I’ve had my dance studio for 10 years, and I have (maybe) missed 4 or 5 days of work. I only missed if I was DEAD sick, having designed the rest of my life so as not to conflict with my being at the studio. Until this year…
COVID got me in late January, and I mean it got me. COVID, the flu, and COVID pneumonia happened simultaneously, and needless to say, I could not go to work. I could barely get out of bed. I missed a week and a half of work with very little communication with my staff. Healing became the priority, as I had hardly any ability to even think or talk.In February, my daughter’s mental health challenges reached a pinnacle. For the better part of a year, she had struggled with anxiety. She was formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, OCD, ADHD, and a math disorder, and we had been doing our best to learn about all those as well as how to cope. Come February, all the things reached a peak. My otherwise beautiful, healthy, silly 14-year-old had become a depressive, the physical and vocal tics that had before been manageable were coming hard and fast, and she expressed the overwhelming desire to hurt herself.
My world stopped. Again. This time it was about life or death, the mental stability of our precious, smart girl, and my (and my husband’s) ability to be available to her when she needed it most.
I know “family first” sounds so incredibly obvious. Of course, it does. We tend to get wrapped up in the day-to-day, though, and it’s hard to shake loose. Our brains are working overtime already, and we have a hard time flipping the “off” switch. Plans have been made, events are coming up, parents are still demanding. We have trouble letting go. Listen to me…let go. Hear me when I tell you to let go of work, studio responsibilities, competition obligations, and other duties without guilt, shame, or explanation. Just go. Be reminded that your family comes first.
Staff up.Get the right people in place. Both when I was sick and when I called in with a moment’s notice to take care of my daughter, my teachers rallied, and my Office Manager got busy. Our Costume Manager kept working. My Studio Assistants jumped in to help with extra classes. Your staff members should be able to keep your studio running smoothly. Make sure that when you hire, you aren’t just asking questions about dance-ability and teaching aptitude. Bring on good people who embrace your studio culture, who respect you, and who love their jobs enough to show up when you need it most.
At my studio, we have shelves and bins overflowing with fun props. Our iPads are full of playlists specific to preschool, kinder, elementary, and teen action songs, stretch music, and more. Our class goals are scheduled before the season begins, and we have documented what we will teach week by week. Planning well helps you feel better when you have to be out temporarily. My staff not only kept all classes going (even the classes I teach), but the classes were productive.
When you need to be out of the studio to take care of yourself or your family, allow yourself to shift focus. If you have made the effort to staff up, and you have solid plans in place, you can leave your studio and allow your thoughts, your heart, and your efforts to focus solely on the personal challenge at hand. Given the severity of my daughter’s mental health struggles, I could not be torn between worrying over the studio and worrying over her. She needed my undivided attention, and I was able to give it.
None of us can carry the weight of life’s trials on our own. We need resources to advise us. We need a confidante to listenand hold our hand. We need our circle to reassure us. Our tendency is to hold things inside, deal with life on our own, and guard our hearts. This is me completely. Over the last few months; however, I had to put aside my vulnerability to reach out and share. My friends covered us with prayer. My Gold Alliance colleagues showered me with calls, texts, emails, and cards of support. Even dance families who knew I was out but had no idea why came forward to offer help.
Let me assure you that, if you’re struggling, you CAN be absent from your studio without guilt or shame. When the dust settles, you CAN work on staffing and planning to better prepare you for being ready in case you need to be away in the future. You CAN shift your focus completely away from the studio, and give yourself permission to let it all go so you can be present for yourself and your family. And you CAN reach out to others for love, understanding, and support.
Yep, just like anything else, when you practice, you make progress. Take a day off to be with your sick child (even if it’s “just a cold”). Take that day you need so badly for self-care. Be with your aging mom. The more you take the time to truly make family first, the more you will realize it is possible, your team is capable, your program is strong, and your support system is there for you.
Before I leave you…things are looking up! My daughter is doing better. She has returned to her activities, jumped back into her schoolwork, and is learning how to better manage and cope. We take it day by day. Through a bout with my husband’s cancer in 2015, a mistake in surgery that nearly cost him his life, and now through an incredibly difficult period of mental health challenges and illness, I have learned so much. I offer all this to encourage you to make your family first, even if you think it’s impossible. Do it without shame or guilt. I am here for you both personally and in spirit. I understand. If you needed assurance, I hope this is it for you. Family first.
Amanda Herring LOVES her job! Owner of Center Stage Dance in Hernando, MS, she is passionate about sharing the love of dance while inspiring and encouraging everyone who walks through her door. She loves BIG and has a heart for new dancers joining a class for the first time. She takes pride in offering stellar service to dance families and specializes in efficiency, organization, fair policies, and strong communication. Her shows are HUGE with plenty of lights, effects, and stagecraft. Amanda wants her students to feel like they are a part of something big, and it is always her goal to bring more to class and to the stage than her audience is expecting.