The Joy Of..Teaching Adults

 

“It gave me something to lean on when I was struggling. It made me realize that I am a strong teacher, and maybe I could enjoy the title of ‘dance teacher’ just as much as the title of ‘dancer’.”

As adults, we understand the value of time. Unlike our earlier years, we have more control over how our time is spent and what our time is delegated towards. The only catch is that there is much more to be done – work responsibilities, exercising, eating well, getting enough rest, hydrating, planning, paying bills – and there are people to take care of other than ourselves – our significant other, children, family, friends, pets. Sometimes the teeny, tiny wedge of our pie chart that we had hoped to dedicate to ourselves, ends up shrinking or maybe gets pushed out of the chart all together. This is when we start to feel the effects – fatigue, boredom, anxiety, sadness, anger, resentment, being at a loss for who we even are anymore. Whether you are in this cycle now or have been in the past, we all can relate to this as busy human beings (and works in progress). I salute each one of you in your individual struggle to embrace yourself and make time for YOU. This common human struggle is why I love teaching adults.

I started teaching in college. When I began at The Hartt School at the University of Hartford, I intended to only get a performance degree. After completing the mandatory pedagogy course freshmen year though, I found that I really enjoyed teaching. And so, I switched my major to Ballet Pedagogy. I was able to perform as I intended, while also getting the added bonus of a ballet teaching degree. I knew that teaching would be essential to supporting my performance career, and, of course, I wanted to have a back-up plan for myself.

It’s a blur to me now when I even started teaching adults. What I do remember is initially being very intimidated by the task. While most adult ballet classes are labelled or defined in some way – beginner, intermediate, advanced, etc. – there’s not often a huge offering for adults. Therefore, as a teacher, you’re often presented with a huge spectrum of student abilities. As both a teacher and a people-pleaser, I want everyone to be happy, to be appropriately challenged, to enjoy themselves, and not feel overwhelmed! But finding this balance for each student was so daunting to me when I began teaching adults. (Honestly, it’s still a little daunting today too, but the love outweighs the fear LOL.)

Aside from level and ability, adults are also fully functioning humans with their own opinions. This we know. As a teacher of small humans too, there is an immense difference here. Adults, unlike children, will offer their opinions and choose how they want to spend their time. Early on before any adult class I would think to myself, “What if they don’t like me?!” This is partially my own personal problem, but it can be a thought for any teacher. Teaching younger students you may have a large number of kids but for a variety of reasons – convenient scheduling, attending class with a friend, limited number of levels within the school, or maybe the parent(s) believes your teaching methods work for their student. Adults, on the other hand, can decide for themselves what kind of class they want to attend. I know that not everyone is going to love my class, and you know what? That’s okay. Maybe they find it too hard or too easy. Maybe it’s got too much barre. Maybe they don’t like my music, or maybe I make too many weird little jokes. All those reasons are valid, and I respect that they get to make that choice.

“It is a conscious choice that they make to come to class, [to] set aside their busy lives, and to do something for themselves. I am always humbled to be a part of their time.”

After a serious injury about five years ago, I exited the company scene and decided to try my hand as a freelancer instead. With my mornings oddly free of ballet class for the first time in about nine years, I was given a Wednesday A.M. adult ballet class to teach. At first, it was a special kind of torture. Teaching class on the same floor as the company, around the same time as warm-up, made me feel like an absolute failure. I didn’t feel like myself. I would walk around and correct, offering the occasional wave at someone I knew in the hall, and think to myself, “What had I let happen to me? I’m not a dancer anymore.” Week to week though, I maintained a faithful crew of students. It was a challenging blend of students too, that I had originally thought I couldn’t conquer – a spectrum of ages, some comfortable with center work, some not, some with past professional careers, some totally beginner, one student even on pointe every week. What made it all the more enjoyable was their encouragement and the bond that we all built together. It gave me something to lean on when I was struggling. It made me realize that I am a strong teacher, and maybe I could enjoy the title of “dance teacher” just as much as the title of “dancer”. Writing about it now, I miss “my Wednesday morning crew” so much.

What means the absolute most to me about adult students, is that they choose to entrust me with their time. It is a conscious choice that they make to come to class (live, or virtual nowadays), set aside their busy lives, and to do something for themselves. I am always humbled to be a part of their time and to help them nourish the love for dance that they still have or are just now exploring. The responsibility I have to my adults is huge. Sometimes the weight of it overwhelms me, but overall it holds a special place in my heart.

I am honored to be a part of your life, and I hope to make your choice to dance all the more worthwhile.