Every once in a while, I see a new dancer who comes into the scene with not a clue what they are doing. Someone who has not had the chance or money to take classes, or who does not have the opportunity to gain exposure to the level of dancing some of us are regularly privy to. Sometimes, this dancer is naturally “gifted”; there is something in their past or some sort of other ability that gives them a jump start in the dance world. Other times, they have just stumbled into dance later in life, but have a deep-seated passion for the feeling of personal expression that it gives.
One of the girls on my dance team falls into the former category; crazy in-shape and used to all kinds of movement… just not to the music. I fell into the second category. Not much past experience that could help me, and physically not in overly great shape. It took me at least two years to even have a passing understanding of what I was doing, particularly since I did not have the finances or physical access to training, socials, and congresses.
At around the two-year mark, I became very, very lucky. Somehow, the local dance teacher in Guelph (whom I will call N.K.) was willing to take a chance on me and train me up and work with me to make me into a dancer. It was with him that I had my first taste of a congress, my first training outside of beginner university classes, and my first chances to perform in dance. I worked my butt off, and started making real headway. I gained connections to the outside dance world, and started networking. Things only went up from there.
Fast forward another year or two, and I encountered another dancer who would take me under his wing. This man, who I will call S.B., became my mentor, teacher and friend in the world of West Coast Swing. Having only met me once, he saw something in me that he thought was worthy of development. He gave me training I could *never* have afforded on a student budget and made me fall in love with the magical world of West Coast Swing. Even though I currently do not have the time and access to West Coast to pursue it further, I know some day his guidance will be responsible for my proper return to that genre.
Yet another year after that, a Zouk instructor (D.Z.) decided to invest in me and made me a member of an amazing team. He has taught me how to teach, and given me a great understanding of technique. My journey there is still growing, including my first European trip to perform.
Without these three people, I could never have become a teacher, or a dancer whom others admire or look up to. All three of these people took a chance on me. There are many people, both “gifted” and not, who walk through the door to a social. Some of those people will never seek to become a great dancer. Some of these people will invest their money and time into making it happen. Others will work their butts off if given the chance, but don’t have the opportunity to do so. There are a couple inspiring new dancers in my life that fall into this category, like I did several years ago. I hope they fight for their chance to shine.
As someone who has been in these shoes, I know the power that experienced teachers have over the direction of these lives. Dance has the ability to inspire, heal and connect people. I want to be someone who acts as a conduit for this power, like those three teachers were to me. It’s always a risk to invest; some of those people are prone to take those opportunities for granted. But, even if every teacher takes just one of those passionate new dancers under their wing at a time, we can spread dance indefinitely and create inspired and passionate artists.
To me, finding that person is not about whether the individual is a martial artist, super flexible, or an athlete. It’s about finding someone who has such a deep-seated passion for dance and such a desire to make it happen that they will work as hard as humanly possible to become an inspiration to others, regardless of what level they begin at. I had none of those former advantages when I started – but I was willing to sweat and cry to make it happen. Now, I feel I can safely call myself a dancer. All of the former training in the world means nothing without that drive. It is far easier to develop someone’s physical abilities than it is to motivate their mind.
So, next time you see that person who is trying so hard to become something in dance… remember this. Remember it’s not about where they are now. Dancers who wrote me off in the beginning, who didn’t want to dance with me, who didn’t see my potential and passion at the beginning, now see me as a figure to be admired. These people are still good people, and I still enjoy their company. But, these will not be the individuals who have directed the course of my life, who have inspired me, or whom I thank at every opportunity for being my guiding dance-light.
To those who are passionate beginners without the means or opportunity to pay for training: find a coach and a mentor. They may come when you least expect it. They will be the male or female teacher who is not interested in your looks or your abilities, but only in your passion. They will develop you where the only price they expect from you is your passion, hard work, and gratitude. They are rare, but they exist.
If you find one, do not take them for granted just because you are paying little or no money. If anything, they are worth far more than the teacher who forgets about you the second you leave the studio, but whom you give your money to. Others pay your mentor, who has invested in you their time – which they probably normally charge for – to give you the opportunity to share in their passion and learn from them. Nothing will make them happier than seeing you grow, but few things will make them as unhappy as investing in a black hole. Your hard work can inspire your teacher, the same way their skill inspires you.