Last evening, as my son played with the strap on my leotard, he asked, “Mommy, why do you dance?” Yesterday was a rare day because if forced to comment, I would’ve said, “I don’t know.”
When he asked me this, I had just arrived home after a displacement meeting conducted by the school district for which I teach. I direct the dance program of a visual and performing arts magnet high school, a title I am not sure how much longer this school may hold. My position is most likely being reduced by one class due to low enrollment during first semester, an issue that was present before the fall semester began and before I was rehired to fill this position.
Due to my rank on the seniority list and my qualifications, chances are I may fill my one-class void with what is essentially an alternative education class. While I am certified in K-12, endorsed only in dance (it is one of those unique certifications in my state), I could end up teaching lower level math, science, and English to students who did not succeed in a traditional high school experience. It is an “out of the box” kind of approach to student learning. On one hand, that suits me perfectly. But, on the other,…..WHAT?!!!! There are other possible scenarios with varying degrees of drama and intrigue and I eagerly await the outcome.
In the hours I waited for the displacement meeting to begin, I found my thoughts wandering to the space of “is this because I chose dance?” Last year, I experienced a very similar circumstance when my position directing a dance minor program at a small liberal arts college was eliminated. In the three years I was there, class numbers drastically increased, the total number of dance minors tripled, and almost all of the dance course offerings counted toward general graduation requirements and provided a valuable service to the college as a whole. I poured myself into that program and was devastated although not entirely shocked when it was cut. In this instance, the high school dance program has a fair amount of rebuilding to do for a variety of reasons. And we’re making progress. So, while I understand the decision for this reduction, and acknowledge it is minute in response to the current unemployment statistics, it is still disappointing. The difference this time, however, is that I have colleagues fighting for my program, for my students, for me. That makes a world of difference in the feeling of this experience. In that sense, people make all the difference.
At the end of the day, however, money talks and people have to listen. So, we’ll see what happens. As I looked around the conference room during the displacement meeting, I remembered that I was the only dancer in the room. Of the twenty-something people impacted by this process, only 2 (I think) are arts positions. For the second time, (my experience at the college included), I didn’t feel the arts were automatically the first to be cut. At the college, computer science was eliminated! And so, I hope we are making progress on this front. I hope the arts are being valued for the creativity they encourage and are cut now when the going gets tough and not when it nearly gets tough.
After I caught myself contemplating my decisions to pursue dance, I scolded myself. How can I, a dance educator and advocate, doubt my own path? Easily. Doesn’t everyone at some point in their career, regardless of their field? Yet, can everyone say, that given the chance to do it all over again, they’d make the same choices? I can. I think about the parents I have met with, concerned that their child may not be profitable with a career in the arts. I recall the advice I have given them, the experiences I have shared, and still feel confident it was right. There can be a life in the arts but it takes hard work, an ability to think on your feet, and a thick skin.
Years ago, I would have dwelled on Why Dance? But now, I focus on Why NOT Dance? It isn’t because I don’t know any better or can’t do anything else. I have cultivated many skills and interests. It isn’t because I can’t sit still or have an ego that can only be quenched with performance. My body doesn’t want to move the way it once did and I am quite happy in the shadows of backstage or behind the computer relating to other aspects of Dance. It IS, however, part of my identity. It IS the largest part of my personal story/history, so far. It IS what makes me feel good and inspired to work with others. And I firmly feel it has a place in the future of many disciplines outside of dance.
While my perspective and the questions I ask myself have drastically changed since I entered the profession, some things have not. After asking me why I dance, my son said, “You have to take off your socks when you dance.” And it became crystal clear again. Years ago, I said I wanted to spend my life in bare feet and dance pants. Over ten years later, I still do. Yet again, he was exactly right. Some people make all the difference.