Getting Organized

One piece of starting your own business that you don’t normally think about is having a space to work. Due to space constraints, I haven’t had a place that I could set up a desk, spread out, and easily work with computer and books since college. Yes, a kitchen table or couch will get the job done, but its important to have a dedicated space to sit down and work.

Now, I’m obviously still very much in the pre-planning stages of entrepreneurship. I’m still working on the research for what it takes to start your own business- how to create a business plan, market research, and even as basic as determining my fundamental values. I had grand plans at the beginning of the year to commit to researching and planning every day, but that’s been very much unrealistic. My new goal is closer to once  a week, though at times that doesn’t seem quite doable. I feel though if I push myself to take deliberate steps towards my goal of dance studio ownership at least once a week, actually working minimum of every two weeks is very manageable.

My husband and I bought our first home this past fall, about six months ago. We have a spare room that we have intentions on turning into a guest bedroom. Right now, though, getting a second bed for this room isn’t doable, but there is no sense in wasting this great space. My mom gave me a table that she and my dad made for my sister and I when we were very young now that I have space for it. This table is now my desk and I have more space than I’ve had in a long time and to top it off, I have a great view of our backyard.

With my new space, an organized bookshelf within easy reach, and a renewed motivation after speaking to my boss at my full time (non dance related) job, I feel like I am set up for productivity. Now, I just need to invest in a new computer in the not too distant future….

The “Ideal Ballet Body”

For many years, ballet dancers had to fit a very specific stereotype, particularly while famous choreographer George Balanchine was working with the New York City Ballet. In fact, one of my most used ballet resources, Classical Ballet Technique by Gretchen Ward Warren, describes the ideal female dancer as having the following physical characteristics on page 66:

  • A height of 5’2″ to 5’8″ tall
  • A weight of 85 to 115 pounds
  • A small head
  • A long neck
  • Shoulders that are wider than the hips
  • A small bust
  • A straight back with a torso that is proportional to the rest of the body
  • Long arms and hands
  • Narrow hips
  • Small posterior
  • Long, straight legs with slight hyperextension
  • Slim thighs
  • Thin ankles and long, well arched feet

Now, I love this particular book as it breaks down so many of the basic and common movements of ballet with great descriptions and pictures every step of the way. However, every time I flip past this page it makes me angry.

The first two descriptions together do not generally make a healthy dancer. Using a BMI (body mass index) calculator, the one of the only ways to be in both the “ideal ballet dancer” category and to be firmly in a normal, healthy BMI range, a ballerina would have to be 5’2″ and 115! And that doesn’t even take into consideration how rare having all of the above qualities are in women. Women are biologically created to have larger busts, wider hips, and generally have curves which are completely absent from this “ideal”.

Unfortunately, the “ideal ballet body” was hailed for decades and many professional companies and pre-professional training schools have/had contractual clauses forcing their dancers to meet these standards. Eating disorders became extremely prevalent among female ballet dancers as they were pressured to conform or loose their jobs.

When I was growing up, the ideal was still very popular. As I reached puberty, the norm of stick straight dancers was ingrained in almost every aspect of the ballet world- right down to many leotards and costumes not being created with a woman’s curves in mind. While I was in high school, at barely a C cup, I was told multiple times that I had entirely too much bust and would never be able to become a professional ballerina! I was young and on the skinny side of healthy at 5’6″ and around 110 pounds, barely in the healthy BMI range, yet I was considered to have too many curves to get into a professional ballet company.

Between being told that my skinny self was still too big to be a ballerina, witnessing friends who struggled with eating disorders, and then studying the prevalence of unhealthy dancers, I began to develop a passion to destroy the “ideal ballet body” norm for many reasons including:

  1. It encourages negative behaviors and body images. Many dancers develop poor eating habits and a negative feeling towards food, which robs them of not only their health but of the fuel needed to dance 8 or more hours a day.
  2. It limits the number of people that have access to the wonders of the professional ballet world. Many talented dancers are either turned away, or like myself, discouraged from auditioning, from ballet schools and companies.
  3. It goes against ballet’s roots and history. In the Romantic era of ballet, when it moved from the French royalty to stage, the dance form evolved as a way to celebrate the female body. How does one celebrate the female body when the “ideal” body type fights the biological norms?

While the ballet world has fortunately begun to be more accepting of more body types, it still has a long way to go. With any luck, the ballet world can continue its spirit of inclusion and become more like the contemporary dance community. And with my future studio, I hope to create dancers that are healthy and know that any body can do ballet.

 

Costume Woes Update

In one of my recent posts, I wrote about the struggles I’ve had with one particular recital costume over the last few weeks. It was a costume that my mom and I were putting together ourselves instead of ordering from a costume catalog. Here’s an update on the costume.

Big picture? The costumes are completed and finalized.

