Confessions Of A Work In Progress

“Confidence should not only be the result of compliments from others, but also the effect of a constant stream of compliments you give/allow yourself.”

It has been an unfortunately long time since I’ve attended to my blog. I admit that my neglect of this “space” is partially due to busyness, both work-related and social, but it is also due to fear of what’s next. I have done my best to give a significant push of energy to the start of 2017, however, as I consider possible change, fear, uncertainty, and self-abuse creep up on me. Although I have enjoyed my time teaching, working as a freelancer, and having an independent schedule, I suppose there will always be a part of me that misses the full time life of a company member. I earnestly admit that I AM A WORK IN PROGRESS. After all, life is no fun at all if you have nothing to truly live for or improve upon. Here are five aspects of my life I am currently trying to address…

1.) TIME – There’s never enough of it. Time constraints and the quick passage of time can cause me to absolutely panic, personally. I either don’t understand time correctly, or I just prefer to live on the edge constantly. Every day I promise myself I will leave the house at a specific time, yet every day I chronically leave ten minutes late. I’m not lounging around, or sleeping in, I simply want to cram in as much as possible before leaving for the day, and my over-ambition sets me up for failure. As a dancer, I have been trained to embrace every second, yet my pursuit leads to my demise.

Spare time, on the other hand, I find utterly intriguing and promising, yet I have a ridiculously hard time utilizing it. My high hopes of accomplishment can lead me to disappointment. I idolize the completion of the tasks that I avoid. This is when my procrastination and my fear take over-something I am always willing to work to overcome.

2.) FRIENDSHIPS – I have been lucky to have strong bonding friendships within the dance community all my life. As I continue to attend class at three different companies/schools, I still feel camaraderie whenever I step into a familiar studio. However, being a “free agent”, in and out on my own unique schedule, can make close interaction a bit more difficult. Many of my close friends have gone their separate ways, to other companies or onto other adventures, and I truly miss the energy of bonding and working together in the studio. But there are always opportunities for new friends, and what a joy it is to realize how many wonderful people I have already encountered in my lifetime.

3.) CONFIDENCEConfidence should not only be the result of compliments from others, but also the effect of a constant stream of compliments you give/allow yourself. Plain and simple (yet so hard to practice).

4.) HELP – When I teach, I always stress the fact that I accept and encourage questions. I think artists especially tend to stifle their questions, in order to appear sharp and quick. However, any teacher or choreographer will be the first to admit to you that questions are valuable and can actually shine a light on a dancer’s efficiency and complexity of thought in relation to movement, body, and music. Questions are good for you; don’t cast them aside!

It’s also 100% acceptable to have questions about yourself and your emotions (something I’m just discovering). It’s okay to ask for help from an impartial party. Talking to someone other than a friend, a significant other, or a family member gives us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and fuel ourselves with self-knowledge for the fulfillment of future decisions.

5.) HAPPINESS & LOVE – Last but not least, I am forever learning how to find happiness in the little things, sometimes things that are not necessarily dance-related. It may sound like a dumb problem to have, but my life has been programmed to draw great amounts of joy from dancing. I realize more and more with each passing day, that I have so many other things to be joyful about. I love every day, even the simple motions (like cooking or having a cup of coffee); I love my growing strength (one year, six months strong, missing an ankle ligament); I love my boyfriend (the smiles, laughs, and love are endless); I love my family and friends; I love writing; I love working with kids; and I love teaching others about the joy of dance.

I am a work in progress, working to progress.

I'm not much of a jewelry fan, but anyone that knows me, knows I wear these four constantly. Two are brand new-they all have such a special message to me, I rarely ever take them off.
I’m not much of a jewelry fan, but anyone that knows me, knows I wear these four bracelets constantly. Two are brand new (yay birthday!)-they all have such a special message to me, I rarely ever take them off. ❤

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Watchful Eyes

“…there is something about a formal presentation of one’s skills, that definitely ups the ante.”

What exactly is it about an audience that shakes our nerves to the core? Is it the desire to attain perfection? Or maybe the worry that we might fail? Or is it that very simple and innate human fear of judgement? We all have different reasons, both stated and deeply personal, but I can assure you that if observing eyes send you into a panic, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

As a ballet teacher, I am currently in the midst of “Parent Observation Week” – the three dreaded words for any teacher that equate to an annual or bi-annual event held during the academic year. This busy week presents an opportunity for students to share their class experience with family and friends, and showcase the development of their dance technique, as well as their favorite steps and combinations. For teachers, it is a time to become better acquainted with parents and to highlight a class’ progress, as well as the individual advancements of students.

