While one girl was practicing wild leaps across the studio, another was attempting a break dancing pose. The boy of the group was humming a song he probably was learning in choir, while the other girls were discussing which senior boys were the cutest. The seventh member was temporarily MIA, frantically trying to find a teacher to whom a paper was overdue.
This could have been a typical scene before one of my rehearsals with my high school students. But beyond the drama and chaos were some really awesome kids who wanted to dance.
This past weekend was the debut of my choreography in the real world (aka post-college work), but more importantly than that, an amazing experience that I will never forget. For the past three-plus months, I have been back at my former high school each week, where I set a piece on dancers to perform in the annual Dance Show. I was hired to set a piece on some dancers who are "apprentices" to the company (one couldn't fit Company into his schedule this year, and the rest didn't quite make the cut for the competitive after-school group). The rehearsals were challenging, as it involved working with a wide range of skill level and under time constraints. The rewards, however, were unbelievable. As I got to know the dancers, I realized how much fun I was having and how these weekly rehearsals were often the highest points in my semi-monotonous week.
I found it a bit of a trip to be back at my old high school. Hearing their stories of drama and life as a suburban teen took me back a bit, though it was really only four 1/2 years ago that I was there too. I am still learning how to be a teacher, and sometimes I regretted getting too close to them and revealing myself in a way that teachers generally keep better in check. Regardless, what I shared I could not take back, and my piece was a very personal one--I wanted to get to know them personally, and for that, it takes trust and an equal amount of sharing. I told them silly, embarrassing, or sweet stories from when I was in high school. They opened up about themselves as well. They cried about those who are battling depression, and I tried to insist that life will get better, and it can be better now. We talked about the heroes who survived in Haiti. We wondered who could have written a bomb threat on a bathroom wall one day and caused a wave of fear to penetrate the school. They inspired me as much as I inspired them. I remembered what it's like to be 16 and to want to be loved and accepted so badly that it hurts. And to desire change, and to want make a difference in the world. The idealist artist in me still feels that.
When we got down to dancing, they worked hard to prove to me they had what it takes, technically and performatively. They grew as dancers and as people, bonding together as a company, supporting each other literally and figuratively.
On the last night, they gave me a card that affected deeply. They said I have had a amazing impact on them, and that I truly changed their lives and filled them with knowledge of dance and life. They were grateful, they said, to have not made the Company, because otherwise they wouldn't have had this experience. It's amazing to think I could have such an influence...I am really touched. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to work with them; they reminded me why teaching is influential and creating art is relevant. I am excited because my work was well-received, and I will probably be working again at the high school in the future. It's nice to have a job in store. But it's even better to know that it's something truly meaningful.
"Do I dare disturb the universe?"~T.S. Eliot