I have to admit it was not always a joy walking into an 8:30am class to teach Paquita or attempting to keep the focus of energetic children for extended periods of time (even with a steaming cup of coffee in my hand). However, the exuberance, the commitment, and the unrestrained passion that I witnessed on stage this past Saturday was certainly worth every early morning trip to Mystic School of Ballet.
When the dance teachers and crew (made up of entirely Mystic Ballet staff and company members) arrived at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum Auditorium I was pleasantly surprised by the high caliber nature of the theatre space. While I imagined that a stadium-seat performance venue would not cater to a dance performance, this was in fact a perfect set up. Every parent would be able to see his or her child’s expressivity and significant presence on the stage.
In order to accomplish this pleasant experience for the audience we began working immediately to set the spacing for each number. In a twenty minute block every piece was set and run twice. The entire staging process was operated with all of the proficiency of a professional program. The dancers were responsive, the teachers both concise and realistic, and the technicians (Mystic Ballet Company members) running the lights and the music were speedy and efficient. As we continued running through the diverse compilation of pieces in the show I could already see the girl’s excitement bubbling to the surface.
On the other hand it was extremely strange for me to be correcting spacing, and fixing mistakes in the dances while talking through a microphone. I have spent such a long time perfecting my ability to absorb criticism and correction that I have never taken the occasion to imagine myself as the instructor giving explicit directions. But consequently, getting to be on the other side of this performance experience was remarkably educational and satisfying.
As I talked my girls through their jitters and apprehensions I felt myself being useful and proficient as their teacher and as their adviser. The girls in my Jazz dance (“A Little Party”) declared that they had used a whole bottle of glitter on their eyelids in order to dazzle the audience. “Do we look like we’re going to a party Miss Morgan?” I could only smile and reply “you girls look like you will be attending quite the soiree this afternoon.” The fact that they truly cared about the way they would be perceived on stage out of their own desire made me incredibly proud.
And then when it came time, I was able to watch almost the entire show backstage. Having taught every level except the “fairies” (3-6 yr olds), I found myself beaming for the duration of the performance. I had played a role in this production and I could call some of the elated energy on stage “my” creation. But my happiness was not a possessive one. In no way did I see myself reflected back at me on the stage. What I saw were girls as individuals who were proud of what they had accomplished, possessing the confidence and the respect to perform in front of an audience.
This summer I began teaching the school summer program as a part of the responsibilities that were included in my internship. But I greatly underestimated the possibility of artistic and scholastic fulfillment in being an educator. I witnessed and experienced so many moments teaching these children that made me question my own approach to dance and instruction. I will take this unique exposure to teaching with me as I return to the University environment, thinking about tackling my own learning experience with the same energy and perseverance as the students at Mystic Ballet School.