Hanging On

I was teaching my Ballet 1 class last week, which has 8-11 year olds in it. I slowly walked around the room during the first exercise, correcting each student’s foot, or back, or whatever needed adjusting. One little girl’s arm needed some attention, so I put one of my hands on her elbow, and my other hand on her fingers. As I started to work on the shape of her arm, I felt her little fingers instinctively grab mine the way an infant grabs on to anyone who puts a finger into the baby’s palm. For some reason, this was so significant to me; I kept thinking about her throughout the rest of the class, and by the end of the entire day I finally realized why.

Dance teachers have far more significance and influence in a student’s life than they realize. A young dancer watches a teacher’s facial expressions, body language, direction of the eyes, and then makes presumptions (subconsciously or not) about the fate of his or her own career based on the teacher’s response. The problem is, the teacher may simply have a headache, inadvertently look up with a frown, and the dancer will immediately think he’s not doing a good job, or “the teacher hates my horrible pirouettes!” The teacher may be in the middle of a personal crisis, or any problem that no one else thinks about, but another young dancer will assume that the teacher’s short answers are a reflection of how much the teacher dislikes her. 

When teachers sign up for the job, they give away their right to have a bad day. It may be a lot of pressure for the teacher, but it’s also a place of honor. We can’t say, “I have a lot of students; I can’t smile at everyone!” We are not excused from being always friendly, welcoming, personable, AND attentive. We may have the power to make someone’s day, but unfortunately, we have the power to ruin someone’s week. I remember when I was a student; I would hang my dreams on what I thought the teacher thought of me. I could fly for days on one compliment from the teacher, but I could also cry and stomp around the house because the teacher had said nothing to me. It didn’t even have to be a frown, just…nothing. 

So what’s the significance of the little fingers wrapping around my hand?

When my children were young, they held my hand when crossing the street, they held my hand when they were scared, and they held my hand just to be near me. As infants, when they were fussy and upset, they would link their tiny fingers through mine while I cradled them, and they would settle down and fall asleep. They were hanging their security on me by holding my hand.

So as I felt this little student grab on (I don’t think she was even aware that she did it), it made me feel particularly conscious of how much she was trusting me to give her my very best. I felt personally responsible to be the one to give her a good day, to let her know that I truly care about how she turns out (pardon the pun, I am not referring just to technique!), and that I accepted this responsibility and privilege to be in her life. She was hanging on to her own dream and hanging on to me to help her achieve it.

Her little fingers said so much –I myself am now hanging on to the hope that I can always listen well enough to hear what the students say when they’re not speaking.

Dance on.

Robin Conrad Sturm

 It’s Always Something

One of the concepts that teachers and dancers need to learn to balance is encouragement with corrections. Ballet is particularly picky when it come to the technique, and since it is executed by humans, it will never be perfect. Never. But that’s okay, because part of the excitement and challenge is to see how close we can get. Of course, since art is subjective, people will argue over who comes closer to that elusive concept. In reality, we can all rest in the fact that no one will ever be perfect, because the standards constantly change anyway!

I was working with a dancer in a private class recently, and as we worked on adjusting this and that, she said in exasperation, “It’s always something!” Well, it IS always something. Just as one body part is adjusted, something else goes out of whack. When that’s fixed, something else needs to be tweaked. When that’s fixed, we add something else to the list after the adjusting, tweaking, and putting the “out of whack” back in. And so it goes.

 I find that it’s so parallel to life. Every day, in every situation, there is something to tweak, adjust, and put back in place. All that re-adjusting is making us more aware and stronger for what lies ahead. Whether it’s a family crisis, health issue, or mastering that difficult variation in the new ballet, learning to adjust helps us analyze the problems before they become even bigger issues. Hopefully, and MOST importantly, being perfect (whatever that truly is) should never be the goal. For a dancer, being fluent in speaking through your art is the goal.

The fact that there is always something to fix shows that there is constant traffic going on. There’s constant effort, constant trials, and then constant triumphs.

Busy roads, like one’s technique, constantly need attention. They are never perfect, but they do lead the way to where you want to go. The only way to get where you want to be is to constantly fix and re-adjust. It’s not a weakness to need constant fixing – it shows strength to keep working and moving forward.

Dance on.

