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Earn Your Keep

I've been participating in a work study program for about a year at a very well known dance studio in the Hells Kitchen area. I spend each shift wiping down mirrors, sweeping and vacuuming floors and intermittently watching dance classes that are still going on as we try to close up the studio. Sometimes, I don't want to go and other times, I can't wait to earn those discounted classes(times are tough). One thing has greatly evolved though. My appreciation for the space that I get to dance in. I’m often going from studio to studio, picking up food wrappers, water and juice bottles, clothes and almost anything else that you could possibly imagine dancers leaving behind. I even found a pair of brand new high tops once. It makes me mad that these people seem to not care about their belongings. They leave them strewn all over the studio and I have to clean it up. What’s worse than that though, is the feeling that they don’t appreciate the space in which they are dancing. As I get closer an closer to the time where my body won’t be as nimble and it used to be, I can’t help but have a higher and higher respect for the marley, wood, mirrors, barre and just the space. Essentially, it’s the foundation of my joy. The tools given to me to hone my craft and allow me to work to make myself better everyday. It is my church and with my growing age, I’ve began to approach it with more of a reverence than I ever have before.

I took a contemporary class last week from someone whom I’ve know for a few months. Like many contemporary classes, she had a portion of class where we were asked to do structured improv across the floor. There was a particular student who did not like the idea and refused to do it. Upon further questioning, she threw a tantrum and stormed out of the classroom. I personally missed the exchange because I was concentrating on my own movement, but the teacher shared with us what happened. I was appalled, almost to the point of being enraged.

I share this story because I used to be that person. In college, I used to laugh and fool around in ballet class, lean on the barre, throw my things where I wanted. I loved to dance more than anything, but I had no respect for it. Then I met Gladys Kares, the dean of the dance department at California State University, Fullerton. She was a tough as nails, shorter, older ballet instructor who hails from South Africa. She was stern and did not mess around at all, but she also had a beautiful heart. She was so hard on me that I believed that she hated me for months. One day, she kicked me out of class for laughing while we were doing barre. I was furious! But that was exactly what I needed to gain something I didn’t quite have before. I already had passion, but I lacked respect for my art. I came to the next class a totally different person. I was quiet, attentive, harder working and a bit more focused. I wanted to prove to her that I was worth it. Sometimes, I still feel like I am trying. She taught me what I believe to be the most important part of my dance career. I never told her that, but she changed my world. I never got to finish college, but I believe I got from it just what I needed.

That journey took many years and a lot of missteps, but it was very well worth it. The craft that I desire to perfect deserves the respect and attention that it’s often not given. So many people have gone through so much and live such hard lives, just to have the ability to dance and I have to remember that overtime I walk into a studio. So, now when I go to my work-study shift, I sometime dread it, but it is a constant, healthy reminder that I need to earn my keep if I want a seat at the table.

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