Hello Dance lovers! It's been a long time since I've posted. Each day slips into the next and the busier we get at the studio, the less time I find to sit down and write. What that means for the blog is that the next time I write I think it's liable to be an explosion of thoughts... Anyhow, this season is the best yet and things just seem to keep getting better. I'm so proud of everyone involved with the studio, from the faculty to the office manager, to the students and their parents. Without the time for much explanation, the email and response below is representative of the type of season we've been having. Read the correspondence and you'll understand why this blog is entitled "Proud Papa". Begin contact:
You've just received a new submission to your Contact Form
.Submitted Information:First Name
(removed for blog entry)Last Name(removed for blog entry)Email Address
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My daughter was competing with her dance team at MOVE this past weekend, and I was highly impressed with not only the incredible talent but the professionalism of your dancers. One of the girls on our team had the unfortunate experience of her music stopping and restarting throughout her tap routine. I was thinking she would be backstage in tears over it, but she was all right with everything. While talking with my daughter afterwards, she told me that one of your dancers talked with her backstage and made the comment that he had wished he had seen her dance and really made her feel better about the situation. Your academy did not receive the award they gave out for being courteous and helpful, but I wanted to let you know that this act of kindness did not go unnoticed. It is nice to know that there are still people out there that are instilling these values in the children we help raise up. Thank you!!!
Good evening (name),
Thank you for contacting us. This is the second
time in recent weeks in which we've been contacted by a family from another studio because one or more of our Assembly Line students took the time to reach out to a fellow dancer. I'm proud of our students for many, many reasons, but it's icing on the cake to learn that our message has been heard by our dancers and, even further, put into action. With so many talented young dancers out there, it's sometimes difficult to measure our success as teachers and directors by comparing our dancers to what others are doing "on the stage". Moments like these really put things into perspective. Hearing that our students are nurturing and sharing the true spirit
of this art form is the real measure of our success and, in the end, may be more important than all else. After all, it isn't
the technique, the choreography, the tricks, turns, or costumes that keep dance alive - it is the SPIRIT of dance that envelops us and leaves us wanting for more.
I'm so glad you decided to email, and appreciate the personal time you took to reach out. Because it's such a small world, I'm sure our paths will cross again. When they do, I hope your daughter enjoys a similar experience - at least as far as Sweatshop is concerned.
Best wishes to you and yours in this and the seasons to follow!
That's the second contact form this month with the exact same theme! Need I say more? This is one proud Papa. Love you all!
It's been over a month since my last post, things have been really busy around the studio lately - which is a good thing, of course, but I've neglected my blog to no end! My apologies to those who enjoy reading my rants and haven't been able to....I hope to "change" all of that right now.
"Change". When many people think about change they are scared, uneasy, uncertain, angry, pessimistic, and reluctant. Others consider change to be exciting, releiving, and refreshing, a chance at renewal, a new beginning. I tend to see change both ways, especially in terms my life at the studio. While I am stubborn at times and like things the way they are, I have to admit that, 9 times out of 10, the changes I've undergone in my life have all been positive - or so it seems. I think that how we choose to view change is the key to defining the outcome of that change. It's no secret to anyone involved in dance, things are constantly changing around us - classes change, choreography changes, teachers change, attitudes change, our bodies change, dancers come and go....the studio is a pretty dynamic place!
I felt compelled to address change because, as of late, I can feel it looming. As it always has, this time of the year is taking its emotional toll on me a little bit. With only a month left of the 2011-2012 season, I have spent quite a bit of time lately in reflection of all I have done in the past year. It was a huge year; I quit my steady job at Colorado Ballet, founded a company, wrote a business plan, went to the bank and took out loans, chose a building, renovated it by hand, opened it as a huge new studio, hired a faculty, started the Assembly Line......the list goes on and on. The thing is, it all stemmed from making the simple decision to "make a change in my life". It was the scariest decision I've ever had to make, and once I made it there was no turning back, but I can honestly say that nothing but good has come of it.
What's so great about having made that big of a change, is having made it transparently. All of the students I mentor were able to see what I'd done, some of the struggle and work I had to do to get it done, and were able to be a part of the journey in many, many ways. Many have confided in me that they feel empowered by having been able to watch me successfully do what many of them will ultimately grow up to do - realize a dream. In retrospect, thank goodness the first big season went as smoothly and was as successful as it was, otherwise I may have traumatized quite a few young dancers!
