Saying Goodbye Never Gets Easier
Rachel Levitt reflects on the challenges of saying goodbye to her dance students.
Ever since I started teaching, I have been shocked at the ripping sensation in my heart that comes with saying goodbye to students after a meaningful number of weeks, months or years together. It is an experience I can only compare to how I’ve felt going through the death of a loved one, a breakup or a big move. That may seem melodramatic, but it’s sadly true. Perhaps not all of you get this emotional, but for those who do, let’s commiserate together for a moment.
It started when I was an assistant dance teacher in college…
This was my first regular teaching experience, even if it was just as an assistant. I am very ambitious and hands on, so really invested my time in giving the students additional corrections and being a second pair of eyes for the main teachers. Watching those kids develop their talents and having a couple of students tell me that they felt I played a role in their abilities progressing really lit a spark for me. When I moved across the pond to London, I frequently thought about them and wished I was there to see them grow.
This same pattern repeated itself over and over again. It happened when I flew to the USA after teaching in London, when I flew back to Canada after teaching in the USA, and when the pandemic closed down the rest of the 2019/2020 school year. It happened anytime I said goodbye to Zoom kids circa 2020/2021, and again when I left the USA summer 2021. And it will happen again this year as I say goodbye to so many students here in the GTA.
What is it that makes these dance student/teacher bonds so deep?
Whether your students want to become professional dancers or just want to be the best they can be, dance plays a big role in their identity.
I know that my bonds are often deepest when my students can do things at the end of the year that they couldn’t do on day one. That feeling of growth really strengthens them with a lot of confidence, inspiring them to work harder and try things they were too scared to do before. I’ve often been told that what my students like most about me as a teacher is that I push them and believe in them, but also that I contribute to helping them achieve their goals. Watching them become the dancers they want to be (and that I knew they could be) is a priceless opportunity that makes the exhaustion and sacrifices of this career worth every minute.
I have been spoiled with compliments I don’t always think I deserve, with kids saying how they’ve improved because of me and how much fun they have in my classes (which I always find hilarious because I’m “that tough teacher” that makes you work like mad). I’ve been spoiled by parents saying how much their kids have loved my classes and recently an employer told me that I am one of the only teachers their students would go back on Zoom for.
But the funny thing is, as much as I appreciate the compliments and it feels affirming to know I’m making an impact, I sometimes wonder if these kids have any idea how much they add to my life.
Students create special memories
At the end of the day, it’s not how my kids scored in competition or if they were flawless in their final performances. It’s all the laughter in the rehearsal room. It’s the days where you’re cringing and wondering “is this too much for them?” that turn into the days of “YES THEY CAN DO IT!” It’s the magic that comes when they ace those turns or finally trust their technique and give themselves over to character and storytelling in their movement. It’s when they get out of the “I can’t do it” phase and the “I don’t want to improv” phase and the “using your face and adding dynamic to your movement isn’t cool” phase, and really come together to create something great.
And those dance moments last a lifetime. Because you never forget when your students grow in front of your eyes, or tell you how much they appreciate you, or really dance and demonstrate what makes them unique rather than just doing the movement. And when you know those moments with that group of people are coming to an end, it’s painful.
What happens next?
As this year comes to a close and I say many emotional goodbyes to students that I love with my whole heart, I know there is nothing to prevent the grief that comes with the gift of teaching dance. And I also feel the losses of past years and summers too, as if when one new loss sets in all the others come rushing back.
However, I also find myself beyond grateful for all these memories that make me well up with tears. Because how lucky am I to have a passion for dance so strong that I’m still in this field despite all its challenges? How lucky am I to have been able to contribute to so many of my students’ growth and development? How lucky am I to still experience all this happiness despite this being one of the most challenging years of my life? The answer is extremely lucky.
So, when this year comes to an end, I will prepare for the pain. But I also know that those memories and the lessons I have learned from those I’ve taught won’t be going anywhere. All of you, whether I taught you in 2017 or taught you this year in 2022, will be in my heart.