We have now been quarantined for two months. Our lives and our careers have taken on a new form and have evolved into something different; something we never could have predicted. For the most part, my classes transferred to a virtual platform. I was resistant at first. I was challenged at first. I was miserable at first. I struggled with the technology, class content and my teaching methods. But I adjusted relatively quickly; I figured out Zoom, made syllabus adjustments and found a teaching style that seemed to broadcast well enough. I was calmer, and I was working. Then the affirmations started rolling in. I received numerous messages and emails from students that what I was doing was working. Everyone seemed to be loving the classes (as much as can be expected under these circumstances). I was feeling pretty fantastic about how I made this transition to virtual classrooms.
Everything was great; until it wasn’t.
I never want my blog or my social media feed to be an endless fount of everything that is perfect in my life. Quite frankly, my life and my career are far from perfect. And nobody is really interested in reading a self glorifying stream of consciousness that is calculated to have the rest of the dance industry envy my superior dance existence. What I’m trying to do is to simply share my experiences and share what I take away from them.
This past week I had an epic fail.
It was suggested to me that I “Zoom” from my iPad rather than my laptop. Since I’ve been teaching from an empty studio to which I have safe access, it would be MUCH easier to carry an iPad. So on Tuesday, I popped my iPad into my bag and I went to the studio to teach. It was an open class for Joffrey, a class that students had paid for. And the Zoom stream was terrible. I don’t know if the issue was the WiFi, the iPad or the gods conspiring against me, but I was getting constant interruptions, both voice and text, telling me that there were technical problems: “I can’t hear”, “ “The picture keeps freezing”, “The sound is out of sync”. When I teach in the classroom, regardless of what goes wrong, I am usually pretty adept at controlling the situation. This, apparently, is not the case when I teach on Zoom. With each interruption, with each complaint, I became more and more rattled. I became increasingly concerned that I was disappointing the students and that they were becoming more and more dissatisfied with the class. And as the problems mounted, my confidence crumbled. I started forgetting my own choreography; a new combination that I had been looking forward to sharing. Then THOSE thoughts started creeping into my consciousness. I started wondering why on earth these dancers would want to pay for a disastrous class with me when they could find a a better class, from a much more prominent teacher, and probably get it for free, somewhere else on the internet. (I don’t want to turn this article into a discussion on whether we should be giving our content away for free during this pandemic; but these are the thoughts that crept into my head as I was trying to maintain my composure in front of the camera.)
I felt like my career was dissolving in front of me; in 90 minutes.
I finished the class as best I could, apologizing every step of the way. I shut down the iPad and I went home.
The next day I got a few messages from students telling me that despite the technical mess, they enjoyed the class. Several of my regular students expressed that they needed the connection with their teacher and that need outweighed the technical problems or the content of any one particular class. Maintaining a connection was crucial to them during this time of crisis. And my heart melted. And then I read some very wise words from a dancer who has become a treasured regular in my open classes over the last several months:
“Your problems and your mistakes don’t define you.“
This one sentence from Martin Vincent Bonventre, these eight simple words, brought me back to my senses. And I am so grateful to him; for his dancing, his support, and his wisdom when I most needed it.
My next class on Zoom was smooth as silk. The technology ran perfectly and my confidence was renewed. I’m still working as hard as I can to reach into the camera; to send my teaching out through this technical stream and touch my students. But I’m definitely still learning. And as we, in New York City, have no clear end in sight to classes on Zoom, I will certainly face more technical problems. Hopefully I will handle them more skillfully because we all aim to learn from our mistakes. But if I let the technology rattle me again (because I am not perfect), I hope I will be able to remember that “Maintaining a connection is crucial during this time of crisis” and that “My problems and my mistakes don’t define me”.
“If you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.”, Oscar Hammerstein II