Category Archives: Teaching

Transparency

And that's just true.

And that’s just true.

So a month or two ago, Shawn and I were talking through our students, and making sure we were each up to date on everyone’s progress and situation. I started to talk about one of my students, who hadn’t been taking any lessons lately. I felt badly about this, and after about three minutes, Shawn stopped me.

“You’re talking about this student, but you’re so focused on your own story that you’re losing his,” he said.

“Wait, what?” I replied.

“Do you think he feels bad about his dance experience?” Shawn asked me. “Absolutely not! He’s made amazing progress, and he’s accomplished some huge goals. You’re only talking about how you feel like you’ve failed as a teacher with him. If this student were here in front of you, do you think he would feel good about how you’re talking?”

“Oh, crap,” I said. “You’re right.”

I had focused so much on what I thought should have happened, and why it didn’t, that I was losing sight of why this person was dancing, and what HIS joy was. Not cool!

Transparency is one of our core values – but what does that really mean? And why is it so important?

For us, transparency means that not only should we strive for total clarity and integrity in all normal business operations, but also – and more importantly – in speech, actions, and thoughts.

One of our choices as teachers – and it is a choice! – is to be very mindful of how we think of our students and their stories. We try our best to always keep their stories front and center, and to honor them. Anything we say about a student’s dancing, his or her journey, personality, or life ought to be something that they would hear and feel good about. Or at the very least agree with and feel respected, empowered, and valued. (Most likely it’s something we’ve already talked about one on one anyway!

A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.

— the Dalai Lama

Have you ever been to one of those nail salons where the staff talk about customers in a different language in front of them? You know what I mean. And you know when you’re getting talked about – or when the lady three chairs down, who honestly is being a huge pain in the ass – is getting a royal chewing-out in another language. Even if you totally agree, it’s not a great feeling.

We make it a priority as teachers to never let that be something that happens – anyplace. Even in our own brains. It’s one of the reasons we started The Connected Dancer: because we feel so strongly that there should never be a “back room” conversation about a student, under any circumstances. The dance industry is full of amazing teachers, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s also sometimes pervaded by a culture that creates two separate worlds: a world of teachers-and-students, where things are phrased or framed or delivered in a very particular way for a particular reason, and a world-without-students, where professionals can vent their frustrations and emotions and say what they really think. That disparity isn’t always pretty. Sometimes it’s outright appalling.

It’s easy to think of people in our lives as problems to be solved – especially when we are responsible for helping or educating them in some way! I remember when I would take on students at Oxford, it was very common for their supervisors to call me up and say something like, yes, this is Owen, he’s working on history –  he’s got quite challenged by essay writing this past term and he’s just sort of a 2:1 student, really [that’s England-speak for a B student].

Ooooof. That would not make Owen feel awesome. It didn’t make me feel awesome, as his soon-to-be teacher, that’s for sure. It made me sad and a bit angry that this kid was being described by all the things he couldn’t do.

How different would it be if someone had said, hey, this is Owen, he’s working on history – he’s a really hard worker and he’s in the orchestra; he’s been working a lot on his writing and he’s really improved but I think you can really help him take the next step. Yay! That’s exciting! I am so pumped to work on writing with you, dude. And I already think you’re a cool guy who works hard and plays music. You’re all right by me.

The stories we tell ourselves about people in our brains define how we think about them.

If we are habitually describing people in terms of what their problems are, how they get under our skin, or why things aren’t going the way we want, it skews our world view and the way we interact.

For myself, I know that I am not always the most patient person. Sometimes I get frustrated, or distracted, or irritated. But being aware of the stories I tell myself about people, and how I think about their progress and our interactions has really helped me build my enthusiasm, my patience, and my respect. I am so honored that we get to teach the students we do.

Teaching dance is an amazing job, to be sure, but it’s also a big responsibility. People entrust you with their stories, their dreams, their fears, and their bodies. There’s the potential to do great good, but also the potential to damage not just someone’s body but their emotions and their psyche. As teachers, we feel that it’s our responsibility to help our students be the best dancers they can be, and by extension, to be the best possible humans. The authenticity and emotional honesty that truly good dancing demands just can’t be faked. It’s real, and it’s raw, and it’s visceral. That’s why learning to dance is so much more than just moving your feet around – it’s a full-body and full-person experience!

