When We Doubt Ourselves

I have been teaching for many years. I have been taught by some of the very best teachers in New York. I have taught at some of the very best schools in New York, including The Joffrey Ballet School and Ballet Academy East. And yet, at times, I have doubts. 

Over the years I have had professional dancers attend my open classes; working dancers with actual careers who I have confidently taught, guided and helped. But today was different. As the students filed into my intermediate ballet class at BAE, I noticed three young women who looked, acted and carried themselves like polished professional dancers. We have all seen this type of dancer in open NYC classes and it’s always great fun for me to have them in class. But then I noticed, in the back corner of the room, and older woman taking her place at the barre. And there was something very different about her. I explained the first exercise, the pianist played the introduction, and I saw, from that back corner, something that I rarely see these days; a dancer with real depth, richness and beauty. I saw it immediately, from the first port de bras and the first tendu. There was a quality, a fullness, a sense of internal artistry and control that I very rarely see today. She reminded me of the great dancers of my youth. 

And I started worrying.

Was I qualified to “teach” this dancer? What does she think of my class? What does she think of ME? I started too late. I never had a conservatory training. I never danced with a major company. She will see all of this and she will know.. And a little pesky voice kept whispering doubts in my ear as my meticulously prepared lesson started fading in my memory. I struggled to remember my combinations, and I worried more. But I am a teacher, and I pushed through. 
I watched the three young professionals dance their way through my combinations with clear technique, musicality and phrasing. They had beautiful high extensions, secure turns and buoyant jumps. But it was the older woman in the back of the room who kept pulling my eye. Her stunning quality of movement, her carefully sculpted epaulment, her musicality, phrasing and style were breathtaking. 

And I continued to worry.

At the end of the class the students filed out, each cheerfully thanking me. I am new at BAE so I am trying my best to connect with each student, learn names  (something with which I truly struggle) and become part of the BAE family. This older dancer was the last to leave. She thanked me with a smile. I said to her: “You are absolutely beautiful, where did you dance?” Her response: “American Ballet Theater, but to be honest, these days I feel like sh#t!” And then she gave me a warm chuckle, took my hand and said “Let’s chat”. 

Well as it turns out we had studied with many of the same teachers, had several mutual friends and she was an absolute delight. She spoke of her performing career, and her teaching career and her aches and pains (we all seem to have them) and before I knew it, forty five minutes had flown by. 

And as she got up for the bench on which we sat she took my hand again and said: “From the first exercise that you demonstrated I could see that you were beautifully trained. There is something very interesting and musical about the way you put the steps together. I’ll be back.” And she was gone. And so was my worry.

Now this is New York, and there are many beautiful dancers here. And chances are that sometime in the future another dancer like this will grace my studio. And I will see that dancer. And I will worry. Because after all, I am only human.

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