in the company of others

This semester has been great. I am digging my students, my new teaching environment, the content in which I get to delve, and look forward to structuring our experiences differently over time with the wisdom I am gaining on a daily basis.

Here’s the depth of my satisfaction. In a letter to my company dancers the day before break, I said this:


I have spent countless hours trying to figure out where I most want to dance or most want to teach; where my family and I most want to live, and where we most want to spend our time.

I am fortunate because I never had to start with the “what”- it has always been dance for me. Really it has always been about education, too.  As I chased a performance career, what I was really doing was mining my teaching philosophy and collecting experiences and strategies to share with students. I just didn’t realize it at the time.

At long last, though, I have come to understand I have been asking the wrong question. It really isn’t  about the “where”: should I dance in big cities or mid-western cities, should I audition for companies or projects, should I aim for big programs or little programs, higher ed or K-12….the list goes on and on.

It is really all about the “who”.

In life, you must be in the company of others. This can be tricky. Sometimes the “who” that inhabit the “where” you THOUGHT you most belonged make you miserable. Sometimes the “who” that inhabit the “where” you thought you DIDN’T most belong, change your life and open your eyes to things you never considered before. I have experienced both.

Now, I have the distinct fortune to be in a “where” that stimulates the dancer-side of my self (working with dedicated and talented dancers), the “teacher” side of my self (working with students that love dance for what it adds to their lives though not necessarily their careers), and the “professional” side of my self (working with people that are professional and passionate).

I recently found something I wrote while I was living and dancing in NYC (and working a lot of retail). I wrote that I wanted a small life, one deep in meaningful work. I wrote that I wanted to live in sweat pants and bare feet. As I recall, that was a time that felt like a constant hustle. Securing jobs, juggling jobs, always having to prove my worth or potential within minutes. Days of wearing emotional armor while I paved a career that seemed to be largely based on chance yet built upon decades of hard work and striving. What changed for me was that I stopped trying to be suitable for others- wanting desperately to convince them to take a risk on me. I started deciding if they were worth the risk.

As it turns out, all jobs are a little like that. Relationships, too. You could spend your life trying to live up to the standards of and for others, or of and for yourself. When you do the latter, the “right” things emerge.

This year has been a risk for me, and for my family. We have had to adjust to new schedules, new budgets, new demands of time and responsibility- but it has been a risk worth taking.

It has been worth the risk because of the company of others that I am able to enjoy daily. Hourly. Semesterly. Yearly.

My wish for you is that while you are so focused on making the “right” decisions, you remember the who– your sense of self, your value, your self-worth. I hope you continue to find the company of others that help you recognize and maintain that perspective and allow you to do meaningful work and share the love– whatever that means for you, in dance, through dance, or beyond dance.

Have a restful break and thanks for everything.


I share this with you, readers, because in the larger scope I am in your company as well. I appreciate you.

As I think about the blogs that I frequent, the authors I enjoy most, the people I consider friends, I am drawn to the dimensionality of their lives. As I reflect on the most meaningful experiences of 2014, they have all been when we have been real, open, and engaged. While I consider this mainly a professional blog, and therefore don’t discuss much about other aspects of my life than dance and feelings related to my experiences in dance, I recognize that perhaps you are interested in knowing me differently.

I recently joined instagram (hvsdance). I was inspired to do so after listening to a great knitting podcast (Woolful) and wanted to see more about the work of these fiber artists. What it has done though, is inspire me to create (knitting, cooking, writing, documenting, moving) in ways that other forms of social media don’t necessarily promote. I enjoy seeing the images of lives very different from my own, but also of those that are similar. It helps me not compare in achievement but in shared love of the little things. The things that make life great. It helps me feel connected to people that like the same things I do because I see how they feel. Just be warned that I post a lot about my knitting and won’t post photos of my students so I am unsure of how dance will present in my feed, if at all.

I hope the new year brings you peace and love and movement and creativity. We plan to “keep it simple”;  #livethelittlethings, #authenticliving, #simplify (a few of my favored hashtag searches).

Where I Fell in Love

This weekend I have enjoyed the honor of returning to my alma mater to create a dance for first year college students. The students are lovely. We are enjoying an opportunity to get to know each other as movers and as people and the dancers are enjoying a new (to them) process for creating dance and creating a culture.

The honor, though, is the luxury of time in the space I poured myself into many years ago. To return to the environment that opened my eyes to the artistry of dance, strength of character, and gave me opportunities to take risks and truly be seen. I hear the echoes of wisdom doled by sage mentors and I am flooded with fondness for friends and memories made there.

My lens is not totally rose-tinted. I equally recall the struggles and challenges, the drama and the sacrifices yet I acknowledge the resulting sense of group and the profound sense of belonging I felt there.

