Guest Teacher

As I write this, my friends are in the second class with Ms. Priscilla Nathan-Murphy and i’m at work.
But, I’m grateful for the class I did get to take with her yesterday.

Let’s see if I can actually form words to explain how wonderful yesterdays class was.

Elizabeth came to class, so we got to hang out a little before which was nice. They combined the Advanced with the Intermediate, so we were able to take class together, which really made me happy.
It was really nice to get to take with dancers that are at my level or better, but I’ll get to that later.

Ms. Murphy opened class by walking to one of the center barres, which you could see made some of the girls really nervous. She said something (I wish I could remember what!) which made me laugh. I forgot for a second that I was in class with a guest teacher from, ya know, Houston Ballet, and should probably be more serious or whatever, but the laugh slipped out and she pointed at me and said, “Thank you! When I make a joke I like it when people laugh at them!”
Score. I like her already.
This also told me that she’s the type of teacher that likes to have feedback, so I tried to give verbal or visual affirmation when she explained something to show that I understood. Our class tends to be quiet, mostly because they’re taking in all the information and focused on the task at hand.

The combinations she did were very different from what we’re used to. I messed up my fair share of times, and one of the youngest in our class seemed to have a better grasp of the order than me. Poor thing, I scared her once when I said to myself, “oh! backwards.” Apparently it was louder than I thought and I saw her think she was backwards. But she was right. (I told her afterwards. She is a sweet little quiet thing. And adorable. And shows a lot of promise.)
There were a few things I couldn’t really do, but I gave it my best effort. The things I did know that she went over really found a new dimension. If that makes sense.
I knew the step and I knew how to do it, but the way she explained it really showed me the difference in doing the step and really doing the step. It showed me that tiny thing that sets apart the average from the professional. I’ve seen these dances and shot some shows and you see the difference between the levels. And I’ve wondered what it is that makes the difference. Because sometimes you see it and think it’s one thing, but it’s actually a completely different thing that gives the appearance of the thing you think you see.
This is getting confusing.
Point being, it felt really good. Things started setting and clicking and I really liked it.

She was a very hands on teacher. If there was a muscle you weren’t engaging, she would show you which one it was and how to engage it and get the proper alignment, no bars held. A lot of the class is more reserved, and not really sure about this, but she was very professional with it and told us straight out that this is how she teaches. It was never inappropriate. She did it to help us improve, and improve we did.
There was a time she corrected Cheyenne’s alignment, which I was really grateful for because it was the same thing Abby had been showing me last week. I really wanted to see it on someone who has the typical ballet body, since that’s what I’ve been used to seeing lately between editing pictures and seeing my more advanced friends dancing. Seeing it on myself just felt wrong. But before I tore myself up about it, I tried to look at it realistically, and reality is that I am not shaped like these dancers I keep seeing. Thankfully, I’m at a studio where that is okay and I’m accepted for my ability, not my proportions. On me, it felt like I was going too far forward, but when I looked in the mirror I could see that my back was straight. I wanted to see it on someone who isn’t as…endowed…as I am to show myself that it is indeed correct and that it’ll take some adjustment for it to feel like the new correct. Being able to see dancers at my level or higher and kind of compare and contrast in a positive way was really nice. It’s been a while. I like not being the best in the class. Or among the best. I like it to have enough challenge to make me uncomfortable and push me, and also be able to get the visual of it from someone. (I’m such a visual learner.)

She “picked on” a few people, which I think was really good for some of them to see that this prestigious teacher approved of them right where they were.
I was really impressed with how well the little ones kept up. Some of these things were new to and difficult for me, and they managed to go at it with full confidence, doing the best they knew how. These kids really encourage me to not be afraid. There were times they would finish and comment on how badly they messed up, and you could see they were a little upset by it. But I’d just tell them, “You tried and that’s what mattered” which I’m saying as much to myself as to them. Their boldness inspires me. How could I cower in fear when these kids are like, 11, and they’re just as afraid and going out there and trying? Aren’t I, the older one, supposed to be setting the example? And how will any of us learn if we don’t first try? The teachers aren’t expecting us to be perfect first try, which I think can get muddled when it comes to adult beginners because sometimes they can forget or just don’t know what we have been taught and what we haven’t and forget we don’t know as much just because we’re older. It’s not quite been 4 years for me yet. Dancers my age have been dancing for 15 years en pointe alone. But you are where you are, and you build from there. If you never try, you’ll never improve.

Our second class, she did what she called a movement class. We explored movement and intent, space, time, and energy that goes along with it. She started out where we just moved with our right hand leading us, then our left, then our right leg, then our left, then our head. We could move anyway we wanted, but just had to show the intent behind whichever part leading us and we couldn’t choreograph. She didn’t want it to be a dance. She broke down the different beats you can have in timing and using them interchangeably. Then she put on a slower, more fluid song and had us explore it, then a faster more choppy song. She explained levels and lines and contrast.

