I have a confession: I am the other woman. Sort of. The other teacher, actually. I worked for someone and left to open my own studio. But it’s not what you think.
Once upon a time, I was a burned-out college dance major. I decided that I wanted to be a “normal” person and did not want to change clothes three times a day. I took a break from college, had an awesome summer internship at a museum, changed my major to philosophy, and graduated from college and into a staff position in higher ed. But I didn’t leave dance cold turkey. I kept thinking about it, going back and forth in my mind and taking classes when I could. Finally, after a big move and marriage, I began teaching part-time for the very studio where I had danced as a young teen. It was a full-circle moment.
My relationship with that studio steadied over the next couple of years. I taught minimally, given my 40-hour workweek behind a desk, but even so teaching reminded me how much I missed being immersed in the dance world. It had sparked something in me, restoring the dancer I had all but cast aside in my efforts to be “normal.” And so I began to nurse thoughts of having my own school. I began exploring the idea, improving my dance skills and business acumen. I started a business plan, working on it haphazardly for nearly a year.
I never intended to cause friction. The studio owner knew of my plans, however distant at the time, and though I think she might have been initially surprised, she encouraged me and allowed me to discuss it candidly. If I followed through with it, my school would open a good 20 miles and 30 minutes away in a neighboring town, and none of my current students would know. (Nor, do I think, would they have traveled out of their way for me, given the dance studios on nearly every block in between.)
But I can’t help acknowledging this unshakeable feeling—even years later—that I should have gone farther or done more to preserve the relationship with the lady who had become a subtle influence, like an unintentional mentor. I did not think of my leaving as a betrayal. But now I wonder if she thought of it that way, even in the slightest, and put on a happy face to wish me well. I did not take any students or staff members away from her and I set up shop in another city, but I wonder if I could have done more to put her mind at ease. Or perhaps she didn’t give my departure much thought. Either way, it’s clearer to me now that I came close to crossing a line that is not normally touched in our industry.
I don’t regret my decision. My studio is like a second home, a second family. I love my customers. I love my employees to death; I am immensely proud of them and would be very sad to see any of them leave as I did. It is rewarding to see how my school has grown and how it’s different than I expected. I’m excited and nervous to see what’s next for us. But I might not have done it at all if it hadn’t been for that chance opportunity to teach years ago, to nurture my passion again.
I promise I’m not writing this to assuage any guilt. But I give in to the “what-ifs” at times, and the questions do hit me: “What if she didn’t see it the way I did?” and “What if the bridge I thought I left intact is actually in an ashy heap?”
So Cindi, if you’re reading this, let me say this better than I did in that silly thank-you note four years ago: Thank you for real. Thank you for giving me a chance. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for letting me read your Goldrush (the precursor to Dance Studio Life). And thank you for letting me go and make my own little dance world possible. I believe—no, I know—that we are all a product of our collective teachers, and I’m glad you were one of mine.