The Dance Studio Ecosystem

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Thursday was not a good day.  I was still adjusting to the news that I was loosing a teacher who I had managed to form a good connection with.  Normally, for me, music is an escape.  When given the opportunity, I can put on some tunes and go inside my mind and let it take me someplace else.  It is what helps me get through the 45 minutes I do on the treadmill but I just wasn’t able to do that on Thursday.  I found my mind wandering from the music and back to the monotony that is the treadmill so I had to cut it short.  Combine that with a lackluster group class on Thursday and a lesson where I found some of the old demons a little closer to the surface than I wanted.  So I skipped the party on Friday to give myself a mental break.

As I’ve thought things through, I do realize that there is more to what I’m feeling.  Dancing is very important to me and continuing to grow and develop as a dancer is still a goal of mine.  It is hard to explain how trans-formative dance has been to me but lets just say I’m not ready to give that up.

But, as strange as this may sound, the social aspect of the studio is just as important to me.  Remember that introvert does not mean recluse.  I love socializing but only in safe environments and not for long periods of time.  Going to a lesson and a group is almost perfect.  Walking into that studio is a little like walking into Cheers (for those who remember that show).  Students and instructors call out your name and you get that little moment to say hi to everyone.  People who you would likely never meet in your normal circles just become dance friends and people you enjoy spending little bits of time with.  I guess it is the whole shared experience thing as you can relate to some of their struggles.  There is that little bit of connection when someone comes off a particularly tough lesson and you can tell them “been there, done that, it gets better”.

I used the word ecosystem since the studio is always evolving.  You get people who walk in as beginners and they tend to cluster with each other.  The studio promotes this by having group classes at various levels so we are the advanced students and it is always funny when this separation develops.  Eventually, you get some of them who get brave and come to parties.  At first, they cling together but, sooner or later, you can peel one off for a dance.  With enough time, and if they stick around long enough, they become part of that core group of “regulars” – those of us who take multiple lessons and groups each week.

In a healthy ecosystem, there will be lots of new students entering since many of them will never make it to be regulars.  (I picture those nature programs of baby sea turtles with hundreds of hatchlings heading for the water with some getting picked off along the way and only a few surviving to come back to beach as adults).  People leave for all sorts of reasons.  They lose interest, they realize it costs way too much money, one of the two in a couple hates it, they move away, or other life changes.  If the ecosystem is healthy, then the changes aren’t abrupt and people fill the gaps created and life moves on.  It is changed but not truly altered.

The same is true when an instructor leaves although, depending on the instructor, the level of change can vary.  I’ve seen them cash out instructors who were still in their probationary period and they leave just a few ripples.  One day they are there, the next day they are gone and noone speaks of them again.  The ecosystem can be harsh like nature at times.  When those like the Body Double leave, it creates a huge gap.  Rather like a forest ravaged by fire.  You know that, in time, nature will recover and the forest will grow again but it will be different and the adjustment period will be long.  Lose three instructors in a short period of time and the impact is seismic.

For me, the issue comes down to whether I have a place in whatever new ecosystem develops.  I’ve always had these thoughts that I don’t fit in very well.  It contrasts with my natural desire to be independent and different and yet wanting to have some social contact with other people.  So, when things change, I naturally wonder if it is time for me to leave as well.  Has the ecosystem shifted enough to become too harsh for me to survive.  Do I need to venture out into the cold and hope to find a new place and group to take me in?  But what if they don’t?  Or what will I do to whatever ecosystem I drop in on?

OK, that’s a little abstract.  Let me get down to some specifics.  With the Body Double leaving, there is a greater likelihood of a severe shortage of women at groups.  It also reduces the number of instructors who are qualified to teach more advanced level courses.  All of this simply increases the chances of me attending groups lead by Z (like Thursday), or having to dance with her in a group.  Yes, we can choose to ignore each other but it still feels awkward and I don’t like it.

Without the instructors, there are a limited number of ladies who attend the parties.  There is my designated cha cha partner who I love to dance with.  There is Tex’s wife who doesn’t come that often.  There are two other unattached ladies who I can dance with but, with one, it often turns into a wrestling match as we jockey for control.  In other words, the ecosystem has changed and that makes parties less enjoyable.

I suppose I could just go find an instructor and find a place to work and just take some private lessons and that would help me work on becoming the best dancer I can be.  But I don’t think that would be enough.  I need the whole ecosystem.  There are some studios in the area that have open houses from time to time and that is a possibility.

But the other thing that hit me yesterday is I really want to do this West Coast Swing routine.  It was just a random thought that hit me at some point but I just flashed back to the lesson on Thursday and one particular part and I was reliving how it felt and I know I want to do that at Showcase.

So it is clear that I won’t be totally leaving the Famous Franchise anytime soon.  I will continue to explore other opportunities and, if I am brave enough, I will try to experience some other dance ecosystems in my area.

I don’t know where this road leads next.  But tomorrow is Monday and it is a new day and I will be at the studio.  It will be the first real day since I learned of the upcoming change (Thursday was still too new for me).  I’ll take the first steps towards something knowing that the dance ecosystem will be changing around me.  I can only hope it will still be friendly to me.


  1. Hang in there, Wall. Remember that everything changes, and the feelings you’re having now will, too. Losing the Body Double was a blow, but, some wonderful development may be waiting in the wings. Think of all you’ve overcome to get to this point. Tou will survive this uncertainty and discomfort and end up better than ever. I’m looking forward to hearing how that unfolds.

  2. I love the comparison of new students to sea turtles.

    It’s too bad you live so far north. I know a female instructor that I bet you would get along with really well. She’s also an independent instructor, not affiliated with any particular studio, so she’ll be around as long as she doesn’t move out of the city. If you ever decide that you finally want to move away from all the snow up north, you could come down here and I would make it a point to personally introduce you. 🙂

  3. Hey. I say explore! everything, everywhere. The dance world is an ocean and if you hang out on one beach too long, you’re liable to be eaten by a seagull (baby sea turtle reference:). Take a year to see what is “out there.” If you like West Coast, go to a few of their events and have fun dancing. There are more opportunities for you than you can even imagine.

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