by Lucy Vurusic Riner
I have been teaching dance at a high school right outside of Chicago’s city limits for 15 years. As in any other job, I have developed my role here and have become part of the fabric that is this institution. And as in many other teaching jobs, I have seen my share of students come and go. As a creature of habit my assumption was that I would build a dance program that I could live in for all of my career.
In reality, the average person changes jobs at least three times in a lifetime….and I had already left my first teaching job 15 years ago. Teaching philosophies change, students have different needs and administrations come and go. Being a creature of habit in a school system is not always easy. And so I decided to explore change.
Change is good right? It pushes us, especially as artists, to stretch ourselves and our abilities.
For me leaving was hard for several reasons. I love my colleagues and the people I had grown to know as my second family. Let’s be honest, I spent more time in that building than the one I still have a huge mortgage on. As a teacher, this family helps you live out your philosophies, develop and redirect your curriculums, and when you teach in the right school or studio your department can really make or break whether you want to get up for work each day.
The dance program at my second home required that each high school student take a nine week course in dance before they graduated. Sure, there were some exceptions to this rule but I could easily say that 90% of that school came through my dance program, sometimes kicking and screaming, and they left high school with a dance experience. Ultimately, I found this requirement to be a testament to the larger district commitment to expose our students to the arts and other recreational ways of staying physically fit. But what happens when your beliefs begin to morph into something else? What happens when simply providing an experience isn’t enough?
And so I began to ponder what a move might mean to me. Could I leave my students?
Let me be perfectly honest; my students were a good enough reason as any to never leave my high school. And each year I would argue with myself that there was at least one student that I could not leave behind. I would find myself saying, “I’ll leave after this class graduates.” But the truth was, there was always going to be someone and ironically, after four years, they all moved on, as I stayed behind.
And so this creature of habit, who so hates the idea of change, had to admit to herself that we all change, hopefully for the better, whether we want to believe it or not. I know that I’ve changed as a friend, wife, and mother over the years. Quite frankly, it would be wrong not to. We ebb and flow with the experiences we are presented with in our lives. So as teachers, why should it be any different? Where I began and what I have developed has made me into the teacher I am today. My hope is that it has also taught me to educate some well-rounded dancers and choreographers. But at some point I realized my needs had changed and that I had to do for myself what I had continuously been doing for my program. I had to move on.
And so I’m diving into a new world. As a teacher, I will surely learn news ways of educating my students about dance technique, history and choreography. As an artist, I’ll continue to challenge myself in my own work and find ways to engage my students within it. And I think the most growth I’ll experience is as a person. As I learn to stretch and challenge myself I hope my daughter and son see how brave I am. That they see that sometimes we have to live in own discomfort to learn about ourselves. I hope my husband admires my risk-taking in a job with less security and many unknowns. I hope my family and friends see that I’m anxious and scared but also excited about what the future might hold for me. Leaving one’s dance studio, dance company, dance teachers, or in my case, dance program after years of growing in one place and space is difficult. But it is part of growing up.
Here is to a new chapter in my book.
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 Bachelor of Science Degree in Dance Performance and Dance Education from Illinois State University. Lucy has been a member of Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, RTG Dance Company and Matthew Hollis’ “The Power of Cheer.” She has also had the opportunity to be part of the community casts 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 was the Director of Dance at Oak Park and River Forest High School from 1999 to 2012. 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 Group in 2010. RE|Dance Group investigates humanity in movement through long distance collaboration.
In 2012, Lucy joined the dance faculty at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL. When she is not immersed in dance, she is at home with her two great kids, Margie and Luka, and her very supportive husband, Jim.