Dancing On The Rock
When Rachel Levitt took a work trip to Newfoundland, she thought it would just be that…work. But what she learned there winded up being much more important.
Moving Pictures is a dance studio in St. John's, Newfoundland created by my dear friend Montana Herridge. Having taught several workshops on Zoom for the studio during the lockdowns, I decided to pack my bags once the closures were done and go teach in person. I was expecting to just work for a week and go home, but ended up getting so much more out of that trip than I ever expected.
Lesson #1 – Learning to really love teaching again
Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I love teaching, I love choreographing, I love dance, and I love these things in an all-consuming way that can be kinda self-destructive.
The 2021/2022 school year, felt like a daily struggle. I had spread myself way too thin, I wasn’t comfortable in my living environment, I barely had time to spend with the people I care about and my commutes were averaging two hours each way to get to work. One of my friends said to me “no wonder you’re so unhappy, you’re probably way beyond the point of burnout!” But I felt stuck. I didn’t know how to get out of it. Isn’t being in the arts all about sacrifice and misery? Doing whatever it takes to carve a way in the world of showbiz? This school year has been a world of difference. And Newfoundland is partly to thank for that.
In some ways, being the special guest artist was extremely stressful since I felt I had these big expectations to fulfil. That being said, I am glad I ignored that voice and did it anyways. The workshops went great and the students I taught were so appreciative of what I had to offer.
Days weren’t packed with just work though. There was fun, new sights, adventures and friendship. My life felt whole again. My boyfriend even noted that I seemed happy there…something that had become uncommon for me.
Loving my job requires loving all of life. Not just making it a work transaction. We don’t get paid enough in the arts to do it for the money, so it truly does need to come from a place of love.
Lesson #2 – Fun is Creativity
During our time out of the studio, I found Montana and I bouncing off each other whenever we saw something that inspired us. Whether it was fairy statues at the park, animals at Salmonier Nature Park or even flying over the Narrows on my way into the province, my brain was spinning with things that could be incorporated into my choreography.
It’s interesting. We spend so much time hyper focused on our craft, but in actuality our craft is deeply shaped by our lives and experiences. Movement doesn’t just come from dance classes and improvisation prompts, it comes from the things we observe. Whether that be animals, vehicles, plants or places.
Remembering to have fun reminded me why I love choreographing in the first place. It’s a chance to take life experiences, good or bad, and let them shape your art. Not just pumping out dance steps to music or words.
Lesson #3 – Rest is Work
Montana refused to let me work all seven days of my trip. She scheduled me for Monday-Thursday workshops and then I had Friday-Sunday off. Being next to a busy woman who was also taking time off work gave my over-achieving-ego permission to just…not. If she could do it, so could I.
During the time not working, being with my friend and the people in her life, creating our ritual of tea and treats before bed and letting Newfoundland feel like a temporary home, I realized that my work ethic had become my enemy rather than my asset. I always feel behind everyone else, so I always feel like I have to peddle twice as hard to amount to anything.
And that attitude is what destroyed me last year. The “I can and will do anything” attitude burned me out and left me dry and passionless. Taking time to focus on activities outside of dance made me appreciate the time I do spend working on my craft. It reminded me that rest is doing things that you enjoy, not crashing in a pile and hitting snooze on your alarm. Rest is doing things that spark something in you. Whether they be exciting and energetic (like skating or taking a class or baking) or chill and zen (like watching a movie, reading a book or playing a board game).
This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten out of Ontario for work. Those who know me know that I’ve gone to London UK and New York state for work as well. And both of those places carry with them important lessons that I hope to write about someday. But this article is a tribute to The Rock. And of course, a thank you to Montana, Moving Pictures and everyone whose path I crossed on this trip for helping me find my way again.