Robin Conrad Sturm

Staying in Tune

There is a picture being circulated around Facebook. It’s four little girls in ballet class; three are standing at the barre listening to the teacher. The last little girl on the right is hanging upside down on the barre, obviously not paying attention. The caption reads: “Be the girl on the right!” It is a cute picture, and little kids definitely have shorter attention spans. There have been many comments and “likes” regarding that picture – All of the comments have been ones of support and humor, such as, “Oh, that would always be me!” or “ALWAYS be the girl on the right!”

So here’s my issue. I really do agree and firmly believe that teachers must recognize unique and individual talents in their students. I also agree that forcing children into an artistic discipline that’s obviously something they hate is wrong, pointless, and fruitless. 

However (and it’s a big HOWEVER with a capital “H”), the art of self-discipline is getting ready to go down for the third time. It’s barely responding to CPR. Every teacher I know is complaining about it. Entitlement is alive and reproducing at an accelerated rate, yet everyone seems to be laughing and supporting the concept of “being the girl on the right.” Frankly, If I had a classroom filled with “the girl on the right,” I would end up having to close up shop. Dance is an art based on self-discipline and refinement of technique. Yes, self-expression and and freedom in doing so are important, which is why I can write a possibly controversial article without my friends hating me. But if “the girl on the right” truly does not want to take ballet, or violin lessons, or do whatever it is that is not a love or passion, then she needs to find out what truly is the love or passion, and stop climbing on the barre and disrespecting the teacher and other members of the class. No one should ever applaud lack of respect. Don’t confuse creativity with rudeness and bad behavior. If that “girl on the right” actually did that more than once in class, she would quickly become “the girl on the bench.” As teachers, we devote our lives to instilling character and integrity in our students.

Imagine an orchestra playing a Beethoven symphony. If one of the musicians decided to go rogue and be “creative,” the conductor would have a few choice words, and the musician would have a pink slip. He would deserve it. Even if one instrument is out of tune, it ruins the concert. That’s not creative, it’s just, well…bad.

Ok, ok, you’re probably thinking by now that I don’t have a sense of humor – that I don’t have a sense of fun, and absolutely no sense of thinking outside the box. Well, you’re wrong. I really do have all those…senses. But I also have a sense of purpose when it comes to MY passion, which is teaching my students how to develop theirs. No “girls or boys on the right,” just students who have learned how to learn.

Dance on.

Robin Conrad Sturm

Why Dance with the Asaph Dance Ensemble?

Dance is one of the most beautiful art forms ever created. It’s also one of the most all-encompassing ones. It involves physical awareness, artistic vision, musicality, stellar technique, clarity and depth of expression, physical and emotional strength, a good memory, patience, tenacity, confidence, humility, teamwork, strength of conviction, and self-discipline.

Every single one of these aspects is nurtured and appreciated in the Asaph Dance Ensemble. Our dancers know how to come alongside of each other and encourage one another to excel and fully express themselves through their art. The desire of this company is to honor God and inspire the community through performances of excellence. The company not only has large performances at the Hylton Performing Arts Center, but we also do community outreaches in smaller venues, such as senior retirement residences and public and private schools.

Dancing with the Asaph Dance Ensemble is not just another job at another ballet company; it is an experience that will expand your artistry and give depth to you purpose in life.

-Robin Conrad Sturm, Artistic Director

Pachalbel's "Canon in D"

Shortly after Bob and Robin were married, the pastor of their church asked them to create a work for a Sunday service. Robin loved Pachelbel’s ”Canon in D” so they chose it for their first pas de deux together.

Bob and Robin performing Pachelbel's "Canon in D" at the Kennedy Center.

Bob and Robin performing Pachelbel's "Canon in D" at the Kennedy Center.

While in the process of choreographing it, they struggled for hours to perfect the first two minutes of the 7 ½ minute piece of music. Then one night, after a very frustrating rehearsal, they both experienced the powerful reality of Jesus in their lives. Their eyes were opened, and they were changed forever. After this emotional, inspiring night, they determined that their dancing should have a deeper meaning.

The next day at rehearsal, their ballet just fell into place; the entire piece was completed in an hour! Inspiration motivated the movements to the point where the struggle was gone and a divine flow took over. Bob and Robin performed this pas de deux many times and in myriad places, including the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.