Thursday, February 3, 2011

Teaching... Performing... It’s all The Same

I always wanted to be a dancer, and for a while I fancied myself one. When I was in high school, I’d take the train into the Big Apple for dance class. Steps on Broadway was the the place to be. Jane Krakowski (30 Rock, Ally McBeal) was in a couple of my classes. She stuck with dance. I did not. Nuff said.

I walked the streets (not those streets) with my feet turned out, which really hurts, (especially when you’re not actually a dancer) in tattered leg warmers, daydreaming of jazz hands and Bob Fosse. So when I recently got the opportunity to teach Pilates to ‘actual’ ballet dancers, at a local dance academy, I leapt at the chance.

Full disclosure. I have never formally taught kids anything, let alone Pilates. I’ve changed poopy diapers, played endless games of Candy Land with my nephews, but I had no idea what to expect and no idea how to act. I’m a teacher, yes, but what does that mean in this context? I’m used to being in the company of adults; dialoguing, joking, letting the curse words fly freely from my lips. The only thing I knew for sure was not to drop the f’ bomb... if I could help it.

I laughed at the immediacy in which I was hired. No body asked me if I had any experience with this particular population. And I didn’t offer. I was too excited about pretending to be a dancer again.

My first class was before the holidays. I scheduled a short press conference with myself beforehand to calm my nerves, remind myself that I was the adult (I forget sometimes) and that I had mad skills and lots of head knowledge. But most importantly, “Don’t talk too much and don’t confuse the class with a stand up act.” Being in front of a captivated audience, no matter how small (physically or in quantity) can turn into a freak show, me being the freak. I start ad libbing like I’m opening for Jackie Mason in the Borscht Belt. I realize that this reference will go over some heads. No matter, just keep reading.

There were six 10 year old girls, each one, the size of my thigh. I put my professional hat on and plunged into the repertoire. I brought a cheat sheet with me and we were flowing from one movement to the next, like the graceful giseles that we were. I was in control, and things were running smoothly, that is until the Lilliputians started talking to each other, and to me. “I like your toe-sox.” “What should we call you?” “Carey is always injured.” “Can we do rocking swan?” Why were they talking? There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no talking in Pilates! I was being heckled, and it flustered me.

I didn’t know what they should call me. What’s wrong with my name? Then I remembered my dance teacher, Miss Pike, when I was seven years old. “You can call me Miss Dani.” It is a sign of respect after all. I should have my adult clients call me Miss Dani as well. With all of the gas that’s passed and un-manicured toes that I have to touch, I’m not so sure that they do respect me.

I pulled it together as my last class of the night walked in. These girls were 13 and 14 years old and all ‘tude (attitude). Crap. About halfway through the routine, I realized that they hadn’t cracked a smile, made a comment about my socks or showed any signs of life. As we say in the biz (showbiz that is) They were phoning it in! I could’ve sworn they were making faces behind my back, and it felt a little too familiar.

Flashback: The summer before eighth grade. I returned from camp only to find that I’d been ousted from the popular click, by its fierce leader, Betsy Carlson. Apparently, she frowned upon my leaving our kingdom (the swim club) for an entire summer. She never bothered to tell me that I wasn’t her best friend anymore, so when I ran up to her to tell her how much I missed her, she and her new recruit snapped on their Speedo swim caps and turned on their heels. I can still hear them giggling as they glanced over their shoulders at me. But I digress.

I couldn’t hold her in any longer. My inner comedian was rising up to the surface. These dancers weren’t giving me shit. Their taut, age spotted free faces were serious and focused, and I took it personally. They didn’t like me, nor the class, and they somehow figured out that I wasn’t an actual dancer! That I was never a dancer! I was a fraud! I went into overdrive, trying to be funny, and elicit some kind of reaction. Oh, dear, can someone please get me off the stage.

As embarrassing as it was, I wish that I could remember some of my banter. If it should happen again, and I’m pretty confident that it will, I’m going to write it all down so I can share it with you.

I was convinced that I could fix my paranoid (read: neurotic) delusions, and break them. If I didn’t, then I would’ve failed. Failed? At what, teaching them Pilates, or making them laugh? I’m pretty sure my job wasn’t to crack wise with a bunch of duck walking Sugar Plums. However, you’d never know it from the way I was acting. I spoke faster. I made faces. C’mon girls, give me a break. Is anyone’s last name Carlson?

The class ended (finally) and when I got into my car, I assessed the damage. Even after my early self think talking, I allowed myself to be intimidated by a bunch of scrawny thirteen year olds in smelly leotards and tight, headache inducing, hair buns. Clearly I have some work to do in dealing with children.

More About Dani:
Dani is a Virgo, writer, Pilates Instructor, Kindle lover, sleep enthusiast, world traveler and ‘girlfriend mother’ to her boyfriend’s two kids. Whatever the hell that means.

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