It started out as a conversation about her work situation as per usual. She manages the teaching artists at her education center and I was inquiring about their dance program. “Would you want to teach our [high school] kids?" she asked, hopefully I think. I thought about how to diplomatically phrase it... "No."
"Teaching for me..." I went on not sure of how to express it. "I don't have the energy to... The mentorship, of course I would want to take part in it, but..." The moment passed. The thought became clear. "I am an artist first and a teacher second."
Let me clarify.
When I teach, I am most interested in teaching teens and adults who are interested in dance and want to mature in the art form, no matter what level. What excites me about teaching is seeing the growth from a balance to a pirouette; from haphazardly ascending and descending to the floor, to getting there with sequence and intention. So much of teaching children and teens, especially in environments that are not dedicated to dance (i.e. in-school or after school programs in which all students are required to attend, or chosen as a "fun" elective) is frankly about babysitting, entertaining, disciplining, encouraging and instilling confidence. I find some of these things absolutely important (and I like to think I do them well), but it's not the same as nurturing dancers' development as artists. There is a blatantly missing commitment from the student that makes the job so much harder.
*sigh* I miss teaching undergraduates so much it hurts.
So I'm building up to it. Making and sharing dances. Finding my choreographic voice. Exploring the technique and teachings I value to support that voice. I am an artist first.
I've known for a very long time what it is that I want to do with my life. I know you all are tired of reading these words, but bear with me here. When I was 17 years old I turned a two-week high school creative outreach project into a three month long process of administratively and artistically producing a dance concert. That means I found a venue, auditioned dancers, choreographed, rehearsed, costumed, made programs, found lighting and sound technicians, found donors, pre-sold tickets... and I danced. I reached out to all my resources who in turn reached out to all their resources. We had a full house for the one night only event. My programs for that event were nicer than a host of professional concerts I've seen in New York City. It was the real deal: one of the first times I had the opportunity to manifest an artistic vision. When it was all said and done, I knew for sure that was what I wanted to do with my life... and that is exactly what I am doing now.
New Roomy wanted to see these programs. I got up and went to that big green plastic storage container I've been carting around with me to Barnard, to Iowa, back to a storage unit on the west side, back to East Harlem. I started pulling out undergraduate syllabi, MFA thesis production notes, notes from a summer at Jacob's Pillow, notes from Ghana, five year life plans made as an undergraduate, the composition notebook that contained all my artistic and administrative notes from Dance and the Written Word, May 2003. I flipped through it awe-struck at my 17 year old self. The ish still amazes me. I feel like it should be bronzed. Like baby's first shoes, instead this is baby's first Artistic/Executive Director of Dance Company operation... Can you bronze a composition notebook?
I had forgotten. Seriously. I had forgotten that this is not a game. I am now humbled, but it reminded me why it was so hard when my peers in dance at Barnard did not take me seriously, or when I was questioned and doubted until the very end of Iowa. Was it my appearance? My soft voice and demeanor? I always wanted to say to these people, don't you know who I am? What I have accomplished? What I can do? Excuse me while I toot my own horn but *TOOT TOOT* I realize now that I had and will have to prove myself before people not only see, but feel my vision; but I've been working on this being an artist thing for a while now.
Which makes the place I'm in right now bittersweet. Even with help, I am overwhelmed by the work it takes to start a dance company. Some days I am so productive that I continuously pat myself on the back, and other days I just hide from it pretending the black berry doesn't exist. It's because I have to pay the bills. I have to go teach the babies, and then go babysit the babies, and while these are an enjoyable hustle all I want to do is live in a dance studio. I want to take class. I want to teach class. I want someone to make a dance on me. I want to make dances on others. The only other work I want to do is making sure we all get paid for this.
I would be lying to myself if I didn't admit that the dances are suffering. I'm doing the best I can and considering the circumstances I do not think that I'm in a bad place; but Dear God, Can I not have to go babysit? Can I ONLY work on all things dance?
I am admittedly doing too much. I'm still trying to figure out this work-life balance thing. How do I balance all the things I need to do with all the things I want to do? How do I consolidate all the things I need to do into the things I want to do?
I need to go to sleep. My day tomorrow: teach children ages 1-5, take ballet, office hours, costume shop, babysit.
This life isn't bad. I'm thankful, but I'm tired. And sometimes I want an UNO skip card for parts of my life.