However, despite the obvious positive points of parent observation, it can be an anxious time for students and teachers. For young students especially, it is an introduction into the pressures of performance and the anxiety that can come along with it. For more advanced, mature students, it is necessary time to prove oneself and gain practice for future auditions and opportunities. For teachers, too, it can be a nerve-racking experience, ensuring that a class’ abilities are adequately showcased. The best teaching strategies and tools must all be used, different learning types attended to, attention paid to corrections and discipline, and, of course, a little humor to keep it light and get some laughs, can’t hurt.

When it comes right down to it though, all parties involved just have to act natural. But there is something about a formal presentation of one’s skills, that definitely ups the ante. It can affect a person in any career or stage of life. Our basic human instincts come into play-our desire to impress and succeed, and our fear of rejection and judgement.

It’s a wonderful thing to be motivated to give 110% percent and go above and beyond one’s normal expectations, but it’s also okay to experience nerves and anxiety in such a situation. Sometimes in tense, high pressure moments, we create and experience our best work. Under the watchful eyes of others, we may discover something about ourselves that we did not know before.

I've totally used this pic before, but what a great reminder...
I’ve totally used this pic before, but what a great reminder…

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My Word Is Change

“I hope it helps me grow…I hope it’s another step toward wonderful.”

How can I justify the continuation of a dance blog as my dance career tapers to a close? I struggle with this question every Tuesday as I try to decide whether or not to post a blog. Can I justify putting out new material? Yes. Have I been avoiding my own website? Yes..kind of (as insane as that sounds). Are my observations regarding dance of less value because my life is changing? No-not at all. But the more distanced I become from my professional performance career, the harder it is to construct thoughts on the matter. However, as the controller of this space for thought, the content does not matter. I am first and foremost a dancer, but I am also human. So here I am again – keys clicking beneath my fingers, remembering the thrill of finding words that describe just a fraction of the thoughts that flash through my head on a daily basis.

I read an article recently suggesting the selection of a word or short phrase to motivate our actions as we begin a new year. I am keeping it simple – my word is change. The past few months I think I have been running from change, avoiding it at all costs. And boy, am I good at avoiding things. So what better challenge for myself than to confront it head on in the new year?

Rather than avoiding and/or questioning life’s twists and turns, I wish to be better at accepting and embracing change. Sometimes I feel that the ups and downs are beyond my control, but I must come to terms with the fact that I can be in direct control of change. I can make it as wonderful or as miserable as I want, so why not guide it toward the wonderful?

So let’s raise a glass to the disappearance of 2016. I hate to jump on the bandwagon of those constantly condemning this past year, but it truly was a rough experience. While it was dotted with joys for me personally, there was heartache in the mix too – the death of a grandmother, the disappointment of injury, the moving on of close, dear friends,  and the growing pains of my first year without a dancer contract – it’s genuinely been a battle. But it’s over, so onto the next. And what does 2017 hold for us? I have no idea. But I hope it’s new, I hope it helps me grow, and I hope it’s another step toward wonderful.

The Joy Of..Teaching: The Brutal Honesty Of Children

“I have to appreciate the other 50% of ‘the moments’…I love to discover the love and the joy of dance…within someone else.”

I think I need to keep a more detailed notebook or journal of my memories and interactions with students and children. Some sort of a log guaranteed to provide for a “Kids Say The Darndest Things” excerpt. As a ballet teacher and a part time nanny/babysitter/childcare employee, I spend A LOT of time with kids. You’ve got to wonder if an excessive amount of time exposed to baby talk, mac and cheese, coloring, and children’s songs can somehow cancel out adulthood. However, when I’m not coloring with crayons or coming up with my best discreetly manipulative plan to convince a child to listen, I can’t help but realize how blessed I am to be guided by small humans from time to time.

