thank for taking the time to read and respond!

  • stephanie
    Reply

    Kristin, I always enjoy reading your posts, finding them both insightful and relatable. I think transition is a scaring word for dancers. We spend most of our short-lived dance careers with our eyes on the prize–to use your words, “center stage.” With my retirement in the near future, I often have the urge to disconnect myself entirely from the dance world as well. But I can’t just flip a switch and no longer be a dancer; it is and will always be a big part of who I am. I think we can achieve both staying a part of the dance community and pursuing other interests. I also think we need to reinvent the word “transition” in such terms. Thanks for sharing.

  • kristin
    Reply

    Well said, Stephanie. Transition is absolutely a scary word! For me some of the difficulty has been finding other interests to pursue. I was one dancer who didn’t nurture much besides dance for most of my life, so its been nice to have this space to share my experience and learn from you and our other contributing writers. Thanks for the encouragement!

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