Nonetheless, the end of this first season draws nearer with each passing day. Part of me wants the moments to linger a little bit longer (I don't think I'm ready to see our senior dancers graduate and leave), while other parts of me can't wait to see what the next season brings; we've received so many inquiries and compliments based on what strangers have seen from us this season, who knows what our auditions will look like! I suspect that in these first few seasons, as the studio grows and the culture of what we're doing at Sweatshop becomes infectious, we will see many new faces, welcome many new families into our own and, as a result, the dancers will experience change like never before. For many reasons, I'll be loving it, but it's obviously going to present many challenges along the way. It's going to be a big responsibility to ensure to our students, existing and new, that the changes they experience are totally positive. Though the weight of this task is heavy, it's a challenge that I welcome with open arms.
As the winds of change continue to blow toward the studio I can see that many of our younger dancers are scared or nervous about the upcoming auditions and potential changes they represent. They know that with the influx of new dancers the dynamics of the current group will undoubtedly change. It won't be the first or last time they experience such a change, no doubt, but it's hard for the young ones to understand that change, though uncomfortable, can be completely wonderful! In fact, one of the most entertaining dynamics to watch in the studio is to watch the individuals who resist changes so unfailingly quickly become the ones who end up benefiting the most from the change they were so unwilling to initially accept.
I do have to admit, however, that even when things are running perfectly and there seems to be no apparent need for change, sometimes change happens to us whether we like it or not! Like the oncoming of a season, when you can't avoid change, what more can you do than embrace it? The universe, its solar system, our planet, our society, and our lives depend on, and revolve around, change. I think the phrase goes something like: "the only thing that remains constant in our lives is change".
My advice: For those of you who are happy with who and where you are in your life, make the most of, and welcome change when it appears because, no matter how much you dislike it or don't expect it, change is coming. For those of you who have been longing for change, don't sit around waiting for the perfect time, that time isn't coming - make the change!
In closing, in order to do my part to encourage some change, if any of you are considering making a dance studio change and Sweatshop is of consideration, choose us if you want to understand just how perfect change can be. Happy Spring everyone!
After ranting and raving my way through that last blog topic I'm motivated to keep this one short and sweet. Do you ever feel like you exhaust yourself with your thoughts, one point leads to another, then another, then another, and you realize "holy crap, I sure have a lot to say"? Well, that's me. I'm always lost in thought whether it's about dance, the bills, the studio, an event, or life in general. Sometimes it seems impossible to just turn it all off and relax - probably my biggest personal flaw.....but I'm working on it! In an effort to do so, I decided I'd try to narrow today's blog topic. I'll give it my best shot, here it goes:
INSPIRATION: The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something.
A simple definition for a simple idea, an idea that helps shape us into the people we ultimately become. Most of what we choose to do, especially extracurricularly or artisticly, begins with inspiration. Inspiration can be found all around us. Sometimes it's beautiful, somtimes it's ugly. Sometimes it's so obvious we can't help but see it, sometimes we struggle to find it. To me, the ability to see or feel inspiration is a choice; however, as of late I've been feeling like the generation of today is so desensitized they struggle to find simple inspiration on their own, even when it's sitting right there inside of them. These days, it seems as though young dancers look to external stiumluants in their efforts to be inspired (magazines, movies, videos, youtube, facebook, celebrities). Media and hype help to keep dance in the spotlight, but do little to explain what dance actually is, the kind of work that goes into it, and how it isn't always as fun and exciting as it may seem. The art of dance requires people to people relationships, stimulation, self-actualization, physical contact, conflict, triumphs, fearlessness, and self-expression. The media doesn't do much to nurture these ideas, so we have to instill them within our dancers through class.
It seems like a lot of dancers these days need to be slapped in the face by inspiration to see it, they struggle to see their day to day classes as a place be inspired because they are constantaly overstimulated and aren't satisfied unless they are, making dance technique classes (and probably even traditional school settings) a constant struggle for teachers. Sometimes it seems impossible to get dancers excited about the stuff that actually matters, like feeling their turnout for the first time, or executing that tendu combination perfectly. The youth of today live in a virtual world, they're always getting to see finished products and don't have to be bothered with the processes involved in each. Everyone sees what they want to see, and are easily able to tune out what they don't. Dancers want to hurry up and move forward, be inspired, and do the "inspirational" stuff, yet few understand the time it takes to truly get there, and struggle to realize that if they can't find inspiration throughout the process they will never reach a level of gratification that makes it worth their time.
