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