Changed for the Better

Changed for the better: the power of arts in education, episode 4

Denishah Desroches

Teachers have the special task of getting kids to try new things, hopefully inspiring them to develop interests and talents that they might otherwise never be exposed to.  Sometimes, you get a student who walks into your classroom and immediately feels at home, taking her space in the atmosphere and making her impression for everyone in the room to witness. 

Not only was Denishah Desroches that student, but she became my go-to dance brain for four years. From the moment she stepped foot in the door, she demonstrated a natural affinity for dance and kept her eyes, ears and heart open wide to absorb every morsel of instruction. I came to rely on her for modeling of proper technique, for her steel-trap memory for choreography, and eventually for a collaborative mind and sounding board. She fancied herself a “Mini-Tirro” and frankly, I would have to say the moniker was correct; she possessed the confidence, the drive and the talent to back it up.

Early in our conversation, it became clear that this would be the “dance studio episode.” All of our discussion centered around Denishah’s experience in the classroom with the mirrors and barres, and not just the one back in high school. The lessons she learned in those years all still apply when she steps foot into any studio, anywhere she goes. 

Post-graduation, Denishah realized that dance was the world in which she thrives the most and needed to immerse herself. Given her passion and love for learning in the art, it wasn’t a far stretch (pun intended) for Denishah to move forward and grow into herself in that environment. Today, she is a working New York dancer, choreographer, model, dance educator, living rubber band and stretch coach. She has taken her early education and continues to expand it as she grows in her career. 

Denishah’s connection to dance as a form of personal expression is so similar to Emily’s from Episode 2. Though she never had any trouble finding the words to communicate her thoughts, she feels she best expresses herself through movement. Of course, it’s not easy to make a living as a dancer, but Denishah has made a commitment to doing so and we talked about some of the struggles she grapples with most. At the top of that list is fighting the urge to stay comfortable. She lives in her childhood home in Spring Valley, NY as she negotiates traveling to the city for gigs and fulfilling her local teaching commitments that pay the bills.

Denishah is in a position that I found myself in many years ago, before I became a teacher. At the same age, we both considered ourselves home bodies, pursuing a passion that requires our presence to be in a place other than home to be successful. In the end, I chose the world of arts education; the business end of the performing arts became less exciting for me, whereas the classroom was the environment where I thrived. What she really wants is to break out in the world of professional dance, join a tour, move to the city, and completely immerse herself in the dancer’s life while she is young.

So, what’s stopping her? Giving up the comfort of home, the only home she has ever known, to put herself in the position of being hungry for success, both on a creative and financial level. A significant part of that conflict is her dislike of change (something I also know a lot about), so the real hurdle is in cutting the ties with her comfort and making herself struggle. She is in a moment of existential choice and realizes, you don’t grow in comfort. My foot is in the door, as opposed to being literally in the room.

At the same time, she does love teaching and wants that to be a part of her legacy, eventually. The idea of having your name on someone’s lips long after they have left your tutelage is attractive to her (something else we have in common). But first, she wants to get her professional credentials to line up a more impressive resume. She understands that a teacher who has toured with a major pop star or has performed in music videos will eventually get more students in the door. The long-term plan is starting to take shape.

Lessons from the studio

The transferrable skills Denishah experienced in high school have directly informed her every day life. She embraces every aspect of dance room etiquette and expects others (her peers and students alike) to respect and revere the sacred space of the studio. One of the biggest takeaways for her is timeliness: being early is on time, being on time is late, and being late is extra late. I apply that to everything that is professional. I can attest to that. I can’t ever remember her being late to any class or rehearsal. In fact, true to form, she was three minutes early to our interview.

Denishah also acknowledges her competitive nature, which serves her well in this profession. She has learned the value and necessity of taking up space; making your presence known not by saying what you can do, but showing it. Though it took her a few years to embrace this, she started to command that attention back in high school. When she was challenged by doubters wondering why she was one of Tirro’s favorites; I chuckled at this notion, since all she had to do was show what she did best. It didn’t take long for the naysayers to pipe down.

Back in high school, Denishah admitted to being a bit of a hot-head, usually when it came to dealing with her peers. I remember this well – it was wise not to cross her, lest you suffer her wrath. Many a time I’d hear her vent about how her patience was being challenged by one of her peers. Looking back, she gave me some good insight into the irritability of teenagers. We were talking about how, since graduating, her temper has calmed down considerably. I initially thought that she just got better at managing the things that made her mad, but really, she revealed that the little things just don’t warrant that kind of attention anymore. I mentioned that I often have to remind kids that they’re really going to be okay, which can be exasperating when they are having a mental meltdown. She reminded me, Because high school is our world. Being older, you have so much more to worry about. Rent, cars, bills, family: so many things that are outside of you to control. When you’re in high school, your main thing is you. Whatever happens is heavily affecting you.

Point taken.

We also touched on the idea of the adolescent resistance to heed the sensible advice of adults. She shared, my dad definitely told me [sensible things]…I’m not going to tell him he was right, ‘cause he was right…I think it’s the idea of figuring it out for yourself. Some people figure it out tomorrow, some people figure it out in ten years. The process of trying to figure out yourself is like a puzzle. Each task is a puzzle piece and you want to do the puzzle yourself but you don’t want to accept help, even though the help is what’s going to get you to the end of the puzzle faster.

I get it. Though I also like to figure things out myself, I have learned the value of leaning into your resources. Then again, I’ve got over 30 years of figuring this out on my students. I must be patient.

Sage advice

If you could give a piece of sage advice to high school students now, what would it be?

I love this question. Whenever I ask it, they always take a long time to answer. They start to think about what they would have wanted to know when they were back in high school. They want to make sure that find that one piece of wisdom that might have made them stop and make better choices, calm themselves down, or think through decisions in a more enlightened way. Here’s what Denishah had to say:

Take the time to figure out what you want and go for it. Saying that you have time is a lie. ‘Cause you do have time, but when you think that you have time, then that’s when you are wasting your time. Set an intention and go after it – then you’ll be happy for the rest of your life because you’ll be doing what you want.

Denishah Desroches

I couldn’t agree more.

Follow Denishah on Instagram @stormyd_ and on her stretch page: @stretchwithstormy.

To see more inspiring conversations, visit my YouTube Channel Changed for the Better. Subscribe to get instant notifications whenever a new episode is posted!

2 thoughts on “Changed for the better: the power of arts in education, episode 4

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