Just a Job

Being a Ballet Teacher

When I write about ballet, I tend to become impassioned. My fingers move across the keyboard with fierce speed and adrenaline surges through my body. This is because I am in love with ballet. Talking about ballet, doing ballet, writing about ballet, teaching ballet, watching ballet, thinking about ballet—if it has to do with ballet, it sends me into a thrill.

This love has been with me since the first time I stepped into the dance studio at age nine, and it has deepened and grown ever since. Sure, there have been moments where that love crossed over the thin line to hate. At one point, I was absolutely certain I wanted nothing more than to quit ballet and never think of it again. Obviously, I changed my mind.

Those trying moments were merely phases that required an adjustment of focus. When I pushed through (as I inevitably would), and made it to the other side, that love affair I had with ballet was that much more grounded in truth and clarity.

This love makes me good at my job as a teacher. It pushes me to get better every time my students walk into the studio. It drives me to new heights of understanding how to explain concepts, instill strong discipline, introduce and demand proper technique. It carries me through those rough performing seasons when I am so freakishly busy but nothing seems to be getting done. It drags me forward when my bank account screams at me to turn away and find steady work in another more reliable field.

However, when it comes down to it, teaching dance is just a job. No matter how much I love it. No matter how hard I teach and how hard I push my students to learn, it is just a job. While ballet itself is an enormous part of my own life, teaching ballet is how I provide an income for myself. It pays my bills. It supports my children. It is not my life, nor do I wish it to be.

The line easily becomes blurred between life and work for me because I work what I love and I love what I work.  But if this love is not channeled and contained it can eat me whole until there is nothing left to me but work. I know this because I have lived through it.

Now on the other side of “all work and no living” I have developed a checklist of sorts to keep myself on track and not consumed with the constant “just check your work emails once more/review the choreography a few more minutes even though your family is in the other room laughing up the evening together/obsess over the irate parent a while longer/it’s 2 in the morning, but read a few more pages on floor technique because knowing more means teaching better/you aren’t being paid to pour over costume books but go ahead and commit your entire Saturday to it…etc…” (you know exactly what I am talking about).

My Checklist:

  • Know My Worth. I have been in this field long enough to have a firm grasp on what my skills are actually worth. For me, though, knowing that worth was not the same as making choices based on it. I would feel bad setting my fee at a rate I knew it should be because: “What if they can’t afford it?” or “Maybe they won’t agree with me,” or “Am I really worth this amount?”. I had to swallow my fear and guilt and make a choice to stand in my own worth and say, “This is my fee.”  From there, I can make the choice to negotiate or not, take the job or not. Finding the confidence to put a number on my skills that is truly reflective of their worth was a huge lesson for me to learn. But with that lesson came an equally huge boost in confidence for me.
  • Value My Time. I will no longer spend countless (unpaid) hours searching through piles of costume books. With very few exceptions (and I do mean VERY), I will no longer reply to emails outside of regular work hours, no matter how “urgent” the sender insists their email is. I will no longer be put on an unreasonable timeline due to disorganization or poor planning. In short, I will value my time; my time as an individual outside of work. To be a parent, a friend, or to simply sit on my sofa and do absolutely nothing and feel absolutely zero guilt in doing so.
  • Understand The Goals. Part of my weakness is not recognizing that every single situation does not require or need my full blown attention or commitment. I am an “all in” person, and this results in me being overworked and stressed that most everyone else on the project isn’t functioning at the same “must do it better!” frame of mind.  I must remind myself more often than seems normal to step back and not care quite as much. Before heading into a job, I take some minutes to hone in on the goals of the job and decide how much is appropriate for me to give. This is not an easy task for me. It is, without a doubt, one of the hardest parts of my job.

And most importantly…

  • Leave It Behind. With tremendous purpose, I choose to not allow my work to drift into my personal life. This can be tricky because there is a great deal of fun and inspiring stuff that happens in my work and sometimes my kids will ask about it or I will feel compelled to share a lovely story (or vent about a very unlovely story!). Plus, a good deal of my work is done from home. That complicates matters even more. Yet it is vital for me to keep it where it belongs. By doing so my stress level (over work) disappears, freeing me up to be entirely available to life.

To be present.

To breathe easy.

To see the world that exists beyond ballet. Yes, it is there, and it is also full of beauty and adventure. Worthy of being experienced fully.

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