Getting fired at the dance studio
The end of a weird two years
"You got fired … from the dance studio?" asked my sister.
I think there was some judgement in there, but you’d have to know my sister. It's been a few months since I ended my two-year stint at the dance studio and I've had some emotions to process. But I'll start at the beginning.
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Looking for something different
In 2021 I was looking at job listings for everything and saw "Ballroom Dance Instructors, will train." Other job listings I looked at while thinking about not doing software engineering for a while: sculptor’s apprentice, substitute teacher …
I went in for a meeting at the studio and heard the whole deal – you teach the initial trial lesson for free, then sell a bunch of lessons. After that, you get paid per-lesson.
Really, it is a sales job. You also work the weekly dance party for free, and teach a weekly group class for free – to connect to the students … or something.
I called a friend of mine who had experience working in the arts and asked her how exploitative it sounded, to which she responded "average".
One Friday night party when I'd been training just a few weeks, I asked some regulars what they thought of the teaching situation there. They said "there's a lot of turnover, many people are in and out in two years." To which I said "Well, if nothing else, it could be a weird two years."
And a weird two years it was.
The first year
The first year, I stressed myself out about giving folks a good experience given that they were paying the studio many many dollars to take lessons with me, someone without extensive partner dance experience before this job.
When people asked about my dance experience, I would bring up that I took salsa lessons (true) and did a lot of hip hop (also true) as well as teaching yoga in the past (you get the idea).
If someone asked directly when I started teaching, I wouldn't lie. I did lose a student or two to other teachers that way.
About a year in, my life was changing a lot from leaving a bad relationship and realizing I needed more to DO than I was getting from the studio.
My work schedule at the studio was every weeknight and Saturdays. Taking a day off involved blocking my schedule weeks ahead of time. The owner wants you to be there even with you're not teaching (i.e. not getting paid). I often didn't go in if I didn't have anything, but I'd often have a single 7pm lesson, preventing me from doing anything else that evening.
I could not figure out how to make friends who could hang out during the daytime and was feeling socially starved, and the studio was becoming my main social outlet. As someone who loves plans, being unable to make plans for the evening, and having random empty evenings if a lesson cancelled, drove me nuts.
Changes lead to change
I took a full-time day job in the fall last year, figuring it could fund doing the night job and give me something to do durigng the day. I cut back my dance days, giving myself two whole weeknights off (not Friday of course, I had to work the party). This was the real beginning of the end, I believe.
December rolled around and I was suddenly laid off from that day job, I thought "alright, I'll dive into the night job" only for the owner to cut me off from the studio's pipeline of leads.
No leads, no students, no students, no work. Part of the deal with the studio taking 75% of the lesson-price cut is providing leads for teachers.
The owner said I needed to really think about if I wanted to stay, and I thought "what an opportunity for this weird experience. Let's go." I told her as much. I think this was a place where she hoped I would quit.
In the spring I started showing up at the studio more, thinking if nothing else they may get tired of looking at me and I can get more work (it didn't work). I took my first students to competition (great experience!).
Why not leave?
But then in May, I was talking with another movement teacher about my difficulties with my boss and said "I know I could leave, but it's such an opportunity" and she said "I was wondering why you don't quit."
Later that day, I sprained my toe. Not the worst injury, but you can't walk, and it feels very very stupid on top of that.
I was immediately consumed with anxiety and panic that I would lose my dance job because I got injured.
Then I thought about how ridiculous it was that I thought that.
Then I got mad.
The injury gave me lots of time to think, and that thinking was that I didn't need to stay in this situation. I started processing the idea of leaving.
When you're willing to leave, you can do whatever you want (a somewhat chaotic approach to leaving jobs, but has worked for me in the past). My therapist challenged me that I had this intense fear of being fired, and I could explore that.
To some percentage, I do blame her a little for encouraging me to go get fired. However, it was good life experience.
I thought "what conditions would make me stay?" I wanted Friday nights back. I didn't want to do work for free anymore. I told the studio as much.
They responded with "and you don't work here anymore."
Which! Not terribly surprising.
And that's how, in my 30s, I was fired from a job for the very first time (I don't count the layoff, although related experience).
Before I got fired, and for the weeks after, I looked into studios I might get a job teaching dance, but felt like I'd end up in a similar working situation. Clearly that kind of situation wasn't working for me. I have private studio space I can teach in ad-hoc that will suffice for now.
My narrative is changing: I have a day-job (and the schedule to go with it!), and am a pretty good dancer because I spent two years teaching ballroom.
It was a weird two years.
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