We got to a part where she wanted us to go across the floor and spell our names in movement. She asked my name, asked how to spell it (which, of course, it’s spelled weird. She didn’t mind) and showed how we might go about doing it. Most of the girls in our class have really long names (I’m talkin’ 8 letters) so it was quite fun. The second go around, she had us walk the space first, with intent, and then begin. She wanted us to hit all the levels and really branch out. My knees were hurting me and I considered mentioning it to her–I’m sure she’d make an exception for me, right?–but I didn’t. Because it was one time and I could handle it. And I did. And there was a point where I even heard, “good!” come from the side when I hit that level.

I did notice that when you thought about who was watching you, it didn’t go as well. She mentioned this, and told us to focus on nothing but our selves. Not the mirror, not the people across from you, not what you might look like. You couldn’t laugh, because once you did it changed the energy. She was right. When I worried about it, it effected the outcome. That’s when people had negative opinions. When I stopped caring is when it all clicked and was successful. Stop thinking so much and just dance.
You could see the difference in the people, too. Those who really focused and those who let their insecurities rise. We all have them, insecurities. Success is learning how to not let them get the best of you.

I’ve  never taken a class like this before. I’ve always had an interest in Contemporary or Lyrical type dance, but always felt I couldn’t do it without a beginner class. I had never tried. How could I go into one and think I could keep up with everyone else? There’s styles and technique and moves I don’t know the name of and the people around me have been doing it for a while. I’d love to learn, but there isn’t really anyone to teach me. I feel I’ve passed my window since I didn’t learn when I was young. This being the case, I’ve always kind of told myself I couldn’t do it and just stuck to ballet.
This class made me feel like I could do it. That not only could I do it, but I might even be good at it.
She gave us a phrase in the last few minutes of class. She split us into four groups and had us do the phrase. Not in time, not in unison. She wanted us to just do it, to dance it, to express it. Then she would tell the group to exit and point to the next group to enter. When the group before us was finishing, she made eye contact with me and gave me a nod. I nodded back. She told us to enter before she told the other group to exit, with the purpose of teaching us spacing and being aware. At the end, she had all of us come in together. It was incredible.

I can’t remember feeling more alive than that moment.

Getting behind the character I brought to the phrase. Doing it over and over and changing it up each time, but still remaining in that character, just exploring it a little more. Dancing like I was alone in the room and this was my story. Showing what it meant to me. Surrounded by people doing the same. This is who we are. This is the real us. This is when you see who we are on the inside.
This is why we dance.

One of my friends, Eloise, was there with her sister who I had seen in pictures and heard of but never met. She seemed really nice, as everyone from their family I’ve met have been, and I was glad to feel the kind vibes from her in the studio. (It’s really a thing. Reading people is fun.) When we did the phrase in groups, and her group went, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. I tried. I tried watching some of the other people, but my eyes kept going back to her. I wanted to read the story she was telling. It was captivating.
So I told her after class. That she was a really expressive dancer and it was beautiful to watch and I couldn’t look away even when I tried. She thanked me, and you could tell it meant something to her. She shook my hand and introduced herself and was really kind. I told her I had heard about her and was glad to know she’s as nice as the impression I had gotten from hearing of her. She put her whole self into this dance, and her face would take on another level of herself, you could see it. It set her apart. It was who she is. I want to do that. I want that to be what people see in me when they see me dance. But more than that, I want to know in myself that this is what I’m bringing. I don’t just want people to think I’m a good dancer, but I want to believe it in myself.

After class was over (sad day, but my legs were pretty tired) I asked Ms Murphy if I could get a picture with her for my blog. She laughed and commented on how sweaty she looked and I laughed and said I was the same and we got one. 🙂 I didn’t want to let my nerves keep me away from doing it. This is a part of my history, my story, and I was already bummed that I didn’t grab my phone when she was working with Elizabeth because the photo op was incredible. I didn’t want to be disrespectful, though, so I stored it in my memory. I wish I could draw well. I might sketch it anyway.
She taught another class this morning that I wish I could have been in. (Obviously.) I’m really grateful for yesterday. It felt like a Bailando class, but one where I was seen. This week’s classes really left me feeling good. Hopefully this streak continues. I want to improve. I want to prove myself.

I want to keep feeling alive.

I met a new friend after class. I had met her on Tuesday, she has been taking the Adult class but has been doing the Intermediate this summer, save for the one class she accidentally ended up in the Advanced. Everyone said she held her own, though, and when I first saw her Tuesday I could tell she is good. She got her pointe shoe permission form yesterday and is getting her shoes today.

Here are the few pictures from yesterday.