Chiang Mai, Thailand – June 21, 2018
A happy and healthy elephant flaps its ears 1 – 2 times per minute. However, the amount of times those ears flapped could hardly compare to the amount of joy felt during my experience at Patara Elephant Farm in Chiang Mai, Thailand (click link to learn more).
For a day, I practically paid to work for this incredible facility that is truly conservation in action. Calling itself home to 67 elephants (and more than a handful to be born in the upcoming months), Patara Elephant Farm focuses their work on the 4 R’s: Rescue. Recovery. Reproduction. Reintroduction. With elephants coming from a wide variety of mistreatment and neglect, the family-owned and run farm not only nurses these animals back to health, but prepares them for many years to come – even releasing many back into the wild as a result of their efforts. Different from the “sanctuaries” and “reserves” that may be funded through misleading online donations, Patara is funded simply through experiences like the “Caretaker for a Day” package which I was blessed enough to be a part of. Why is this an important point? Because Patara is dedicated to educating the public on elephants and the threats that they may face. I was told that this would be the result of my education, and I can say it is absolutely true that now as I travel and perhaps see these majestic creatures in other settings, I am confident that I will be able to tell if an elephant is happy and healthy – both physically and mentally. I did not simply make a donation to a random online charity that could “maybe” help these beautiful creatures. Rather, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of conservation in action.
Being an elephant caretaker for a day certainly is a lot of fun, but also an elephant-sized amount of work! I was paired up with 11-year-old male, Pu (misspelling possible but I thought “Pu” may be more appropriate than “Poo”). Now, elephants have a lifespan of about 80 years, much like humans. This being said, my adorable Pu was a young and crazy boy – quite a tween. To establish a friendship with him, I learned how to approach him correctly – with the help of my trainer – and fed him many bananas until there was a huge smile on his face. After some elephant hugs and kisses, I then brushed the dirt off of him and even bathed him in a nearby waterfall. This brushing and washing was not only for pictures – it was hard work! My arms certainly got work out as I made sure that he was squeaky clean. For in order for us to take our elephants on a walk through the jungle, it was important that we get all of the dirt off so that when we are riding them, we do not rub the dirt into their skin and irritate it. An elephants skin health is just as important as that of a human! However, hard work was rewarded with some play as our elephant companions sprayed us with water for the perfect Kodak moment.
The workers at Patara Elephant Farm take their elephants on walks each day to ensure that the animals get the optimal amount of exercise. In fact, they even walk them so that the elephants sleep in new areas of the Farm each night – something that is very important to an Elephant’s health. Riding bareback on an elephant was a bit rough at first but certainly the most amazing thing I have ever experienced. Many elephant tourism packages have the option of riding on a saddle on top of these creatures, but this weight is too much for an elephant to healthily handle and causes more harm to the animal than you may know. I was instructed by my trainer to grab the elephant’s ear, put one foot into their own, and hop on top of the elephant’s neck…easy right?? Of course not! But with some nudging and scooting I made it on top and could hardly believe it! But the work did not stop there as throughout the ride I had to make sure my knees were placed in a position that would not bother the elephant, in addition to switching between leaning forward and back in accordance with the downhill and uphill nature of the forest. Yes, the forest – there was no man-made path. This was real life!
This journey was incredible – even despite some Thailand rain that prompted me to put a poncho on while on top of Pu. The views were simply breathtaking and I don’t think I ever stopped smiling. In fact, I’m pretty positive that the smile was consistent based on the pictures and videos I acquired shortly after. Despite the many bananas eaten earlier, Pu stopped a few times to grab a snack along the way: some yummy leaves from the trees on either side of us. Even as I type I do not think I have the words to full describe the feeling of this experience – but I suppose that’s what led me to make the above video as well.
I am still in shock that I was able to care for these majestic creatures for a day and still find myself smiling as I think back to the memory. It is something that I will surely remember for the rest of my life and I never expected that while teaching in China, it would be part of my adventure! I can only hope that I will now have the chance to educate others on what I learned at Patara Elephant Farm and be part of the efforts to keep these beauties a part of our lives.
Lights, Camera, Showcase! – June 13, 2018
From my first day here, I have been preparing the 70 athletes I teach each week for their Mid-Session Showcase – a mini-Recital type of event with all of the dance classes, Dance Teams, and Cheer Team. This Saturday, all of their hard work paid off to create a fabulous and energizing show performed in front of countless friends and family at our very own gym. 70 athletes to call my own, 10 dances choreographed by myself, and an hour-long showcase of talent, passion, and so many smiles…what a day!
In my two months leading up to this event, I have worked to teach technique in ways that would directly improve the athlete’s ability to excel in this performance. Knowing that this is what parents and athletes look forward to, it seemed to be the main goal for many. My Recreational Dance Classes have been rehearsing their finished dances for perhaps three weeks, with my Dance Teams finishing their Jazz Routines just in their last practice before showcase. With the busy schedule of teams, their routines were taught in the month of May, cutting close to Showcase but keeping the excitement going as they would debut these routines at this event.
Though there were some dances that I did full out on the side of the stage, the majority of dances I was able to sit in front of the performers and mark the routine using only hand gestures. What an accomplishment! It seems that compared to years past, this was a first! And the athletes were able to perform to the best of their ability! There were even some routines that I was simply able to sit back, relax and enjoy. Perhaps one moment I will forever remember would be the Intermediate Jazz routine, which was supposed to be a duet. However, Esther’s duet partner did not show and I stepped in to do the entire dance with her – full out onstage! What a fun memory! Her improv at the end surely stole the show and I was proud to take on that moment of growth with her.
To tie it all together at the end, I had created a Finale routine to Pitbull’s “Celebrate” – a short dance routine which the kids have coined “The Party Dance.” In fact, the athletes might even love this dance more than their actual routines…but I like to pretend it’s a tie. Every single athlete in the Showcase performed this routine together at the end of the show – a true surprise for the audience and a first for the gym. It is my hope that this dance continues as a tradition, bringing the kids together as they share the stage.
After a week filled with rain and typhoon alerts, the sunshine and smiles that came along with this day brought me so much joy and I simply cannot find the words to express my gratitude to be working with these nuggets. Each day is truly a blessing. The video above only shows a glimpse of the excitement and energy that filled our gym – but I suppose keeping a bit of that passion and energy to myself keeps it special, as well. What these next few weeks will hold, only time will tell!