Teaching young people is simple, yet highly complex. When I think about my job, I have very mixed feelings as to its difficulty-it’s a joy of course, but also not something that everyone is capable of. You have to be ready for a challenge. Just the sheer number of students you may encounter, depending on the situation, can be terrifying. They’re not all rainbows and sunshine. You’ll meet them all – the best of the best and the worst of the worst.

“…How blessed I am to be guided by small humans from time to time.”

"Plié Pumpkins" that my 6-8 year olds made in October. Instructions-draw a picture of yourself or a dancer in a costume..my student chose to draw me <3
“Plié Pumpkins” that my 6-8 year olds made in October. Instructions-draw a picture of yourself or a dancer in a costume..my student chose to draw me  ❤ (speech balloon-“I am Miss Liz and I like ballet”)

What I love the most, are the moments..the comments..the pressing and nonstop questions. I have heard it all – reasons for not being able to dance; excuses, excuses, and more excuses; detailed bathroom explanations; comments on my hair, clothing, makeup; detailed observations of whether or not I have a wedding ring; questions about stretching; and questions about pointe shoes. They also share their opinions on class material (critical eye brow raise) and give confirmations when something is indeed too difficult. I’ve been sweetly invited over to kids’ houses, and have heard musical observations and frighteningly accurate identifications of pop songs even in piano form…I really need to start writing it all down. Because it’s HILARIOUS. Pure, unadulterated life remarks. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Even when I hear too much information, or something completely unrelated to dance, I have to appreciate the other 50% of “the moments” – the appreciation, the wonder, the purity of excitement, and the effort. I love to discover the love and the joy of dance-the very same passion I have for this art form. Discovering it within someone else and watching them harness their passion and energy in order to progress, is absolutely wonderful. So if you’re a teacher (specifically a dance teacher, but the struggle applies to all teachers!) the next time no one wants to do an adagio or the baby ballerinas won’t listen to a word you say, remember that you are their hero. Even if just one continues to pursue dance, know that you have given them joy. In return they will give you the most brutally honest, refreshing view of life.

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Joy – PASS IT ON.

“If I can’t partake, I at least am grateful to be able to help…Thank you to my students for…help[ing] me feel the joy.”

My second Nutcracker season as “just a teacher” (I use that term very loosely because organizing and rehearsing Nutcracker magic is not an easy feat!) is well underway. I speak frankly when I tell you that it is a hard time for me. As a classical dancer and a die-hard fan of the Christmas season, the Nutcracker has always brought me such joy. Combining the bright and joyous sounds of Tchaikovsky, with familiar classical ballet, and excited audiences..it’s right up my alley. Despite the exhaustion that this time of year brings, I always have found it to be exhilarating. It’s a time to feel alive and strong and like a true professional (and knowing that each run of snow you burn just that many more cals).

Standing on the sidelines honestly tears at my soul sometimes, but helping my students to fully commit to and honor their roles within the Nutcracker is a pretty good substitute. I love to hear young Nut participants explain their role and the challenges of rehearsal when conversing with their peers, always brimming with pride and plenty of details. The cheerful “Thank you’s” I have heard after being commended on a job well done are pure and enthusiastic. The earnestness with which they approach their roles makes me such a proud dance mama. If I can’t partake, I at least am grateful to be able to help my ‘pride and joys’ put on a great show.

And isn’t the passing of joy (dance related or not), what the holidays are all about? Regardless of the impending holiday season, this is a time of change, a time in which civility and love matters more than ever.

I hope there are more dances to come. But for now, thank you to my students for working so hard for me. Your laughter and smiles are contagious and help me feel the joy. #thankful #blessed

Happy Thanksgiving from The J.O.D. Blog  ❤

thanksgiving-jod

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Hope And Strength

“I am concerned…but I am hopeful…and I am strong.”

…We’re all thinking about it. Election 2016…So I will do my best to lightly touch on the topics of the past week. I am just here to say what is on my mind and potentially on the minds of others.

{I am concerned.} As a liberal, a woman, an artist, and a supporter and friend of all races, nationalities, and sexual orientations, I worry what is next for the diversity of America. When and why did the idea arise that we need to selectively “take back” this country? America is alive and well! We all want America to be great, but why “again”? When did the greatness halt? Why is our consensual faith in America waning? There will always be laws and policies that require adjustment and adaptation, but it is impractical to expect all Americans to conform to a narrow minded set of ideals. That is not why we live in this country. Our differences are what make us so beautifully unique.

