Life Update: Last Dance (for now…)

Well hello there, strangers. The last few months have been busy to say the least, leaving me little time to dedicate to writing. In this period of life, I’ve made some choices and changes and I’m going to get into one of them now, because for me it’s therapeutic to write about it. If I’m honest, I’m not quite sure I’m at peace with my decision.

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All I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a dance teacher. Take the image below, for example. I was 8, this was a school assignment, and I was clear this is what my future had in store for me.

I was lucky to have been placed into dance classes when I was 5, and it clicked. I may not have been the best dancer the world has ever seen, but boy was my love for it strong. It quickly became my whole world as I joined the competitive program at age 9 and also joined the dance team once I got to high school. I owe this foundational love to 3 teachers who instilled the experience of a joy-filled, encouraging & supportive dance culture. Thank you, Jen, Nikki & Teresa. You are the reason I am even writing this.

Throughout the years, my friends slowly started to leave the dance programs we joined together to pursue other things. I’ve seen many people bail because their friends did. To me, it didn’t matter. I stayed even if it meant dancing with girls 4 years younger than me, because it meant I was dancing. I think that’s how I knew this was more than just an activity for me.

Senior year of high school came and decisions needed to be made. I’d go to college, because that was the thing to do. Would I still dance? Would I teach? Would this be the last dance recital for me forever? I honestly had no idea.

I initially enrolled in a journalism program, and quickly changed directions to “communications” because I realized fast it was the wrong choice for me. During that time, the owner of the dance studio I just graduated from offered me a teaching assistant role, so I helped with 2 classes that year. It was eye-opening, but I loved it. I didn’t dance much my Freshman year, but that was soon about to change.

I remember in the middle of freshman year of college, I stumbled upon the University of Minnesota-Duluth dance studio. It was small, it was old, but there was a long list of class schedules that hung from the door. “Maybe I’ll sign-up for a ballet class next semester, just to keep up with it if I’m going to be teaching,” I thought. That one thought was the start of the next 3 ½ years that led me to KNOW I was born to do this.

I enrolled in the dance minor program, learned about the history, the cultures, the differences of choreography that opened my eyes to how amazing this art form really is. I performed routines that were out of the ordinary for me, and I discovered my own choreography for the first time and how to share and teach my voice through movement. I joined the student dance club and met my best friends. I choreographed a routine for our show every year, and still have notes from classmates of how my dances were their favorite and made them feel something. (side note: there are tears in my eyes as I write this). UMD changed dance for me, and I knew this was just the start.

In literally the blink of an eye, college was over. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was the best 4 years of my life. I look back on those days with such a grateful heart. I decided it was time to leave the town I was most comfortable in and head to the “big city.” The economy in 2009 was not good, so I took several part-time jobs to gain work experience in the degree I just paid a lot of money for.

I joined drop-in classes at Zenon Dance School with the money I did make and continued to expand my dance horizons and move myself out of my comfort zone. I auditioned for programs I didn’t make, and ones I did. One connection at Zenon led me to join a holiday kickline performance group, which eventually led to an injury that took me out of high kicking in heels for a bit. I changed routes and auditioned to choreograph a routine for them the following season. From there, my Minneapolis choreography journey took off, and the ask to create more routines grew to several other groups in Minneapolis.  While choreography is my favorite thing in the world to do, the desire to get back to teaching hung over me. In 2012, my best friend Ashley called me, saying someone she coached gymnastics for was opening a new dance studio in a suburb of Minneapolis and needed teachers. I knew this was the chance and I said yes. We connected instantly, had the same beliefs about technique & choreography, and how we should treat students. That fall I continued my journey as a part-time dance teacher. I remember the excitement and my Facebook post about it saying; “Dreams do come true.”

I grew into the woman I am now at the dance studio. I was 24, and now I am 32. During this time, I continued to choreograph for local performance groups, judge high school dance team, work my full-time job that was truly my career I went to school for, met my husband, bought a house, and settled into life differently than I ever have.

And that’s what led me to make a gut-wrenching decision. I have new passions, I have new priorities, I have different dreams and goals. The tug on my heart to explore other things has been heavy this year. I taught a lot of classes on top of my job and I felt the exhaustion and the dread creep in each week I had to be “on” after working 9-10 hour days. I couldn’t keep up. I feel the unhealthiest & weakest physically than I have in my life. I’ve stopped taking care of myself in the midst of trying to not let anyone else down and say “yes” to being everything to everybody. Sadly, it has caught up with me and I had to force myself to make a change.

Saying out loud that “I will no longer be teaching dance” has made me cry at least 3 times. In my heart I know it’s the right thing to do for now, but I also feel like I sold out. I let 8-year-old Heather down. I gave in to a cushy, corporate job for stability. I bought a suburban home that requires me to make a good salary with benefits. There’s a part of me that is disappointed, but another part that is equally relieved. This was the dream my husband and I wanted, and now we have MORE time to build the ones we wanted to together. To travel, to get a puppy, to cook dinner together, to just live life simply. I’m giving up my passion not because anyone asked me to, but because I have found a greater passion right now that needs my attention.

I will finish out my 7th year at the current studio I work for, and it is truly bittersweet as I have been there since the beginning. I will also be finishing my last year choreographing with a local dance group this September. I am so blessed to have been a part of many children AND adult dance journeys. Dance is the reason I have the job I do. It’s the reason I have the life I do. It gave me confidence, poise, taught me how to be a teammate, a leader, and how to love something fully. It is my identity, it is who I am, and just because I’m taking a turn down a different road, doesn’t mean it won’t be my identity anymore. I don’t think this is the end, but just the start of a new chapter. One where, maybe, I can get myself back into shape and be a student again. I’ve longed for dance to be something just for me for a long time, and now’s the chance to do that.

I said it in the beginning but being at peace with this decision is incredibly difficult for me. The world tells us to run towards our passions, but it doesn’t tell us to make a change even if you are happy. To be open to explore other things sometimes means taking a break from the thing you love. A part of me feels like I’ve been given a gift of time to see what else is out there for me, and I’m excited about it, but I also am sad to lose something I’ve devoted my entire life to. I always said, if I can show just one student their worth through dance in my classroom, I will have succeeded. I hope I was able to do that.

Thank you to the many parents for trusting me with your most precious gift. Thank you to my adult groups who have become my friends, who danced at my wedding, who believed in me to give them routines that will make them look good. I will be forever grateful for the type of class we created together and for your endless support. You have been some of my biggest cheerleaders.

“The point of change isn’t to make yourself happy. The point of change is to grow, to show up for yourself, to express yourself, to be an example of what’s possible, to test the limits, to have new experiences. You can be happy and grateful for where you are and still choose to change everything, just because you want to.” – sam laura brown

Until we dance again,

Heather

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