And just like a greenhouse helps plants flourish and stretch toward the sun, as it shines through clear panes of glass, so too does learning and growing happen best in an environment of authenticity, integrity, and transparency.

 

*This post previously appeared on our website at www.TheConnectedDancer.com. Check it out!

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Ask a Ballroom Dancer

There is a saying that goes, “do the thing you love and you will never work a day in your life,” and it makes me wonder how having made dancing your life’s work has affected how you feel about it, overall. Also, do you ever have a chance to just go out and boogie with someone who can keep up with you, and if you do, do you still really dig it? I’ve often wondered how dancing all day long and putting up with the likes of me affects my beloved teachers.

– M. C.

(1) “Do the thing you love and you will never work a day in your life” = bullshit. Of course you will. Because even if you do the thing you love, you probably do not love all the stupid crap associated with it. Do I love teaching dance and making people happy? Totally! Know what I do not love? The shitty hours, the shitty money, the damage to my body, stupid administrative business foolishness that is necessary for the studio to run, the constant ridiculous petty drama with other dancers, etc etc etc etc. Is it worth it? Well, duh, of course it is, or I would leave and go do something else.

Also, I work super super hard. This is by far the hardest job I have ever had, emotionally or physically. I take exception to the idea that if you do something you are passionate about, it isn’t work. Of course it is. I work so much harder at this because I care about it. In fact, I was just having a conversation with my partner on this subject today.

He was like, “You are so intense! I am used to being the super intense person in a partnership, but you totally care about this even more than I do, which is crazy, because I thought I was the most committed person, like, ever.”

And he’s right. I take it super seriously and I work really, really hard. Is it a silly glittery thing? Yes. But I am dead fucking serious about it sometimes. And where my students are concerned, I am as serious as a heart attack. You have to be, because you can damage people SO easily. Folks who are learning how to dance are often in a really vulnerable place and you have to respect that and not fuck it up.

So I think my version of this saying would be, “Do the thing you love and work your ass off doing it, and all the bullshit you have to put up with will be worth it.”

(2) I don’t go out social dancing, like, ever. I would say that I social dance probably once every two months or so, and it’s usually fun? but not fun enough to make me want to do it at the end of a day of work. But this is also down to the fact that I am actually an introvert and after a day of people the last thing I want to do is see more people. I want to sit in my house by myself and not have anybody need anything from me. I don’t think everybody is like that. I have some colleagues who never social dance because they don’t enjoy it and others who go out dancing all the time.

(2a) I do love dancing, though, whether it’s with my partner or with other professionals or with students. That is always fun. Social dancing just means putting up with the socializing bullshit and making of small talk with randoms, and that’s what can be blah about it at the end of the day. (Besides, sometimes it is nice to do something that doesn’t involve me changing my shoes.) But practicing, or social dancing with people I know and like already…that is super fun.

(2b) Plus there’s the issue of what a small world the dance community is and how much I do or don’t feel like dealing with the people I will inevitably encounter. There are a lot of assholes. I went out salsa dancing this one time and there was this douchebag who was running the event, like he taught the class beforehand and it was kind of his thing at this random bar. And he asks me to dance and I am like, eh, I guess? because he seemed like a tool. And he was, because there was this one mirror in the whole bar and he danced right in front of it the whole time and watched himself dance. When he asked me, he was like, yeah, so, have you ever done salsa before? And I was like, sure. And then he figured out I could actually dance. Idiot. So halfway through the song I deliberately overturned something and made it more awesome and then stopped and apologized.

“Oh my gosh,” I said, “I am SO sorry.”

“No, no, no!” he said, “That was cool! You didn’t do it wrong.”

“Oh, I know THAT,” I said. “I just feel terrible that you aren’t facing that mirror anymore. Let’s turn back so you can watch yourself dance for the rest of the song.”

