A dear friend and teaching artist from New York City, Christopher Lengerich, recently blessed my dance studio here in Hawai'i with his six foot three inch presence. He worked with my young girls on everything from singing to posture to growing up in a tall body to mastering double pullbacks.
He taught right up until his redeye back to New York, and on his last evening at the studio, he had a particularly intense session with one of my thirteen year old students. We both felt as though he really got through to her, encouraging her to be herself and own her talents, even if she just started dancing a year and a half ago.
We walked out of the room, the three of us, heads held high, feeling free and proud. As my student went to change her shoes, I began to lock up the studio and switch off the lights. In what seemed to be a blink of an eye, I turned back around to watch her leave the studio with her dad, shoulders hunched and chin tucked. Eyes down. Silent. It was as though Christopher had never worked with her at all.
As we got into the car to drive to the airport, Christopher turned to me and said, “Don't you wish we could just tell the parents what we're working on, so they could try to support it at home? I mean, I don't want anyone's mom trying to teach them how to shuffle, but at least they should know that we talk about more than dancing in there.”
And I said, “Yes. I do. I'm going to tell them.”
(Dance Student Kaleia Mattos - always 100% unapologetically herself)
Here are the things that we want you to know.
- We are teaching your daughters to take up space. We are asking them to stretch out, to stand tall, to open their arms like wings. We are asking them to move large. To be enormous. To spread out. We are asking them to move from one corner to another in three steps. If this carries over into their life at home, just know that we encouraged it. It may mean they spread all their belongings out all over the house. It may mean they sprawl out on the couch so that no one else may sit. You have every right to ask them to clean up and share space, but just know that they may have gotten the idea from us and we think it's just grand that they're listening.
- We are asking your daughters to make noise. We are encouraging them to raise their voice. To scream with joy. To pound the floor with their feet. To ask questions. To be heard. To sing with the music. To hum out loud. To say their steps while they do them. We are teaching them to question things when they don't understand what's happening in their body. We are giving them permission to speak. We hope that you do the same at home. Questions may arise about their body, about being female, or about situations in life that they don't agree with or understand. We encouraged that. We encouraged them to sing in the shower and to tap while they're on the toilet. We just want you to know, we're doing everything we can to keep them from being silent.
- We are telling your daughters to eat. We are teaching them that dancers are athletes, and athletes need fuel. We are teaching them that energy is required for every movement – even a simple pose. We are teaching them that food provides energy and that no one has the right to tell them otherwise. If your dance teacher is telling your daughter what to eat, or telling them not to eat, then I need you to think twice about where your daughter is taking her lessons. If you need any incentive to pull your daughter from an abusive teacher, please visit my personal blog where my story along with countless others will convince you there is more to life for your daughter than a teacher who tries to control her diet or weight.
- We are showing your daughter that dance is a love for life. Good teachers teach technique and choreography. Great teachers pass along the love for dance. Technique is important, absolutely. Choreography is beautiful and crucial to building stamina. But the love of dance is the key that holds it all together. We want your daughter to dance for the rest of her life – whether it's one Zumba class a week while she's the CEO of a major corporation or it's eight shows a week on a Broadway stage. We want her to know that dance can be the medicine that keeps us healthy, regardless if it ends up being our career or not. So please, we beg of you, do not ask her to keep still as she tap dances down the cereal aisle. Please, do not ask her to stop stretching in front of the television. Please, let her move and wiggle and dance every single minute that her body lets her.
- And finally, we are teaching your daughter that beauty is so much more than what she sees in the mirror. We are teaching your daughter the beauty in a strong calf muscle built after years of ballet class. We are teaching your daughter the beauty of inner confidence when she walks into an audition room and has that fleeting thought of, do I belong here? We are teaching your daughter the beauty of a simple hand movement, of a wink, of a smile. The beauty of feeling the ground beneath her as she taps out her stressful day. The gorgeousness of teamwork, of perseverance, of self-expression. And we are teaching her how beautiful it is to be herself. To love herself, as she is, regardless of her glasses, or her belly, or her frizzy hair. Because no one, and I mean no one, should be telling her that any of those things are anything but beautiful. Because they are part of her. And that means they are perfect.
That's what we are teaching. We are teaching your daughters how to roar. Loudly and unapologetically. And that's what I hope your dance teachers are teaching your children too. If they are not, I want you to seriously consider a switch, and feel free to contact me to talk about it. Because your daughters deserve nothing less than these things every time they step into that studio. This is what will change the next generation, and this is what I wish I would have had when I was your daughter's age.
I promise to continue teaching all these things. All I ask is that even on her noisiest, messiest, craziest day, you remember that she's only trying on for size, the lessons that we are passing on each week. Whenever you can let her be 100% herself, with complete freedom, without apology, you are breaking the mold and changing the future for your daughter. And I for one, am so proud to be a part of that.
About the Author:
Amanda Trusty currently serves as the Artistic Director for Kona Dance and Performing Arts, a nonprofit performing
arts center on Hawai'i Island. She studied musical theatre at Shenandoah University and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, and currently studies tap dance under Gregory Hines' protégé Andrew Nemr. With a decade of professional performance and
choreography credits from theaters both inside and outside of New York City, Amanda is passionate about using her artistry as a vehicle for change, with a sharp focus on empowering the next generation. As a freelance writer and activist, Amanda was recognized in 2015 by the Huffington Post as one of nine women bringing body positivity to dance.