The green button down shirt that was a bit big on the dancer, we decided to keep. It coordinated well enough with her partner’s green skirt and the dancer really liked the style, so we went with it. If we decide that its too big with her jeggings (that she didn’t have for class this week yet), we can probably alter the shirt or style it differently so its not so noticeable. Finding that shirt was so close to impossible to begin with that it wasn’t worth it to try to track down another one.

The white blouses that I had an issue with ending up working out in my favor also. Even though I had ordered the blouses online, I went into the brick and mortar store to speak with a customer service rep about the asinine policy of not price matching an even exchange online. The store was incredibly helpful and returned the sizes I didn’t need and convinced the online reps to honor the price that I had originally paid for the blouses. The new sizes arrived just in time for my dancers to try them on in class this week, and thankfully they all fit perfectly.

My mom’s adventures in making the skirts were only half of what I thought they were- while she was visiting to size them on my dancers, she filled me in on even more craziness that she faced. But, the other day we were able to completely finish the four skirts and adjust the waist on each girl. Other than being washed and ironed, the skirts are ready for recital.

So, its been great news for the costumes that I was struggling with the most. And, to top it off, my mom and I are both very pleased with the way the costumes finally came together after the time and effort we’ve put in. I am just waiting on three more classes’ recital costumes, which I’m hoping will have arrived at the dance studio by the time we come back from spring break in two weeks.

Come recital, I will have pictures of the completed costumes. 🙂

How useful is my senior Capstone project really?

In order to finish my B.A. in Dance, I had to complete a capstone project that represented both a culmination of my college experiences and a look into the future. For my project, I chose to create a curriculum guide for the dance studio that I envisioned owning at the time.

My focus in the project was to create a guide for a future dance studio that creates a well rounded in dancer in six key areas that I felt were essential to any dancer’s training

  1. Ballet and Contemporary Technique (teaching the movement)
  2. Artistry, Creativity, and Composition (creating the artist)
  3. Dance History (with a focus on that of ballet and contemporary)
  4. Dance Diversity (anything other than ballet and contemporary/modern)
  5. Health and Nutrition (taking care of one’s body)
  6. Career Opportunities (turning your passion into a career)

Although I trained extensively (see my post A Personal Dance History), I felt like I lacked a comprehensive education for many years. My goal with the curriculum guide was to ensure that my students did not have gaps in their dance education while training in a pre-professional atmosphere. I split my students up into a few skill levels – Creative Movement (3-5 year olds), Pre-Technique (6-8 year olds), and Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced levels based on skill- and described out each of the 6 areas of education would be addressed.

I completed this project several years ago and with only a little bit of teaching experience. Needless to say, my perspective has changed a bit.

After distilling the four core values of the dance studio that I am now working towards (see Return to Blogging/ Core Studio Values), I went back to my capstone project with a more objective eye. Is this curriculum guide actually useful?

Come to find out that although age and experience have made me wiser, there are many parts of my college project that are usable and perhaps even practical for the future. My core values of a healthy dancer, a ballet focus, a supportive atmosphere, and a community-centered artist are represented throughout the curriculum guide without me even realizing that’s what my fundamental studio values were. Basically, my identity as a dance instructor has only become more solidified as the years have passed.

However, this project does have some serious flaws that I will have to overcome.

  1. The guide assumes a pre-professional conservatory style atmosphere with a schedule full of daily classes and weekly/monthly seminars and workshops. It does not take into account a dancer’s academic schedule.
  2. The guide does not give any hints as to the best way to build a dance studio from nothing and build to the point where all the classes mentioned are possible.
  3.  The guide only focuses on students who are serious about pursuing a career in a dance-related field. It does not provide guidance for recreational dancers who are present at any dance studio, especially one that is just beginning.

I do believe I can use my capstone project in conjunction with my four core  values to create the dance studio that I envision. I do, however, have to be conscious that I will have to build up to the point where I can use it as intended and to always be open minded enough to adjust as necessary.

Costume Woes

Spring Recital is approaching quickly. Every year, I seem to give myself a challenge that is harder than I had initially thought. Last year, I hit a snag when trying to finish choreographing a routine that was out of my comfort-zone and asking a lot of 2 minutes of movement (see previous post tilted Choreographer’s Block from around this time last spring). This year, my troubles come in the form of costumes.

Our dance recital theme this year is “God Bless America”. We have chosen music that incites a spirit of inclusiveness and a love of country in this fiercely political world. For one of my ballet routines, I chose an excerpt from an Aaron Copeland ballet inspired by the feeling of American and pioneering. I have split my dancers, all girls, into two groups of “gals” and “guys” which will be distinguished by their costumes. However, I wasn’t looking for a stereotypical “country” costume complete with faux denim and gingham.

