Well I must give you the details of the conversation I had with OwnerGuy last night and talk about the last couple of months and the future. That is just to give you a rough overview of what I want to cover because once I start going this could start roaming all over the place.
First, I know that a dance studio is in business to make money. Yes, I’m sure a lot of teachers enjoy what they do and take a certain pride in seeing a student succeed. I don’t deny that for a minute. But that kind of feel good stuff doesn’t pay the bills. Any business needs to make money to stay in business and that means selling as many lessons to as many people as possible. This is true of any business so dance studios are not unique in that regard.
That means they need to make you feel good and make you feel like you are progressing and give you reasons to continue to buy lessons. I’ve had instructors say that they would never tell me I’m doing well if they didn’t believe it to be true but I really don’t buy that. A student who feels like he/she sucks is not going to buy more lessons and so part of this is pumping us up to make us feel good. That is not to say that every compliment is false but I think it stands to reason that not every positive statement is 100% true. Sometimes, you get in your head and down on yourself and the natural reaction of a teacher is to pull you out of the mud by telling you that things are OK even if they may not be.
As an introvert, I notice things. At Showcase, there was a lady trying on one of the bright, shiny, sparkly, expensive dresses. It did look good but I could see the look on her face as she’s trying to figure out if this really was her. I catch OwnerGuy giving a look to Kid T because he’s got to get on the floor and she runs over to her to gush on the dress. I watched the other day as Cosmo is leaning into the office talking with Z and as he turns, he goes from looking concerned to getting a big smile on his face. Kind of like a switch going off to say “game face on” since he knows he’s about to face the paying customers and we all like to be greeted like we are family. Now, I’m not saying that none of this is real and it would be overly cynical to assume that it is all kabuki theater. But it is something to keep in mind that a dance studio wants to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere that encourages you to keep coming back and keep taking more lessons.
But, as someone who craves authenticity and despises phoniness, I struggle with what is real and what is just the puppet show. Last year, at this very time, I was struggling with staying with an instructor who was a terrible fit for my personality and I was finally figuring out how much damage was being done. These last couple of months I’ve been struggling with a different thing. On the surface, there is still the Cheers like atmosphere when I walk in but it was hard not to feel like a second class citizen. The actions didn’t match the warm words. It was like they were happy to keep taking my money but I was never going to get what I needed to truly advance. That’s done a number on me (ya think???). If I take the big picture view, I can see that I wasn’t mentally in the game for Showcase. I thought I was but I really wasn’t and it showed in the fact that I was all over the board. There were flashes of improvement but a lot of regressing as well. At the end of the day, I’m left about where I was six months ago.
So, OwnerGuy grabs me after my first lesson during group class because it is time to re-up. He always gets me right after Showcase. It is a win/win because I get some extra points that help during the little contest and they get more money. And, since most of the time, I’m on a high after Showcase, I usually jump at the chance to sign up for more lessons.
This time was different. He started in with the whole “how’s it going” and that he wanted to follow up on our previous conversations to see if I thought things were going in the right direction. It was a big step for me to (a) find the right words, (b) tell the truth, and (c) not be overly emotional but I told him that the hardest thing for me was that I can’t sense progress. I don’t know how to measure how I’m doing and I feel like I’m just treading water. The good thing was he was honest with me about Showcase and that he saw some of the same things. He asked me a real direct question and I had to respond that I really didn’t have confidence in the studio’s ability to help me reach my goals. It was tough to say and I think it was tough for him to hear but I had to get it out. I got very blunt with him and told him that I thought they’ve created a situation where the cool kids who do all the comps get all the attention and the rest of us are left fighting for scraps like a pack of wild dogs. (OK, I didn’t use that imagery but I just thought of it and it sounded cool so I went with it). He asked me if I felt angry and I deferred on that. The reality is it hurts but it’s entirely unmanly to admit to another man that your feelings are hurt so I just kept that one to myself. He said he’s working on it and he said I was probably expressing what others felt so I think he’s gotten hints from others. I did almost lose it while trying to get that out because feeling like I’ve been kicked to the corner like trash on pick up day is not a good thing. Anyway, I did actually get a couple of flashes of real emotion from him. And not just the “oh my gosh, we’re going to lose a paying customer” type of thing. It was more of a “maybe we really screwed up here”.
I walked out without signing up for new lessons. We talked about goals and we talked a bit about how to structure lessons and that I need a better road map. We talked about performance quality because that’s important to me. He talked about me getting into different stuff and how I’m trying to find my signature. That actually hit home and I was happy he was able to get that. He did tell me some things that the judges said that they didn’t write down and didn’t tell me but it was about the solos and I guess they saw me doing more things to engage the crowd which was a good thing. (I was working with the lady coach last night and one of the first things she said to me was “you’re a storyteller”)
At the end, he asked if there was anything else they could do. I left it with the statement that I have to start seeing action and not just words.
So, where do we stand? I need to figure out the appropriate path forward. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a truly successful competitive dancer but I’m not quite sure I’m ready to totally give up on it either. I do know that I really want to explore and figure out how I can communicate more during a dance. This is going to sound strange and I have no idea where it is coming from but I want my dancing to be meaningful. I want to reach in and grab the things I’m feeling and show them to the world through my dancing. I just don’t quite know how to get there. I desperately want to believe and trust OwnerGuy but I’m not yet sure that I can.
OK, but now I also have to look at my part in this. OwnerGuy did say one very true thing to me somewhere in the conversation and that was that I needed to talk with them. They aren’t mind readers. And he’s right. If we had more conversations, then things wouldn’t build up the way they do. Kind of like doing a controlled burn to knock back the brush so you don’t end up getting an out of control inferno. That’s tough for me. I’m very guarded about these feeling things (well except here when I can just say anything). And, I don’t like imposing myself on someone so just walking up and saying “we have to talk” isn’t my style. Lastly, I’m not quite convinced Kid T is on board for those kind of conversations. So, if I decide to re-up, I have to commit to being able to share these things before I just get so far inside my head that I can’t see the light.
So there it is. I do know that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. They have succeeded in creating the whole dance studio as a family and I do feel bonded with the other students. I know those bonds could be created elsewhere though. But what it really comes down to is that despite all the bad stuff, my heart tells me I belong there. I just think there are more opportunities to explore what I want to explore. What that is I still can’t define. It isn’t social dancing or pure competitive. I’ve gotten glimpses of the open routines and the Tango routine we did with the coach looks particularly inviting. It is going to stretch me and I know she was trying to help me find a character to capture the feel of the dance which is what I want to do even though I know it will likely be difficult and challenging for me. So, yes, I’m highly likely to sign up again next week. But I also needed to get some things said so OwnerGuy doesn’t assume that I’m automatically money in the bank.
Lastly, just to be totally random, here is another song from the IPod of my life. I played it today to get me through the treadmill. I LOVE the intro. The opening guitar riff that goes into the drums which just builds until the guitar takes over and then we get the vocals. This is pure high energy music that must be played LOUDLY.
I give you FIRE WOMAN by the Cult (only song of theirs I really like by the way)