You ended your dance season on a high note after a successful recital, attended an inspirational dance teacher conference, and took a vacation with your family. You return to your studio refreshed and energized for the new year, and about three hours into your first day back, 10:33am, you receive The Email. Subject Line: “Star Dancer Name – Next Year.”
Your heart skips a beat and you silently pray before you click “open” thinking aloud, “Maybe they just have questions about next year,” but history tells you otherwise. Your hand shakes as you click “read.” You get through the first few words and jump immediately to the end because you have to know. Between the “with heavy hearts” and “difficult email to write” and “moving to a new studio”, everything is a blur because you realize at the end end of the email you will never see this dancer again. Just like that, the relationship has evaporated abruptly, without warning.
Summer Heartbreak. You now enter the four stages of grieving the unexpected loss of a beloved dancer:
#1. Sadness: “I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”
#2. Despair: “What will happen to my dances?” “How will I create anything worthwhile?”
#3. Anger: “How could they do this?”
#4. Self-Defense: “I will not get close to anyone ever again.”
Then the lamenting starts to everyone and anyone who will listen. Husbands, parents, teenage kids and even the unsuspecting Target cashier. If you have a good husband or partner like me, they will just hold you and let you cry. They will also abstain from offering solutions.
Teenage children are a different story. Your teenage kids will allow you to lament for hours because most likely they are on their phones and not listening anyway. After 55 minutes in the car of repeating your sad story, they finally look up, roll their eyes and chant in unison, “Who cares?” Ugh. “You have so many dancers, Mom.”
Honestly, the Target cashier really tried to care about my story. They had no idea that their obligatory question of “How are you today?” would lead to my answer. I had to give the Target cashier an abridged version, given the short amount of time allowed and the long line forming behind me. So I said, “I am actually not doing great today. I am a dance teacher, and my best dancer left me for another studio. Can you believe it?” Then the Target cashier replies, “Oh, so like Dance Moms? I watch that show, too.”
OMG no! What have I become?! I gather my bags, leave quickly and sit in a spiral of shame in my car for 35 minutes wondering what I have done with my life.
In that moment, I couldn’t figure out why losing one dancer was such a crisis. In the end, they are all going to leave at some point. How could one person leaving ruin an entire organization or negate my love for something that I have been doing for years? Even though every dancer eventually moves on to the next chapter in their life, the difference is when they leave like this, it seems as if it never happened at all. The relationship is void.
Being a dance teacher is not about the accolades or achievements; it is about the relationships. This is why it hurts so badly.
It actually took me several more years (and more lost students) to fully understand “Summer Heartbreak” and how to react when it happens. From my vantage point now, going into my 20th year of owning a dance studio, the only thing that matters in our life is our relationships with other humans over our lifetime. Humans are hardwired for connection. Everything else is fleeting and doesn’t serve our soul.
Knowing that now, this is what I think. The dancers who left my studio had every right to choose another studio. It isn’t that I think my studio is the only studio where good dancers are trained, it is that I see the love I have for dance reflected in that child’s eyes. In a sense, my dancers are carrying on my passion through their dancing. I am connected to them.
So when I really, really think about “Summer Heartbreak”, I don’t really care if they go dance somewhere else. I just wish we would have had a chance to say goodbye in person. The difference between an email and an in-person departure is the acknowledgment and gratitude for sharing my time, passion and heart.
I understand this request is not easy for the person who is doing the “breaking up”, so it’s not that they didn’t care or were ungrateful. They were just self-preserving. A brilliant man once told me, “People are not against you; they are just for themselves.”
Fast forward to a few years later, your heart is healed and you learned to build healthier boundaries. You are still thinking it’s too bad that the relationship ended prematurely because you wish you could reach out to them, find out who they became and cheer on their accomplishments. What’s funny is I bet your star dancer is thinking that same sentiment about you.
It’s 5:30pm, you meet eyes with a little Twinkle Star dancer in your dance studio lobby who steals your heart…and it starts all over again.
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By Tiffany Henderson of Twinkle Star Dance.
Tiffany Henderson, owner of seven Tiffany’s Dance Academy locations in California, founded Twinkle Star Dance as a complete toolkit for studio owners that enables them to “plug” a recreational dance program into their existing studio without increasing their workload. Twinkle Star’s mission is to help dance studio owners re-focus their efforts on the backbone of their studio — the recreational 2–6 year-old-dancers and the tricky 6–12 year-old beginners. www.twinklestardance.com