I have a vision of pioneer calico skirts for the “gals” and a coordinating color button down shirt paired with denim leggings for the “guys”. My mom has graciously agreed to make the skirts from fabric we picked out together -I’m sure she could offer her own post on her adventures with that project- and the dancers will be responsible for their own jeggings as it is such a common article of clothing. So the bottom half of my dancers are covered.

One of my inspirations, however, a much more simplified version of each more suited for a studio recital.

My challenges are with the top half of my costumes.I searched, searched, and searched for the perfect coordinating shirts for all the dancers. It was a challenge, but I finally decided on the right ones and ordered shirts for my dancers. I breathed a sigh of relief- one less thing for me to have to worry about.

However, the not all the shirts fit. One of the “guys” shirts is on round 2 and still not the correct size. Unfortunately, I have found that a solid or muted print green button-down shirt to be nearly impossible to find. I finally found one that was the correct shade and took a chance on sizing even though it was a boy’s shirt for a small junior sized dancer. That risk did not pay off and of course the correct size was out of stock. So, back to the drawing board. I have been in numerous clothing stores and finally decided to settle on a shirt that wasn’t quite the right shade but would work if it fit. Guess what? The shirt didn’t fit. I’m crossing my fingers that I can exchange for a smaller size, if not, too big is better than too small and we can alter it. Worry begins to return.

The “gals” tops didn’t prove to be worry-free either. Only half of the shirts fit properly. Prepared to exchange for the correct size, I discover that the price has more than doubled since my original purchase and is now out of budget. The store will not honor the original sales price. Problem number 2. And these shirts aren’t just a little too small, my girls cannot dance in them.

I feel like after weeks of searching for exactly the right shirt within my budget (and costume invoices have already been distributed), I am back to square one. Only a few of my dancers have a complete costume now. I have to go back and do more research to find another set of blouses for the “girls” and one more shirt for the “guys”. A search that was already difficult.

I’m feeling as if my expectations are too high. And perhaps they are. But then again, did not realize that a green button down a feminine white blouse would be too hard to find. I need to be open to compromise and realize that I may not be able to get precisely what I have envisioned.

Fortunately, I still have a few more weeks to do searching and what’s recital season without a few bumps in the road?

A Personal Dance History

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.

Woodland Heights Recreation Center jazz

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).

Peter and the Wolf

(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.

Return to Blogging/Core Studio Values

It’s unfortunate that I have allowed life to get in the way of me pursuing my professional dreams. Fortunately, in my absence from the blog, my husband and I have been able to fulfill one of our personal goals. This fall, we purchased our first home and have been working to get settled over the last few months. So between a longer commute, working two jobs, attempting to unpack from the move, and life in general, my blog and studio planning have had to move to the back burner.

However, as my full-time job becomes more and more hectic, I find myself more and more determined to take real, concrete steps towards studio ownership. A while ago, I purchased a few books on business start ups and have been using that to help jump-start my brainstorming on what is most important to me as a studio.

There are many dance studios in my community so opening a new one has to offer something special that students won’t be able to get elsewhere. Every studio has a different focus and overall philosophy based on what each director feels is most important to their dancers’ training. I have tried to develop my core philosophies and the environment that I would like to grow within my studio and will use these as a guide for my decisions moving forward. I see these as kind of a precursor to my business mission statement and vision.

I believe that my dancers will succeed best in a studio that values the following things:

  1. A Healthy Dancer
    • I am a firm believer that every body can dance. I believe that dancers should be encouraged to live healthy lives and embrace their body’s natural shape and size. I also seek to eliminate the historical “ballerina body” that often leads to poor self-image among ballet dancers. Anyone can learn to dance and anyone can learn ballet.
  2. A Ballet Focus
    • Ballet is the foundation for so many other dance forms- jazz, modern, lyrical, etc. The discipline required improves a dancer’s technique in other dance forms as well as in live outside of the art world. I strive to teach my dancers the importance of ballet’s history and evolution and how it has and will inform the art world as a whole.
  3. A Supportive Atmosphere
    • The art world requires an intense amount of competition in the real world. However, I believe that dancers should strive to not only work to be the best they can be, but also support and encourage their fellow dancers to be their best. Competition to be better than you were yesterday is more important than competition to be better than your classmate. Watching your fellow dancers succeed is much more fulfilling than a rivalry against them.
  4. A Community-centered Artist
    • Dance does not exist in a bubble. Like other art forms, choreography is influenced by your environment. Not only to I wish to develop a passion for dance as an art form, much like most studios, but I hope to create a culture that respects the community around us and encourages each dancer to be an active member through service and performance.

I still have much work to do to hone in on how I plan to create the studio environment that I envision. I hope to be able to carve out more time moving forward to work through these concepts in the blog. I think my next step is to review my college capstone project outlining the studio structure that I had in mind when it was completed and compare it to my values now.