Teaching is like performing

When I recently had the opportunity to teach Pilates to ballet dancers, at a local dance academy, I leapt at the chance.

Full disclosure. I have never formally taught kids anything, let alone Pilates. I’ve changed poopy diapers, played endless games of Candy Land with my nephews, but I had no idea what to expect and no idea how to act. I’m a teacher, yes, but what does that mean in this context? I’m used to being in the company of adults; dialoguing, joking, letting curse words fly freely from my lips. The only thing I knew for sure was not to drop the f’ bomb… if I could help it.

I laughed at the immediacy with which I was hired. Nobody asked me if I had any experience with this particular population. And I didn’t offer. I was too excited about pretending to be a dancer again.

My first class was before the holidays. I scheduled a short press conference with myself beforehand to calm my nerves, remind myself that I was the adult (I forget sometimes) and that I had mad skills and lots of head knowledge. But most importantly, I remind myself not to talk too much and don’t confuse the Pilates class with a stand up act. 

Being in front of a captivated audience, no matter how small (physically or in quantity) can easily turn into an embarrassing state of affairs. I started ad libbing like I was opening for any Borscht Belt comic. I realize that this reference will go over some heads. No matter.

There were six 10 year old girls, each one, the size of my thigh. I put my professional hat on and plunged into the repertoire. I brought a cheat sheet with me and we were flowing from one movement to the next, like the graceful giseles that we were. I was in control, and things were running smoothly, that is until the Lilliputians started talking to each other, and to me.

“I like your toe-sox.” “What should we call you?” “Carey is always injured.” “Can we do rocking swan?” Why were they talking? There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no talking in Pilates! It felt like I was being heckled, and I got flustered.

I didn’t know what they should call me. What’s wrong with my name? Then I remembered my dance teacher, Miss Pike, when I was seven years old. “You can call me Miss Dani.” It's a sign of respect. I should have my adult clients call me Miss Dani as well. With all of the gas that’s passed,  and the un-manicured toes that I have to touch, I’m not so sure that those clients do respect me.

I pulled it together as my last class of the night walked in. These girls were 13 and 14 years old and all ‘tude (attitude). Crap. About halfway through the session, I realized that they hadn’t cracked a smile, made a comment about my socks, or showed any signs of life. As we say in the biz (showbiz that is) they were phoning it in. I could’ve sworn they were making faces behind my back, and it felt a little close for comfort. 

I couldn’t hold back any longer. My inner comedian was fighting to get out. These dancers, with their taut, age spot-free faces were serious and focused, and I took it personally. They didn’t like me, nor the class, and they somehow figured out that I wasn’t an actual dancer. I was a fraud. I went into overdrive, and tried to elicit a reaction. 

I was convinced that I could break them. If I didn’t, then I would’ve failed. Failed? Not at teaching them Pilates, but at making them laugh. I’m pretty sure that my job wasn’t to crack wise with a bunch of duck walking Sugar Plums. I spoke faster. I made faces. C’mon girls, give me a break.