Full Circle – May 30, 2018
I have to admit that I may have procrastinated a bit on this post, not knowing exactly the words to say to get my feelings and experiences across. This week has pushed me to be more in tune with my personal pedagogical goals as a Dance Educator – something that stems deeper than simply instructing proper technique and teaching choreography. From growing relationships with my students to becoming a stronger member of the Staff here at VCA, each week is a challenge in itself, but this week has prompted new goals that I am so incredibly thankful and excited to take on.
On Thursday, I had a parent contact me expressing her and her daughter’s concern regarding flexibility. Her daughter is a very talented athlete, participating in many sports outside of dance, and is beginning to feel the effect of this extra work on her muscles. She asked for suggestions for how to combat this tightness at home so that she can continue to improve as a member of our Senior Dance Team here at VCA. I was excited by the opportunity to share my knowledge and I suppose one could say I went a bit overboard. After asking which sports her athlete is involved in outside of our gym, I started my project for the week – which turned into a 3-page document dedicated to rolling out, stretching, and properly fueling one’s body.
Now I must say, I am not a doctor and I certainly am not a nutritionist, but I have had a lot of experience in working with these types of professionals over the years and have gathered a solid amount of information and knowledge along the way. Though I am not an expert at taking care of my body, I feel it is incredibly important to educate my students in how to do so – benefitting them in the long run whether they choose to pursue dance or not. In the short time I have here and the busy schedule that I have taken on, my ability to do so has felt brief up until this week. It would be an understatement to say that this request brightened my day! Furthermore, I was overjoyed to come home after teaching one night to find that the athlete’s mother had posted an incredibly kind message on WeChat, similar to Instagram/Facebook in the US. It warmed my heart to know that the information was appreciated, though I would have done it regardless and was not looking for any praise whatsoever. However, it was a small reminder of the impact that can be made in my short time here.
The chance to educate the whole of my students continued, though, when an athlete arrived at our Sunday rehearsal in not the best of shape. After warm-up while we were going across the floor, she came to me saying she was feeling dizzy and weak. I had her sit down and drink water, but recognized the behavior to be all too similar to my own experiences. Immediately, my gut felt a bit sunken and I realized that my training was beginning to come full circle for one of the first times. After discussing with this athlete, I came to find out that she had not eaten since 10 AM – it was now 2 PM – and at that time had only consumed an apple. She explained that she “ate too much yesterday,” and as soon as she said that the situation felt like it was hitting a bit too close to home for me. I was able to find her a small snack to eat, but she had to sit the majority of the rehearsal, clearly not in the correct shape to dance especially with the incredibly humid conditions of the day.
It is something I feel that I have talked about on my blog before, though I do not think I ever really experienced this side of it until now. As a Dance Educator, my ultimate goal (in addition to the obvious) is to inspire positive values in my students, those which will grow them physically, intellectually, and mentally. It is my desire to inspire future generations to express a healthy and humbling amount of confidence in who they ARE, not who they feel they should be or who they want to make themselves out to be. Over the years, the dance industry has proven to be incredibly critical and as you grow older in this world, those tendencies become very clear. From the discussion of “ballerina bodies” to the Mini Dancers that take the stage in a skimpy, sparkling costume, dancers growing up have an almost inevitable habit of judging both themselves and others on more than just technique. Lord knows the constant staring at our reflections while in a leotard tends to not be the best of help either.
I will be the first to admit that I, too, have fallen into this bad habit – more often than not. It is somewhat of a downward spiral and turns itself into much of a cycle as I grow older as well. From being conscious of the numbers on a scale, to the size on a clothing tag, to the amount of food put into my body, it’s rough and it is difficult – and once it starts, it is hard to completely put off to the side. This past school year alone led me back into some bad habits after placing myself in a triggering living situation and being in China, with a busy and tiring schedule, has challenged me as well – even prompting a few weeks that have been harder to combat than others. But as I enter into my fourth year at OSU and start to think of my future in the Dance World, these experiences and challenges have ultimately shaped me into deciding what is important to me as an educator. How can I work to inspire my students in a way that combats these negative thoughts and habits and, rather, promotes the positive? In fact, the underlying theme of positivity has found its way into many of my lesson plans and choreographic endeavors, even serving as the main source of inspiration as I continue to develop a plan for my upcoming Senior Project.
However, this particular experience during our practice caught me a bit off guard as God placed in my hands the opportunity to inspire someone head-on, not just through an underlying theme or inspiration. It was the first time that I had to tap into the many discussions I had over the years with my own High School Dance Team Coach and other inspirational women. It is a sensitive topic, and I quickly realized that perhaps I am not fully ready to do so. Furthermore, these athletes and I have only been together for a small amount of time, but I know this feeling and situation more than they know. How can I help someone if I still sometimes need help, myself? But with the Holy Spirt on my side, I approached the situation calmly, even using the last 10 – 15 minutes of our Cool Down period to sit all of the athletes down and discuss the importance of taking care of themselves outside of the studio. With the request for stretches and this now nutritional issue coming from the same team all in one week, it seemed to be the perfect opportunity. The young ladies seemed responsive, and I offered my support and availability as well – being there for them the way that my Coaches had been for me.
Though I am only here for one more month, this small encounter has pushed this goal to the forefront of my mind. I spent the walk home after that practice talking to myself, and God, trying to make sense of how to approach this new relationship and position. I maynot have the answers now, but I am determined to be able to be a strong role model for others in more ways than one and I hope that as I continue to shape my role as a Dance Educator, this will become possible.
Parlez-vous français? – May 25, 2018
There are two times in my life that my high school French classes have proven incredibly beneficial to communities that I work with: on a Magnificat High School Immersion to Immokalee, Florida and now in the incredible Cheer and Dance Facility that I am currently teaching at – who would have thought!?
When one of our Chinese dance coaches left the facility within the first few weeks of my working here, I absorbed some of her classes and adopted her wonderful students. Normally, this would prove no additional obstacles, especially as I am acting Head Coach and I organize and choreograph all of the material that is being taught in the classes. However, these classes that I took on consist of the majority of students who speak little to no English. Over the weeks, I have worked to develop a great relationship with them, even now being at the point that a Translator is not needed for these new classes. However, there is one little boy who has been showing a bit of difficulty in understanding.
