Those Dancing Years

In 1983, my mother decided to pursue her lifelong dream: teaching dancing and owning her own dance studio--one with a big dance floor and bars and mirrors on the walls. She wanted to teach people of all ages the dance steps she loved growing up. Mother took dance lessons from the time she was a small child right up to college. She loved the beauty of dance and when I was fifteen years old, she pursued her dream: to teach school part-time in the morning and to teach dancing in the afternoons.

I was not quite comfortable with her decision because it meant a huge change; my afternoons would be filled. There would be no more leisure afternoons with Mother and my brothers after school. "Change," I thought.

I had always been resistant in the beginning to too much change, yet simultaneously there was a part of me that was willing to take a risk. Mother was counting heavily on me to help her at the dance studio, but I wasn't quite sure what kind of help I would be doing for her--except whatever she wanted me to do. I was nervous because I did not have the dance experience my mother had. My mother had taught me everything I knew about dancing. Surely, somebody else would be more qualified than I to teach dance. Nevertheless, I knew I had much experience baby sitting children of all ages. So, I was sure to be a hit with the kids. I also knew Mother and I worked well together. I had to give it a try. My mother and I were extremely close. She supported me in all my decisions, and now it was my turn to support her.

Besides being a bit fearful of the big change, there was a part of me excited for her and ready to try. And I did! Kay Stewart School of Dancing opened. Little did I know that teaching dancing would have such a significant impact on my life.

Those dancing years were great! I thoroughly enjoyed teaching all those children. Kay Stewart School of Dancing enrolled about 100 students, ranging from three to forty years of age. The children and I had so much fun pirouetting on our tip toes and producing double-front rolls on the tumbling mat. Always taking a bow at the end of each dance routine was fun too.

Each child was different. We had the stars of the class who caught on to each new dance step with such ease, and we had those determined kids in the class who had to practice the maxiford--a tap step--repeatedly until they finally succeeded. The maxiford was a necessary step for the children to learn because it was a common step in many other dance routines. We would break down the maxiford into smaller steps that were essential to know to complete the larger step, the maxiford. We practiced the smaller steps: the shuffle, the jump, tap the toe, and the step together repeatedly. I remember teaching the children the ballet walk by breaking it down and making a fun game out of it in order for the children to master it. We had the children pretend they were walking on a tight rope high in the air, and they had to keep their toes pointed with one foot directly in front of the other to prevent falling off the rope. A straight line was drawn on the floor for the children to pretend to balance on. They gracefully walked across the floor imitating a circus tightrope walker. They enjoyed themselves!

Choreographing dance routines was another interesting experience. I can recall Mother and me spending countless hours putting together dance routines. She would dance, and I would write the dance steps as she set them to music. When Mother's creativity dwindled, I would pop up with new ideas. Nevertheless, there were those nights when no matter how hard we tried to put particular dance steps to "Ding, Dong, The Witch is Dead," nothing worked. We counted the number of beats of eight until we were sick of counting. We would then put our work aside until later when we were fresh with new ideas. Mother and I were persistent. We were a team, and we worked well together.

My early experiences with the children taught me patience. It took the little children so long to change from one dancing shoe to another. I had no idea it was so difficult for young children to complete what I perceived as a simple task. As an adult, changing shoes is simply an accepted routine that we do without thinking. The dancers had to take their ballet slippers off and put on their tap shoes, but the hardest part was remembering to bring the shoes to class. Another test of patience was dealing with these forgetful dancers. For instance, Katie never remembered her shoes. I realized I had to give her a strategy for remembering her shoes. I tried to show her the analogy between remembering her shoes for dancing and remembering her books for school. Although I tried different strategies to help children remember their shoes, I realized that children's thought processes were much different from adults. My patience was also tested when one of our dancing students, Lauren, cried over and over again when she did not want to leave her mother. She fussed and wept after her mother left, but I directed her attention to some fun dance steps we would learn that day.

Putting on a major production like the dance recital took lots of planning and organization. I learned a lot. First, Mother and I picked out dance recital songs for each of the dance classes. The recital songs had to be tied to a chosen theme. The age and dance skills of the children also had to be considered. After the song had been chosen, the costumes were selected. Children had to be measured for the costumes, and the costumes had to be ordered in plenty of time for the recital date. Much planning went into the ordering of the dances. We needed a great beginning with an eye-opener dance routine. The youngest class needed to dance near the first because their attention span was so short. Costume changes and dance types played a part in the recital order too. Lastly, we needed a grand finale.

From my own performances on stage and from watching other children dance, I learned about self-esteem. I discovered it was so important for children to feel good about themselves, and there was no greater joy than to see those children's faces as they walked off the stage after a performance. Mother and I worked it out so that every child managed to be on the front row sometime during a performance. This gave each the opportunity to be a star. The children's faces gleamed from ear to ear with pride and self-confidence, ready for another year of dancing. My face beamed with joy also because I knew I had been their teacher.

Now, I am pursuing my lifelong dream; I am a first grade teacher and loving every minute of it. I have my own childlike classroom--a room with walls covered with vivid colors and children's work, a rug of colorful letters lying on the floor, and miniature desks and chairs randomly clustered throughout the room. I owe so much to my mother and those dancing children for helping me to carry out my dream. They have taught me how to make learning fun, the importance of patience, the necessity of organization and planning, and the significance of self-esteem. Most important, they taught me love!

April Ward