Teaching


I know it’s a cliche beyond cliches to write about what you’re thankful for on Thanksgiving.  Regardless, sometimes you just gotta embrace your own unoriginality.  So, just in case you wanted to know, these are the things that I am grateful for this year:

  1. Liv. A year ago this time we barely knew each other.  Today we’re living together.  A girl couldn’t ask for a better roommate.  We share the same slightly macabre sense of humor, the same fondness for plain speaking, and the same understanding that the world is a strange and wonderful place.  We’ve only lived together for about five months now, but believe me, they’ve been an eventful five months!  She was with me through the ups and downs, the boy-crankiness, the days when all I could think about was dancing, and all the rest.  She is a great blessing to me, and I am deeply grateful to have her in my life.
  2. My new home. When I moved this summer, it had been six years since I had lived in a place that I could really call my own.  First I was traveling non-stop with a national youth ministry retreat team, then I spent a year back at my parents’ house, then three years with another family first as their nanny and then as a roommate with increasingly little ownership of my living space.  It’s the kind of pressure you don’t notice until it’s released.  To live in a place where my presence is welcomed, not merely tolerated, where people want to know how I am and are willing to rejoice with me in my successes – it’s an amazing thing.  I am deeply grateful to live in a house that is truly my home.
  3. Being able to leave unhealthy relationships. At my old living situation, I was stuck in between a controlling mother and her immature but increasingly rebellious teenage daughter.  I considered it part of the price I paid for living in what seemed an ideal location for school.  The money rent was cheap, but the emotional rent was pretty high, particularly when they were fighting.  I can remember too many times hiding up in my room trying not to listen as they screamed at each other.  Last Christmas the mother was diagnosed with liver cancer, which is killing her.  I moved out in June, and haven’t had very much contact with them since.  Recently I went back to visit, and found out, among other things, that the mother and daughter are choosing to spend their last days fighting viciously with each other.  I am grieving for their short-sightedness, but also so glad that I am not there, and not in the middle of this.  This is one mess it’s not my job to clean up, and I am deeply grateful.
  4. Anna helping me dance better. About this time last year Anna put out the call for people willing to learn how to teach.  I knew that I wasn’t anywhere near the skill level necessary, but I also knew that the university swing club I belonged to needed to start training teachers and I was one of the few even remote possibilities.  One of Anna’s requirements for teachers is that they be serious dancers, committed to constantly improving their dancing, and she’s willing to help them get there.  Last December I was videotaped for the first time, and started coming more regularly to the weekly practice sessions.  I started to work seriously on my Lindy basic, and on Charleston.  I learned partner Charleston, reworked my frame, and began learning how to style and improvise within my dancing without throwing off my lead.  It’s been a great joy to feel myself get better, to experience the pleased reactions of those I dance with, and to finally start being able to have the joyful, playful, fun dances I had always dreamed of having.  Today I am three or four times the dancer I was a year ago, and I am deeply grateful.

Hugh with babyLast night at Tuesday Night Bal, one of the guys was talking about his experiences as an attractive young man substitute teaching for middle school kids. In the midst of various comments about little girls in the midst of their first crush, I said that the hottest guy I know is teaching 6th graders this year in A Large City Nearby. As I said this, I got a reaction from Trey that let me know that, until that moment, he had assumed he was the hottest guy I know. And, um, no. Trey is plenty cute and all, but Hugh is in a class all by himself. I had thought that there was no way he could get more attractive, and then he posted photos of himself with his new niece and goddaughter, whom he adores. How can one guy really be that hot? It boggles the mind.

The cool thing is that, beyond his looks, Hugh’s a great guy. He’s Catholic, and he takes his faith seriously. He has a social conscience. His dream in life (since a messed up shoulder destroyed his hopes of a pro-baseball career) is to run a soup kitchen. I’m not kidding. He’s respectful towards women. He’s funny. He extemporaneously quotes Walt Whitman while being completely heterosexual.

And, of course, he’s discerning the priesthood.

Remind me again – why do I have that policy against dating guys who are discerning the priesthood?  Oh, yeah.  Joe.

One of my friends recently blogged about what she was doing this time a year ago, and it got me thinking. A year ago this October Joe was still in Afghanistan. I was writing letters to him in class while trying hard not to flirt with Carlos, and just barely starting to notice Trey’s attention. (I didn’t even begin to take him seriously until one night he blew me a kiss to say good-bye, and I thought, “Oh, maybe there’s something going on there…”) I was still living with my former roommate, and though I wasn’t all that happy, the thought of moving out hadn’t entered my head. Liv and I had just started to hang out on a regular basis, and though we got along like a house on fire, we still had no inkling of the best friends symbiosis that would soon assert itself. Anna had put the word out that she was looking for more teachers just the month before, and I had started to learn how to lead (to teach you need to be able to do/explain both lead and follow).

Last October I took my first ever West Coast lesson.

This October Joe is in novitiate in Louisiana, Carlos has established himself as Not My Type, and Trey is the kind of friend you call “dear” and wouldn’t date on a dare. My former roommate is dieing of liver cancer (she’s been in Hospice Care for about a month now), Liv and I would be joined at the hip if her wheelchair wouldn’t get in the way (did I mention we live together now?), this month I’m teaching Swing I, and last weekend I drove two hours each way to attend a four hour West Coast dance.

