All Eyes on You
I was proofreading an upcoming “A Better You” by Suzanne Martin when one statement smacked me in the face. “And unlike performers, who are only ‘on’ onstage, a teacher is ‘on’ as a role model all of the time. Don’t let your students see you slump!”
Suzanne was addressing posture, but I couldn’t help but see a deeper truth in her admonition to us all to “stand up straight.” Because anyone who has taught dance in a small community knows that dance teachers are celebrities. And just like Angelina Jolie, who never leaves the house without makeup or a paparazzi-perfect outfit, dance teachers never know whose eyes are watching.
Frustrated with the ditzy clerk at the donut shop? Don’t lose your temper, because standing three customers behind you might be New Saturday Mom—who will surely recognize New Saturday Student’s preschool teacher. Ready to blow your lid with the slow-as-molasses restaurant hostess? Bite that tongue, because the next thing out of her mouth after “Table for three?” could be “Hey, didn’t you used to teach dance at Miss Jenny’s Jazzorium?”
The two kids I gave birth to (as opposed to my hundreds of dance kids) used to joke that we could never go to the grocery store or Walmart without running into someone Mom knew from dancing school. Their eyes would roll as I would flash my best front-line smile, pleasantries spilling from my lips, steeled and ready to counter complaints with a glowing commendation for Little Miss Tuesday 3:30 Pre-Ballet.
Fear kept me in line—fear of opening the studio door on the first class day in September only to see the bank teller I snapped at clutching the wrists of 4-year-old twins. Her “You!” of recognition would echo in the lobby for months, where it would mix with unhappy comments about costume choices and class levels, creating a poisonous stew that one day—after I feebly attempted to give the twins a time out—I would choke on.
“Not me,” I always said. Big Brother is real, he’s out there, and he’s got one Smoky Sienna-lidded eye trained on the dance studio world. So stand up straight, and smile! —Karen White, Associate Editor
The writer Zadie Smith recently wrote an essay that ran in the New York Review of Books (nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/jan/10/joy) about the difference between pleasure and joy. Pleasure, she says, is easy to come by and easy to replace if it dissipates, which it always does. Joy is more complicated and more essential. It too is fraught with impending loss, though one that is deeper and harder to bear. But toward the end of her essay, Smith quotes Julian Barnes about losing someone or something that has brought us joy. “It hurts just as much as it is worth,” he told her.
Minutes later I came across Terry Gross’ Fresh Air interview with Maurice Sendak, who died last year at the age of 83. (Search for “Gross + Sendak” on YouTube.) In this 2011 interview the beloved author of Where the Wild Things Are talks about aging and joy. “ . . . I miss people,” he says. “They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me, and I love them more.” But, he says later, “There’s something I’m finding out as I’m aging—that I am in love with the world. . . . I see my trees, my beautiful, beautiful maples that are hundreds of years old. . . . I can see how beautiful they are; I can take time to see how beautiful they are. It is a blessing to get old.” Sendak closes by saying, “I wish you all good things. Live your life, live your life, live your life.”
Together Barnes’ and Sendak’s words simply make me realize how many things there are in the world that create deep, resounding, lasting joy: our children, nature, loved ones. And dance. I want to remember to be grateful for all of them, every day. —Lisa Okuhn, Associate Editor