Today we have the first post from 4dancers newest contributing writer. Please welcome Lucy Vurusic Riner…
I have been teaching dance to high school students for over 14 years. In 1996 I student taught at Stevenson High School and got my very first teaching job there: ripe out of college. I’ve been in the suburban public school system ever since. Most of my thus far adult teaching life has been at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Illinois, where I am the dance program director. I love teaching and I love high school. Yes, I’m one of those rare people you meet that loved those four years of her life. It seemed natural to go back to this place I loved and teach what I love most. Great life….I know.
But about two years ago I started getting cynical, resentful and just plain mean. I couldn’t put my finger on why I was so bitter. Going to work wasn’t nearly as fun and students were getting on my nerves on a daily basis. All I saw in front of me were egotistical, self-absorbed teenagers that constantly wanted something. Something was wrong with this picture. Why had the typical teenager become such a nuisance to me? I was burnt out. I was mad. How had I let 14 years of good professional dance life slip by me for a bunch of adolescents? Sure I had continued to work for smaller companies in town and produce shows independently, as well as with others, but what could I have done? I started asking the questions of “what if?”
And so I applied for a sabbatical. Most school districts have some sort of sabbatical, or “leave” program for their teachers. I am fortunate to be part of a district that allows teachers to apply for sabbatical after 10 years of service. My district also pays half your salary and allows you to keep full benefits while you are on sabbatical. Granted, you then guarantee your school two more full years of service and show that something you did while on sabbatical would contribute to your program. Our district gives three sabbaticals each year. I got lucky.
So for the last year (and a half because I also had a baby, but that is another post) I have been absorbed in dance. I immersed myself in Spanish dance to learn a new style that I could create new curriculum around. I promised to be in 15 productions (to date I have done 12) to enhance my performance skills and truly be the dancer I could not be with a full time job. I started my own company, RE|Dance, with a long time dancer friend. And I have taken class and seen dance whenever possible. This year has been exhausting….but worth every minute.
So with about 28 days left in this school year I realize that my sabbatical is coming to an end. Most people I run into ask me if I am sad. Surprisingly, I am not. This year has given me everything it was supposed to: the opportunity to perform, the time to take class and improve my own technique and the learning of new ideas and ways to engage my students through my own personal experiences. But the most important gift this sabbatical has given me is the renewed appreciation for my students. I miss them. All of them. I cannot wait to get back in that classroom and teach them everything that I know and continue to learn about dance.
If we are to be good teachers, we must forever be students as well. Taking time away from teaching has reminded me why I chose this profession in the first place. I know I am lucky to work in a place that provides these opportunities for its teachers. But whether this is a luxury you have or not, ask yourself what it is you need the next time you find yourself irritated with a student or frustrated with a show. As artists it is our job to be true to ourselves. If we aren’t, we can’t create meaningful work, and we surely can’t have meaningful connections with our students. Find time to revisit who it is you wanted to be when you first started out.
Sabbaticals do the body good.
Contributor Lucy Vurusic Riner is a native Chicagoan who has been supporting and contributing to the dance community for over twenty years. She received her BS Degree in dance and dance education from Illinois State University. Lucy has been a member of Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak Dance Company, RTG Dance Company and Matthew Hollis’ “The Power of Cheer.” She has also had the opportunity to be part of the community cast of White Oak Dance Project and David Dorfman Dance.
Lucy has taught modern, hip hop, and jazz at numerous studios and high schools in the Chicagoland area. She has been the Director of Dance at Oak Park and River Forest High School since 1999. In 2005, Lucy completed her Masters Degree in Education from National Louis University and also received the Midwest Dance Teacher of the Year award and was the youngest of four finalists in the running for the National Dance Teacher of the Year award. Lucy and artistic partner, Michael Estanich, formed RE|Dance in 2010. This dancer theater company investigates humanity in movement through long distance collaboration. Lucy has also begun work on a long-term project entitled, “The Moving Vessel” which explores the impact of motherhood on the professional dancer. When Lucy is not working with independent choreographers and producing her own shows, she is at home with her two great kids, Margie and Luka, and her very supportive husband, Jim.