{…But I am hopeful}…my hope is scant (one week out), but without hope we will not get through this difficult time. I strongly believe that this change we are experiencing will push us to be proactive and to speak up for our beliefs and rights. Volunteer. Discuss. Be informed. Peacefully protest. The future of our democracy stands before us. The progress that has been made on behalf of many in this country, stands on the precipice of destruction. If we fade into the background post-election, we cannot hope to protect our liberties.

{And I am strong.} Hope must walk hand and hand with strength. While a hopeful outlook is crucial, it is an empty wish without strength and momentum. This will not be an easy time, but we must spark the change we wish to see and be ready to respond. We are the people. We are the popular vote. We are unique, capable, hopeful, and fierce.

Be ready. Harness your hope, find your strength.

The Joy Of..Teaching: Part Two

“…how I choose to communicate…determines if they will sink or swim…Sometimes the feeling is empowering. Sometimes, it’s downright overwhelming.”

Two full weeks of teaching have been completed. I’ve met new students, greeted familiar faces, and made beginning of the year announcements about dress code and “ballet buns”…but now the real work begins. I’ve seen what everyone can do, gauged the capabilities of my classes, and taken (mental) note of who needs what and why. There’s not much different about this year than any other year. I step into my sixth year of teaching fully ready to progress my young charges and take on any challenges they may present. As I crank out the class plans though, I know that despite the importance of the content, it’s how I choose to communicate that determines if they will sink or swim.

PC - Nina Staeben
PC – Nina Staeben

What I love about teaching (here it is…) is the difference I can make. Sometimes the feeling is empowering. Sometimes, it’s downright overwhelming. I could very well choose to play it safe each class. And not to jump on the defensive, but there are many out there who do not appreciate the work of ballet teachers. “What’s the big deal?” “Life goes on, right?” It’s true that the world does not desperately require teachers of dance. But whether I’m giving freedom to a child who needs to release excess energy, or prepping a professional dancer of tomorrow, I know that what I’m doing is important. And, furthermore, it is by no means easy. I could just be a glorified babysitter for my young students, but I would much rather take pride in the fact that I am able to control a room full of 4-year olds and hear them confidently shout out “plié!” and “relevé!” in reference to movement.

PC - Jen O'Keefe
PC – Jen O’Keefe

Some of my favorite teachers were the ones that demanded pristine technique, but also knew how to make class time an enjoyable experience. I truly believe that having a sense of humor is crucial. We’re all going to make mistakes, we may fall (heck, I do that quite often, sometimes tragically), but at the end of the day, we’re all in this together. This attitude is extra important in a studio full of young dancers. The more that children progress technically, the more information there is for them to digest, essentially. As the pressure to improve and expand their knowledge grows, I like to lighten the mood I guess. Just drilling away at tendus for thirty minutes isn’t necessarily helpful, but having a clear understanding of what we’re looking for and why and seeing a visual contrast between beautiful and just plain silly, helps make a difference the next time the students step into the studio. At younger ages, the contrast between “ballerina behavior” and just plain standin’ around pickin’ your nose cracks kids up. It’s a tool I can’t pass up, and I love a good laugh anyway, so everyone wins.

“I know that what I’m doing is important. And…by no means [is it] easy…I…take pride in the fact that I am able to control a room full of 4-year olds and hear them confidently shout out ‘plié!’ and ‘relevé!’ in reference to movement.”

Gifts from teacher-I take so much pride in making these-my most witty of gifts, shown here..
Gifts from teacher – I take so much pride in making these – my most witty of gifts, shown here..

Despite all the laughs though, I always want to set a standard of excellence for my students. With hands on corrections and visual demos, the goal is to help students understand the adjustments we are looking for, both visually and physically (or verbally-it depends on what kind of learner you are!). My Achilles heel of teaching, however, is talking too much and not wanting to let certain things go. The need to press on and cover certain ground always exists, but why put off until tomorrow what you can do today? There’s no time like the present-might as well fix that port de bras or take a deeper look into those pirouettes.