My Thursday night classes begin at 6 PM with a Beginning Hip Hop. There are two students in the class, Julia and Adrien. Julia speaks both Chinese and English and has even taken on a role of Student Translator in this class. However, I have noticed over the last few classes that Adrien does not seem to comprehend her translations. Originally I thought perhaps this was simply a young boy not wanting to listen to his female peer – the usual behavior for a class of 6 year olds. However, the lack of communication prompted me to ask my fellow coaches who also have had issues with him understanding in the past. As our conversation progressed we came to the conclusion that his parents are Japanese and…French! Now I am in no way fluent, but a light bulb went off in my head and led me to dig deep into the many files in my brain – like that episode of Spongebob Squarepants where he is rummaging through file cabinets inside his head. Luckily, unlike this episode, my brain did not catch on fire and it began to come back to me and provide me with the necessary basics needed to see if a connection could be established.
Last night, I approached Adrien during a water break: “Parlez-vous Français?” Immediately, Adrien’s face lit up with an excited “Oui!” From there, I explained (in French) that I speak a small bit and that we were about to do our dance next. He was hooked and the little boy who had once been confused was now excited to listen carefully as I worked towards incorporating more French into my teaching. From counting out the material to telling him to take necessary information back to his parents, his attention had been grasped and now we are buds. I spent the entirety of my walk home that night practicing various phrases and important words both aloud and in my head. Though my vocabulary may be a bit limited, it will be the perfect amount for our hour-long class each week and I am looking forward to growing this new student-teacher relationship in a way that will benefit him immensely! From his confidence to his talent, I have no doubt that his increased comprehension will be amazing and I cannot believe it comes from this small bit of High School knowledge!
Friends, don’t forget all that you learn – you never know when it might come in handy! Times like these make me incredibly thankful for my Magnificat education and for the incredible teachers and role models that were brought into my life as a result. Merci, Madame Kikta!
International Choreographer – May 14, 2018
Choreographing routines back home is one thing – it requires preparation (maybe dancing in my kitchen…maybe in a studio?), an open mind, and a motivated attitude. However, I never really knew what it would be like to fully choreograph in a completely foreign country. Yet, for the past two weeks, I have been choreographing the Jazz Routines for our Dance Teams here at VCA, Guangzhou. What an exciting and energizing process it has been!
Back home, I am used to choreographing routines in a matter of a few hours: spending the day with a team and often choreographing on the spot, making edits to my own ideas so that it directly fits the mold of the artists and movers that I have the opportunity to share the space with. Even when choreographing recital routines, I find myself doing a lot of thinking on my feet and in the moment, as I am familiar with the students I have had for at least two years and we have established a solid means of communication and cooperation. Being here for a month, I have gotten to know these students very well, but had not yet had the chance to choreograph a full routine from scratch for the Dance Teams. While I have been choreographing all material for classes, these are more of combinations to be performed in their upcoming showcase. With the Teams, these are full routines (formations, skills, ripples, etc.) that we take to various performances, events, and potentially competitions in the near future.
After picking the songs for each team, I choreographed about a minute for each prior to my first day working with them – which was last weekend. This was helpful in the fact that I had a chunk of material to work from and then was able to edit on the spot if needed. What I found is that a few of my usual choreographic tools were not easily transferred to working in this new environment. For example, I can normally give students both lyrics and counts to work off of, so that we can better tackle the musicality of the routine right from the start. However, with there being quite the mixture of English-speaking and Chinese-speaking students, the option of lyrics was not sufficient as many could not understand the words or had not heard the song before. This being said, I was challenged to be on top of my counts – something that I do not normally stress so much in the beginning stages of my work. Additionally, I found that style and artistry was something that would not translate to these dancers’ bodies – which was mainly a challenge upon working with my Senior Team. In an effort to make the dance more mature and grow them as a unit, their routine is technical while also allowing room for true movement. However, as I worked with them I found that the aspects that are not exactly “skills” are the ones that cause hesitation and thus must be repeated a few times before dancers feel that they can fully dive into the movement. This pushed me to rethink the ways that I describe stylistic movements and the word bank of imagery that I use when teaching new choreography.
All of this being said, the first weekend of choreography almost left me a bit stressed or uneasy – not knowing if I was fully approaching this challenge the way that would benefit the students in the best way possible. However, when the Teams arrived for practice and more choreography this weekend, my heart was immediately filled. Each team was excited to continue the learning process and tackle new challenges, and it was clear that they had practiced because those parts that I had considered changing before, now look wonderfully possible! Immediately, I was reenergized and excited to teach more, as the dancers looked at me with smiles and bright, wide eyes. Though, they were quickly tired out by the end of the rehearsal, their hard work inside and outside of the studio inspired me, as a choreographer, teacher, and coach.
With two weekends of choreography under our belt (working with each group for about an hour and a half each weekend), each Team has about a minute, or more, of their routine finished. Though I will admit I am moving a tad bit slower than my usual, I am finding that repetition is key and with a solid chunk of choreography being taught in each rehearsal – in addition to teaching technique and running their Pom routines – this pace is working just fine and the dances should be finished by the end of the month, if not a bit sooner. This being said, this is the perfect timeline so that each team can perform both their Jazz and Pom routine in the upcoming Showcase! Though the Jazz routine may not look perfect come the time of their performance, their excitement and attack will make up for any small technical errors, in my eye, and they will have much time after the performance for us to clean and work out any kinks that may arise.
Every week here another challenge is being thrown my way, and each week is growing me in more ways than I could have ever imagined. It is almost funny to think that on my initial flight to China I thought I would only be coming here to be a Dance Instructor! Yet, I have taken on so many other roles; becoming more than a simple visitor to this company but, instead, an Instructor who is making her mark and using my knowledge to grow this gym as a business. From communicating with fellow employees to communicating with parents, to establishing relationships with students that will benefit them as both artists and humans, I am constantly amazed at the chances that are being presented to me throughout my time in this position.
Kowloon Adventure – May 9, 2018
This past weekend, I had the incredible chance to adventure to Kowloon (Hong Kong). With my Visa requiring me to leave the country every 60 days, this trip was organized mainly by my VCA company and only lasted a short while. However, I was sure to fill it up and make the most of my time in this incredible city.