He got kind of stammery and weird and kept facing away from the mirror and led a lot of basics. Douche.

Have a question? Ask a ballroom dancer! Submit your questions in the comments or email to againstlineofdance@gmail.com. I can’t be much help on your taxes, legal problems, or math homework, but anything else should be cool.

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Gross.

I hate being sick.

I almost never get sick – I don’t have allergies, I have a super tough immune system, and I can eat like basically anything and be good. I am kind of like a goat.

Gregory Goat, you are such a terrible eater!

But every once in awhile, I get legit sick. And the problem is, you absolutely CANNOT go to work at a studio and dance with people if you are sick. Why? Well, DUH:

  1. it’s disgusting
  2. you will probably get your students and co-workers sick too
  3. it’s SOOOOOO GROSS to dance with somebody who’s sniffly and dripping mucus
  4. there’s no way you can have good energy and what not if you are trying to focus all your effort on breathing without coughing like a TB ward

Yet people will come to work sick. And come in for lessons sick. Uncool, people! Very uncool!

(I felt bad that I had to go in for half an hour to pick up work and call my students to clear my schedule for the day. I was all, please swab down everything I touched with some Clorox wipes, I am such a Typhoid Mary.)

Don’t be that monkey from Outbreak. Stay home. For real.

Maybe if I bedazzled one of these it would work…

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In other news, I have a partner! Or, I should say, more accurately, I have a person who wants to dance with me and with whom I also want to dance and if everything goes properly and neither of us gets hit by a bus or fired or has a foot spontaneously fall off, then by November/December-ish it should be happening. It’s super exciting!

But I am trying to not get too far ahead of myself – it’s not a thing until it’s a thing, you know? Like, I keep telling myself, don’t go picking out costumes before we’ve even had our first session with our coach. But it’s the best news in forever on the partner front, and I’m really pleased about it. Yay! So that makes being sick more palatable, I guess!

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Next time: I review fake nails from the drugstore that cost way less than getting those bitches done at a salon! (I have to do my nails for a little comp on Saturday so I might as well take some pictures and SAY MY OPINIONS, right?)

 

 

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Aleksandr Palmerovitch

An American solution with a Russian flavor!

I taught my first lesson this morning at 9 am and finished my last one at 11:30 pm. That is a LONG day of teaching, and my feet HURT and my patience is GONE. By the time I dragged my ass home all I could deal with was a hot shower, clean sheets, and a cold drink. But I haven’t gone shopping in forever for anything except produce (I am doing this whole clean eating thing, whatever) so I had to make do with what I had around the house.

Today was hot, and I like vodka, so that pretty much led me to invent the ALEKSANDR PALMEROVITCH, aka the SASHA PALMER (a lethal Arnold Palmer with enough vodka to satisfy a Russian and enough refreshing bullshit to satisfy an American).

Recipe!!!

Image

• One (1) plastic cup

• A whole bunch of Absolut Mandarin vodka (go ahead, a little more….)

• Crystal Light lemonade drink mix until you don’t mind how much alcohol you put in

• Unsweetened iced tea to fill up the rest of the glass

Seriously, you guys, this is fucking DELICIOUS. And it is going to knock you on your ass. But, on the upside, it’s citrusy and summery and not even that bad for you (thanks, Crystal Light powdered drink mix! Why have I not combined you with delicious vodka before now?!).

It’s like dinner, only made of adult beverage.

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TANSTAAFL

TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

I was talking to my personal trainer this morning at the gym and we were comparing notes like we often do: how many clients do you have this week, do you have any breaks to eat, are you working the weekend too, are any of your clients crazy right now, etc. He and I have similar structures in that we both work as employees of larger enterprises which we do not own (he’s at a big national chain of gyms, I’m at a studio) and we see a variety of clients mostly one-on-one. Both of us are paid a percentage (probably about 30% in his case, closer to 15% in mine) of what the client pays as his or her hourly rate, are expected to keep up with various certifications and professional qualifications, and are in what is essentially a service industry.

