As a teacher, I work very hard to create an environment in my classroom that supports risk-taking. I use humor to lighten the tension when presenting challenging new material in class. I share my own experiences of taking a risk as a dance student, and I don't hide the dirty details; I share my embarrassing classroom moments in a brutal play-by-play fashion. I want students to know that it is okay to venture outside of their comfort zone.
But last winter, saying the phrase didn't seem to be working. As I meticulously discussed the assignments for Beginning Improvisation and Choreography at the beginning of the quarter, including the five dances each student would have to create, I could sense this subtle shift occur in my students. They were scared. I wasn't asking them to get up in front of the class to show the moves they do in their bedrooms at night while listening to their ipods. No, I was asking them to create real dances. Not just any jumbled series of movement, but pieces that reflected who they were as teenagers, artists and individuals. I was asking a lot of them. I was asking them to be vulnerable. And as I quickly assessed their fear, I also realized instantly what I must do. I also had to take a risk, to be vulnerable, and to share who I was as a person. So I finished explaining the choreography assignments and I began quickly talking about my fears as a writer. I even told them why I hide my writing from the world: because I fear being told that my work is not that good. I told them that while they created dances, I would write poetry for them and post it online for the world to see. I would take a risk.
I'll never forget the panic I felt when I was about to publish my first poem online. My palms began to sweat, my stomach was tight... I had a dry mouth. Classic signs of anxiety. I read and re-read my poem to make sure that it sounded right. I didn't want to be embarrassed the next day. My anxiety about publishing the poem seemed all too familiar. As my hand hovered over the mouse, just one step away from uploading my poem, I had a sudden flashback to my first choreography class in college. And then I remembered the point of the exercise: to take a risk and to feel what my students feel when they are about to share their choreography with the world for the very first time. I had accomplished what I set out to do: to empathize with my students.
Interestingly, I got a lot of great support from my students after I posted my first poem online, but after I posted two poems, they suddenly forgot about my obligation to the class. They stopped asking me about my writing, and none of them noticed when I stopped writing poems for them all together. Perhaps they reached a level of comfort in class where they didn't need to see me taking a risk in order to take one of their own. By the end of the quarter, I quietly sat back and watched them push themselves -- take risks -- at every possible juncture. I was proud of them for growing as artists... and me for taking a risk.