“I can’t even watch you, you’re making me want to throw up.”
Those words still ring in my ear when I attempt a calypso across the floor. What’s a calypso? Why does it make someone want to throw up when I do one? Well, a calypso is an advanced dance move where you swing one leg around, straightened, the other stretched behind your body, bent, all while turning and jumping into the air. And whenever I did one, my high school dance teacher told me she wanted to throw up.
I have danced since about the time I could walk. In fourth grade, my dance teachers decided I was good enough to enter the competition team, so I did. It was fun, but quickly started to consume my life as I started junior high and then high school. I’ve done it all from jazz to ballet, from tap to contemporary, and even a little hip-hop. I learned a lot from competitively dancing for almost a decade, but the most important concept was about the kind of learner that I am. And that kind of learner is one who requires support, constructive criticism, and positive reinforcement.
When I came to St. Lawrence as a first year, I was a bit hesitant to get too involved in the dance community on campus. I had dedicated so much time and energy to dancing in high school and I wanted to try out new activities. I joined lots of different club likes environmental action organization and the literary magazine. But, by the end of my first year I was missing the stage. So, when registration came around, I signed up for Beginning Ballet. I was a little worried that it would be too easy and boring, since I had been comfortable in ballet shoes since I was 3, but, I decided getting back to the basics couldn’t hurt.
When I walked into the dance studio on our first day of class, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect aside from stockings and ponytails. Kerri Canedy, the professor, introduced herself and asked us to call her by her first name. She wanted us to be comfortable with her, as a dance course has to be treated a little more intimately than traditional, classroom courses. Just from the smile on her face and the light in her eye, I knew she still loved and cared about dance. Unlike many other dance teachers I had met in the past, I could tell that her passion for dance and for sharing her knowledge ran deep.
Within minutes, my fear of the class being boring disintegrated. We started off by running three laps around the classroom and into the hallway. Then jumped right into stretching and then barre exercises. I felt like suddenly I was seeing and experiencing something I had done for so long in a completely new way.
Now I know all of this sounds like a ridiculous cliché, but for some reason, I can't seem to help it when I'm talking about my time at St. Lawrence. Kerri has truly lifted me up, and I don't mean just choreographically. She has made me feel like a talented and skilled dancer. During my senior year of high school, I had come very close to dropping out of dance because I did not feel confident. I had a private meeting with my teacher one day about it, where she told me that she understood how I felt, that she knew how I was.
"I know you are a shy girl and that you're not very confident," she said to me. And I thought, "Well, my parents certainly don't think that, and neither do my friends at school, so maybe my lack of confidence has something to do with the constant disapproval I feel in your class."
As a senior at St. Lawrence, I have now taken three dance classes with Kerri, and two independent studies. During a rehearsal for one of the independent studies, a prospective student and her mother came in to meet Kerri and learn more about the dance opportunities at St. Lawrence. They watched as Kerri joked with us, helped us learn the oh-so-challenging "flippennhamena" roll (Kerri likes to make up words for untraditional dance moves) and shouted "YES" while we nailed the timing on the last moment before exiting stage. By the end of rehearsal, we were all sweating, faces red with hard work and determination.
As Kerri dismissed us with a smile, the prospective student's mother piped up, "I just want to ask... is this the general vibe in all of your classes?" A little confused about the question, Kerri, the six other dancers, and myself kind of looked around and nodded, thinking, "Yeah, we get work done and we have fun."
"Well," said the mother, "that is certainly a breath of fresh air!" Everyone in the room lit up with appreciation for the acknowledgement of Kerri's positivity. Kerri is a rare kind of dance teacher, she is cheerful, encouraging, and instead of expecting the best, she expects your best. But Kerri isn’t the only professor at St. Lawrence with this attitude, she shares her positive and inspiring qualities with many other professors here. It is infrequent that I feel stifled or uncomfortable in a classroom setting here. And it is rare that I feel unconfident. My professors have pushed me, they've congratulated me, they've critiqued me, and they've guided me. One thing a St. Lawrence professor has never done? Tell me that what I am doing makes them want to throw up. And that is what makes learning at St. Lawrence an unending pleasure.