It hits me now that it is precisely that feeling I have been searching for, professionally, ever since.

WMU was where I found my “flow” as theorized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi- where interest, rigor, and appropriate challenge result in joy, the kind of joy when time is lost and sense of self is found. An optimal experience.

This piece explores the notion of seeing and being seen. We are sifting through the landscape of being a “first year”- eager to demonstrate and impress, bridled with the change of status from leader to low man, feeling invisible and being hungry for acknowledgement.

We have talked about being “under construction” in technique class, as technical skills are built or rebuilt, and the longing to “just dance” which really means reconnecting with the dancer- selves we knew and understood. There is no going back, though. That is the sneaky thing about growth.

Being in a new teaching position, in spite of my substantial experience, I can relate to the “first year” experience. I am living it. Being new is exhausting, even in the best of environments. Reputation means little after the initial invitation to do whatever it is you want to do, until you can establish your reputation all over again in a new place, with new circumstances, new people. Character. I think it takes character to build character. I think it takes character to help others build character. This will be a big topic in my classes at the high school this week.

Yesterday we ended rehearsal with four questions,
What have you seen today?
What have you allowed to be seen today?
What are you reluctant to share?
When do you feel seen (acknowledged, valued, appreciated)?

Some of these are as tricky for me to answer, I think, as they are for the students and equally as important.

We decided yesterday, we are searching for fulfillment. That is defined differently for each of us, but one commonality kept coming through- we want to change people’s perspectives. We want to move people.

We’ll be back at it at 1pm.

Living Life as an Experiment

Have you ever had that experience in which what you have been wishing for materializes and you can hardly catch your breath? You can hardly believe it is real. It is as if your mind has been read and you find yourself in a place where all the right things align? A place that you thought may only exist in your imagination but in fact is real and only an hour away. One that doesn’t hold perfection but does hold immense promise? And your eyes may or may not occasionally leak as a result.

You feel a little like Alice in your own version of a Wonderland- a place full of curiosity, provoking thought, happy people, and things to learn and see and do?

Yeah. That is me right now. See….

I love teaching dance in the public school system. I love it for its potential for students, its representation of the breadth of the field, its opportunity to develop dance advocates.

Dance in the K-12 setting allows me to teach everything I love about dance: technical theory, history, performance theory, and the creative process. Every lesson is experiential, whether it is challenging our definitions and applications of technique, understanding the legacy of dance in concert and social forms, or relating dance to other subject areas to simply make sense of life. (Okay, maybe not so simply but certainly profoundly.)

Teaching in the public schools has introduced me to a passion for teaching and understanding many layers of development (social, emotional, cognitive) that I didn’t realize I had when I was working exclusively in the world of dance.

Teaching in the public schools has introduced me to a desire to really connect with people and not merely communicate with them on a variety of levels. Teaching here has allowed me to put down my biases (artistic, social,….), be willing to truly be seen by the students among me. I have learned to truly see them. Students have taught me about what is most important in life. It may include battements and flatbacks, but it isn’t about them specifically.

Teaching in the public schools has introduced me to people that have made deep impressions on my life- in how I think, plan, structure, communicate, create,….. Some of these introductions have been in the classroom, or in the school itself. Others have been due to related work, such as assessment development at the state level. All have been professional and became personal.

Finally, I have met a community that shares my values and has put these values into practice. Our values are visible, tangible, sustainable.

  “Live life as an experiment”.

I have been doing this in the studio my whole life.
I have done that with my dance career.
I am doing that now with my career in education.

I have gained so much in teaching dance in a K-8 program for the last few years. But I have come to decide that I do my best work with secondary students- middle school, high school, and college. I like the K-12 setting for the inclusion of all aspects of dance rather than segregating concepts into classes and styles (modern, jazz, history, composition,….).

Now, I return to the high school level but this time in a district very different from the one I have known. I am directing a serious program of serious dancers with beautiful training. I lead a community of people committed to making dance and arts education a priority. I am already professionally challenged and supported.

I am grateful for all the lessons and the people that have led me here. And now, I am grateful for the opportunity for change and for growth. I know it won’t all be easy but it will be positive and it will be valuable. It will be professional and become personal.

Just as “a world-class education”- a Wonderland- should be.

present and connected

This weekend I had the distinct honor of presenting at the McEntire Education Summit, hosted by Trent McEntire. Trent and I are old friends- the best kind, where you don’t speak nearly often enough but when you do, it is as if not a day has gone by. Trent is a force in the pilates world, a real icon and one that takes people and their potential seriously.

A couple months ago, Trent and I had a conversation about helping educators enhance their relationships, their connections, with their clients.

This, in tandem with research I have been conducting with a dear colleague and special education expert, Karen Hicks, has launched a new line of professional development presentations for me.

