Any teacher can tell you that the past three years have been the most challenging of our careers. Living with the scars, and in some cases open wounds, of Covid 19 has taken its toll. We are tired and we have been since September. In a year when Tuesdays felt like Fridays, and I craved rest and quiet more than any other time in my life, I never once felt the temptation of the couch when it was time for dance class. Every Thursday at 7:30 pm, I walked into the dance studios at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) School of the Arts and for a sacred hour connected with my dancer identity and fellow adult dancers. I am not exaggerating when I say that this class was my saving grace.
The Search for the Right Class
About 20 years ago, I put my dancer self away, happily leaving behind years of competition, struggles with body image, and the self imposed pressure of perfection. I closed the book, ended the dance chapter of my life (pick the metaphor, you get the idea) and turned to yoga. But my body knew better. When life got really difficult, the urge to dance crept up. It even called to me in my dreams. In one in particular, I stood between 2 studios: one yoga, the other dance. I chose the dance class. I realized I needed to dance again: body, mind and spirit.
I searched for a modern class that catered to adults but there was nothing in the area at the time. I tried one class and while the instructor was wonderful, I found myself dancing with a group of 13-14 year olds. More than ever, I was hungry for connection and the opportunity to dance alongside individuals closer to my age (or at least past puberty). Fast forward a few years and enter the creation of the SPAC School of the Arts. I saw their advertisement for adult contemporary classes on a performance program and signed up.
Connecting With Other Dancers
The moment I stepped foot inside the studio, I felt home. The class was filled with individuals, many moms with baby wipes in their dance bags, carving out time and space for themselves. Together we discovered dance as self expression. We were hungry for it. I realized early on the power of this class to bring us back to ourselves.
Perhaps the greatest gift of this experience was our soulful instructor and the all around beautiful human, Erin Strong. Erin and I danced together at Skidmore College. Reconnecting with her and experiencing her skill, humor and mindfulness was a gift. Erin created a safe and welcoming dance community composed of dancers of diverse abilities; a space that encouraged self expression.
Once we open ourselves to our passions and get out of our heads, our bodies instinctively know what to do. In the years since I last danced, my image in the mirror was not the only thing that changed (though mercifully we wore yoga clothes, not leotards), I also noticed a shift in my ego. As Luigi famously said, “never stop moving,” and I did just that. I stood in the front and volunteered to go first when we broke into groups to move across the floor. I made mistakes and I did not care.
When Erin invited us to share the piece we had been working on with a small audience, I set aside my nerves, showed up and made my family attend. I live with athletes so attending a dance performance is not their top preference for a Thursday night. I insisted that they come because I wanted my preteen daughters to 1. See their mother do something that scares her a little and 2. Bear witness to this part of my identity. Afterwards, basking in the post-performance rush, we carried on my childhood tradition of celebrating with ice cream (though this time we upgraded from Friendly’s to Gelato).
Discovering dance as self expression brought me back to myself. I looked forward to this class every week and felt rejuvenated as class closed with our last cooling stretch. This peace and energy carried me through the week making me a more centered and joyful mother and teacher.
A Note to Teachers: Rediscover Your Passion!
My advice: teachers, take time this summer to come back to yourself. Get still and listen, what is it that you are craving? Think back to a time in your life when you were completely present and filled with joy. What were you doing? Now, vow to prioritize yourself this year. Make it happen. You deserve it. We give so much, we need to let ourselves receive.