The big difference, as far as I can see, is the intense emotional component of teaching and participating in ballroom dance. Not to dismiss the fact that people get very attached to their fitness professionals – I am very fond of my trainer, and I was genuinely upset when the girl I worked with before him was promoted to another gym. But there is absolutely no comparison between that and the intense, visceral, and sometimes uncomfortably intimate situation produced in partner dance.

It is certainly the case that for most people who are not professional dancers, the level of personal contact and physical touch experienced through dance really only ever occurs with regularity in situations of sexual intimacy. It doesn’t help that most of the pretending we do in ballroom is about exactly those sorts of relationships – your brain is pretty much set up to get confused.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that people feel betrayed when you ask them to pay money for that experience. It feels cold, and transactional, and like you’re getting hustled. (And sometimes you are. Please, please, please – ask so many questions and don’t EVER feel like you can’t say no in a given situation; see the brilliant deconstruction of The Spinning Dancer on this topic.)

I think we, as a profession, do a bad job of explaining what people are paying money for. And I think we do a bad job of educating our clients about how the business works. The sticker shock about the cost of ballroom is common – it’s a crazy expensive pursuit, no question about it. Private lessons aren’t cheap, and pro-am Dancesport competition (as an amateur) is, with the exception of really complicated scuba diving or high-level horse related things or yachting, probably the most expensive sport you can pursue.

I get that. I also get why people think it’s worth it. And let’s be SUPER clear – professionals don’t make much money. Yeah, competitions are expensive, but even top independent comps are hardly money factories, and certainly your teachers aren’t seeing that cash. The time away from the studio in teaching, the wear and tear on your body from dancing with a student, being ‘on call’ the whole time you’re there, the costumes, all that jazz – in a best case scenario, any additional money teachers make is from the extra lessons booked in the run up to a competition. I assure you that it is lo, many tens of dollars.

Stefanie, in a recent post about the cost of ballroom, asked the following:

By looking at the bill [for a competition], as a student, you may then wonder at the cost and ponder why, if you are paying so much, your instructor isn’t a millionaire, already? I mean, most professionals can’t demand $75 or more for less than an hour! That is significantly more than I make as a pharmacist!

Sure! I hear that, no question. But think about it this way – the studio may charge you $75/lesson but if the instructor is not teaching independently, then the studio pays him or her probably somewhere between $12-$20/lesson with the rest of that $75 going to overhead, paying for a receptionist, music licenses, insurance, etc etc etc. If a pro IS teaching independently, then of that $75, $10 or $15 goes to floor fees, more is eaten up in transportation (driving all over town to different studios to teach requires gas which is basically a thousand dollars a gallon these days), advertising (putting your name out there is not free) and the sunken time costs of teaching (editing music for wedding couples or showcases, lesson planning, continuing education under whatever syllabus you teach) that happen on your own time. At the end of the day, you probably aren’t netting a whole lot more than a studio staff teacher, plus you are responsible for generating 100% of your own client base. (Which is why I currently teach in a studio rather than independently; until I have a name, it’s a better deal for me by FAR.)

What totally blows about ballroom is that the price point is SO high and the barriers to entry are SO steep that only a small percentage of folks – those who are in possession of the disposable time and income such that they can pursue ballroom and not have to choose between that and, say, eating – can engage with that world. It sucks. I got into competitive dancing in college, when the entry costs were $30 a semester for as many group classes as I could attend, taught by a not-terrible independent teacher, and the chance to partner up with some other amateur college students and go compete. It cost me very little money, and I had a fabulous time, and I really enjoyed it. I had NO IDEA that the real world of ballroom did not function this way.

But the fundamental tension that pervades a lot of ballroom, in my observation, is the tension between the legitimate expenses of the pursuit and the emotional intimacy it generates. For various reasons, we think that associating meaningful and emotionally intimate experiences with money is transactional and tawdry – I’m not convinced that it is, actually, I just think that’s a cultural prejudice. The hard thing for a lot of people to work out in their heads is: what is this relationship that I have with this other person whose time I pay for, who touches me in a very personal way, who generates (on the floor) some pretty emotionally intense sensations? Are they a friend? A teacher? A paid escort?