I arrived Monday afternoon by train and immediately began exploring. However, my explorations quickly turned into a day of shopping – though I suppose I cannot complain about that. I spent a large portion of my time at the Ladies’ Market, a street filled with tents and shop owners calling your name as you venture through. From souvenirs to clothing to the wonderfully popular knock-off handbags, there was an endless amount of possibilities as to how I would spend my limited amount of cash – not to mention the fact that the usual Chinese thunderstorm erupted shortly after my arrival to the street, though I did not intend to let the rain stop my excitement and neither did many of the tourists around me. After traveling from shop to shop and haggling my way to lower prices, I was able to acquire some incredible souvenirs for both myself and my friends and family who have been so incredibly supportive of me as I spend this time abroad. Though no material item could express my gratitude, I figured a small token of my appreciation is always a fun thing to share when I return from my trip.
From the Ladies’ Market, I headed to the Jade Market, which was conveniently on the way back to my hotel. This Market is directly next to the Temple Street Night Market, which is similar to the Ladies’ Market but only open at night. Regardless, the Jade Market is in a closed in area, much like a large shack filled with various shop owners as well. Immediately, I was in awe of the beautiful jewelry that was on display before my eyes. Similar to my shopping experience earlier, however, it was a bit overwhelming. Part of me just wanted to walk around and admire the pieces up for sale, but walking around leisurely is not an option when entering into these types of places. Many shop owners called out to me in the hopes of showing me their work and getting not only my attention, but my money. Eventually, I was able to find a few gems amongst the numerous options, one for me and a few for family. And with that, I declared my shopping spree: over.
I headed to the NoblePark Hotel, checked into my room, organized myself, and immediately headed back out to adventure. With only a few hours to spend in Hong Kong, I did not want to waste any time in a hotel bed – even though it was incredibly comfy. Instead, I set out to find the Avenue of Stars, similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in LA. My GPS led the way and I eventually ended up in Kowloon Park, which struck me as odd at first because I had thought this attraction was closer to the harbor. Well, I couldn’t help but giggle when I walked up the park steps and arrived at the Avenue of Comic Stars – statues of Chinese comic book characters in all of their glory. There are two similar attractions! Who knew?! Though this accidental arrival did not turn out to be a complete flop as I adventured through the park and all of its beauty. From incredible vegetation to an Aviary full of exciting and lively birds, it was a happy accident that I will surely remember when recalling my time in the city. I ventured through the many pathways and hidden leisure spots throughout the park. As it began to get a bit darker, back to my hotel I went (stopping at the most wonderful vegetarian restaurant on the way back).
The next morning, I woke up early, arranged a late check-out time, and headed in search
of the Victoria Harbor – determined to see the sights that I intended to experience the day prior. Luckily, nothing was too far of a walk and the thunderstorm was kind enough to hold off until after my adventure was finished. As I walked down Nathan Road, I began to smell the ocean water and knew that I had to be close, and when I arrived I was so pleased with the beautiful view that was before my eyes. Unfortunately, due to renovations, much of the Harbor is blocked off, along with a lot of the attractions located in the area. In fact, the Avenue of Stars had been temporarily moved to an area above the Harbor and could be accessed via a small footbridge to what is temporarily being referred to as the Garden of Stars. There, I was able to see the handprints of many Chinese actors and actresses, as well as the famous Bruce Lee statue. What a fun area to walk through, especially with the beautiful view of Hong Kong Island across the way. As I toured the area and took many pictures, I could not help but feel blessed by the beauty that surrounded me and the once-in-a-lifetime experience that I found myself taking part in. Looking at the coast of the island across the water, I felt so small in such an expansive country. A new sense of energy overcame me, and I felt a new sense of inspiration to carry back with me as I continue with my time here. As I ventured back towards my hotel, I could not help but smile and feel at peace with my explorations.
My final stop as a tourist was to the Tin Hau Temple, which was currently decorated in celebration of the Tin Hau Festival. Tin Hau is the Goddess of the Sea and temples throughout Hong Kong celebrate her birthday through both large parades and small celebrations, like the one I found myself in. In this quaint temple, an enormous amount of people passed through to pay homage to their faith. I was inspired by their dedication and belief as they prayed to the various statues and spread incense throughout the temple. They moved with both purpose and pride and though I made my visit short in an effort to cause little disruption, I could not help but be moved by their works. Leaving the Temple, the smile that began at the Harbor that morning simply could not be shaken and as I journaled about my trip prior to boarding the train back to Guangzhou, I felt thankful to have adventured in such a marvelous way.
Little did I know that these three months would bring about so much growth and inspiration – both inside and outside of Varsity Cheerleading Academy. I never would have expected to have adventured so much in the short time that I have spent here, with still so much left to go. I cannot imagine what will come next and I can only hope that my heart and mind will remain so open to new light and energy as I do so.
Many Thanks – May 1, 2018
This week has been quite a normal one, especially after two weeks back-to-back of performance craziness. Weeks that place us back in the swing of things are both necessary and a relief, and this week particularly left me feeling thankful for all of the people that have gotten me to this point. With class sizes being a bit smaller than normal due to a weekend holiday, I was left with much time to reflect with a clearer headspace.
First off, there is no doubt in my mind that this would not be possible without the support of my family back home. From my dad sending countless messages reminding me how to stay safe to my mom keeping me up to date on St. John life via Facebook Messages, I would not be where I am today without them. They have pushed me and encouraged me from the very first ballet class that I took, too many years ago. They have cheered me on while I leapt across the stage and have given me all of their energy and love as I transitioned into making dance more than a simple love of mine, but a career. My lovely sister, Payton, has been a constant source of challenge and inspiration as she, too, has chosen to take a similar path and I cannot wait to see how she will continue to grow as an artist and human as she takes the necessary steps in her journey. From looking absolutely stunning at her senior prom to killing it in her last Dance Concert, I am sad that I will not be there to cheer her on in person but I am sending her so much love all the while!