We live in the age of instant gratification. It's a shame, I personally never felt the need to move faster than I was ready, nor did any of the teachers I work with. In fact, most of us weren't allowed to! I also don't remember having to search for inspiration. I remember being in ballet class completely motivated to just murder the perfect rond de jambe - I was OBSESSED with pressing my shoulders, lifting my chest, closing my ribs, shushing my hips, stretching my feet, working through tendu, and using my port de bras. Completly awe-inspired, I'd watch my teacher do a single perfect rond de jambe, giddy inside, flabbergasted over the precision of it all, the elegance, the heritage, the passion. Today, most dancers can't be asked to be inspired by such things - they think it's ridiculous, don't see the inspiration in any of it. I work with the most beautiful array of professionals out there, I'm immensely inspired by every person on our faculty, why do the dancers of today struggle to be? For more reasons that I can think of, I feel like the process of becoming a dancer is slowly becoming lost in the mix, no longer desired. Students look to their teachers, guest choreographers, and guest teachers to "MAKE THEM DANCERS" as quickly as possible, not realizing that becoming a dancer and artist has as much, if not more, to do with their own ability to self-inspire than anything else because the process is an individual one. I want it to be like it used to be, I want the dancers of today to be accountable, excited, and self-inspired by the challenge of striving for their own individual perfections. They'll then have a true understanding of what dance, and life in general, is all about and will be able to see the value in choosing to find inspiration in almost everything they do.
For those who don't already do it, it's my mission to encourage movement in the dance community, especially locally: try not allowing students to do things they're not ready to do, and don't feel pressured to keep them moving forward unless they've mastered everything you can give them. Don't feel pressured to give in to today's trends, the competitions, the media, the hype. Keep it real. Encourage self-inspiration, demand respect, and stick to your convictions. Afterall, aren't those the qualities that inspire you? If dancers are rewarded only with simple progress they will find triumph in even the smallest of conquests. A stronger individual seeks to inspire, not to BE inspired!
Ruby, Diamond, Platinum, Double Platinum, Bronze, Silver, Gold, 5 Star, Superstar, MVP, Mr, Mrs, Icon, Elite, VIP, Outstanding, 1st, 2nd, 3rd.....the list is endless. I have to be honest and admit that it feels great to "win" at dance competitions, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the moment. The rush of hearing "1st Place Platinum" is palpable, but at the end of the day what does it all mean? As a studio director, I only hope that competition gives the faculty and I insight into how we match up as a studio in terms of training and gives the dancers a solid performance opportunity. But, even as a group of professionals, we are often thrown for an emotional loop when we don't agree with the awards that have been given. Sometimes it takes a moment away from the scene to remember that our studio's vision is not about "the win", it's about training our dancers to be the best individual dancers each can be.
The competition stage is consistently invaded by dancers who seem unchallenged and underutilized in order to create clean, winning pieces. When I'm an audience member I'm constantly expressing "Wow, that was really clean....but there was no vocabulary in that routine, they didn't do anything, they're not even out of breath…" Other times I’m left completely offended by what choreographers are trying to pass off as “jazz, ballet, or hip hop” these days. The problem is, at competition, when these dances take the cake, this misguided pattern is, more often than not, reinforced and supported by the dancers and parents who don't know any different, using awards to gauge whether or not they’re getting the training they need.
