I had so much free time on my hands that I would come to my dorm room after class, do homework, maybe take a walk around downtown and then go to bed… the problem was I couldn’t. For the past 15 years of my life, I would go to sleep feeling physically exhausted and wake up feeling 99 percent certain I had lost my ability to walk.
But college life was different. I started going to the gym at 11 p.m. just to feel an ounce of fatigue I had felt from dance, but to this day there has been nothing quite as satisfying to fill the void as being a dance teacher. I’m especially grateful for Lori and Lisa, the owners of Dance Connection, who have let me teach their kids for two unforgettable years.
This past weekend we wrapped up the 2015 Recital “Just Dance.” I spent a lot of my time backstage holding babies and getting kids prepped, and while it was insanely chaotic, I found the time to reflect on my past two years and what I’ve learned – both good and bad. Allow me to share.
1. The phrase “Give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile” is applicable in more ways than one.
Exhibit A – Kids have a hard time controlling themselves – let’s just be honest. I try to be “Cool Taylor” and let them keep their voice levels at a whisper, but Lord knows that just will not happen. They have way too much energy to keep contained – but I think that’s a good thing, which I’ll get to later.
Exhibit B – When you give kids an “inch” of encouragement and hope in his or her ability to improve, they will exceed your expectations by miles. I really cannot count the number of times I’ve seen kids look like completely different dancers after you yell, “WOAH! THAT WAS AWESOME!” (Even when it wasn’t.) I just love being able to transform someone’s talent by simply smiling and encouraging them.
2. Kids are masters at hiding their emotions. It is the happiest, most respectful and hardest working students that are the most sensitive. I am constantly shocked by my youngest students’ maturity levels and self-discipline, so I think because of that, I tend to push them pretty hard. On the few occasions when I’ve seen the students break down, it’s the most heart-wrenching, soul-crushing feeling that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
3. Most children are easily influenced, but not all. – Every once in a while you can get a really chatty student or one that likes to cry in the corner a little more than you’d like. These types can be really distracting to the other students, but there are always a select few that stay strong and keep listening to the teacher. I always wonder with these ones – Are they just born that way? Do they just have a burning desire to learn? Are their parents really strict? I have no clue how they’re so well behaved, but it’s just something I’ve noticed.
4. Kids need second chances… and third and fourth and fifth ones too. Children are literally in a time of growth and learning, so it’s important not to label a student as “unfixable” or “untrainable.” It’s hard to put effort into teaching kids who goof off and act disrespectful, but just when you think they’ll never change, they end up surprising you. I also know from experience. I was the most obnoxious, talkative and rude student, so to any of my former teachers reading this, I sincerely apologize.
5. Sometimes kids don’t want to learn, but they always want to impress. Even the most stubborn and unwilling children have an affinity for accolades – which makes it impossible to dislike any student. Watching their faces light up after you tell them they did a good job is adorable. Kids really do strive to do well.
6. Bribing Works. It just does.
And lastly… the most important lesson of all –
7. Children have the most beautiful, unrelenting spirit. There’s this scene in the movie American Beauty where this guy films a plastic bag floating in the air because he thinks it’s so beautiful and moving. In a much less creepy way, that’s how I feel about this spirit kids carry. It’s like this bubble that surrounds them and it absorbs every type of happiness imaginable. You can see it when they’re playing tag or when they’re laughing at something you literally cannot comprehend. When you’re in the midst of it, you just feel like you want to do everything you can to protect them and that spirit, and you hope they can keep that bubble throughout their entire life. This is without a doubt the best part of teaching kids.
I am happily returning for a third year of teaching next year, and I cannot wait to learn more. To the parents of dance kids – thank you and keep taking them. I promise they’re learning a lot, not just in terms of dancing but for life. And as you can surely tell, the kids teach me everyday. They’re the wisest people on the planet.