We don’t have a great social category for this. I think maybe a combination of therapist + trainer + teacher is the best I can come up with. And there’s no question that good teachers feel great personal regard for their students and care about them deeply; honestly, it is not worth the terrible money if you don’t care about your students. But the relationship is always a little fraught. I think as long as both parties are aware of the potential complicating factors, and why it can sometimes feel a little weird, everything will be fine. (Again, a place where we as an industry need to do a better job of educating our students.)

But it is not always fine; sometimes it’s horrible. Another Emerald Ball story: I was meeting some friends for a drink at the bar, and we needed two seats. There was one open, and one with a lady’s bag in it. My friend goes, excuse me, can we take this seat? and an older lady who was clearly a few drinks into her evening told us very high-handedly that NO, another lady was sitting there and she is coming BACK (in the tone of, and you can go fuck yourself very much). This lady, obviously a pro-am student, was there with another student or two and their instructor, a nice guy who looked like he was maybe 28. He jumped in to manage the situation, pointing out gently that they could all move down a few seats and everything would be Totally. Fine. His tone was placating without being irritating, and I thought, this poor boy, he has been on duty all day and here he is still having to cater to these ladies, I bet he is TIRED.

So when they moved down, I looked over at him and he and I locked eyes and he knew that I knew the situation. I just smiled at him and tried to put a whole lot of, hang in there, tiger, you’re almost done for the day in my look and he soundlessly moved his lips and said, thank you and went back to his students.

Look, that’s not the typical experience of pro-am. But it happens. And for every wonderful student that you have (and there are a lot of them, and I am sure I am preaching to the choir because if you are reading this then you are NOT LIKE THAT HORRIBLE LADY) there are those who require higher maintenance and more managing. It is exhausting, for real. And it sure as shit is not worth the bullshit money you get paid.

All of which is to say: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, my friends, and I don’t care which side of the student/teacher fence you’re standing on. The question is, is what you’re getting out of it (in whatever form) worth what you’re paying (in whatever form)? If it is (and for me, right now, it is), you keep doing it. If it isn’t, or the bullshit threshold is too high, go do something else.

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Respect.

My students often observe on their first or second lessons (especially when I teach couples) that learning to dance is a lot like therapy. Actually, they usually say that it’s harder than therapy!

My job is super awesome, even when I’m doing more marriage counseling than dance teaching. Sometimes you need an external mediator and observer – especially when the pattern of behavior in a relationship has calcified. The most typical thing I see is a couple (usually a long-married straight couple) where one is always on the other’s case about some damn thing or another. It’s so unproductive, especially because the conversations usually go like this:

Blamer: Well, I just can’t  do my steps right because s/he’s doing *this* (demonstrates hyper-exaggerated version of some minor flaw).

Blame-ee: (silence)

Me: Well, maybe the reason s/he’s doing that is because you’re doing x, y, and z, which makes it very difficult for the step to happen. Try this.

Blamer: Oh, wow, that worked so much better!

The default assumption tends to be, I am doing my part just right and trying hard and this person I am dancing with is DELIBERATELY messing up and trying to make it harder for me ON PURPOSE and now I can’t do my part properly.

No. No, that is not what is happening. Stop it. Please stop it, you are not helping. It boils down to this:

You cannot dance the other person’s part.

I think that a lot of partnering issues can be resolved with the following four guidelines:

  1. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Assume that they are trying their best and that the efforts they are making are in good faith.
  2. Value what they are contributing to the partnership. Turns out you cannot do partner dancing by yourself! Even if you are awesome and amazing and free of any fault ever, you need them.
  3. Accept it. (This is a rule of improv, but it works for partner dancing, too). Rather than trying to argue when your partner says, I think you are doing x, or I feel like y is happening at this point, just accept it. Say, okay! What can we do about that? (Even if you think they are wrong. Even if you KNOW they are wrong.)
  4. Solve the problem, not the relationship. Is he getting in your way on the second half of that turn? Are you pulling him off balance with your spiral? Maybe! You know what that is? It’s a discrete and specific problem, not a verdict on your entire history and interaction with that person. Yes, I know. He always does this, that, or some other damn thing. Get over it and fix your turn. Have drinks and bitch at each other later, or go complain to your friends, but keep that shit off the floor.

