Friday, July 22, 2011

Good Intentions

I had all the best intentions to keep up with this blog better (and a lot of other things) while I was teaching these last couple of weeks. Instead, when I get home at 6:00 every night it's shower, make dinner, clean up, take a breath, plan for tomorrow, make lunch and coffee for the morning and in bed by 9:30. Yes, I am that young woman who goes to bed so early because I'm that exhausted by the end of the day. And you know what, totally not ashamed of that. These kids wear me out.

This last week was their second week of camp so the newness is completely warn off. Whatever curiosity they had about the program is gone, they know what's coming now. It proved to be just as tough of a week as the first for me though. Maybe I wasn't learning the ropes, but I certainly had a few new incidents happen. I will say that I am lucky to work with wonderful directors who are readily available to help their teachers. Any issue or question that I've had, they've been there to answer and offer great advice.

I also have another mentor, my mom. I come from a long line of teachers. Going back through our family line, I mark the fifth generation of teachers on my mother's side and I'm completely proud of that. Mom was a 7th and 8th grade honors English teacher in one of the top school districts in Dallas when she started teaching. Let me tell you, Mom is good. I'm not just saying that because I'm biased, it's the truth. In any case, I've really been picking her brain about things the last couple of weeks. I'll call her on my way home, ask her questions, tell her a situation, find out if I'm handling things right. It helps having someone to turn to who's been in the trenches. I swear she should right a book, Lessons in Teaching: How to Handle Students. She's got some good tips. Know who she got a lot of them from? Grandma. Forty nine years of teaching first grade. God love her.

This week my kids have been fascinated in cracking my tight lipped answer of my age. They all want to know how old I am and I've gotten guesses from twenty two all the way up thirty. I don't really care to tell them. For one thing, it's not of importance. I was hired based on my experience, a great referral and my interview with the program. It has nothing to do with my age. For another, I really don't want them to know how young I am. Face it, I'm working on a college campus where a dozen other college students, who are young looking like me, and they're running around as staff members and assisting the kids. I really wanted to make sure that these kids saw me as a teacher, not a babysitter.

In any case, I think because I won't tell them, it's become more of an obsession to guess the right age. Twenty seven seems to be the general consensus. I'm not sure whether to be flattered to look so mature or worried I'm not putting on enough moisturizer on my face (Although, my doctor told me today I must not get out in the sun much because my skin looks great. Healthy skin? Yes, please!). I think I've made it worse by not telling them. Oops.

They've got a performance next week and a party on Thursday--or eight parties for me. I can't believe it's almost over. Once it's done, I've got lesson planning to do for my fall classes. The second job hunt continues as I wait patiently to hear about the status of my job applications at other schools. No rest for the weary, but really, I welcome the busy-ness. I've truly missed using my purple pads of legal paper and making lists of all my to-do's. In two short weeks, I've torn through one whole pad. Feeling like my old self is perking up my new self. Speaking of, I best get cracking on some things tonight.

Even after another long week of teaching dance, corralling kids, cheerfully playing "Miss Julie Says," and answering endless questions, I smile when I think of all the sweet things that happened. I got a breakfast bar from one sweet little boy, a crafty heart from another little girl, a dozen hugs, and a whole lot of smiles. All in all I'd say it was a good week.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Teaching Adventures, Working with Munchkins

For any and all teachers out there, especially elementary school teachers, hats off to you! Bravo! It takes a great deal of patience, love, and understanding to work with children, especially the younger munchkins. Let me tell you, working with kids ain't a walk in the park.

I signed on to take this job teaching dance for a kids day camp at a local college here in the DFW area. From 8:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m., eight classes a day, about twenty kids a class, four times a week for three weeks. This camp has a pretty big age range, eight to thirteen year olds, and most of them have never had a dance class in their life. I knew it was going to be a good challenge and I knew I was going to learn a lot from this experience. And I learned more on the first day than I ever thought possible.

I've learned that kids are so very creative and will tell you anything that pops into their head. I mean anything. I've learned that being first in line is the ultimate place to stand. I've learned that it is madness to put a children in a giant open cafeteria room, it's the equivalent of releasing them onto a playground. Don't even think of including a stage in there either because all they see is a new jungle gym that's more interesting than you, the teacher.

What else did I learn? That a compliment can go far, that kids need to feel like they have a special job, and that they want to please the teacher. I learned that they show out for attention, that a time out has major power, and that ultimately, they just want to belong with the rest of their classmates. Budding teenagers test the waters, especially with younger teachers, and the right music can make all the difference.

None of these concepts are exactly new, I'm just seeing it all in a new light. This job is opening my eyes to a new understanding of being a teacher, just like my thesis did. I happened upon a great deal of situations that I never had before and I feel all the better for having them. Every new challenge, every new opportunity, I glean a little more and I'm that much more prepared for the next one. Still, I caught myself wondering, why is this particular challenge such a whopper?

