Health & Body

Dear Dance Teachers: Are You Okay?

@jayplayimagery, courtesy Kerollis

2020 will forever be remembered for a range of stressful events, from a global pandemic to a civil rights uprising to a twisted election cycle.

But for dance educators, this year has been marked by on-again, off-again employment, work beyond our job descriptions, and fast and frequent cycles of adaptation.

Back in March, when most of us were scrambling to learn about some app called Zoom, we were just following the age-old mantra: "The show must go on!" There was little time to stop and think about how we were feeling or how our lives and livelihoods would be affected.

Our first thoughts were about our students: How are they feeling? What do they need? Can I offer an emotional escape for just a little while?

On top of our shifting responsibilities and the stresses of the outside world, many of us became emotional sponges absorbing our students' greatest fears. We persisted through devastating personal and world events to continue training our students from our own homes or empty studios while also offering empathy in the most unusual of circumstances.

Kerollis, a young white man with a streak of green in his hair, speaks to the class on the large television

@jayplayimagery, courtesy Kerollis

We have now been doing this for over eight months, which begs me to ask the questions: Are you okay? What are you doing for your own mental and physical health? Are you connecting with others outside of your virtual classroom? Have you found a healthy way to separate your virtual teaching from your home life? How are you handling that pay cut? What are you doing to take care of your body? Do you have anybody to reach out to for both personal and professional unloading? If so, have you reached out to them?

Dance educators often get so caught up in our work for others that when it comes to taking care of ourselves, we are depleted of time and emotional energy. We know the consequences of not taking a day off, missing our warm-up before class, and saying yes to everything that is asked of us. And the higher we rise in our field, the greater the number of those who seek our support—which can often make it feel like we have fewer options when we need help.

It is okay if you are not okay right now. But it is not okay if you are ignoring your needs.

I urge you to take a day off. Set clear parameters for what you can and can't do, especially when working within your own personal space at home. If you need someone to talk to, call your friends, email your boss or seek counseling from a mental health professional. You are not going to burden them. You teach your students how to take care of themselves—set a good example by following your own advice.

We dance educators offer so much value to society even beyond our art. We instill in our students fortitude, discipline, teamwork, physical health and so much more. But we can't keep giving of ourselves if we don't take some time to ensure that we are okay as well.

Teachers Trending
Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy. Photo courtesy Dance With Me

Listening to Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy riff together makes it crystal-clear why each has mastered the art of partnering in the ballroom—they've long been doing this dance in real life as brothers and business partners.

Along with their "Dancing with the Stars" pedigree (and a combined three mirror-ball trophies between them), Maks and Val (and their father, Sasha) also run Dance With Me, a dance company hosting six ProAm Dancesport competitions annually and running 14 brick-and-mortar studio locations across the U.S.

Last year, the pair launched an online component, Dance & Co. The online video platform offers beginner through advanced instruction in not only ballroom but an array of other styles, as well as dance fitness classes from HIIT to yoga to strength training. "DWTS" fans will recognize such familiar faces as Peta Murgatroyd, Jenna Johnson, Sharna Burgess and Emma Slater, along with Maks and Val themselves.

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Teaching Tips
@jayplayimagery, courtesy Kerollis

In the spring of 2012, Barry Kerollis was abruptly forced into treating his career as a small business. Having just moved cross-country to join BalletX, he got injured and was soon let go.

"I'd only ever danced with big companies before," the now-freelance dance-teacher-choreographer-podcaster recalls. "That desperation factor drove me to approach freelancing with a business model and a business plan."

As Kerollis acknowledges, getting the business of you off the ground ("you" as a freelance dance educator, that is) can be filled with unexpected challenges—even for the most seasoned of gigging dancers. But becoming your own CEO can make your work–life balance more sustainable, help you make more money, keep you organized, and get potential employers to offer you more respect and improved working conditions. Here's how to get smart now about branding, finances and other crucial ways to tell the dance world that you mean business.

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Teachers Trending
Courtesy Oleson

American dance educator Shannon Oleson was teaching recreational ballet and street-dance classes in London when the pandemic hit. As she watched many of her fellow U.S. friends pack up and return home from their international adventures, she made the difficult choice to stick with her students (as well as her own training—she was midway through her MFA at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance).

Despite shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, she was able to maintain a teaching schedule that kept her working with her dancers through Zoom, as well as lead some private, in-home acro classes following government guidelines. But keeping rec students interested in the face of pandemic fatigue hasn't been easy.

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