Then there is the incredible Ohio State University Department of Dance, who have grown me into the dance educator and artist that is ready and willing to take such a risk. In a two-week period (maybe even less), the faculty and staff of OSU Dance provided me support and guidance as I made this dream a reality and figured out how it would be possible to drop my life and move to China for three months. Without them, I would still be in Columbus (which I obviously love), but I am so grateful for their constant support even while abroad. To name of few that deserve special thanks: Amy Schmidt (a true Fairy Godmother), Dave Covey (probably a wizard of sorts), Ann Sofie Clemmensen (my advisor without being named so, my Danish mom, a woman too wonderful to describe), Eddie Taketa (one of the greatest people you will ever meet), Angelica Bell (a true ray of sunshine), Dr. Melanye White-Dixon (Dance Education extraordinaire), the Thiossane Institute (Energizer Bunnies full of more inspiration than you could possibly imagine), and so many more!
Continuing on with my Columbus family, the many friends and peers that I left behind and have been staying in contact with throughout my time here! Their incredible support and interest in all that I am doing has been a breath of fresh air and I cannot wait to return for Senior Year and thank them in person for constantly inspiring me to be my best self. From my OSU Dance friends, to my Zistas, to the numerous others than make my heart so full, I cannot say “thank you” enough for their understanding and love as I took on this new adventure. Furthermore, I am incredibly thankful for my family at The Dance Extension, students and fellow instructors alike. Their understanding and support truly means the world to me and I am thinking of them often as they prepare for an incredible Recital, showcasing the passion and talent that exists within our four studios!
Lastly, but certainly not least, I would like to thank my Varsity family, especially my family in Universal Dance Association (UDA). Without them, this opportunity would not exist and without their faith and trust in me, there is no way that I would be able to take part in this life-changing experience. Through growing and pushing me as an educator, choreographer, performer, and person, this organization has given me the necessary tools and inspiration to bring love and light to this incredible facility here in Guangzhou. The growth continues, too, as I am sent new motivation and material for the upcoming UDA Summer and I cannot wait to see how my pedagogy and outlook will continue to develop as I journey with them in the dance world.
With two months left in my time here, I am sure that the list of people that deserve thanks (and souvenirs) will continue to grow and I cannot wait to make so many more incredible connections. Furthermore, I do not think that I will ever be able to find the words that could truly express the gratitude I feel for having so many amazing humans in my life. My heart is so full and I cannot wait to see how it will continue to be filled throughout my time here.
Vlog Time! – April 24, 2018
This week has been an exciting one, all leading up to our second and much-anticipated performance at AISG, the American International School. With the many of our athletes being students at this particular school and much of the audience including children who attend our gym, we have been looking forward to this performance opportunity over the past few weeks.
With each week I spend here, my role becomes much clearer and I am becoming more confident in my abilities to be more than simply an Instructor. From setting performance orders, to keeping in contact with parent concerns, to ordering uniforms, my role as Head Dance Coach is informing me in more ways than I could have ever expected. However, instead of writing a long post this week, I have created a Vlog of all that this new job entails! From the kids I teach to the performances we take on, I am excited by the energy that surrounds me and happy to share it with friends and family back home. I am sure that there will be another lengthy post in the future, but for now I’d like to leave this here and let the smiles on these athletes’ faces (and mine) do the talking.
Becoming a Dance Mom – April 17, 2018
What a week! After coming home from a holiday in Beijing, this week was surely one for the books back at the gym as we headed into our very first performance of the season!
Classes throughout the week went as planned, with the slight adjustment of me teaching a few extra classes as one of our Chinese Instructors has had to leave the gym to stay back home. However, getting to teach a few extra classes is the least of my worries. In fact, I am so excited that I will be able to work with a few new smiling faces and I cannot wait to make more connections with these adorable athletes as my work here continues. It seems that each week, another class finds a small corner of my heart to reside in. I am inspired by their energy and care-free nature. Whereas I sometimes feel that the children I teach in the states are trying to grow up too quickly, these students are true to their chronological age and their light-hearted attitudes make each class a wonderful experience. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when they are difficult – but I enjoy those times just the same! While a large part of my heart holds a place for the hard working students, there seems to be another corner that is specifically for troublemakers.
Immediately following classes on Saturday, we, coaches, headed to the performance venue: Liu Hua Hotel – a hotel about 30 minutes away from our gym in Guangzhou. The event that the students were performing at was a corporate event for heating and cooling technologies. Though the event did not have much to do with dance, it was a large ballroom filled with 800 guests who were ready to enjoy a fabulous night of food, information, and entertainment. For our athletes, this was the perfect first performance: no pressure and a beautiful stage. The only team that had full attendance was the Boys Hip Hop Team, with the Mini Dance Team, Junior Dance Team, and Senior Dance Team all performing with half of their team or a little more. We arrived at the venue and distributed the new dance uniforms for the Pom teams, while the others began to warm-up. With the hour that we had prior to taking the stage, each team was able to run their dance and feel confident for their big debut!
It was Saturday night that I felt myself embrace my true “Dance Mom” potential, as I placed myself on center in front of the stage and did almost every dance full out while sitting on my knees. I was the crazy coach that everyone takes Snapchats of…AND I WAS LOVING IT. The Boys, Minis, and Seniors all did a wonderful job as I called things out and helped them through this first performance. The Juniors nearly took my breath away as I saw their hard work come through onstage and I nearly found myself in tears as I cheered them on. To say I am proud of these athletes would be an understatement, and it is only the beginning! When we went back to our warm-up room, I explained how happy I was for the teams and the parents seemed overjoyed. This first performance definitely got some of the athletes to be more dedicated to our teams and I cannot wait to see how their energy will continue to grow as we travel to another performance this weekend, this time taking our Senior Hip Hop Team and Cheer Team with us, as well.
Building enthusiasm for these teams was my main goal for this first performance, in addition to getting the kids to feel comfortable with the material and be confident in themselves. The Cheer and Dance world is still a bit new to these families and we are struggling to get the “team” mentality across. These athletes and their parents needed to see their hard work in action in order to fully understand what we are training for, and I think that this first performance got a few more on board than we had before. The more we perform and the better we look, the more likely athletes are to practice at home and make practices and performances a priority over other studies and commitments in their lives. In fact, it was just this Sunday that I had a student look around at her peers and say “I don’t understand how they remember all of this. It’s like they practice at home or something.” Now with my training, I just about lost it and could hardly help but let my jaw drop. However, this reminded me that this is the mentality of a lot of the athletes that we have at the gym. With each performance, it is my goal that we will have one more student practicing at home so that by the time it is competition weekend, we are all equally motivated and determined to work hard and perform at our best.