First of all, my teaching experience has mostly been with older students, high school to adult and mostly I've taught little girls (Little boys, they are a whole different species all of their very own. Heaven help me if I ever end up with one. I'd love him, but I'd have to educate myself on little boys. I don't even understand half the stuff Pyro Man does--If he's reading this, he's probably be thinking the same thing about me.). Though in class I've thought many a time, "why can't you just act like an adult," I know it's not possible with these kids because, well, they're kids. I simply work with them differently than with my adults. Okay, but how?

Because I've had a good amount of experience with older students, I really had to go back and think like a kid.  Sure I know what a basic dance class should be, except now I need to put these classes in kid terms. What's more is that I need to put it all in pedestrian terms for kids whose only dance exposure comes from So You Think You Can Dance, Dance Dance Revolution, and music videos. I'm much more experienced with kids from a dance studio setting where they are exposed to music, movement, and choreography on a weekly if not daily basis.

In preparing for these classes, I had to find ways to relate to these kids. Find music they listened to, games they liked to play, moves they would be able to do, and combos that weren't too hard or too easy for them. They're attention span is short so I planned everything down the line, I couldn't afford to lose focus or I'd lose the class.

All this preparation brought me to a second realization, I never was in a class like this before, at least not at that age. By the time I was seven, I was competing, dancing with older girls, and working on tougher skills. No wonder planning was so difficult; I was having a hard time remembering what it was like to be a normal kid because I never was. I have always taken my training seriously.

All these realizations are good though. It helps me see the background I've come from, take what I know, and find out the rest to put together a stellar class.  I need to be a jack of all trades and know as much I can so I can be the best educator. I won't always have older kids or college classes or dance studio jobs. Sometimes it might be a summer day camp with a bunch of kids in a class they're parents signed them up for. Please understand, I'm enjoying it. I've got some great classes that I adore and I've had some proud moments just in this first week with them.

There's nothing like an eight year old bringing you a special bracelet she made for you in the colors that match your shoes. Nothing as cheerful as kids popping into your classroom just to say "hi" or hugging you they before they leave on the second day of class. It warms my heart when parents come in and say, "Oh, we love Miss Julie!" I feel like I'm doing something right. Those are the feel good moments that make it so worth it and make me want to go back and do it again.

So no, I haven't been eaten by munchkins or run over by a bunch of pre-teens. I'm practicing my chases and jazz squares while listening to lots of pop songs. My ears are still adjusting to the massive amounts of Selena Gomez songs. Oddly enough, Beiber is pretty much a bomb with them. I'm still alive, just been too dog tired at the end of the day to do anything but shower, eat, and sleep.

This job is pushing me and teaching me a great deal. It's also reminding me that not every class I teach will be to students who are passionate and serious about dance. Ultimately I just want these kiddos to have a good time. After all, sometimes these classes can be the brightest spot in a kid's day.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hump Day!

Humpe Day and I have a good amount of things to cross off my to-do list today. What a better way to charge through than with a good playlist of music?!

I'm thinking a little of Gavin Degraw--his new single came out just recently:

A little Katy Perry to keep me moving:

And just for a bit of easy going, Eric Hutchinson:

Happy Hump Day!!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Dancing In Dallas: Arthur Murray (Ft. Worth)

Since I was a little girl, I've always loved ballroom dancing. I blame the movie Strictly Ballroom for starting it all.

If you haven't seen it, rush right out tonight and watch it. Great dancing, gorgeous costumes, and so off beat you can't help but love it. I only have a VHS copy of it, it's on my to-do to find the DVD. That's besides the point. 

Ballroom is form of social dancing basically created and popularized in the early 1900's by Vernon and Irene Castle. Never heard of them? Yeah, me neither up until a few years ago (Thank you Dance History.). Vernon and Irene have a pretty neat history, but I'll give you a basic sum-up of their work.

Vernon and Irene were both performers and after an accidental meeting, they fell in love and got married. Thus the dynamic duo was formed (Keep in mind this is a pretty brief history report and that I'm leaving out their lives prior to their partnership.). They traveled to Paris to perform as a dancing act. Unfortunately their show closed, luckily they were hired at a Parisian Cafe, the Cafe de Paris, as a dance act and they're success exploded. They became an overnight sensation and news of their success traveled to the US.

When they returned, Irene and Vernon Castle were all the rage. Everyone wanted to dance like them, dress like them, style their hair like them, and more. They were a very big deal for that time. They opened up a studio in New York, the Castle House, and taught people all the latest dances including The Bunny Hug, The Fox Trot, The Castle Waltz (hmmm, wonder where they got that name from...?), The Turkey Trot, and The Tango.

