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What Dance means to me

I hope to update this post in 5-10 years when my oldest daughter will have likely taken her last dance class. I can’t help, as we approach what is known as ‘recital season’, but reflect on the importance of dance class to my family.

To give some background to those who don’t know me. I am not a dancer. I wish I could, no one has yet taken my request to learn to tap seriously, so I guess one day, maybe.   Wait, maybe I have done a ‘Dad’s Dance’ at a recital or two. screen-shot-2018-05-18-at-2-27-23-pm-e1526668122732.png

My dance story began about 5 years ago.

I have been a professional photographer for almost 20 years now.  We photograph everything from large school districts to individual newborn babies.

Weddings, High Schools,

I’ve even photographed Presidents of these United States,Screen Shot 2018-05-18 at 2.20.25 PM but nothing could prepare me for what happened when I did my first Autumn at my kids’ dance studio.

My wife was a dancer. My kids are dancers. I’ve been to the recitals. I’ve seen the range of talent on display. I’ve seen all the dances on a school auditorium stage, from my squeaky flip down chair while wrestling my son to the seat to keep distractions to a minimum. I enjoy the music, the costumes, the excitement.

But I never really ‘got it’. It’s a shame more people don’t ‘get it’. Easy to say now that I have, but it’s all really quite something. There’s so much more to dance than costumes and rehearsed movements.

For years we would spend days, weeks, sometimes multiple weeks at dance schools Screen Shot 2018-05-18 at 2.16.25 PMphotographing the dancers in their recital outfits. These are my favorite weeks of the year! I love the dance families, the dance teachers, and especially the dancers. They are so talented and so humble. This is how I make a living. Parents  buy those pictures, display those pictures, and it is a huge part of my livelihood. I love all that I do, but I really love photographing dance portraits.

Screen Shot 2018-05-18 at 2.19.03 PM

After our first spring portrait season, the dance school owner asked me to do something more. Something completely different, but quite unique and exciting. In prior years they had other photographers come into the actual classrooms and photograph the students in their natural dance class environment. No costumes. No makeup. No organized routine for the audience. Just dancers learning to dance.

I love new concepts and challenges. I jumped at the idea.

As parents we’ve all watched through the windows or on the tv’s in the lobby as our children take class. If we’ve never been in the class, we don’t know what really happens.

Let me say this…

If you want to fix a troubled area, start a dance school for the kids. Teach them what my kids learn in dance class. These are the lessons we all need most in life.

Teach them the value of treating others kindly.

There is no star dancer at age 3 or 4, and even if there were, the kids wouldn’t know or care. They know that everyone, regardless of skill, height, body shape, skin color, or hair color should be treated kindly. We can’t teach this so easily at home. Even if it’s one 1/2 hour a week. Taking your children to an organized and structured dance school should be a priority. That kind of action is different than a 2 or 3 child play date. It teaches kids that structure exists. Each kid gets a turn. Skipping in line is way not cool and doing the same activity together is a lot of fun.

Teach them how to learn skills through repetition and caring instructor critique.

I hate to say it, but we live in a ‘give it to me right now!’ world. Seems kids now are all Willy Wonka characters. Gluttons, demanding, distracted, gimme gimme kids.

Screen Shot 2018-05-18 at 2.17.46 PMThere’s a lot to be said about taking your child to an activity wherein he/she can obviously see it’s going to take time, practice, and repetition to excel. And that’s a good thing! Not everything is just handed to us all the time! Dance class teaches them this basic life lesson. No one is a perfect on day 1, but they’re already better by day 3.

Let them see what it feels like to have an adult greet you with a warm, genuine smile.

Kids should know that mom or dad love them. That is a given. Grandparents too. But what about those people that we are not related to? What’s it like to win their approval? Few people in my life have as much joy in their hearts as the dance teachers I get to work with. They truly love what they do, but they love the dancers so much more.

Let them know that there are rules, but rules make it fun for everyone.

Screen Shot 2018-05-18 at 2.35.36 PM‘When it’s your turn to do the cartwheel you will go. But right now it’s your friend Lily’s turn. Let’s cheer Lily on and Lily will cheer for you.” It doesn’t take much these days to realize that following the rules may not have been enforced in many of people we interact with.   Not all rules are meant to be broken. There is fun in organization.

Help them see that that which is already around them can be used to make the world prettier.

The world is just not that pretty sometimes. It can be downright ugly even. But there is no greater gift we can give to an ugly world than to find a way to make it prettier. Dance is a gift. Done with passion it can bring happiness on the saddest heart. Dance is emotion on display. Dance is the truest form of Art. It makes the world pretty.

Make them aware of universal elements, that while seemingly out of their control, can be studied, understood, and manipulated into their own creation.

Dance is about so many things. To me, dance skill is about time and physical ability, Timing is universal. Musical timing is universal. They truly bring us all together. Ever clap along to a song, it’s the same in China as it is here. The beat. Finding that beat at an early age, moving your body TO that beat makes the magic. Time and beats are around us everywhere. Dance teaches us that things that are seemingly outside our control can be turned into our own personal tool for expression and communication.Screen Shot 2018-05-18 at 2.16.41 PM

I LOVE that my children are dancers. Do I expect them to make a career out of dance? No. Just because it’s 2018 doesn’t mean our kids have to only be in activities that will lead to their career. Sometimes they can do a specialized activity to improve the overall product of who they are.

Is dance class fun? It sure looks like it. As the photographer walking around the class room capturing kids in their happy place, I can tell you they all love it. They all look forward to it.

May God bless the teachers who teach it.


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