A friend of mine was recently hired as a dance teacher at a local studio (yay!) and we’re all very happy for her. I think she knows that her new career is going to throw her all sorts of unexpected curve balls—that’s just the way it is. Some of these curve balls, she’ll sidestep with grace. And some will hit her gut.
New jobs require you to make-yourself-over, in one way or another. You spend a lot of time figuring out who you are in your work place—you put it on the first day, like a suit of clothes and spend weeks or months trying to make it fit. In the case of my friend’s new job at the studio, the makeover required is both internal and external.
The internal makeover
A dance teacher must be confident in his or her own skin in order to effectively teach others. If one wants to become a teacher, but does not already possess this confidence, one must learn it.
The last year, it’s been very inspirational to watch my friend learn this confidence. She calls it “owning her inner sexy girl.” It certainly is that. But it’s something more, too. I’ve gone through the same journey. I’m going through it now. The studio owners have been very supportive an encouraging of this transformation and it’s a joy to see it. I’m glad they seem to understand that this learning is an emotional evolution that will take time. I’m glad they recognize that the process must be personal, guided by your own sexy-compass.
The external makeover
I hate to admit it, but the makeover can’t stop on the inside. I hate it, because I desperately want to believe that nurturing one’s inner light is all that one needs to be confident and beautiful and to appear so to others. But that’s not the case.
Part of the makeover recommended by the studio, rather explicitly, was cosmetic. A “face” and a “look” are required, worthy of a dance teacher.
A “face”—foundation, mascara, lipstick , a stylish hair-do.
A “look” – clothes that fit perfectly and flatter your dancing.
The appearance of confidence and success.
This is where my friend balks and where I do too: partly because it feels like a violation of selfhood; partly because this transformation is not given time to develop but must happen almost instantaneously. It’s not just a costume and a temporary role. It’s a personal change that shouts all sorts of barely-understood messages to the world.
What makes a dance teacher? Knowledge and skills plus the will and talent to teach them to others? That’s the basics. Add in that inner-sexy-girl confidence to inspire yourself and others. That really ought to be it. But it’s not.
If given the opportunity to take lessons from two different teachers I knew nothing about, one who was immaculately groomed and one who was schlubby, I have to admit that I’d choose the groomed teacher every time. I think most people would. The grooming says that they take themselves and their job seriously. It says that they are successful and confident.
So that’s what you have to do. I just wish it felt like a choice as part of the personal journey, not lock-step conformity.
Curve ball. Gut. Ouch.
When I was at a franchise studio there was a dress code for the teachers. The male dress code was slacks, a dress shirt, and a tie (vests or sports coats were optional). When I began teaching independently, I chose to continue the same dress code, even in the summer. From time to time, students ask me why, often adding in, “You don’t need to get dressed up for me.” My response is always the same and has to do with the nature of fashion.
One can dress for others or for oneself (the two are not exclusive, but every fashion decision will be based on at least one category). Dressing for oneself may be based on comfort, enjoying a costume, enjoying the image projected, or personal reasons. Dressing for others, however, is based on communication and appeal. When I wear a well-pressed shirt and tie to a lesson I communicate to my students how seriously I take their lessons. If I appear formal, it’s because to me the lessons are formal. They can be fun – indeed, they MUST be fun – but I don’t play around at teaching; I’m in this for real.
Every time I go into a lesson, even if it’s with a student I’ve taught dozens of previous lessons to, I’m essentially auditioning for the next lesson. I’d never show up to a job interview in acid-washed jeans and a t-shirt, would I? This isn’t to say that informal clothes mark a bad teacher; the majority of teachers I take my lessons from wouldn’t be allowed on the floor at the franchise studio in their typical getup, but that’s a decision they’ve made and an obstacle they’re willing to overcome in order to teach in the outfit and manner they wish to teach. I choose to use my clothes to aid me.
The problem with creative jobs, and I would definitely include dance teachers in that category, is that everything about you has to fit the part and yeah, that includes the look. Working in fashion, I struggled with that a lot. It’s actually even worse in fashion because you’re not just judged on appearance and fit, but trendiness and (ugh) brands/pricepoint.
The saving grace of that situation is that it’s not really all that black and white. You don’t have to wear war paint to look made up – most days you can’t even tell I have anything on my face, I just look alive and awake (as opposed to like death warmed over). Same goes for clothes. Girls actually have a lot more options in that department than guys so we have more leeway to develop a personal look.
For a crash solution to the immediate problem, I’d translucent powder over concealer where needed, topped with blush and two coats of mascara on curled lashes, finish with some lip gloss. Voila – the face is polished, but still looks like the actual person underneath. A few well fitting tanks with a couple of dancey skirts short/long for latin/standard, a pair of leggings and a fitted wrap sweater for layering on chilly days and she’s set until you figure out what you actually wanna wear. Good luck! 🙂