In thinking about prospective partners, the biggest criterion for me is RESPECT. Namely: will this person treat me with respect, will he value what I do and what I bring to the partnership? A coach once said to me – and this is probably my favorite thing ever –

You can make somebody a better dancer, but you can’t make them not an asshole.

So. True. I have danced with enough people who don’t respect me to know that it makes a HUGE difference. Things will not always go well. You will have good days and bad days, you will fuck up sometimes and they will fuck up sometimes and everybody will have their feelings hurt. But if there is a fundamental respect for each other, that is not the end of the world, and it will not make you feel like the bottom of someone’s shoe.

In other words, we need to take a fucking cue from what happens here at 0:38:

Let’s all try to be more like Riccardo, please! How great is he??

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(Semi) Live! Behind the scenes competition blogging, part two

I’m back home again – I really tried to update LIIIIVE, but I’ll tell you the honest-to-God truth:

(1) I was working my tail off.

(2) When I wasn’t working I was out carousing with other dancers.

(3) When I wasn’t carousing or working I was passed out dead asleep so that I could continue to do (1) and (2).

Y’all, it was super fun. The other issue is that until yesterday, I had my competition nails on, and I don’t know about you, but I find it absolutely impossible to type with those stupid bastards. It hurts, and it’s awkward, and I am usually a super fast typist so it irritates the hell out of me.

But! I did keep notes! So for anybody who loves ballroom competitions, who’s considering competing, who just generally finds the whole thing fascinating because it is a tan and sparkly circus sideshow, I present, in no particular order, DO’s and DON’Ts of ballroom competition, followed by some stuff I learned at this comp that was new to me. (I’ve been doing this crap for a while, but this was my first time on the judges’ side, so it was pretty instructive.

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DO dance as many heats as you possibly can. Look, competing (as a student) is expensive, no lie. I get that. All the professionals get that. But if you’re going to do it, I swear to God, you will have infinitely more fun if you dance 80 heats as compared to 15. You’re already there, you’re already looking fabulous, you might as well just do it! There is nothing, NOTHING worse than sitting and watching other people dance and thinking, shit, I should be out on that floor.

DO enjoy yourself! If you’re going to be out on the floor, please be having fun! If you look terrified or bored, it is just a bummer. Just enjoy the hell out of it; the judges will forgive a lot if you smile and take genuine pleasure in your dancing.

DON’T overdo it on the dress. Be sensitive to what flatters your particular body type and your dancing. I know that I always say, it’s ballroom, more is more…but ladies. Seriously. Sometimes, no, it is not. If your dress has feathers and ruffles and stones and netting and gloves and a goddamn cocker spaniel, it’s probably too much. You want people to watch your dancing, not whisper about the dress.

DO own your floor. That part of the floor you’re dancing on? It’s YOURS. It belongs to YOU. You are the Lord High Commander of that part of the floor – own it! Take up space! Do not allow other people to impinge on your sovereign territory! I was watching some friends of mine compete in the pro divisions, and I’m telling you, there were seventeen or eighteen couples out on the floor. I was looking for these friends and couldn’t find them – why? They weren’t owning their floor.

DO show up to the on-deck area. Don’t be an ass about this. If you are a pro and you are dancing with six different ladies, I get it. You can’t line up on deck every time. But if that’s you, it’s YOUR responsibility to be on your shit and not miss a heat. Do not make the deck captain come look for you. Do not make the MC announce your number over the loudspeaker. Embarrassing!

