Hey everyone! I’m writing this because I learned a valuable lesson over the last few days and it has done wonders for my confidence.
Let me back up to about February to start this story.
I’ve been working with my school’s show choir for three years. I was crew chief, in charge of staging and making sure everything got on and off stage and loaded onto the bus when we were done. But I was getting tired of the gig because my passion has always been what happens on stage, not back stage.
Our choreographer the last two years has been a self-centered, demanding man-child. I could list all the awful things he’s done, but basically he thought he was the director, not any of us who actually were the directors. My director was thinking of getting rid of him because of all the horrible things he was doing and saying, but he didn’t know where he could find another choreographer.
I volunteered to lend my talents.
I did show choir myself for five years and dancing has been really my only form of exercise since then. I love dancing and feeling music move me. So I wasn’t completely out of my depths.
But I was more than a little out of my depths.
Since I’d never done it before, I said I would do two of the five dance numbers. It would be enough to get a taste for it and decide whether or not I could actually do it. I spent the summer working on them, an hour here, an hour there, watching my own old show choir tapes for ideas.
I struggled a lot. It was a huge challenge, made harder in part because I can’t really read music. But I do know how to dance and I know my kiddos, so I was trying to do my best for them. I knew a number of them were excited that I would be doing this.
Then we had show choir camp.
Show choir camp, for us, is three days of the kids learning choreography and getting to know each other. We start around 8:30, warm up, learn choreography, play some team building games, eat lunch, sing, and learn more choreography before going home at 2. These are middle schoolers, so it was about as much as they could handle.
The first day of camp, our other choreographer taught part of his song. I was so nervous about having to teach mine the next day that I was watching him closely to see how he taught but also how difficult his moves were. Were mine too easy? Would mine look good mashed up against his? I mean, this guy had been doing this since 1993, when I was two years old. If I could emulate him, surely I’d be fine.
And as I watched him, I became a little more confident in myself. His moves weren’t all that different from mine. The styles were similar. And when he taught, he just tried to keep it simple. (He’s also an elementary school music teacher, so he knew how to handle the kids.)
I went home that night and immediately made some changes to what I’d done. Nothing big, but I wanted to review my choreography so I wouldn’t look like a complete idiot in front of them. And I wanted to step up a few of the moves that were maybe a little too easy or didn’t make sense in sequence.
The next day, it was my turn.
I was nervous and everyone who was my friend knew it. I made no secret of telling everyone I thought this would kind of crash and burn. Everyone kept telling me I’m already a teacher, I would be a natural. And yes, there was that, but I haven’t danced in front of anyone like that in 10 years. My moves aren’t tight and precise, and I knew they’d ask questions about foot position or hands that I hadn’t thought of yet.
So when I got up in front of them, I told the kids that. I was honest and upfront: this was my first time doing this and if they had a question about something that I didn’t have an answer to, we’d work together to come up with it. Most of the kids already knew me (at least a little) from the last few years, so it wasn’t like I had to teach it to kids I didn’t know. If a kid acted up, I knew his/her name and how to handle them.
Anyway, I started teaching and worked my way through it. Sure, I made mistakes. I forgot the moves I had literally just taught the kids. I didn’t always explain the footwork as well as I should have. I didn’t always know what they needed.
But the kids were quick to help me. I’d just ask if they wanted to run through it again or if they were ready to try it to music. I’d ask if they needed anything clarified and then I’d go back through that hard footwork. Sometimes the 8th graders gave me suggestions. I’d try to give them weird names to go along with a move so they’d remember it. (“Dolphin arms!” “Step and punch!” “Ok, now we’re boxing!”) More than once, I made them laugh and we just generally had a good time.
And you know what? By the end of the day, they were begging me to run the song over and over again without my help. They loved my choreography. I had no idea how anything would look on stage, but apparently my instincts were pretty good because there were a couple of really awesome moves that looked so good in the mirror when 40 kids did it at the same time that I couldn’t stop giggling.
The best part was how adults walking in and out were reacting. My principal came in a few times to talk with the director and saw me. My principal and I have been at odds for most of the time I’ve worked here because he thinks I need to come out of my shell more, not understanding what it means to be an introvert and a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). But for him to see me in front of the group, teaching choreography, it was awesome.
My director said my principal came in and went, “Is that Holly?” and the director went, “This is all her. She did all of this.” So my principal watched for a while and allegedly said, “Woah,” when we got to the super impressive move that the kids love.
The kids were saying good things, too. At the end of the day they gave me a round of applause. A few made comments to me like how one girl said, “I was nervous when I heard an English teacher was going to be doing our choreography, but you’re actually really good.”
My best friend at school came down to see how they were doing in the afternoon and my director immediately went up to them and started bragging about me. He was saying, “This is all her. She did all of this. It’s a whole new side of Holly.” She said he couldn’t stop saying nice things.
The ironic thing is that what they saw was the side of me that I feel like I am most of the time when I’m just being me, not the professional persona I wear at school. I was just trying to have fun with the kids. There was no room for being self-conscious. The kids didn’t care and we didn’t have time for that.
On my second day teaching and the final day of camp, I started seeing how it was all paying off. The newest members who didn’t know me before were seeking me out for extra help or to say something random, just to be talking to me. The older members (also the ones who are usually too cool to talk to the teacher) were more willing to ask me questions if the director was unavailable.
And during water games, they were all dead-set on drenching me. In years past, for something like that, they wouldn’t have messed with me because they wouldn’t have known how I would react well enough to want to do that. This year? No problem.
Unfortunately, that meant my sneakers were soaked. I hadn’t brought extra shoes.
I spent the rest of camp in my (thankfully dry) socks, teaching the end of the dance. Once, when I was demonstrating a move, I slipped and did the splits. You could hear the kids gasp, but I just laughed. I just turned to them and said, “Ok, we’re not doing the splits here. That’s not the move.” And it was fine. I wasn’t hurt and it was just a funny moment.
It was when I was thinking about that later I realized how much I had changed in just two days.
Before, I used to be really hesitant with the kids. I wouldn’t feel like it was my place to make certain comments. I’d feel like I wasn’t part of the group because I only really started showing up in January, when they had already gone through so much without me present.
But now, these kids are acting so much different than I expected. The fact that I’ll have about 10 of them in class this year has really started to show too. Some of them, I think, are really looking forward to it. Instead of me going, “I have you in class this year,” they’re coming to me saying, “I have you fifth period this year!”
Internally, I’m feeling these changes. I finally feel like I can be more myself. I think a big part of that has been living alone this summer, spending most of my time doing what I want without caring what anyone thought. If I wanted to sing at the top of my lungs, I could. If I wanted to dance through my house or bake cookies or do a puzzle or not do my dishes for a couple days, no one cared. It’s been really liberating and I think that’s starting to show elsewhere.
The point of all this is to say that I was super nervous going into this because I’d never doing anything remotely close to choreography before. I’d almost never been the center of attention with that group before, especially not for that length of time.
But everyone had such nice things to say, even when I did make mistakes. The kids were so encouraging and so was the director.
This year is going to be different. I can already feel it.