I started dancing when I was three years old. Like many classes for young dancers, the one I took was a combo class where each lesson consisted of both jazz and tap dancing. The following spring, I performed in my first dance recital. The performance was small, held in a local high school gym, but I was confident and excited. I was placed in the front of two lines due to my height, but it also allowed my classmates to watch me. I was one of a few that remembered choreography (not uncommon among 3 and 4 year olds), even going as far as to shove one of the other girls off my spot and on to hers in the middle of the routine.
My first dance recital.
I enjoyed dancing, but when I was about five years old I wanted to try something new so I took a gymnastics class for a while. However, when my family moved, the only options for gymnastics in my new town were a gym that was more intense than I wanted or a dance studio that offered tumbling (acrobatic work that didn’t include bars, trampolines, etc). The downside to this dance studio was that every student was required to take ballet lessons. I chose the dance studio and began ballet at the age of 6.
My gymnastics costume and my very first ballet one.
Those first years of taking ballet, I did not enjoy the art form. I understood that it was required in order to continue my tumbling and to add on jazz and tap classes, which I did pretty quickly. However, during my two and a half years at this studio that I realized dancing was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Before the age of 9, and amid many changes in my family life, I picked my career path. I did not yet know if I wanted to dance professionally, teach, or do both, but I knew dance was my passion.
After another move, I changed studios again. I spent a year at a studio that wasn’t quite the right fit for my personality and interests and then found another studio that was fairly new. I began taking more and more ballet lessons and understood the importance of the dance form for the rest of my training. As I reached my pre-teen years, I had a real ballet goal to work towards that helped me enjoy the style even more. I wanted to dance en pointe. I spent several years at that dance studio and enjoyed considerable technical growth while the studio itself grew in size. I took lessons from professional dancers that rented our space for their rehearsals and gained a deeper appreciation for ballet and began to enjoy it more than I ever had before- eventually it moved from my least favorite style when I first started to my preferred style.
However, as the studio became more successful, its twice a year productions became bigger and bigger. Eventually, rehearsals for our December performance of The Nutcracker started in September and rehearsals for our spring classical ballet started in February. I felt like I wasn’t getting any technique classes anymore, just rehearsals, and therefore I wasn’t improving the way I wanted. In the middle of my sophomore year of high school, I changed studios one more time.
This new studio was brand new, in its first season. Our ballet lessons were six days a week and generally had no more than 5 students in my advanced classes. Between the small class sizes and performance rehearsals strictly being on Saturdays, we were able to truly enhance our technique in each hour and a half lesson. I felt like my dedication, commitment, and technique levels were truly appreciated and worthwhile when I was chosen for the lead in the studio’s first performance- a street fair production of Peter and the Wolf (we didn’t have any advanced males, so I was chosen for the lead and we joked that I was Petra instead).
(P.S. That’s my younger brother sticking out his tongue!)
Throughout the next few years until high school graduation, I spent nearly every day at the dance studio. I developed my life-long goal of opening my own dance studio. Earning a scholarship, I had the opportunity to student teach and assist with office work and general studio upkeep (in other words, cleaning toilets). My technique peaked with instructors that focused on a strong foundation and breaking down every detail of each step. I was even able to take pedagogy workshops the last two summers of high school. My performance quality peaked as well as we performed many places throughout the community- at the annual street fair, local libraries and retirement homes, a Relay for Life, and even at a grocery store!
After graduation, I attended a small, private college and earned my Bachelors of Art in Dance. Although the school itself was one of the best things I have ever done, the dance program didn’t quite fit my focus. I was type cast as the “ballerina” despite having studied modern dance (their specialty) for many years and it became my downfall. I did not get the opportunity to perform nearly as much as I would have liked. I did however, work with seemy academic adviser to develop my teaching skills without having to get a K-12 teaching certificate. I took pedagogy courses and became a student teacher for the beginning ballet class in my senior year. I took several independent study courses in which I completed projects on ballet dancers’ health and the prevalence of eating disorders, the history and evolution of ballet as an art form, and a curriculum guide for my future studio.
College graduation meant living on my own and facing the adult world of paying bills. My personal goals became more important than my professional ones. I have worked various part- and full-time jobs over the last several years while teaching part time in the evenings. After teaching at two other studios, I have been an instructor at my current studio for about 5 years now. I work with similar students from year to year and emphasize the importance of mastering the basic steps before moving on to more complex ones.
I feel like my teaching and choreography skills have evolved over the last several years and I have created meaningful relationships with not only my dancers, but many of their parents. The more time I spend in the studio, the more I only want more of the same. I have choreographed some recital routines that I am truly proud of due to both the creativity in the routine itself and the way that my dancers performed. As I approach a milestone birthday, I find that my need to do more of what I’m passionate about only grows stronger and I continually strive to take concrete steps towards making that life-long dream of my owning a dance studio come true.