We address the presence and application of movement in academic classrooms, how to conceive and implement authentic arts integration. As a dance educator in a dance-specific setting, I present alternatives to the traditional and often shaming methods of teaching dance. Here is another way to describe it:

What is it?

Empathy-based pedagogy, emotionally-intelligent teaching

What is the application?

Acknowledgement of people first, then organizing movement systems to help them reach toward and beyond their potential. Get the most out of your time, get the most out of your experiences.

What is the result?

Happiness by way of growth, service, and satisfaction. By way of relationships, communication, and support.

Why? (Although I have always known the why, Trent has continually pushed me to find the words).

I believe movement connects. (Bodies to ourselves, our minds, our ideas, our potential)

I believe connections save lives. (Connections of people, ideas, dots, movements, mantras, communities, you name it…….)

But the longer why is that it has taken me years to put down my “dance-traumas” as a friend has described them. The wounds and complications experienced in training my body and mind to master and compete. For what?

In working with the students I see on a regular basis, life is already full of challenge, condescension, and competition. Pitting students against each other, yelling corrections, and delivering nasty looks doesn’t produce anything productive. Even subtle “judgements” set up obstacles over solutions. I am not against competition altogether, but there is healthy competition and unhealthy. I realized that many of the negative messages I received from teachers (of all subjects- NOT just dance!!!) were probably not even intended, they may simply have been received. So my goal is to help people understand those messages and build intention in what they are sending and what they are choosing to receive.

Want to know more?

  • I will be teaching a pedagogy-based movement experience for Dance in the Annex this August (dates to come) in Grand Rapids, MI.
  • Karen Hicks and I will be presenting a professional development session for STEAM teachers at the Mt. Hope STEAM school in Lansing in August.
  • AND we will be presenting at the National Dance Education Organization Conference in Chicago this November (Saturday 11:30).
  • Or I/we can come to you…..

This is the work that has nurtured some of the best relationships of my life. You deserve the same.


Bend It Like Bikram

Gloriously, I am back into my Bikram practice. So far, it hasn’t been as frequent as I’d like but I gradually feel myself coming back. In the months away, I continued to teach and dance yet I lost a lot of strength. It has been a strenuous year in terms of body and spirit and thus, the return to a class that makes me feel safe and able to care for myself is most welcomed. It also inspires me to provide that same sense of safety and self-nurturing for my students. More on that to follow…..

One night, post Bikram, I woke to check on one of my kids I heard talking in their sleep. Once awake, true to form, my mind wandered and wondered. There have been several situations  pulling at me to reflect on what I do and how I do it. Within this process, I am pushed to define the differences of those that practice the arts and those that claim it as an identity. I work with both. I am both.

Here is what I decided that night:

I believe anything done with intention becomes an art. Expression is not about the audience but the projection of self. Therefore, the performance never ends, the processing is the constant rehearsal. The refinement results in enlightenment and a lift of the soul created through an authentic act of learning.


I view the arts as a humanity- an innate part of the soul through which one creatively problem-solves and articulates deeply-held theories and ideas– so deep they shall be expressed only in artistic form.


Artists are those who nurture the talent and commitment to perform at intense levels and who might also feel they know no other way. For them, practicing the arts is beyond a lifestyle; it is a way of life, a way of knowing, a way of being.

This summer I have been more attentive to my dabbling in the arts. I have returned to sketching, painting, crafting, creating, cooking, writing, knitting, even cross-stitching (working on patches for my son’s backpack since patches are really, really hard to find these days!).

I have realized that for a long time I have not claimed some of these interests and meager talents because I don’t have professional level skills nor am I pursuing them as a profession. I say “claim” in the meaning that they are a part of my identity (except knitting, I have called myself a knitter for a few years now). I have also tended to see writing as an extension of my work as a dance educator simply because of the subject matter. I haven’t allowed that identity to stand alone.

I have also noticed that I feel the need to find an excuse to engage in these enjoyments- a recipient for the item I am knitting, etc. I have a hard time allowing myself to do these things because I enjoy them. I feel pressured to be busy and have a product that proves it wasn’t time spent selfishly.

So, I pledge to work on that. I am striving to see “play” as the invaluable tool it is- the time to connect with others, let some things go, and open doors for new ideas and inspiration.

Bending my thoughts to be just as intentional about play and rest and creative expressions, just as I bend my body for nourishment and nurturing in Bikram.

Areas of Expertise and The Great Disconnect

This year I had the opportunity to talk to several professionals representing institutions with K-12 dance education programs. Within our conversations, the subject of technique came up and it was clear that the faculty teaching technique courses were only expected to teach within a single discipline; their “area of expertise”.

