A student recently asked me, “Ashley, why aren’t you a dancer?”
I smiled and replied, “I am a dancer!”
“No, but why aren’t you a dancer? Why are you a teacher?”
“Because I was meant to be a teacher.”
She looked at my curiously and then refocused on her across-the-floor exercise. It wasn’t until later that I could understand the seriousness of her question and my answer. You see, teaching is my art. I have known this since early in my career. The pull of the studio was always stronger than the stage. My love of dance was deeply connected to how we were all challenged and shaped by our efforts in class and in rehearsal. My desire to perform was always muted by my interest in what happened before those moments.
Aging as a dancer is bittersweet. It is deeply inspiring to move in a body that has been practicing its craft for decades and yet I am constantly becoming away of its changing abilities. I rest easy in knowing that I chose teaching as a profession.
Yet I wasn’t always aware of how important that calling was to me personally. I remember a meeting in graduate school with an advisor, going on and on about my ideas for career advancement, imagining some sort of administrative job with an impressive sounding title. I mean, come on, why was I in graduate school?
He listened and paused before asking, “But Ashley, what about teaching?”
Because anyone who has meet me, anyone who has seen me engage with students in the studio, in the classroom, in rehearsal, or on the street in a parking lot knows that my true gifts are helping to reveal the abilities and encourage the growth of the students I work with in every setting. Although I think I’d do a great job reading grants, creating frameworks, and reimagining the future of arts education, what challenges and inspires me the most is the student-centered work of teaching.
I yearn for more prep time and occasionally feel conflicted about teaching as much as I do in order to make a living in this rural area. I am attempting to share dance with the largest possible population here as I believe movement and dance as a form are important and valuable, especially today when our lives and our kids’ lives are often light on healthy moving filled with meaning.
This is paired with a desire to be fully present with those that I am working with and to not let the number of classes I teach detract from creating positive, growth-filled dance experiences for the students I adore and believe in. This balance is a constant game I am playing, but I feel blessed in the assurance I have that this work is worth doing.
I am a dancer. I radiate dance. And I believe you see this in my teaching.