• Natasha Connell


Back to School we go!

The back to school moment comes every year. But for me, this time, it means so much more! Because this year, not only will I be returning to my Ph.D. Program, but I also begin my academic career as a college professor, and dance academy ballet teacher to young dancers! So yes, pretty much, this is the one big back to school moment for me! And I want to share what the experience feels like.

First of all, I literally grew up at a university; my mother was a professor, and after school, sometimes she picked me up, and I hung out while she taught class (I developed a taste for the amazing Cuban sandwiches the ladies at the cafeteria made just for me) . Then she would drop me off at my ballet school, until we finally got reunited for the evening at home. Maybe that is why it feels so much like coming home for me to be teaching at a university! Yes! As of the beginning of the fall semester, I am assuming a faculty role at Columbus State University. I have a lot of classes planned! The first one I will be delivering is Aerobic Cardio Dance Exercise. CSU students are required to take two movement-based classes during their freshman and sophomore year. A few months ago, I was approached by the Kinesiology and Health Science Department Chair, to come up with some ideas for a new class modality for the CSU students. After we weighted a few options, my concept of a cardio dance exercise choreography class was accepted, and I got indoctrinated into the CSU community and faculty.

The craziest part about this back to school moment, at least for me, is really feeling the transition from student to educator. Do not take me wrong! I will always be a student, always will try to learn more. Like I said before, I am still in the process of my Ph.D. in Health Psychology at Walden University. But being in all the new faculty meetings, gave me a new focus. CSU takes very seriously the concepts of innovation and teaching in that way. As new faculty, we were encouraged to engage our students in ways that would produce the best learning outcomes for them. The new concept at CSU is called “CreateYou”, it is a phrase that is meant to represent what the institution stands for; developing students to reach their best self in a changing world.

Besides my foray into academia, I will also be teaching the upper levels of ballet at Company C Academy of Dance, where I also run my Adult Ballet Program. This dance academy focuses on competitive dance, and the owner recruited me to provide the due ballet discipline to the upper-level classes who, although are focused on competition, can still benefit from classical technique. I taught a summer intensive for them and got to meet all the kids. For the most part, they are very happy to have a ballet teacher that will focus on a more classical approach.

So here I am! About to teach not only college students, but also young dancers. I get to share my passion for dance with a couple of generations and that is so very exciting. The best moment happened during the summer intensive, after one of my classes, the studio owner’s mom (who is a former dancer) approached me during a break and said “we are just so happy to have you as a teacher. I watched you during your class today, and I could tell you felt joy in your heart while teaching, and the kids can feel it too”. Well, what else can I possibly ask for??

As much as I love teaching adults, the challenge of teaching ballet to talented older kids that are focused on competition dancing, but that need to polish their base technique, is a very welcome challenge to me, and I am very glad my new dance home has chosen me to do this.

A little back story..... as some of you might know, before my current situation I was teaching at a local boutique-type fitness studio. Before that, I had my own boutique-type fitness studio. I tried to embrace that mentality of offering many styles of exercise, some of them lightly basted in dance technique to appeal to a wide audience. Then I finally saw the light and realized that I am only at my best when I do and when I concentrate on what I really love, and that is dance; teaching it, practicing it, and talking about! And I also realized that dance does not need to be watered down for the general public. It just needs to be taught properly and the pace needs to be adjusted for the experience level for a proper learning curve. At that point, I felt that teaching watered-down versions of what adult ballet should be like, was somewhat dishonest from my point of view, and a disservice to my students. At this same point is also when I found Company C Academy of Dance. The studio owner said their talented, high energy students needed the fundamentals of ballet. My adult students needed a place that looked and felt (and was!) a true dance space, so our partnership was born.

So here we are. The official school dance year starts tomorrow. My classes are planned for the kids, the adults, and the university students. I already have choreography plans for each group (sorry adults, the kids are going to steal the Cupid Variation). I am jumping in with so much hope and enthusiasm, because that is what sharing dance does to me. I cannot just be blah about it. Even in days when before my classes, I felt tired and run down, once plies were done, I became energized, tuned in to each student, my mood elevated, I start making new combos, zeroing in on students to help them overcome challenges, and plain having fun with them. In sum, I have never regretted teaching a dance class. If anything, teaching them has elevated me on days when my mood was down. I feel like it is a very charmed life I am about to step into, being able teach all these different groups. I am sure at some point they will al try my patience, but is totally worth it! My days will be full of doing what I love and sharing it with the world, and isn’t that what success is about?

Besides teaching and dancing a lot on a daily basis, I am hard at work on choreography creation, and searching for performance opportunities within the community in Columbus Georgia. That’s another beautiful thing, this town loves culture and arts! And bringing the arts to the people, and my vision completely meshes with that.

Before I wrap up, I feel I should quickly look back at the summer. I took the semester off from my Ph.D. Program because I wanted to build my personal online presence. And I did that. I built this website, an Etsy site that showcases my vintage fitness and ballet finds, a Zazzle site where I can make all my T shirt ideas into actual products, and I have curated my Instagram to reflect the nature of what I want to present to the world. I also took some time to work on some personal projects that just plain make me happy, like my Mini Loft, and spending some lazy snuggle time with my family, and taking some alone time to explore beautiful Columbus, either by Geocaching, or simply wandering around places I might find interesting. And this was extremely healing and energizing. I will embrace a laid-back summer from now on, on years going forward. There is some wisdom in that. The heat kind of forces you to step back, drink some lemonade, and think about your life choices! So if you set up your schedule in a way that allows for that, you will reap all the benefits of that introspection and slower pace of life. Plus, there is nothing more glorious than a summer afternoon nap in the middle of the week!

I hope you all had an amazing summer as well, and as it comes to an end, are also energized and ready for a great new school year. Whatever your journey is, make sure to take the time to acknowledge what you accomplished, plan for what you want next, and to take time to enjoy where you are!

I would love to hear about what you did this summer, and what you plan to do going forward. Please share this post if you found it fun and helpful! And most important of all, never stop dancing!

Next week, I will talk about the best online resources out there for adult ballet dancers, such as Adult Ballet Community, and many others. Let me know if you have any resources you want to share!

Much love and keep your abs tight and your shoulders down and proud!


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