It‘s a full time job for me to keep our dancers confident in the fact that it‘s ok not to win at competition because our focus is on training, not rehearsing dances. The ridiculous social hierarchy that competitions create in our schools makes it hard to keep young dancers invested in their futures rather than the here and now. Because of this, Sweatshop teachers feel a heightened sense of responsibility and urgency to make sure every single one of our dancers is being well-trained above and beyond anything else. We hope that channeling our passions directly to the kids in their classes rubs off and they are more than satisfied to come in second place at competition knowing that, in return, they’ll have a better chance to succeed as young professionals. Since the rehearsal of our routines takes a back seat to all else, it’s almost a guarantee that we won’t always “win” over the studios who spend the majority of their class time rehearsing. However, in this day and age, I feel that every dancer needs to be pushed to his or her limits throughout their training years in order to have any shot of really making it in the dance world. The dancers of today have to have stamina, performance quality, fire under pressure, technical execution of the widest range of vocabulary as possible, and consistency. Rehearsing routines helps with some of this, but quality class time helps all of it. The dance world is saturated with amazing individual dancers coming together in professional productions as companies, the vast majority of whom are individuals who received the best training possible and never competed in dance competitions. Other than providing performance opportunities and opening their eyes to the world outside their studio, the competition trends of today don’t do much to help the dancers of tomorrow, diversity in quality training does.
From someone who has seen and lived, obviously, more dance than the average person, it's easy for me to see that, as of late, competitions are won or lost based on the use of a series of formulas to ensure the following criteria: the cleaner- the better, the more distracting the costumes - the better, the more obvious the story - the better, the more props and gimmicks - the better. It's funny to me, what that means to me is "the least amount of dancing - the better". A current trend has choreographers placing twenty dancers on stage to dance back-up for a soloist who, alone, executes all of the real dancing. I suppose from a completely competitive standpoint I understand the thought process; only one dancer has the opportunity to screw it up and, if and when he/she does, nobody knows it. The core dancers' movement is so simple the dance is excessively easy to clean, so the overall appearance is good which, in turn, has a lot to do with a dance being successful at competition. These formulas consistently work to win competitions, but fall short when it comes down to fulfilling our obligation to all of our dancers and parents (who give up their lives for us) to give them the opportunity to become the best individuals they can possibly be.
I suppose that, in some ways, dancing back up to a soloist is very realistic in terms of what a dancer can expect when they become a professional. Here's the caveat - these kids aren't professionals yet! At this stage in their lives, as dance educators we’re supposed to be giving all of them the opportunity to be all they can be, aren't we? I wouldn't be able to sleep at night
knowing that I'd only given one dancer an opportunity to actually shine, allowing everyone else to work below their potential in an effort to showcase the soloist and my studio. We are constantly striving to provide each dancer with as many opportunities and challenges as possible. Only then does the studio operate as a true team of individuals. And yes, the kids need to learn to “take one for the team”, but they also need to be trained to be frontrunners and leaders. If we don’t do all of this for every single dancer, we’re failing in our mission and obligation to them.
To sum it up, as professionals, allowing our clients to think that competition wins are indicative of becoming successful professional dancers and individuals is just plain irresponsible. Do you think a Broadway producer cared how many times I won at competition? Heck no! Now, as a studio owner, I understand why. True story: I got a teacher resume in the mail two weeks ago, in the "experience" column the individual had a lengthy list of her competition wins and titles. I couldn't help but chuckle as I put the completely subjective list of experience through the shredder.
A lifetime in dance is a lifetime of auditions - a dancer isn't measured by what they have done, but what they can do. At Sweatshop, our dancers will constantly be expanding their horizons so they have the best opportunity to succeed we, as the strongest team of dance professionals around, can provide them. Sweatshop knows that true dance is never about
Congratulations to all dancers who participated in the West Coast Dance Explosion Convention/Competition this weekend. All of the studios did a great job, but I am especially proud of Sweatshop's Assembly Line dancers. Our first event as a new studio, the dancers' performances in class and on stage far exceeded my expectations. Knowing that the values and training we strive to instill in our dancers makes them standouts is ultimately the most rewarding experience I've ever had. Opening a studio was realizing a dream, I imagined how this debut would feel, but never really knew what to expect. It's been a lifelong journey getting to this point and, like many in life, the experience seemed over before it began and I wish I could've relished the moments longer...but it's over. The build up was so much work, the high of the weekend so high, I'm left emotionally and physically drained like I've never been before. I sat in my living room this evening, a place I have barely seen in the past eight months, and felt completely lost. I looked around and thought "Ok, wow, I did it, but where do I go from here?" Contemplating my way through a maze of scattered ideas, it wasn't long before I drifted to sleep. Though I don't recall ever having reached a conclusion, when I awoke the answer to my question seemed obvious: "What do you mean, 'where do you go from here'!? You've only just begun and you have a blog to write, get to work!"