Dancers deserve more.
Jan 22, 2020
(A quick announcement: I am hosting a free masterclass
webinar. [email protected]
It's sort of like an online class, but it's live! I first presented the class, titled "Reset: Three Keys to unlocking a new level of thriving in dance" at a dance conference last fall, and one of my fellow teachers in the audience asked if I'd present it to her dance team, but they live in Vermont! This is a great way to open the class up both to her team and to anyone who is interested! You can reserve your spot here.
If you'd prefer audio over written word, listen here.
I tried a thing-- a thing that failed. But it led to a discovery: the way we've been learning dance is a relic of the past.
We're (usually) only let in on the good parts of people's lives, and unless we are intimately connected with them there's really no reason for it to be otherwise. Sometimes it can be a bummer to be living in a time where everyone's lives feel so curated all the time...and I've been known to wax poetic on the detriment of social media, but I think a lot of it comes down to personal responsibility.
It is up to me to keep perspective, limit my time on Instagram, and be connected to a great group of friends to remember what it feels like to do and see real life. And as much as I may complain about the way all this curation has effective our lives, I don't really want to see everything. I don't want everyone to post their cereal bowl and air all of their dirty laundry and drama. That would be weird. and exhausting. and inappropriate.
Where I do see this causing issue is in business. Businesses are particularly careful about what they show, and with good reason. We don't see many failures unless they are some sort of PR disaster, prompting the circus of trolls and the damage control committee.
Infuse feels different. Because we're a studio and not a national brand, I feel like the highs and lows are way more apparent to all of your...or maybe I'm just embarrassed sometimes. We've had a lot of successes and a lot of failures. I don't regret any of them, not a single one, and not in a cheesy motivational poster sort of way. I genuinely have no regrets. Because if I go back to that failure, I can follow an invisible thread that brings me into the future; into a place where I wouldn't be otherwise.
in 2017 I was frustrated with a pattern. I am a business lover-- most of my reading, podcasts, and learning around business principles. I was really in love with the concept of accelerators. Accelerators were a growing trend in the business world. One of the most known and beloved was an accelerator called Y Combinator.
I may muddle the numbers here a bit, but here's how I remember Y Combinator working: startups can apply, and if chosen, they live on-site for a few months. There, they eat, sleep, breathe their new business. They are immersed in education, mentorship, creating and planning, and have a short period to fully flesh out the details. They receive 125k of investment by Y Combinator in exchange for 3% equity of their company. At the end of their time, their graduation of sorts is called "Demo Day" where they pitch a room full of venture capitalists and hope to secure more funding for moving forward.
I know some of you may be bored to tears, but this stuff just lights me up. The thought of being fully immersed in learning and problem-solving while creating something I care about is just, no pun intended, the business.
There are other accelerators who do it in other ways, but I can tell you one thing you won't find in accelerators-- artists. There are a lot of valid reasons for this, but I wanted to see something emerge for artists-- something that would lead them into a deep experience, propelling them forward in their learning. I wanted to feel like artists were being given the same attention and validation as everyone else.
We at Infuse launched an accelerator at the studio in 2017 for multiple reasons and it also failed for multiple reasons. I want to dissect this a bit because this failure has led to some real discoveries in our corner of the world--- more than anything, they led to me where I am now-- acutely aware of the miseducation of dancers and really, really wanting to fix it.
The more I learned and studied business, the bigger the dance crisis (well, it was a crisis in my head) became. I would take courses on leadership, business, self-development, biology, neuroscience, and immediately saw the application for dance every time. I'd watch dancers embark on projects and...I'm just going to be forthright here... the marketing, logos, tactics, fundraising efforts were so rough, so rudimentary, that it hurt to see.
Do any of you watch Friends? Do you remember when Ross was dating that beautiful woman who's apartment was literally covered in debris, dirt, goo, and stank?
It was horrific, and at the end, after they break up, Monica shows up at her house and says 'my brother told me about your place and well....I couldn't sleep. Would you mind if I came in and cleaned?"
This is how I felt about these projects. I wanted to help. I was itching to help.
That's because it's my belief that if you're dancer, no matter what the level, you're extraordinary.
I am biased.
But it's still true.
Dancers engage an activity that requires they move differently every week, create new cognitive patterns, constantly, work on both strength and flexibility, activate and cultivate their creative side, deal with anatomical workings, learn how to connect with music differently, learn how to connect with people differently, etc. Dancers are extraordinary.
Yet, all I could offer at the studio was an hour and 15-minute class, and that class was dedicated to moving.
So Julie and I launched the accelerator. We divided topics based on our experience in them: flexibility, injury prevention, dance contexts, and history, how to teach, etc. If we didn't have a solid knowledge of something, we found someone who did.
We were thrilled! We were ready!
The first cohort was fun. It had its challenges, but we worked through and genuinely enjoyed connecting on this new, deeper level. By the second cohort, we knew it couldn't continue.
Because there were stark differences between this world and the world of Y Combinator. Things I didn't foresee...things I needed to watch unfold to understand.
First of all, when some tech startup applies toY Combinator it is because they've made this new idea their whole life. All eggs are in that one basket and its how they will make their living. Therefore they could dedicate their whole being to the process.
Our studio was full of dancers who loved dance, but they also had to work full-time jobs or go to school, we could house and provide for them in a way that allowed them to just focus on the dancer
We also had so many levels of dancers with so many goals. In a standard accelerator, you can teach everyone about a spreadsheet and marketing and acquisition and send them off to work on it. We couldn't teach that way, as everyone's skill and technique level were different.
Oh, and money. Bah. To charge the right amount, one that truly took into account the amount of work and knowledge that went into building the program, we would have priced everyone out, defeating the purpose.
I do not regret it-- we saw so many dancers grow quickly and go on to do amazing things, but more importantly, this adventure strengthened my conviction and resolve that dancers deserve more. They deserve the attention and resources that other passionate go-getters receive. The beauty of failure is that it informs you so deeply and you try again, and then again.
Although this will sound like a marketing hook, it's not, in February we are launching an online library of courses for dancers. Infuse Dance University. it's all of the knowledge we offered in the accelerator, but less expensive and available 24/7. I don't share this as a slick sales ploy. I share this because I am astounded at where we landed on this. A few years ago, I wouldn't have fathomed a project like this but now, now that I see we can reach dancers right where they are in a way that makes sense to them---I can't believe the world of opportunity that is unfolding. I envision a world where there are courses on the history and technique of Horton, or a glimpse into the native dances of Haiti, or a course dedicated to exploring every kind of turn across genres, or collaborative choreographic projects.
I don't think the digital world will replace in-studio classes. I know many think that's the future, and perhaps I'm naive or romantic, but nothing beats being in class with other dancers. I do, however, think that the digital world can open the doors for new levels of learning we were never aware of.
If my why is human connection, this is just another great way to facilitate this. Every failure is one more step on your way to a breakthrough