DO be pleasant and courteous to everyone. You know why? Well, number one, it’s decent fucking manners, and what, were you raised in a barn? But if you need a more politic reason – you never know who is behind you, or who is paying attention. People remember. Keep your mouth shut. Be pleasant. If you need to talk shit, roll out of the ballroom and wait until you are in a secure third-party location.

DO get over yourself. At the end of the day, it’s still a damn ballroom dance competition. It’s pretty ridiculous. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Oh, I almost forgot – this is probably my number one rule:

DO cut the waistband out of your fishnets. Ladies, you look beautiful. You have these amazing dresses, you spent a ton of money on them, your hair and makeup looks great! Please please please please please do not wear fishnets with the waistband cutting you in half like a sausage. I don’t care what kind of shape you are or aren’t in, it’s still visible. And it looks bad. Fishnets are made of elastic. Your dress has a built in bodysuit. Get some scissors, cut the waistband off your fishnets, and they will still stay up and do their job and you will have a smooth line.

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And here is some stuff I learned, in no particular order:

• Being able to haul ass gracefully and still smile at the judges is worth something. Way to not fall down and still BOOK it across the ballroom! One judge said to me, “Girl, you were RUNNING. I was watching you more than I was watching the pros compete. It was more interesting.”

• The best hair spray (maybe ever?) is got2b glued freezing spray. Seriously, I did my hair Friday afternoon and then worked my tail off Friday evening and then went out and fell into bed around 4 and then I got up and showered around 8 am (I kept it from getting too wet) and MY HAIR STILL LOOKED PERFECT. Awesome.

• All judges mark differently. Some are done scoring thirty seconds in, some wait until the music stops to write down their order, and some do a rough draft order and then revise it as they watch the heat. The moral of the story is, if anybody tells you stupid things like, oh, all judges do x, they are wrong. Wrong!

Smashbox makes this really amazing concealer. If you are, I don’t know, let’s just pick a random example, going out drinking and dancing till five in the morning and kissing a bunch of random boys and girls and then rolling back to your hotel room and trying to look ballroom polished and fabulous for a seven am call, THIS IS YOUR CONCEALER.

• Always overdress. (That’s one of my rules for living, actually, but I saw it in action this week.) There was a lovely girl, brand new trainee instructor, who showed up to the last evening’s formal banquet and show in what was basically a sun dress. Nobody cared, really, because whatever, but she was uncomfortable. Always bring an extra evening gown, or something that is black tie appropriate. You never know. It’s ballroom, baby. You can’t overdo it. (Except for the feathers + spaniel dress situation, but that’s been covered.)

• The judges notice and remember bad behavior on the part of professionals. As a student, the event is for YOU. The pros are there to make sure you dance well and have fun, not to be tools. Not only do the judges notice and remember, they tell each other about it and laugh and laugh and laugh and then they do not call you back when you are on the floor with your professional partner. (See above, don’t be an ass.)

• Students are amazing. Seriously, it is so awesome to see them improving and learning and dancing their hearts out on the floor. It is ABSOLUTELY what makes this the best job in the world. If you are a student – thank you!!!!! You are the best.

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Show up, shut up, and play.

My parents were both musicians, and I was a working musician as well by the time I was in high school. They both taught me a lot about how to work in the arts, but one of my father’s sayings has stuck with me more than anything else. For any gig you book, he used, to say, there were only three things you needed to do:

  1. Show up.
  2. Shut up.
  3. Play.

The conductor wasn’t interested in your opinion or why you were late or what you would do in the second movement. He wanted you to be in your fucking chair on time, to not give him any static, and to come in on the goddamn downbeat when he cued you.

I had “show up, shut up, and play” drilled into my head from an early, early age, so I’m always surprised to see how frequently these things are an issue. So many folks – often smart, generally with it people – can’t get to work on time, have lots of reasons why they can’t do their job, and invariably have MANY opinions about how it’s always somebody else’s fault.

Who the fuck cares. Not your students, whose lesson you were late to. Not your boss, who has to re-arrange shit around your late ass. Not your co-workers, who have to cover your shit. And certainly not everybody else who managed to get THEIR shit together and do their jobs.