This being said, I am ready to cheer on the teams once more at our upcoming performance this Saturday and I am looking forward to getting more students on board with our team goals! I have a good feeling about these kids and I know that they are capable of quite amazing things.
36-Hour Holiday – April 10, 2018
Prior to initially leaving the states I promised myself, and a few who helped to get me here, that I would not leave China before I was able to see The Great Wall. Little did I know that I would get to do so at such an early point in my trip! 36 hours in Beijing spent right, in my book, and I am so excited to share my travels with you all!
With this week being a holiday, we had an extra day off at the gym, meaning that this would be the perfect time to go and travel to Beijing. It appears that I am the new queen of last minute trips, between this full trip to China and then booking hostels and flights a little less than a week in advance for this small holiday. Regardless, something about the spontaneity is exciting and I am incredibly thankful to be where I am and experience all that is being thrown my way. After a short, three-hour flight, I arrived in Beijing around noon on Sunday, April 8th and checked into the Happy Dragon Saga International Youth Hostel. I quickly dropped my bag in my room, grabbed my jacket, and was off to explore with the remainder of this first day that I had left.
I walked about 40 minutes or so to the Forbidden City – my sightseeing for the day. Knowing that the City and Palace Museum would be closing at 5 PM, I kept a steady pace and arrived with ample time to adventure through this beautiful part of Beijing. Located in central Beijing, the Forbidden City is a palace complex containing the former Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty (1420 – 1912). It served as the home of emperors and a political center for almost 500 years, and now houses the Palace Museum. The complex consists of 980 beautiful buildings and covers over 180 acres. Needless to say, I did not make it to all 980 buildings. However, I was in awe of what I was able to see while walking through on what became a self-guided stroll. From eye-catching colors to impressive thrones, the Palace Museum was a bit overwhelming but incredible. As soon as I began to think I was nearing the end, a doorway would lead to another section with even more to see!
Eventually, I arrived at the Imperial Garden – perhaps my favorite part of the Museum.
From the smells of the flowers to the vibrant colors surrounding me, I felt my heart exploding as I looked around at so much natural beauty. I think I may have circled around the garden multiple times, finding something new in every corner. As I havebeen spending so much time in the city, seeing this much vegetation was a breath of fresh air…literally. Additionally, seeing so many children run through the garden and smile so brightly warmed my heart. However, age played no role in the enjoyment of this vision. Old and young, alike, strolled through the garden with such a positive attitude and demeanor. Great vibes could be felt in every inch of the many pathways and the wonderful sunshine only added to this incredible feeling. As I exited the Garden and the Museum, I could not help but smile on my way back to my hostel. Calling it an early evening, I headed back to rest up for my Monday plans: climbing The Great Wall.
Monday morning, I woke up and headed down to breakfast at about 7 AM, leading me to meet a group of boys who would be on the tour with me. As we chatted and ate breakfast, it was soon time to board the bus and pick up the others who would be joining us on this once-in-a-lifetime excursion. Of the many passengers we gained was our tour guide, Cactus, whose sarcasm and wit added a fabulous positive energy to the experience.
The bus ride was about an hour and 30 minutes to The Mutianyu section of The Wall and the time flew by, as I was excited for what was to come. We received our tickets and I chose to take the cable cars up to The Wall, to save time for more climbing and exploring. Holy high up! I could not believe how fast the cable cars were moving and I could feel the excitement building as we got closer and closer to the top. Before I knew it, we had arrived and off we went: 3 hours to explore The Wall at our own pace and on our own accord. Intending to experience the best views possible, I chose to climb the upward half of the Wall, arriving at checkpoint 14 and walking my way to 20. Only a 6-point difference right? Well, I suppose that might be true but wow was that a climb! From stairs to ladders to inclines – if you think you are in shape, climbing The Great Wall will definitely make you reevaluate your workout plan.
As I climbed (and breathed fairly heavily) I was completely in awe of the world around me. From the mountains to the trees to some incredible flowers, I was surrounded by absolute beauty. I could not believe all that I could see with my own two eyes and no pictures or videos could truly capture the magnificence that I was being wrapped in. Though my eyes were counting my steps and making sure I was walking on solid ground, I made sure to take the time to stop and take everything in every now and then – something that was necessary not only for my experience, but also for my heart. The Mutianyu section of The Wall was built in 1404 and is one of the less-populated areas when it comes to tourists. This being said, I was able to make my own pathway and take my time as I eventually made my way to a staircase that seemed to be 180-degrees perpendicular to the stone incline I had been trekking up. Slowly but surely, I braved this climb and arrived at the top of The Wall – the top!! I had made it! Huffing and puffing but alive nonetheless, and goodness did I gain a new breath of life when I finally took a look around at the view that was in front of me.
Words cannot explain the glorious view that I took part in at the top of that climb. My eyes could only see so far into the distance and it is hard to believe that the beauty continues beyond what I could process. Once more, no picture could capture it, even though I tried. The colors faded into the clouds and fog, but the sunshine peaked through and added so much light to the already beautiful image in front of me. It was almost as if I could tune out the other tourists around me and simply pretend that I was the only one there, experiencing the feeling of being on top of the world…quite literally, in fact. Checking this experience off of my bucket list was more incredible that I could have ever imagined. To think that so many worked on this incredible structure and lost their lives in the process, giving meaning to the name “The World’s Longest Cemetery.” As I breathed in the air and simply looked off into the distance, I could not help but feel immensely grateful to find myself taking hold of such an opportunity. If this beauty is surrounding me for the next three months, there is no doubt that I will enjoy so many moments.
After much time at the top, I made my way back down to the cable cars. The trip back to the 14th point seemed to go a bit quicker than the initial trip up to 20. However, every time I looked back I could not believe all that I had just climbed. No wonder my calves felt like rocks! Furthermore, coming down to the lower point of 14 offered so many more incredible views, as if I was seeing a whole other section of beauty as I simply retraced my steps. From my muscles to my heart, I was shook – and I honestly still am. I returned to the cable cars and then down to the restaurant where our tour group ate a Chinese lunch prior to heading back to our hostels. Sleeping the majority of the ride back, I knew it would be an early night once more but I could not believe all that this day had consisted of.