I casually asked if the faculty were ever allowed or encouraged to teach across disciplines- technically, conceptually, theoretically,…. I was usually met with a repeat that faculty tend to teach in their “area of expertise” which was defined by how they made their money dancing professionally.

Yet, their students will be expected to teach several disciplines. (As well as composition, history, theory,….)
Yet, very little of the dance I see being made these days is “pure” in style or approach.
Yet, the biggest cry of our society is that schools aren’t producing creative, thinking people.

What strikes me most about this is not even the “do as I say and not as I do” approach to curriculum planning but the narrowness by which these dancers must view their own field.  I think it is a little…..dated.

Maybe they aren’t watching the same dance I am- in terms of what is being made, who is making it, where it is presented, and who it serves.

I “get” why one would want to stick to what they know best when assuming a position of authority, as an educator does. Yet, why not model how to connect ideas, take risks, and think outside traditions. I know it feels messy from an administrative point of view. So what.

Is it because these programs are in “higher education” that they must have “specialized” conversations. Or is it because these college students will be teaching children that they may be less “specialized” in their own teaching. I am not suggesting that every dance educator serve as a generalist, but I think we could benefit from a having a few more.

Where is the value- the content or the learner?

Maybe I should ask where is the bias- the content or the learner?

I suppose that is the other piece that feels dated to me: I am the educator- come to meet me. Heaven forbid we meet the learner’s needs.

What if making connections IS the area of expertise?

Sometimes the arts aren’t very creative.

What are we going to do about it?

The Secrets Behind My Busy

I don’t love busy. In fact, I hate it.

At this stage of my career, though, and my stage in life- working mom with two small children, busy is a must. I work really hard, though, in making busy not just busy-for-the-flash-of-it, but for the intention and advancement toward personal and family goals. And, truly, for the ultimate satisfaction in each and every endeavor. I have reached a point now that if the endeavor doesn’t feed me, I don’t do it. I don’t have time to waste.

Here’s my approach to busy:

1. Composite Career

So I have been reading this book, One Person/Multiple Careers by Marci Alboher. I am a slasher.

As someone working in the arts, I have always felt the need to have options for what might come next. This was definitely true when performing- my gigs were short-term. This was true in grad school when completing the task at hand was intended to put me on a path for my teaching career. When my career path took unexpected turns, that at times meant assessing my then-current situation with my long-standing goals. At other times, those turns meant being forced to pursue other options. Parenting helped open my eyes to the rest that life has to offer. Arts integration validated my personal interests in other academic pursuits such as writing and has encouraged me to pursue some of those interests professionally as well.

Essentially, I am attempting to live up all of my passions and in doing so, all of my segments of life have improved.

2. Strategies in Layering

In having a composite career, multiple jobs happening simultaneously, I have to be mindful for connections between projects. This is how I tend to choose projects these days. For example, the work that I do with the Michigan Arts Education and Assessment Project, directly relates to my teaching. Although we are currently working on high school assessments, and I teach K-8, I have been able to scale some of the work I have done back for the grades I teach. As such, the planning for my classes is streamlined, in a sense creating less work instead of more. Now, the timing of the work can be challenging but this is a little like pouring water from one glass into another. The volume is simply redistributed.

One of my research projects involves a colleague and our work with students in her classroom. We spend a good amount of time together after school discussing the work, but the research experiences are during the school day.

3. Living Life

I can’t help but work at home. The when and how, though, is strategic. Now, I have to admit I have the greatest life partner in sharing responsibility and caring for all things home. We schedule when either of us can sneak away to get some work completed on the weekends or after the kids go to bed. When we do this, we know we can stop thinking about the work until it is time to focus on it.

4. One of the best gifts my husband has ever given- and gift-giving is one of his super-powers- is a Kindle. He did this after our second child was born and I was up often in the evenings with her. For some reason, I didn’t use it that much. This year, though, I have made up for lost time.

I am the kind of mom, as most are I suspect, that if one of my kids wakes up in the night or yells out, I wake up and stay up even after they’ve rolled over and gone right back to sleep. For a long time this just led me to think and worry about….whatever…. Months ago, I realized I could get library books for my Kindle and a whole new world opened! Now my challenge can be trying to back to sleep since the sheer indulgence of being able to read with a quiet house has been an elusive dream for so long!

4. Living in the Moment

Lastly, I learned this in dance years ago- in fact it might be my most favorite aspect of dancing- BE and BECOME. Living in the moment helps me combat that feeling of never having any “me time”. When I am choosing what I want to do, it is all “me time”. When it doesn’t feel like “me time” any more, I know it is time to make a change.

(Boy, when I put it like that it sounds simple. It hasn’t felt that simple. At any rate, I am glad to have reached this place.)

What are your secrets behind busy?