You better believe I have a hard time with (2) – shut up. I show right the hell up and I will play the bejesus out of whatever you give me, but I love to talk. One of my biggest challenges has been trying to turn my smack talking into getting it done – to not just bitch and complain about how I would like things to be done… and wouldn’t it be nice if… and that bitch doesn’t do her job… and instead do MY thing, own MY shit. And you know what? It works.

Show up. Shut up. Play.

If you can’t do those things, make it so you can or find something else to do with your time. It’s not YMCA t-ball, kids. Everybody doesn’t get to play and everybody sure as hell doesn’t win. I may not be the best dancer in the world (I’m not, duh) but I will work harder than anybody else to get my fucking job done the best way I know how.

Show up. Shut up. Play.

Speaking of which, I fucking love this:

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I believe in you.

It’s awesome to be self-confident. It’s totally great to believe in yourself and have that can-do bootstrapping attitude. It’s a fine line, of course, between believing in yourself and being a self-aggrandizing entitled asshat convinced of his or her own unique special snowflake qualities that are a singular gift to the world at large. But as long as you keep it under control, a healthy level of self-regard is essential.

Especially as a dancer, right? Because you have to BELIEVE when you get out on the floor that you are going to be fantastic, that you are going to win, that you are worth looking at. Because if you don’t believe it, let me tell you, friend, nobody else will either.

But sometimes, even with all of that, what you really, really, really need is for someone else to believe it, too.

And for them to say it.

It is absolutely impossible to overstate the importance of saying and hearing these four words:

“I believe in you.”

Last night I went out dancing with some co-workers – it was the after work, who-gives-a-shit kind of dancing. We fooled around, switched out partners, flirted, got a little buzzed, and generally remembered why dancing is so goddamn much fun. Later that night I was chatting with one of the gentlemen, a long-time veteran of the dance business. He’s seen a lot of people come and go, and knows what the hell he’s talking about.

I had not had a great week. There were the general levels of ambient drama that always pervade a studio, extra personal drama with another dancer leading up to a competition we were preparing for, and I wasn’t teaching a lot of lessons, so I was making even less than my usual high-rolling tens of dollars.

And I was expressing that to this guy, and he took my hands and looked at me and said, “You are going to be fine. You are.”

And I nodded and said, yeah, yeah, no, I know, sure, I will be.

And he cut me off, and said, “I’ve seen you dance, I’ve danced with you, I’ve seen you teach. And you have something that not a lot of people have – you are special, you really are. And I believe in you.”

And it made me cry. It made me cry because I was a little bit drunk, but truly because I was so touched that someone actually gave a shit, that someone bothered to watch me and think about me and didn’t just write me off immediately; that this man, who knew whereof the fuck he spoke, believed in me.

It made a difference. You have to believe in yourself, sure. But sometimes you need an assist.

*                           *                           *

Last week, one of my students had his first session with a serious coach. His session with her was a true learning experience – she gave him things that he’ll be working on for the next six months (honestly, for the rest of his life as a dancer!) – but it was a change of pace for him. It was a jump up the ladder in terms of expectations and difficulty. Not just one rung, but three or four. Afterwards, we were sitting together, going over his notes from the session, and it was clear that he was a little overwhelmed.

“That was a lot, huh?” I said.

“Yeah.” He nodded, looking down at his notes.

“Here’s the thing,” I said. “She could have told you that everything was great, that you looked perfect, that you were amazing. But she didn’t. You know why? Because she wants you to be a better dancer. And so do I. She takes you seriously, and she knows that you can do all these things. I know it too.”

“I guess…” he said.

“Listen,” I said, “I need you to hear this. You did such a good job today. You were pushed further than you’ve gone before, and you really came through. I know this will make you better.”

“Okay,” he said, not convinced.

“I believe in you,” I said. “I really do. I believe you are a good dancer and I believe you will get better and be a great dancer. That will happen. I need you to believe that, too.”

He straightened his shoulders and looked at me, and I could tell that he believed it a little more, too.

You gotta say it out loud, or it doesn’t count.

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