We arrived back home around 5 PM, where I dropped my things off in my room, grabbed my journal, and headed to the Starbucks down the street so that I could get all my thoughts down about the incredible day that I had just had. With my flight back to Guangzhou being at 6:30 AM this morning, I knew I would have to leave the hostel at 3:30 AM and had no intention of making Monday a late night.
Though a short holiday, it surely felt jam-packed – but in the best way possible. My bucket list had only included The Great Wall, but seeing the Forbidden City was an added bonus! It was a trip that I will forever remember and full of so many feelings that I will never forget. To be surrounded by so much beauty was overwhelming in every sense, but my soul was filled as I witnessed such glory before me. I am so incredibly thankful to be here in China, and especially grateful to have had the opportunity to take this short holiday and see one of the Ancient Wonders in such an incredible light. I cannot even begin to imagine what adventures are to come if this trip was so early in my time here!
To check out my trip to Beijing, view the video below and head over to the Media Gallery!
Creating Connections – April 7, 2018
This week’s blog post comes to you a bit earlier than normal, as I will be spending the weekend (Sunday – Tuesday) traveling to Beijing! However, it is almost as if this blog was meant to go out earlier than most due to the wonderful things that this week has brought into my experience.
For me, this week has solidified connections – between staff and students alike. I have found myself in situations where I have been able to engage in wonderful conversations and get to know those who I will be spending so much time with over the next three months. In both listening and sharing, I have not only learned more about the community that I am now a part of, but I have been able to assess my own role in this group as an artist, educator, and human. Where am I needed? How am I needed? How can I give my whole self to these three months in a way that will benefit those around me, and myself?
As I reflect on the week, there are two conversations which sit at the front of my mind. The first of these was with Esther, a student on the Senior Hip Hop team who is in my Intermediate Jazz class on Monday nights. This week is a holiday week for schools and due to children being on break, as well as the demands that this particular holiday brings, attendance has been a bit slim from class to class. For this particular class, Esther was the only student present, offering a wonderful opportunity for us to get to know each other better. Without me even prompting, she opened up from the start, almost eager to get to know me better and share her thoughts and goals with me. The conversation began small: we talked about her beautiful prom dress and how excited she was to be going with her friends to the dance. From there, we moved into discussing her dance training: her struggles, her goals, her passion – all of it. As someone who danced when she was younger, left, and has since returned to the art, she feels as though she has so much catching up to do. However, I see so much strength, potential, and dedication in her. She is a student that I feel blessed to be teaching. This being said, I did not hesitate to share and the lesson turned into a bit of a private lesson, tending to corrections that were specifically hers and not generalized to a larger class. There is something about seeing students’ eyes light up when a correction “clicks” that warms my heart and reminds me of why I have chosen this career path. Seeing that in Esther absolutely brightened my day. From correcting technique to offering help hints for flexibility and recovery, her heart and mind were entirely open to all that I could offer and the conversation continued all the way out the doors of the gym. It was the first class that I had felt I could really make a difference in these kids lives, and I walked back to my apartment that night feeling so full – ready to dive into my role as an educator and share not only my technical knowledge, but things I have learned along the way that have helped me to become the dancer and student that I am today.
The exciting conversation and new connections did not stop there, however. On Thursday, I was given the opportunity to work with Gwen, a student who had attended the gym a year ago but had since taken time off to focus on her studies during her Senior Year. Gwen wanted to learn a new solo and we had an hour to work together in the studio. With a “blueprint” of choreography in mind, I invited her in and we got started right off the bat! She was excited to be back in the studio but a bit hesitant, doubting her abilities as she had been away for so long. However, we quickly discovered that she had nothing to doubt – she was fabulous! With intermediate/advanced technical skill and a positive attitude, the hour flew by and we were able to share the studio space in the most amazing way. I soon learned that this solo was not set to perform anywhere specific. Rather, Gwen was simply doing this for herself – an opportunity for her to reignite her passion and get back to doing what she loves. Though there is potential for her to perform it eventually, hearing this warmed my heart and, in my opinion, spoke volumes to her work ethic. She was simply eager to learn and the passion she showed is something that cannot be taught. Regardless of technical ability or years of training, students with this amount of work ethic inspire me and challenge me to be the best version of myself, as both an educator and artist. There is always so much to be learned and so many things to explore. Sweaty and full, I left my time with Gwen feeling re-energized, determined to get into the studio and move for myself whenever there is some down-time in the upcoming weeks. Why not, right?!
With these two solid moments, in addition to so many other smaller occurrences, this week brought me a new energy. I feel ready to not only be a leader in this program, but to connect with these kids as not only an educator, but a person. Inspired and challenged by them, I hope to be the best version of myself that I can be in a way that I can be someone who they can look up to throughout my time here. I have said it before and I will say it again: I am determined to make my mark, and I fully intend that this mark will not only be as an educator, but furthered as an artist and person. I am eager to find myself reflecting upon more connections and relationships blooming while in Guangzhou and I cannot wait to see how these new experiences will influence me.
Taking the Lead – April 3, 2018
I have completed my first full week of teaching, coaching, and directing the Dance program here at Varsity Cheerleading Academy and I could not be more thrilled for what is to come.
The week started with the normal All-Staff Meeting on Wednesday, before any classes began. After discussing logistics and other important points, we split off and I led another training session with the Dance Coaches. As I am now the only American Dance Coach, I will be spending time training the Chinese coaches I work with and making sure that the Dance program is growing both in curriculum and effectiveness. After choreographing the material for all classes and levels, I spend these Dance meetings teaching the material and ensuring that coaches are ready for the week ahead. Ultimately, it is my goal that by the end of my three months here, I will be able to provide VCA with not only a qualified, hard-working UDA Instructor, but two incredibly talented and capable Chinese coaches as well. For this past week, we ended up having an extra training session on Thursday as well, touching base on Hip Hop lesson plans, drills, skills, and routines. This extra session was very effective and I am hoping to incorporate more of these into our schedule as needed. I am determined to make this program stronger and effectively demonstrate to students, parents, and potential new clients the benefits of dance in their lives.
