Why I’m A ‘Dance-Class Dancer,’ Through and Through

BY ELYSE FAHEY; ILLUSTRATION BY CAMILLE TAFT

Editor’s note: Elyse Fahey is a dancer and choreographer, as well as the owner of Studio Sway in Albuquerque, NM. She responded to my recent essay about why I don’t find most dance classes satisfying with this thoughtful counter perspective. I am honored to share it on Stance on Dance!

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I love dance classes. I always have. I’m a ‘dance-class dancer’ through and through, not because I’ve been conditioned to feel or think that this is the only way to maintain my body or to stay connected to the dance world, or because I feel some obligation to be there, but because taking class has always been my sanctuary. Having reached a high level of proficiency with my dancing, and living in a city where class opportunities for professionals in my preferred discipline are scarce, I’ve decided to make the act of regularly taking classes of any kind a personal practice of setting aside time to be with myself.

Because my other profession can be isolating, and is emotionally and mentally demanding, dance classes provide me with an invaluable release which I believe allows me to continue to effectively do the work that I do, without reaching burnout. I also rely on classes led by others to get me out of my head and into my body, which is important for me as, after a full day of work, I don’t have the mental or emotional capacity remaining to then lead myself through a self-guided practice. I’m also highly introverted, and I feel that the social and community aspects of a dance class bring an important element into my daily life that I might otherwise skip, because it’s often easier to just stay home.

Dance classes are also where I test out my ideas for potential choreographic work, and where I get inspired to explore what my body is capable of at this juncture in my life as a dancer. Class never gets old for me because, ultimately, it’s not about the class I’m taking; it’s about my own approach and experience within the context of what’s being offered and led. In other words, regardless of the style, level, or instructor, I am always ‘doing my own thing,’ but without having to entirely self-generate, which takes energy I just don’t have at this point in my life.

This balance is crucial for my continued fascination with the body, with movement, with this art form, and with where it can go creatively. I find value in every class I take because I am always with myself, and I am always exploring, learning, and investigating. The integration of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing is possible, and I experience great joy in my life, because I take so many dance classes.

As a studio owner, I also feel strongly that classes of all varieties and levels provide a beautiful service to our community and bring so much to many peoples’ lives, as well as provide a way for people to make an income doing something they truly love, even if it’s secondary or tertiary to other jobs they may hold. Without dance classes, my studio would not exist, my community would not exist, and my life would look really different.

As a studio owner, inclusivity is important to me. I am open to learning about ways to make my studio more accessible and inclusive, and would like to be involved in making changes where there is demand, so that fuller participation is possible.

I’ve also had my own battle with mirrors. I agree they can be psychologically harmful, and might cling to an antiquated way of doing things in the dance classroom. However, they can also be used as a helpful teaching tool in certain contexts. While covering the mirror with curtains doesn’t eliminate their presence entirely, it at least provides options for those who want to teach classes differently, and makes one space adaptable for multiple uses.

I love my dance studio, and I love the energy within it. I love the people I have met through it, and the experiences I know it has provided for so many. Dance classes are the life force that keep the space open and alive. I hope that my studio has a long life. I hope that every studio and space for dance, movement, and art in my city has a long life. Classes are undeniably the sustaining factor in the existence of these spaces that provide so much to the community and art form at large. I wouldn’t be who I am without dance classes. My personal practice of taking class has shaped much of my way of being in the world. I believe that I am a better, kinder, and more compassionate person because of the work that I have done on myself in the studio, in class, dancing.

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Learn more about Elyse and her studio at www.studioswayabq.com.

4 Responses to “Why I’m A ‘Dance-Class Dancer,’ Through and Through”

  1. Tasha (Books) Trujillo

    Thank you Elyse for reminding me that “needing” a class to motivate me is not a defect, but a reminder that getting out of my head and collaboration is healthy, if not crucial.

  2. Bianca Starr

    This really resonates with me! As a dance teacher myself I get tired of consistently having to generate material. I love having a chance to sink into what another teacher can create for me so that I can pour myself into it and get out of my own mind. When I teach I have to hold space for my students and create structure that places me as guide and guardian and saves them from having to be self-disciplined on every front. Having someone else make space for me in that way is such a gift. I readily admit that plenty of classes out there are not welcoming enough or well-constructed enough, but for me at this stage in my life I’d rather be in a great teacher’s class than on stage.

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