Changed for the Better

Changed for the Better: the power of arts in education, episode 2

Emily Dowd

Wow. This is exactly the kind of project I’d been looking for. So far, in two conversations, I’ve gotten all the feels. Reaching out and reconnecting with people whom I have always been so fond is a glorious task. My second interview was with one of the great dancers from the class of 2015. Like Manny, she made her mark in the studio, but in a much quieter way.

Emily Dowd was one of those extremely shy young women who had lots of talent, most of which exploded on the dance floor. While she didn’t say much, her greatest mode of expression was through dance, which was where she felt most comfortable and how she let the outside world know who she was. I could give her any dance task and she would bring it to life. Fortunately for me, Emily brought a lot to the table when she entered my classroom. From the age of two, she had a well-rounded education in ballet, tap, modern, contemporary, belly dance, salsa, flamenco and jazz. I am grateful to say that I had a lot to work with for four years.

This is Emily. Look at this fabulous, confident woman. This chick is going to make magic happen somewhere.

In our conversation, Emily reflected on how shy she was in high school, how anxious and “gullible” (her words, not mine) she was as a teenager. The dance floor was the place where she felt most at home, where she could exhale and let the outside world melt away. We discussed how the arts have the magic ability to alleviate the anxiety, albeit temporarily, that leads to fear of trying new things. As she spoke, I kept nodding my head, connecting to everything she was saying as I experience the same daily transformation as well, even to this day. The studio is truly a special place for anyone who crossed its threshold.

We also talked about the struggles of how we, as highly empathetic and naturally introverted people who thoroughly absorb the energies of the people around us, have to establish personal boundaries in our lives so we don’t get completely overwhelmed in our social circles. (For some more thoughts on this, check out my post about setting boundaries from last year.) The acts of creation, rehearsal, and performance are very therapeutic activities for us, because they act as mindful distractors from the things that trigger us. Instead of ruminating about the things that heighten our anxieties, we can pour our brain power into something in which we can take personal pride and ownership.

Emily offered more insight into things that she’s now grappling with (student loans!!) as well as some sage advice for teens (stop stressing about the little things!). Her mission in this moment is to figure out what she wants to do with her time on this earth, while she deals with the adult realities of paying her bills. It’s a delicate balance and a rude awakening that everyone in their post-baccalaureate twenties confronts. While dancing has been reluctantly put on the back burner since college, she is eager to find some space to reintroduce a dance floor to her now creakier and achier adult body.

At the end of the interview, I noted how Emily spoke more words to me in our 45-minute conversation than she did in all of high school. We laughed, because we both knew it to be true. That truth made our conversation all the more special; I have the privilege of seeing how, years after she left the studio, her adult brain enabled her incredible personality and powerful thoughts to come out. I do not take that privilege lightly, and I am so proud that my work with Emily had a positive impact in building the confident woman she is today.

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