Birthday love <3
Birthday love ❤

Expectations and goals are fine and dandy, but what’s most important is actually dancing. Do I want to create the sharpest, quickest, and cleanest dancers? Yes!! (Please!) But I also just want them to enjoy themselves! They’re most likely there for a particular reason, and for a large percentage, it’s because they just love to move. They relate to dance and movement. It is a language that their bodies understand, and their time in the studio is precious to them. I can only hope that the advice I give, the jokes I make, and the encouragement I offer, are things they will remember and appreciate as they continue down their own life paths.

The Joy Of..Teaching: Part One

“Learning how to best teach others helped me understand how to further “teach myself” and refine my technique.”

When I started out as a B.F.A. undergrad at The Hartt School at the University of Hartford, I idolized my future life as a professional dancer. I knew that following the path of a B.F.A. was the best choice for me, to ensure further training, while also completing general studies and a college degree. However, I also assumed that after college, my life would prominently feature performance. What I didn’t realize was the passion I would find for teaching along the way.

Upon entering Hartt’s conservatory-style dance program, I was required to take a pedagogy course for my first year of studies. Working on technique in this in depth manner, not only gave me limitless teaching tools for future students but also for myself. Clarifying terminology, body positions, and arabesques from different schools of thought (for the crowd unfamiliar with ballet-there are some differences that exist in different schools of teaching; the three primary ballet syllabi being..the Vaganova method or Russian training, the Cecchetti method or Italian training, and the RAD method or British training), simultaneously helped me fill in any gaps in my training along the way. Learning how to best teach others helped me understand how to further “teach myself” and refine my technique. My college requisite quickly began to evolve into a future possibility and interest.

“…throughout my entire dance career, my teaching has kept me afloat. It is how I support myself. [without it] I simply wouldn’t have made it out alive.”

Setting foot on the pathway towards a dance career requires a “plan B”. Even the utmost profound confidence in one’s future as a professional dancer should be accompanied by a backup plan in case of personal injury. With knowledge of this fact as well as future financial realities, I realized a professional education in ballet pedagogy would be a valuable asset. So, after completing a full-year as a B.F.A. in Performance, I changed my game plan. A year older, a bit wiser, and cognizant of the possibilities at my fingertips (practically like receiving a double major in dance, all for the reasonable price of one degree!…cough, cough-college loans forever), I adjusted my plan and became a Ballet Pedagogy major instead.

Despite the internships, the observation hours, the consistent and ever-present Richard Glasstone articles, I wouldn’t change my decision for anything. (I think I may have read and discussed every single Glasstone article for my teacher Hilda Morales…“Some Thoughts On”…port de bras, epaulement, allegro…you name it, he thought about it…much to the disdain of myself and my small class of fellow pedagogy majors) I wish I had decided upon my path from day one, but at least I figured it out eventually.

As I write this post this week, I realize what a different time this is for me. I didn’t think I would ever encounter a time when I was only teaching (silly Liz)…or at least I have not yet ever felt ready for such a thing. But over the past year, and really throughout my entire dance career, my teaching has kept me afloat. It is how I support myself. If I had ever desperately tried to exist solely on my meager dancer wages these past five years, I simply wouldn’t have made it out alive. Teaching is my “B”. It is a way for me to be directly involved and to preach what I know. Although it is not me, personally, dancing, it’s pretty darn close.

Namaste Turned Out

“…quiet the mind, peel away correction after correction, shun all self doubt, and embrace the desires of the soul.”

Namaste and welcome, to this week’s J.O.D. Feeling fueled and positive after some afternoon yoga today, I started thinking about the vast benefits of yoga for dancers. As the summer winds down and we find ourselves preparing for new classes (academic and/or dance), new schedules, and the rigors of our Monday thru Friday lives (or Monday thru..always, as some of us may experience), yoga is an excellent way to prepare for a return to the ballet barre. While aspects of this practice can be quite foreign to classically trained dancers, there are many benefits to the practice, even if only attending on a weekly basis. As movers we are reminded of the need to breathe, thoughtfully stretch, work alternative muscles, and search within ourselves for both mental and physical needs.

the outdoors + yoga = beauty & inner peace <3
the outdoors + yoga = beauty & inner peace  ❤

The main benefit of yoga for dancers is the consistent emphasis on breath and breath support. Lack of breath support in accompaniment with movement is a common problem for dancers of all levels. Without breath support (and more specifically-correct breath support), dancers can become fatigued and lose stamina quickly. It is common, during class time especially, for dancers to exhale aggressively after completion of a combination-a sign that the breath is becoming pent up within the body while dancing. Yoga, on the other hand, promotes constant movement of the breath-both in moments of stillness and motion. Although it takes a great deal of practice, really focusing on the breath can make the process of utilizing it much more enjoyable. Not only does yoga help to promote breath support, but it also introduces different techniques of breathing (i.e. – use of the diaphragm for strength and stamina of breath).

