Dallas — We are all familiar with the seven-year itch. That period when happiness starts to decline in a relationship—any relationship—and you feel as if you are in a slump, sliding further and further down and away from your goals. However, we are resilient creatures and generally pull ourselves up quickly, and start moving forward again. Artists and teachers tend to carry this strength inside of them because the next show, the next class, the next group of collaborators and students, is always just around the corner.
This year marks a decade of teaching for me, and as I have been reflecting on the classes that I have taught, the students that I have met, and the work that we have created, I feel like I am floating in the ether. Instead of the seven-year itch, I think I might be in the middle of the 10-year dissonance.
Dissonance has several meanings—it can deal with a mental conflict or the uncomfortable sense that change brings about. The latter is what resonates here. As a teacher, every semester, every year, is a constant lesson in letting go. If you are lucky, you have the opportunity to work with a group of students for a few years, mentor their growth, guide them into new practices, and take risks together. I had the chance to experience that journey at the beginning of my academic career.
When I started teaching in 2007, I was co-director of a dance company at a four-year institution. I would meet students at their most bright-eyed and with wide-open freshman minds. They had all the energy in the world and the passion for pursuing dance in any and all formats. It was a luxury to be able to take my time to get to know them, find out their goals, and help them develop a plan to achieve them. Some of them wanted to dance, some of them wanted to be lawyers, nurses, or doctors, some of them wanted to be teachers. However, all of them wanted to soak up what I could give them and run with it.
When you are a young educator, your whole life is about the pursuit of fun and friendship. You are seeking ways to build relationships while also portraying yourself as the cool teacher. You want your students to like you and to keep coming back for more. Sometimes you make mistakes and take things too personally, and feel as if your hard work and expertise is either lost or borrowed too often. It is a hard lesson to learn that you are just a small part of a someone’s journey when they feel like a huge part of yours.
As you grow as an educator, the pursuit becomes less about having fun and more about diving in deep, exploring the intricate nature of technique and theory, and learning that relationships, no matter how good, are inevitably a series of compromises. Now, as a full-time professor at a two-year institution, my time with my students is so short, that it feels frantic. Our relationship is always in flux. Just as I am getting to know them, they leave, and I am instantly thrown into the odd place of stepping stone and mentor.
Yet, I do not want to place any negative weight on the connotation of the term stepping stone. I use it here as a way to illustrate how every journey has stops along the way—powerful moments that change the course of your life, motivating you to follow your passions. To be that stone, to be that rock of support, is what drives me to teach. It is what drives me to create and bring people together to make and explore art.
My students become like my extended family, so when they are ready to fly the nest, it hurts. The armor of teacher does not exclude you from feeling left behind. No matter how many degrees you have, how much you have done, and all the success you have achieved, it never gets easier. Each year is a reminder that your role in this play of education is a supporting one. The narrative that you are constructing leaves room for each student to create their voice by implementing what they have learned and reflecting it back into the world. It is a humbling process, and it can be quite the challenge to remind yourself that it is all going to be okay.
It is comforting to know that the ones you have taught, the ones who got under your skin, and made you into a better teaching artist, are always in your heart—and if you are lucky, a phone call away from being your next guest artist or colleague.
» Danielle Georgiou, Ph.D., is a dance educator, critic, and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) whose work focuses on ensemble-building, devised work. She is a professional dancer and choreographer working in contemporary dance and theatre. Her column Sixth Position appears on the second Friday of the month on TheaterJones.com.
(If a month is missing, there was no column)
- February: Cash Choreography
- March: Make the Fringe Your Future
- April: Don't Freak Out, It's Just an Audition
- May: You Love Dance. You're Not Alone
- June: Persevering Through Movement
- July: Sharing in Success
- August: To the Barre
- September: Method Act
- October: Fear of Flying
- December: The Editor Dance
- January: Community Relations
- February: The Fabric of Movement
- March: State of the Dance
- April: The Dance Mom Complex
- May: Who Wants to Date a Dancer?
- June: Figuring How Men Fit In
- August: Creative Economy
- September: Dancing to Learn
- October: Whose Idea Is It Anyway?
- December: '15 Going on '16
- January: In Memoriam
- Februrary: The Politics of Dancing
- April: Defining Dance Theatre
- June: Dancing for Change
- September: Sweat the Details, Not the Consequences
- December: Louder Than Tweets
- January: Making and Moving
- February: Don't Fudge the Truth
- March: The Collective Unconsciousness of Creating
- April: Professionally Speaking
- May: Dancer Depictions
- July: Where Have all the Critics Gone?
- August: Rain Dance
- September: The Theory of Taking Risks
- October: Get in Line!