I’d like to say I’ve learned Deep Life Lessons in the intervening year, that I’ve Grown and Changed as a person. Mostly, though, it’s felt much more like riding a roller coaster with no safety restraint system, holding on for dear life trying not to get thrown off into the bottomless void beneath. Ironically, I learned how to let go of my need for drama just as life was handing me some major Drama to deal with. Every month has had its challenges, none of them little: the liver cancer diagnosis right before Christmas Eve, guy drama, family issues, chemotherapy, moving, planning a wedding (regrettably, not my own), major money problems after my financial aid got screwed up, trying to settle into a new home, more guy drama, sprained ankles, school challenges, road trips… oh, and dancing. A lot of dancing.

I’d like to say it’s been a good year, but I’m not sure if it’s been good or bad. I suppose it’s been good for me. At least I’ve survived so far. That’s something in itself. I’ll count my blessings.

So it seems like my Higher Power has decided that I will have a Midterm Break whether I like it or not. And for that I say meekly, “Thank you, Higher Power!” My planned schedule had involved:

  • a full day of classes Wednesday, plus teaching Swing I that night,
  • a Cooking Day with Jenn on Thursday,
  • a full day of work and a wedding on Friday,
  • lots of house chores and a birthday dinner for Michelle on Saturday,
  • then going to Indianapolis to dance Westie on Sunday.

In other words, a pretty normal Bernadette schedule. Then half my classes Wednesday got canceled, Jenn had to cancel on me, my boss asked if I wanted to change my work schedule for Friday since it was Midterm Break, and the birthday dinner got turned into a birthday brunch. Sunday (so far, at least) is the only day that has remained the same. The great thing about Jenn pulling out is that I had already made all the arrangements for my jobs at Theology On Tap to be covered, so I had this wonderful and unexpected thing: a completely free evening. It was lovely.

I finally figured out what I’m going to do for my costume for the Halloween swing dance. The Dorothy costume I had planned with such loving care just wasn’t getting finished, and the way my schedule has been, it’s not going to. I knew I needed to figure something else out, and after all the talking about my other costume idea, it needed to be good. Last week I was dancing with Doug to one of my favorite songs, a silly novelty song about a Hawaiian princess with lots of papayas, which she generously distributes to the populace. (“She loves to give it away, I mean papaya…”) The next day I googled the lyrics and discovered that the song was Princess Pupule Has Plenty Papaya by Harry Owens and the Royal Hawaiians. So now I’m figuring that I’ll get a grass skirt, some leis, wear them over a dancing skirt and a tank top with a tiara, bring a basket of papayas, and be Princess Pupule for Halloween.

Betty Grable ClassicI’ve been getting very discouraged about my dancing the last couple of months. While intellectually I know that I’ve improved enormously (I dip now. My Charleston, both solo and partner, looks infinitely better. My Lindy basic is lighter and more controlled than ever before. I’m having dances I could only have dreamed of six months ago.), emotionally all I know is how far I still fall short of where I want to be.

Part of the problem is that as I’ve gotten better, and especially as I’ve begun being groomed to become an instructor for the local scene, I’ve accumulated perhaps too many people who want to help me improve even more. So I have Jack telling me that I’m still anticipating a little on the one and going off the slot, Anna wanting me to correct my knees and make my spins intentional, Mark saying that my hand connection needs work, and Trey telling me that the way I keep my frame is all wrong (it should be more with the muscles in my back and less with my biceps). And then there’s my perennial problems with balance and keeping my feet underneath me. It’s a lot. In the end I feel like everything is wrong, trying to fix it all at once, and feeling like a failure when I don’t see immediate improvement.

This has been heightened by the teacher training process. Chiara had been teaching Swing I for a long time, so when she moved to Indianapolis, everyone was curious who would take her place. It had to be either myself or Alice. I’m a better teacher and I’ve objectively fulfilled more of the requirements, but Alice is a better dancer. It was taking Anna forever to make the announcement, and meanwhile I was continually conscious of having my dancing evaluated and falling short. Even when it was announced that Alice would teach in September and I would teach in October my feelings of failure and discouragement didn’t go away.

The thing that finally really helped was having a heart to heart about my dancing with Anna on Sunday. We agreed that I have too many chefs in my kitchen right now, and it’s spoiling the dish. So I’m telling all my instructors to back off for a little while and let me just dance. I also asked Anna what she sees when she watches me dance. One of the big things that’s holding me back is my lack of confidence, which really comes through in my dancing. Technically I’m pretty good. All the things I’m trying to work on are really little, tweaky things. However, my lack of confidence makes my dancing rather hesitant, which comes through as oddly delicate. It just doesn’t look right on a girl my size. Anna said that something that helped her have confidence when she started dancing was pretending to be someone else while she was on the dance floor. She loved Cyd Charisse, and would try to be her while she danced. She encouraged me to find someone I liked, maybe one of the great ladies from the old movies I love, and be them while I danced.

I went home and thought about this. If I could dance like anyone from the old movies, who would I dance like? Myrna Loy is awesome, but I’ve never thought of her as a dancer. Katherine Hepburn would be much too stiff. Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe are too vulnerable, too much at the mercy of their own beauty. Bette Davis is pretty formidable, but again, I don’t know that she’s much of a dancer. Then I hit on it – Betty Grable, the girl with the Million Dollar Legs, the pin-up darling of WWII, cute and fun and not someone to be messed with. So now the question is: What Would Betty Grable Dance?

« Previous Page