Yoga is also a great alternative and/or addition to traditional ballet stretches. Whether you’re practicing in the Vinyasa technique (more rigorous; flowing and connecting from posture to posture) or Yin (long-held postures, focusing on stretching the fascia and reaching an appropriate “edge”), the poses of traditional yoga practice are excellent formats for allowing dancers to stretch both the lower body and the less commonly used (for ballet technique) muscles of the upper body. Poses like “plank”, “forward fold”, “warrior three”, “standing split”, “frog”, and “supine butterfly” are all excellent for strength and stretch and physically come easily to the “dancer crowd”. However, the prominent, sometimes glaring, difference between ballet and yoga that presents itself, is the lack of turnout. I still find myself wanting to outwardly rotate my hips and most definitely my feet, for certain poses within the yoga technique. However, sticking to the traditional parallel is definitely more successful. Although we desire to stick to what we know physically, the challenge of keeping the hips and feet parallel strengthens different muscles of the body, ones that aren’t commonly used on a day-to-day basis as a dancer.

Peace, peace, peace.
“Peace, peace, peace.”

Now some may say that they attend yoga for one reason – good ol’ savasana – a chance to literally lay back, corpse pose style, and let the worries of the day melt away. This deeply meditative moment within the practice is truly important for artists. It is an opportunity to quiet the mind, peel away correction after correction, shun all self doubt, and embrace the desires of the soul. Even if savasana is the only thing that gets you to yoga class, keep it up, because it’s certainly a good reason to be there.

Kripalu yoga @ Tanglewood this past weekend - always a delight
Kripalu yoga @ Tanglewood this past weekend – always just what I NEED. PC – My Mom  ❤

Yoga is a fantastic pairing or temporary alternative (for injury purposes) to dance. Before ruling out the practice as something too anti-ballet, give it a chance. There is nothing else like it. Although there is a strong meditative, spiritual, and individual component, yoga, like ballet, is also a disciplined practice. Take the opportunity and lie back…breathe, rotate those legs inward a little bit more than you’re used to, and focus on you.

The Petit World Of Dance

“…this great community I belong to..it never ceases to amaze me.”

The dance world is one of the most tightly knit communities around. Faces are always familiar…and also filled with curiosity…“who’s been to what intensive?” “Isn’t that {so and so} from {such and such} company?” “There’s that fierce turner I’ve seen at my past three auditions.” If you’re ever hoping to run away and start your dance career anew-good luck. You’ll probably see at least two familiar faces the first time you try to “branch out”. We can’t escape each other. This community of artists is small and exclusive…high extension and exquisite feet ONLY (jk we all know those aren’t the only things necessary to become a great performing artist…but they certainly can’t hurt). But I digress, because I wish to discuss this great community I belong to..because it never ceases to amaze me.

“I’ve talked before about strangers in the dance world, but now I speak of friends…”

Last week I was thrilled to set aside the chaos of my current life (nanny-ing, fitness center childcare, moving into my new apartment with my amazing bf) to hit the studio for ballet class on a (rare) free Wednesday afternoon. I was aware that a friend of mine from out of town would be attending, but I left the studio with not only one previous acquaintance but two new ones as well. After class, stories were swapped of shared connections, crazy artistic directors, and recent performances.

It’s comforting, in a way, to venture out into both new and familiar environments and always find  a common thread. I’ve talked before about strangers in the dance world, but now I speak of friends (and new friends!). Friendly connections are everywhere, waiting to be explored. While competition fuels our fire, the encouraging faces of others can also guide us to our best moments. A passion to succeed and live up to our reputation pushes us to embrace our class time and take pride in our work. So the next time you take class, smile, because there’s a 90% chance you know that person and they know you, and we’re all just here to dance aren’t we?

The many, many dance families I've become a part of... <3
The many, many dance families I’ve become a part of… ❤