Saturday and Sunday were spent teaching a few classes, but then shifting my focus to the Competition Teams and finishing up their choreography. With newly cut music, we filled any gaps to create a complete routine and began the cleaning process. These teams will have their first two performances on April 14th and April 21st – two weekends in a row and oh so close! This being said, I am cleaning these routines just as I would back home, slowly and carefully to ensure that each team looks as wonderful as they absolutely can. It is amazing to see some of the progress already, especially with the Junior Dance Team. Their Pom routine is looking a lot sharper and they are starting to grasp the amount of power they need to put into each and every motion and movement. Additionally, I was incredibly proud of the Boys Hip Hop Team on Sunday when we not only finished the material but were able to start a bit of cleaning as well. With a group of seven, 7 – 8-year-old boys, these practices are not always easy, but (after a few distractions and some necessary burpees) we were able to engage our focus and get the work done that was needed. With each team in a good place with their choreography, this upcoming weekend will be spend intensely cleaning and hopefully producing a product that is energized and ready for the upcoming performances. In no way am I hoping for perfection, but I would love for these students to be proud of the work they bring to each stage. Hopefully, we can get some videos up as well so you can see their wonderful smiling faces!
After a full day on Sunday, we gathered once more for an All-Staff meeting before heading into our weekend (Monday – Tuesday). We discussed goals for growth and organization, and it was at this point that I realized the importance of the work that I would be doing here. When I first arrived, I was excited by the opportunity to teach a new group of students and make my mark as a dance educator in a completely new territory. However, I also hold the responsibility of acting as an on-site manager of the Dance Program at VCA. It is my job to educate and lead the other coaches to ensure that the product we deliver to our customers is beneficial to them as both movers and people. Not only am I designing curriculum, but I am working to improve upon teaching styles and strategies to make our program stronger than before. Prior to this meeting, I feel I was aware of this, but it had not been completely stated. Yet Shiny led in a complementary fashion and explained her excitement for me to take on this role, in addition to stating how it would be a learning and growing experience for me that would absolutely influence my own career. Without a doubt, this process will both challenge and inspire me, but I cannot wait to see what it brings. I am creating a product that will last longer than my simple three months and I am determined to put my whole self into doing so.
The blessing that this experience is continues to be felt with each class and each practice led. From the smiles on the students’ faces to watching them progress with the material, I am proud to be teaching them and cannot wait to continuously be inspired by them, as well as my co-workers. Tonight, I will spend time establishing goals for myself and for the program as a whole, and I look forward to sharing these with the other dance coaches in our program meeting tomorrow. It is hard to believe that I am jumping into such a large role with such enthusiasm, but I cannot wait to see the progress that will be made.
Ni Hao! – March 26, 2018
It is hard to believe that a little over a week ago, I was running around campus in the attempt of making this dream a reality. Now, I am sitting in my apartment in Guangzhou, China, working to cure a bit of jet lag and get ahead on work for the week. Since my arrival on Wednesday, I have already begun teaching classes and getting to know the ways of the gym, and I cannot wait to see what this experience will hold!
I have spent this first week shadowing Amy Selsor, who has led this program to develop and evolve over the past year. From establishing curriculum to setting up the competition prep program, she has made the dance side of Varsity Cheerleading Academy into something similar to the studio and Universal Dance Association world that I have spent so much time in. In watching her teach and discussing the plans for the gym with her, I have gained a better understanding of what the goals of our dance program are and I am looking forward to making my mark and inspiring these students now that she has left to return back to the states.
I taught a few classes over these past few days ranging from Beginning Pom to Intermediate Hip Hop. From teaching skills to starting to choreograph routines for the students to learn each week, this small experience in gave me a good idea of how I should structure my lesson plans for my time here. The kids are excited to be moving in classes and are ready to soak up all of the information that I can give them. Though some may struggle to understand English more than others, they respond well to positive energy and a constant flow of material throughout the class period. In the same way, their parents are beginning to understand the excitement and energy of dance classes and keeping them moving throughout the entirety of the lesson is a great way to display this as the parents and caregivers watch students on the video monitor in the lobby. Ultimately, the goal is that the students will be able to perform confidently in the showcase. In establishing a clear class structure and assigning them homework skills to practice each week, I have no doubt that this will be accomplished.
In being the only American Dance Coach, it will be my job to make sure that the dance curriculum is continuing to develop and improve. I will be writing my own lesson plans for each week while also choreographing the routines for each class and teaching them to the Chinese Coaches. In doing so, this may also require that I provide effective drills that will help the students to better perform whichever technique they are focusing on: Pom, Jazz, or Hip Hop. After staff meetings on Wednesdays, I will make sure that the Coaches and I are on the same page, making sure that they confidently know the material to be taught throughout the week. This way, we will be able to establish consistency and flow within the dance side of the gym and we can hope that this will help students to stay engaged – and perhaps even encourage them to bring in a few friends to join the program as well!
In addition to teaching classes and setting up my own lesson plans, I will be continuing as Dance Coach for the competition teams as they prepare for their first ever Competition Experience! With the dances either completely finished or close to being finished, I will be filling any holes in choreography and working to clean all of the routines so that they look sharp and energetic when it comes time for performance. Additionally, I will be choreographing a Jazz routine for the Senior Dance Team to
perform, as they have already learned their Pom routine and are quite capable of competing in both categories. The dancers are very excited for competition and each team has a fabulous dynamic that fosters growth and a positive learning environment. I have spent this first week shadowing their rehearsals and learning their routines, and I cannot wait to dive in and prepare them for performances! Over the next week or so, we will be choosing Team Captains to act as role models and leaders for their peers and I look forward to working closely with these students in a way that teaches them more than simply choreography and technique. I have no doubt in my mind that come time for competition, these students will be excited and ready to perform to the very best of their ability!
Though I know that these next three months will prove to have many obstacles and challenges, I am looking forward to embracing all that is thrown my way. With the work week being Wednesday through Sunday, it seems that Monday and Tuesday will be spent reflecting on my experiences and preparing for the weeks ahead – often returning to this blog to update friends and family on everything and anything that is happening! With a 12-hour time difference, communication back home is a bit difficult, but I am hoping that these times for reflection will help with that as I am already confident that they will be absolutely beneficial for me as well. I am embracing this new job and role with an open heart and mind and I cannot wait to see how it influences and inspires my career as an artist, choreographer, dance educator, and person. I am still pinching myself to prove that this dream is actually a reality. I can only hope that you enjoy hearing about it as much as I will enjoy living it!