As sure as summer turns to fall, dance studios everywhere experience a changing of the guard. Instructors come and go, especially if the studio operates, as mine does, in a college town. There have been years when I’ve had to find replacement teachers several times, sometimes in the middle of the school season and occasionally on a moment’s notice. No matter when or how the change happened, classes continued. There was no question that the show must go on.
Running a studio and meeting the needs of clients require a collective effort. Students need instruction, parents depend on consistent schedules, and communities look forward to recital entertainment—important aspects of dance studio life that would not happen without loyal and dedicated teachers. I have always had a talented faculty, and they have contributed greatly to my studio’s success. The names and faces have changed over the years, but all my teachers shared the same desire—to provide my studio’s students with a memorable and life-enhancing dance experience.
All good teachers help their students achieve their personal best, as my sixth-grade teacher, Miss Brusalian, helped me. One day, three classmates were bullying me to pass notes in her class. After reading a degrading note about myself, I began collecting the notes as they crossed my desk. During a bathroom break, I stashed the notes in my locker. The girls threatened to beat me up if I did not return them. Ignoring their threats, I gave the notes to my teacher after school.
I guess I was scared, but I don’t fully remember. I suppose years of facing scary, nerve-wracking dance performances gave me the courage to deal with a few troublemakers in school. Miss Brusalian said she was proud of my bravery. “You are a leader, not a follower,” she said. I have always remembered her words and have tried to live up to them every day.
Aside from molding myself as a leader, I also tell students that true leadership is teaching others how to lead by stepping up and setting a good example. There will always be students who have a commanding persona. They stand in a prominent location at the barre and position themselves in the front during center exercises. They always go first across the floor and request challenging combinations. I see a leader every time a self-assured student urges a timid but talented classmate to stand in direct view of the teacher. Students like that, who are not threatened by up-and-comers but instead recognize talent in their peers and push them to achieve, show promise as future teachers.
Students who are not threatened by up-and-comers but instead recognize talent in their peers show promise as future teachers.
I saw a teacher-in-the-making one day at my studio when the regular teacher did not show up for a ballet class. A teenager stepped up to bat. Only 16 years old, she showed great maturity in how she spoke to the students—adult learners—and in how she taught the lesson. She instinctively nurtured the adults (who are sometimes self-conscious about their efforts) as if they were elegant creatures living in a graceful world where imperfections are pardoned. Those women left class raving about the great lesson, and marveling at the beauty and expertise of the young dancer-turned-substitute-teacher. Their positive reviews and comments did not surprise me.
This young dancer stands at the barre where she can be seen and is first in line across the floor. During center exercises, she encourages younger classmates to move to the front while she dances in the back. Her leadership qualities are undeniable. If it had been practical, I would have offered her a teaching position on the spot. But, you see, this young lady has so much more growing and developing to do. She has years of study ahead of her, summer intensives and performing arts school and, very likely, a professional career. If she follows this path, it will be decades before she is ready to turn her thoughts exclusively to teaching. I only hope that one day she will.
For now, I am happy to know she was a teacher on one fateful day at my studio. And I’m equally happy that because of the leadership lessons I learned and have passed on to my students, the show did go on.