Today we have part one of two from Contributor Lucy Vurusic Riner–tune in on Wednesday to read the rest–
I didn’t really begin my dance training until high school. My mom signed me up for ballet and tap as a little girl and I hated it. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I decided I wanted to take another stab at it.
I had my share of disappointments but I worked twice as hard to make up for lost time in training. And although I have come across my fair share of nay-sayers, the people that had the biggest influences on my life were my dance teachers. I had some bad ones, we all do, but the ones that I attribute to getting me to where I am today always had my best interests at heart. Those teachers never told me I had the wrong body, never told me I started too late in life, and never made me feel like I didn’t have choices.
The good teachers recognized my strengths and gave me options on where those strengths might lead me. The good teachers never tell you that you won’t make it. Simply put, they can’t know that.
Over the last 20 odd years I have found myself in every position a dancer might have to take on to make ends meet. I started humbly, by moving to New York over a summer and trying to find “gigs.” These were most notably at conventions, conferences, even a bar mitzah. When New York quickly lost it’s luster (for me) I came back to Chicago, finished school by getting a teaching certificate and began teaching high school dance.
I danced with several companies, produced my own shows, and soon learned that in most small to mid-level companies I would serve dual roles as a dancer and (in my case) benefit coordinator, board member, dancer liaison, etc. Last year I decided to start my dance company so that I could focus on choreography and arts administration a bit more. I’m sharing this information because through all of these experiences I have met dancers from every walk of life who share their “training experiences” with me. The stories that always get to me are of the teacher that might have told them to throw in the towel; or that thought that by knocking them down, they would stand up stronger. And it is because of those experiences that I compiled a new list (my last one went over pretty well) on “Giving Back to Your Students”…
- There are exceptions to every rule. Every dance teacher out there has had at least one student (I have had several) that was a complete natural. For reasons that no one could explain, with little to no training, this child was amazing and didn’t really have to work at it. Just as this anomaly exists, so does the one of the student that comes with little training but a strong will to work past that deficiency. Telling a student that they can’t become professional dancers without years of training is false. In fact, many male dancers, some of which didn’t have the courage to start dance until later in life, are great examples of this. So why shouldn’t it also apply to women?
- Being honest is not the same as being truthful. I know many dancers whose former teachers gave them the, “you don’t have what it takes speech” which is almost always followed by the, “I just have to be honest speech.” Teachers need to understand that their honesty is still also their opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mislead my students by telling each of them that they are made for Broadway or that they are just a couple years away from Julliard, but I do give them ALL of their options. I understand their goals and then try to be truthful about my opinions. I might remind them of the percentage of people actually on Broadway versus how many audition. I might reiterate that going to Julliard isn’t necessarily going to get them work afterwards. I can’t possibly know what doors might open for them so I can’t close them before they even try. My job is to be supportive of what might seem unrealistic to ME while also providing other options if and when they are needed.
- Never say never (sorry Justin Bieber haters). Every dance teacher out there has been proven wrong at least once, if not many more times. I have learned to tread lightly, even at times when I am quite sure that I know what I’m talking about because there are external factors that I will never be able to measure efficiently. I can’t be sure what the dance scene is really like in Seattle since I have never been there. I can’t only recruit for one or two colleges when I know there are many more out there that I’m not familiar with, and as I mentioned before, I can’t measure a dancers will beyond my own experience with him or her. My best teachers had a clear understanding of my work ethic and fortitude. They knew that the best thing they could do for me was give me some stepping stones and allow me to do the rest of the work. I still run into people from college that can’t believe I’m still dancing or that I ever did as much with my career as I have. I know their surprise is based on the fact that I wasn’t the best dancer at my university and I never got the “best parts.” What they weren’t banking on were all the behind the scenes stuff I was doing to try to get ahead: extra classes, rehearsing by myself, studying video incessantly. My worst teachers focused on my lack of technique but my best teachers saw my resolve.
Check back in on Wed for the rest!
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.