Walking around the RMIT Design Hub interior (for the first time), I’ll admit that it’s a beautiful building to look at. All that calming circular patternation. Though the talk around the traps is that it appears to suffer, as many of the current spate of University grand gestures do, by not being terribly functional.
I’m here to attend the graduate exhibition for the various design disciplines. My long time friend Sarah has completed her undergrad in Architecture. I know what the slog is like. The burn out is real. I’d go out on a limb to say that the demands of any course with design studio, can test even the hardiest of students.
Sarah doesn’t know I’m writing this (she has given her blessing since). But I’m writing it, because I think Sarah is a perfect example of perseverance and the kind of quiet strength women often have. But more importantly she represents something I hold very dear:
I first met Sarah about…here’s a real guestimate… maybe eight years ago. She was a student at my dance school, a few groups below me. After a few years Sarah moved into the senior group, where I was her teacher. I had moved to St Kilda by then and was commuting down to the Peninsula for teaching. Sarah’s family moved to Parkdale, so I used to give her a lift home and we spent many hours getting to know each other beyond our dance school social life.
People ask me why I teach dance. I mean, it’s not like I need a second job?! I never wanted to be a ‘teacher’, which is why I never pursued a career in professional dance after school. Teaching full time (often where one ends up after a career in dance ends), did not interest me at all.
But I love teaching for the fun of it. I love teaching the tweens and the teens. And it’s because I love that I get a special place in their life and can hopefully be a good role model for them. Your dance teacher, (anyone who has danced, will get this), occupies a special pedestal. They are your second mother, confidant, best friend and mentor, rolled into one. And I love being that.
I know that may sound like I have a massive ego, or that I love the attention. But it’s not that at all. I know that as a dance teacher I occupy a very special position and that I have the ability to guide my students. To pass on the lessons taught to me about organisation, discipline, teamwork, self expectation, motivation and focus. I know I get to help them when shit gets too tough at school. I get to counsel them on Uni preferences. I know I get to be there when they are going through body changes and hormonal changes and the phase we all go through where we hate our bodies and think we are fat, even when we are actually as fit as elite athletes.
So, I was so excited when Sarah decided to do architecture. No one else at dancing had gone into anything similar before. But I also knew what she was in for and the burn out I experienced.
Not to go into any details, because they are irrelevant, but Sarah had a pretty shaky start to adulthood. Life was for a time, very hectic for her. She had some poor health. Some family challenges. She moved out of home, which is always a hurdle. And after first year. She needed a break. She took a year out.
I was working at the Monash University Residential Project at the time. We were desperate for some work experience/cadets. My workload was getting ridiculous. My project manager asked me if I knew anyone, who could at least read drawings. Sarah jumped into my brain and a week later she was helping me with precast tracking and design coordination.
It’s funny, I had known her as a thirteen year old, tiny little ballerina. She had followed in my footsteps into architecture (I’m not taking all the credit for that), and now she was walking around site with me, helping me with structure (or, as I like to call it, stepping into the darkside).
But I knew that she had guts, determination, focus and she was just as organised as me, because I’d seen her manage hours and hours of ballet training with school and exams, with the added bonus of her professional level ballet exams in the mix.
Turns out the construction game wasn’t for her. But during that year out I saw Sarah go from giving up on architecture, to questioning whether architecture was for her, to figuring out that it was something she loved and that she was going back. I don’t know how much of that was due to me and my influence. But I like to think that I had her back and that helped. I like to think that she had also grown up, watching me struggle through architecture (I was often crying at the dance studio or surrounded by study notes, which I would bring to dancing with me), and that helped her with some perspective – that it isn’t an easy course!
Sarah, it turns out, was shortlisted for an award on Friday night. She has tuned into this focused and mature architectural undergrad. Far better than I ever was. I’ve seen her highs and her lows. But I also know that I’ve been able to help.
Sometimes we interview people and they say that their parents were a big influence on them. Don’t get me wrong, my parents have been a big influence on me, but sometimes it takes someone outside of the home to challenge you and provide you with that role model position. I don’t know why, but people in those special roles of coach, teacher, mentor can be a shining light. They are positions of power and crucial (I think) to the development of children, into well rounded adults.
I wanted to write this for two reasons. Firstly I think it’s important to help your children find these adults in their life and encourage them to see these people as a resource. Secondly, I think that we need to recognise when we may be in that role for other people’s kids and take it as an opportunity to empower young girls. To show them what they are capable of. To be a friend, but also remember that they are a kid and you are an adult and therefore both an authority figure and hold a lot of influence.
Young girls, become women. And we want them to see what they can be. It’s one of my favourite lines; If you can see it. You can dream it. And you can be it.
And send your kids to ballet!