I share this letter because I want you to know that as teachers you have an impact on all of your students, and you never know which ones will bring you joy 40 years later. Treat them all as though they were special. If you convey the message that each of them means the world to you, what you give to them will come back to you. Guaranteed.
At my seminars, I always tell the attendees that it isn’t the number of their students who move on to professional careers or awards they have won that determine their success as teachers. Instead, it’s the impact they have on the average student in their classrooms. Teachers are most effective when they recognize that all children deserve to feel special, whether or not they are the most talented. I have always believed that it’s possible to instill a passion for the art of dance in every child, regardless of the level of dance achieved.
Almost 40 years ago, I taught at a low-income housing project in Brockton, Massachusetts, where my family’s school is located. I was about 15 when I started and I taught there for four years. There were no mirrors in the studio, but when it became dark we could see our reflections in a row of windows in the front of the room. At the time, the tuition for the school was $12 a month. Some of the kids’ parents couldn’t really afford it, but somehow we all dealt with it and I managed to keep the school going. These were kids who needed dance in their lives.
Although I don’t remember all of my students from those years, I often drive by the complex and think how lucky I was to have the opportunity to hone my craft with those kids. I have often wondered if any of them remember their dance lessons from all those years ago. Recently, when I got this note from Debi Johnson-Holland, I discovered that at least one of them does.
Rhee, you probably don’t remember me as I’m sure you taught a million little girls how to dance, but I sure remember you. It’s so fitting that you have moved on to be such an inspiration in the world of dance because as a young man you were the inspiration to many of us low-income kids from Chatham West in Brockton. I took three or four years of tap and jazz with you back in the late ’70s. Perhaps you remember that our “Star Wars” dance took a second-place award at Terpsichore Awards one year when no one thought we were good enough. I even was picked to do a duet with Lisa Allred. (I think that was her name-she has a sister, Rachel, and her mom did the books for you.)
My mom could never afford the classes and would somehow find a way to pay you right before the recitals. We didn’t have a lot of money, but my mom knew how much I lived for your classes. Mrs. Allred never let me forget that I wasn’t paying, but I never let that stop me from going to your class every week. I’d sneak into the class before she’d see me, or go around to the pool-side doors. I’m now 51 and still love to dance. As an overweight kid from the projects, I didn’t have much confidence in myself, except when dancing. I know I can dance. You gave me that. I’m so happy to see firsthand that you are still giving that to many, many kids. Thanks for making a difference.
Have a great day and enjoy the journey--Rhee