Sadly their time together did not last long. Vernon returned to his homeland in England to be a pilot for the Royal army during WWI. He was asked to train pilots for the US Air Force in Ft. Worth, TX. While at Benbrook Field, there was a accident with a student that killed Vernon. Tragic ending.

So now you know where ballroom dancing came from. There's your short history lesson for today. There's actually a wonderful movie about the Castles starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. If you're like me, a sentimental gal, you'll cry at the end.
I say Strictly Ballroom sparked my interest in the dance style and yet I'd be lying if I didn't mention Fred and Ginger. Old time classics my friends, they are saturated with incredible duets between amazing dancers like Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Vera-Ellen, and Donald O'Connor. There are many more I could go on about.

OK, enough history. Ballroom dancing, it's dreamy and I've only had a few opportunities to try my hand at it. When I was in middle school, I had the opportunity to attend cotillon at our local country club. Basically you learn how to be ladies and gentlemen, dress up, wear the white gloves, and learn about social dances. It's every eleven year old's dream, right? Well, for me I thought it was great.

When I went to Broadway Theater Project many moons ago, the documentary Mad Hot Ballroom came out, another great movie. Ann Reinking took the entire student body of BTP to see the documentary and then we all had a couple of classes with Pierre Dulaine. Heaven. I was in was splendid! While I was Oklahoma City I found a ballroom studio that I took a few lessons with and I really enjoyed learning these timeless dances all over again.

Finally, to tell you about my latest Dancing in Dallas experience! I'm getting married next spring and one of the most anticipated parts of the reception is the first dance between husband and wife. Clearly for me, this part is a big deal. I love to dance and I refuse to stand there swaying side to side when we've got a whole floor he can twirl me around for the night.

Ladies, I'm going to have to brag on my man for a minute. He WANTS to learn how to dance. Do you realize how big of a deal this is?! I don't have to bribe/fuss/cry/beat/drag him to take a class. Pyro Man wants to learn how to dance and he's been on my case for the past few months about how we need learn!

Gosh, I love that man.

Earlier this week I got a wild hair. I called an Arthur Murray location that's just down the street from Pyro Man (Score!) and set up an appointment for us to try out a class. It. Was. Fabulous. We had a great instructor named Jeremy who made us laugh and feel incredibly comfortable. My main concern was for Pyro Man to feel relaxed during the lesson. Even though he wants to learn doesn't mean that he wasn't a bit nervous, dancing can be hard for a lot of people who aren't used to it.

We learned a lot about connection, really working with our partner. I learned that I can't lead, dang it. That's a hard habit to break. Jeremy got us started on the Fox Trot which will work wonderfully for our first dance (Can't tell you what the song is...yet!). We even got to try the Two-Step which is exactly like the Fox Trot only it has a different rhythm. Last, we learned the Merengue! It's fairly simple and lots of fun. Now we need to work on our timing.

The manager was really nice and the whole place was very friendly. He had us fill out forms that gave them a chance to find out more about us, what we're wanting to get out of the program, and what we're like as a couple. I greatly appreciated the time spent on getting to know us because hey, ballroom dancing is an intimate affair. You're connected the entire time, dancing in sync, and I've got to follow my partner no matter where he goes--I'd better be comfortable with him! The better they know how we want to spend these lessons, the easier it is for them to help us get what we need.

It's a large studio floor with lots of lessons going on. That always floors me. This one studio is used for multiple lessons, not just one couple. It helps dancers get used to moving around each other in (hello) a social setting. The studio also hosts several group classes where other couples come in and dance, trade partners, practice different dances, and have fun.

Arthur Murray is an international franchise with 280 locations. Chances are, you can find a class somewhere near you.

Class Cost: $25 with an online coupon or $50 for an introductory class
Class Time: 30-40 minutes
Schedule: Check with your local studio. Click here for your state. They also have studios in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. Since this is Dancing in Dallas, here are the Texas locations.

They offer several packages if you decide you want to continue with lessons. They usually include private sessions and group classes. Pyro Man and I have crazy schedules right now so we're not sure what we'd like to do. It might just be a matter of private lessons for a while.

Pyro Man and I had a fabulous time. There's something special about getting to dance with the one you love, starring into each other's eyes and twirling around the floor like you're on a cloud. I know, a little mushy, but it's so true. He makes me laugh and I feel ever so comfortable with him. He is actually pretty light on his feet and get's got some rhythm, despite his protests. I'm just so happy that hee really enjoyed the experience!

I'm excited to have this new activity with him--it's neat watching him learn a little about my world. We've got lots of time to enjoy this experience, too. There's no pressure and that takes a good deal of stress off.  We both can't wait for the next lesson! It won't be too long before we're real pros at this! He is the Fred to my Ginger. And now, I leave you with one of my all time favorite quotes:

"Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels!" - Bob Thaves

Heck yes! Happy Friday and have a Happy Fourth of July!
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