Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Off to School

This week marks the beginning of back to school season here in the Northeast.  The college kids pack up their lives and are campus bound while the younger ones cram in whatever last minute fun or shopping they can before Labor Day hits.

In years past, I was doing all the running around shopping and moving my kids from here to there.  This year, things are different.  Alex has graduated, is looking for a job and is living in New Baltimore.  Sarah has been in Pittsburgh for 5 years already and is now in the midst of her Pharmacy rotations.  Things are pretty stable with them this year.

It's my dance family that's in flux.  It marks losing my seniors from my dance class.

I've been teaching for a long LONG time.  Our dance year runs from December thru November with our recital just before Thanksgiving - yes, we dance all year with no summers off.  Most of my Seniors 're-enlisted' after recital this year to continue dancing for a while because, believe it or not, it's really difficult to leave it behind.  Generally, I lose my seniors around February or March - before graduation.  I'm used to that. They all get so busy with end of school activities or preparations for college there really is no time for dance.  It was different this year.  I had more of them stay much longer than I expected - June, July and August.  In fact, a couple of them are leaving me tomorrow... and they leave for college this weekend.  That speaks volumes to me. 

I spent the better part of 6 months just trying to stay comfortable in my own skin.  There were days and nights it was easier than others. If you've been following this blog, you know that I would stay home the week after my chemotherapy treatment to protect me from catching anything from the kids at the studio while my white blood cell count was so low.  Every third Tuesday, my usual dance day, I would stay home.  It was very difficult for me to do.  Teaching dance is much more than a paycheck to me - it's my mental health, my therapy, my joy.

On nights I wasn't there, I would get messages from the girls, not just my seniors, that they missed me.  These teenagers did not have an agenda in saying that.  Not a selfish thought was in their head.  I may have planned an exciting class while I was gone with a fantastic guest teacher.  It would have been so easy for them to forget about me and my struggles but they didn't.  They reached out to tell me how much they enjoyed the night, but wished I was there to share it with them.  How do I describe my relationship with these kids?  Wonderful...

In fact, one of them went above and beyond.  I would be having difficulty sleeping so would pop onto Facebook late at night.  It would be Juliane who would see me and chat with me until I felt tired enough to try to sleep.  Some nights she'd do her homework while spending the time with me - which I would only figure out after the long pauses between chat lines. It'd go something like this - 'Are you doing homework?' 'Ummm Maybe'.  'Great' - let's just say I wasn't too happy about that!! 

Most of the time that wasn't the case and it was just us chatting about stupid stuff, making each other laugh, high school/dance gossip or discussing what was going on with me at the moment.  JP was very curious to know about the medical side of things so I answered the questions as detailed as I could.  It didn't matter.  It kept my mind busy on the nights when I was feeling blue.  She didn't know the effect it had on me and how much I appreciated it.  It was a game changer.

It's not to say we didn't have a special bond already going into this... I'll back up 4 years.  Juliane appeared in my Workshop class then.    There are 2 events that bring me and my students closer together - competitions and the story ballet.  During one of the years, we did a solo together for competition.  I particularly like to do 'novelty' type dances - funny, unique, strange - all that.  For JP, it was 'Sweet Georgia Brown'.  You see, she played basketball at the time and was pretty good at it. She could even spin the ball on her finger and I knew I could work that into a Harlem Globetrotter type tap dance... Oh did I mention she's a great tap dancer???? Yeah - she can do it all...

I called the dance 'risky' because whenever you work with a basketball, things can go dramatically WRONG!  She was willing to take the risk, so my imagination went wild!  In the 3 minutes we had, she became the waterboy for a basketball team - pushing a cart filled with balls.  Spinning, bouncing, throwing them - all while tap dancing!!! (and not easy tap dancing either)  After doing assorted other 'tricks' she finally rode the cart off the stage.  Somewhere in the middle she kicked one of the balls away!  And in typical Juliane fashion, she used it to her advantage with the judges who just loved her abiltity to make lemonade out of lemons!  Let's just say, it was worth the risk - High Gold and top score.  Very satisfying!!!

Soon after that, we did the 2nd thing - a story ballet.  Basically, to accomplish this we start spending virtually 12 hours every Sunday together starting in September.  That year, I decided to do Sound of Music.  Juliane played both male roles.  But, now that I think about it, that year we did 2 other time consuming numbers - 'Be Our Guest' from Beauty and the Beast and 'Freak Flag' from Shrek.  All 3 things took a lot of time to create and rehearse but it was so worth it!!

Over the years we did other solo tap dances together for competition along with assorted group dances.  Rehearsals were always long and arduous, but still we liked being there.  A long weekend dance convention and competition gives us time to just hang and do other stuff, talk of other things and not just dance. 

It was the fall of last year that solidified our relationship.  We had tryouts for my version of Wicked/Wizard of Oz.  Juliane earned the lead role of Elphaba in our little production - which meant more Sundays!  JP had a level of commitment to this that I've never seen in anyone.  She worked so incredibly hard on perfecting whatever I was throwing at her - and it was ALOT!!! I ramped up the difficulty and she mastered it.  She was always one of my better dancers but with this she owned the top position with no doubt.

She earned my respect in so many other ways.  She never complained of  being too tired, a step being too hard or having to work with someone she didn't like.  If I needed help, she offered whether I needed shopping done or prop painting.  She encouraged all those around her to be better and respectful.

To top all this off - Juliane put on the performance of her life at our studio.  She was incredible.  She has a talent that is rare.  I'm just glad I got to experience it in my own way as her teacher.  As I say, I'm just the navigator.

So, you see, we have this relationship that we built up over the years that culminated in the Wicked performance at the Recital in Novemeber 2010.  Approximately 2 weeks later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Chatting online was just a continuation of what had been happening for years. 

Tomorrow .... no goodbye's this time.  Only see you later's.

Thanks for everything Juliane.

1 comment:

Juliane said...

Just as good the second time.. thank you.