First Teaching
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The Story of My First Experience as a Dance Teacher
Spring, 1977

Bomb Threat

On Wednesday night, January 16th, 1991, the United States began to bomb Iraq. The first reports of the conflict came into Houston about 6:30 pm just as many people were heading to the studio for a western dance class. The mood was quite tense and somber since at that point we had no idea what was happening. About an hour into class, there was some commotion outside and two ladies nervously lifted the blinds in Room 5. I walked over to the window, took a good look to be sure everything was okay, then completely closed the blinds. I turned around to see everyone peering at me...they were just as paranoid as I was !

Suddenly a lady named Gina blurted out, "That's right, I heard that SSQQ is definitely a terrorist target !"  Everyone just froze !  Eyes darted everywhere. No one bothered to analyze the utter improbability. Instead instincts took over and half the class was in the hall before logic returned and we realized the joke was on us. Sheepish grins filled the room and the tension broke. We would have used Gina as a human shield, but she was too skinny.

Nevertheless I this odd incident reminded of the very first dance class I ever taught. It was in the spring of 1977.


A Co-Worker Gives Me An Idea!

At this point, Dance City USA had folded and was long gone.

After its demise, I had gone on to take Disco classes at the University of Houston Sundry School, Saint Thomas Courses a la Carte, the Houston Jazz Ballet Center, and the Jewish Community Center nonstop over the course of three years.  

Now that I had all the moves under my belt, each day at
work I would sit and daydream about teaching dance classes.

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I was in was in my third year as a social worker investigating child abuse during the day. I had actually tried hard for two years, but had gotten disgusted  because no matter how hard I worked, I almost never saw any results. I still did my job, but my interest was clearly starting to wane.

One day one of my co-workers asked me to show her a dance step. I worked with her for a couple minutes and she got it pretty fast. She grinned and said, "You should be a dance teacher!   My boyfriend tried to show me that step and we got absolutely nowhere !"

I have little doubt she was just being kind, but for my Disco-crazed soul, that was like throwing an ember on dry wood. My imagination soared!  For the rest of the day, all I could do was think about teaching a dance class. Finally I decided to do something about it.

A couple days later I worked up the nerve to ask my dance teacher at the Jewish Community Center, Rosalyn Lively,  if I could substitute teach a class for her.

I had taken her class 4 different times and was her "star pupil". I had shown her a couple of dance steps before and she knew I had learned several line dances at my other dance classes. Without even a second thought, she said okay.

Oh boy!  I was beside myself with excitement

That night I practiced in my little mirror to KLOL till 2 AM. My favorite song in those days was "The Year of the Cat", so I made up my own dance routine. For two weeks each night I practiced until I was psyched and ready to go.

The night of my class there were thirty students. They all knew me because I was also a student in the class. After stuttering for five minutes, I finally told a stupid joke and out of pity the class laughed. Five minutes later they were actually smiling and starting to get the routine. As I walked to the tape deck to play "Year of the Cat", a man suddenly ran in the room to say there was a bomb threat and to evacuate immediately. I turned around to tell everyone we'd better leave when I cleverly noticed they already had. This was after all the Jewish Community Center and they obviously didn't need my advice.

Fortunately nothing bad happened. After a couple of minutes of standing in the parking lot, one of the students suggested we continue. Why not?  So for the next 50 minutes I actually conducted a class in the JCC parking lot. If I remember correctly, we never did go back inside, but we had a lot of fun anyway.

Nevertheless, I guess it is safe to say that I bombed out in my first dance class....


One Thing Leads to Another!

Four months later I was playing volleyball at the JCC one night when my dance teacher Rosalyn walked in to the gym. She asked me if I would like to substitute for her and teach her summer class since she leaving for a long vacation.

By an odd coincidence two days earlier during my daily daydream I had drawn up a syllabus for a dance class.

Nice timing.  Interesting coincidence too.  I had one break like this after another in my first three years of teaching, breaks that were so uncanny I have often thought I lead a charmed life.

So that summer I taught my very class on my own.  I taught 8 one-hour line dance classes.


My Graduation Present Leads to an Important Discovery!

Then on the final night of class in August 1977, I took my class out dancing as a 'graduation present'. 

Sad to say, before the night started, these students barely knew each other.    Line Dancing meant no one had ever actually 'touched' each other.  For that matter, line dance classes didn't allow for a lot of verbal interaction either.  In fact when I taught I had my back to my students and there wasn't any mirror.  Half the time they couldn't even see my face while I was demonstrating patterns with my back to them.

No one knew anyone.

No one had to suggest I take my class out dancing.  It just seemed like the natural thing to do on the last night.  So after class we all got in our cars and took a ten-minute drive from the Braeswood Jewish Community Center over to a Disco called the Rubiyat (later the Bullwhip) on the Southwest Freeway. 

I almost immediately realized how helpless they felt in this environment.  It was 20 strangers in the night.  Third graders on a trip to zoo have more confidence than these characters!

They were scared out of their wits when they entered!  Strangers in a strange land.  Figure it out.  If they had had the guts to go out dancing on their own, they wouldn't have signed up for my class. 

No one danced.

Finally I realized it was up to me to get it started.  So I yelled 'Bus Stop'.  Magic words!  Shazaam.  Up they popped from their chairs like dance zombies mindlessly following their leader.  They performed the 'Bus Stop' among the safety of the group with me as their fearless leader.  Such courage on my part!

Hey, this was six months before Saturday Night Fever.  Give them some credit.  Even though this was their first trip to a Disco, they were way ahead of the curve.

The 'Bus Stop' broke the ice.  Now I couldn't drag them off the floor.  Vickie Sue Robinson belted out 'Turn the Beat Around'.  Donna Summer cooed 'Ooh, Love to Love Ya, Baby'.  Gloria Gaynor sang 'I will Survive.'  KC and the Sunshine Band sang 'I'm Your Boogie Man'. 

Gee whiz they fun!!   Oh wow.   You don't think my little bitty heart was going pitter-patter with pride, do you?   I almost had a heart attack with satisfaction.

Ask a drama coach how she feels after the first night of the school play or a basketball coach after his kids win their first game or a third grade teacher after the first class spelling bee.  

These were my babies!   I loved every minute of it. 

I soaked up the joy. 

This was the moment I knew I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.  And I had a strong hunch this was what I was meant to do.  

At last I had finally ended the confusion of those awful 'what do I want to do with my life?' years. 

I was 27.  Watching them dance marked one of the happiest moments of my life.  I had just discovered I was born to be a Dance Teacher.

Now that I knew what my new career was, I decided I better pay attention.  So all evening long I watched carefully as the members of the group interacted together and created friendships. Not just boy-girl either, but 'friends'... hey, let's catch a movie together, let's trade phone numbers.  Afterwards every one of my 20 or so students made a point of thanking me for organizing the adventure. Several of them admitted what I already knew.  They told me they were too scared to go out by themselves, but going as a group had made it so much easier. 

I learned from the start that it was my role to create these situations.  I was not Cupid per se, but I was definitely Cupid's assistant. I felt a responsibility to foster events that allowed people to connect.  And dancing was the perfect vehicle.

This was my social work background kicking in.  I had a huge self-esteem problem from my years of never accomplishing anything of note in my job as a child abuse investigator.  Now I had people thanking me for doing something I enjoyed doing.  Finally I was helping people!   It was about time I found a place to contribute.

When these people thanked me at the end of the night, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt I had found my niche. 

I believed I was on the right path.

 
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