Are you a floater? Or do you have an “umbrella” to teach under?
I’m a freelance dance teacher. Let’s face it, freelancing isn’t easy; adding up many pieces to equal a full time job. Actually, scheduling everything is a job in itself, but that’s another blog post for another time.
When people ask me how I make a living teaching such a niche age group – toddlers and preschoolers – I break it down:
1. It’s what I have always wanted to do and so I’m determined, but it wasn’t always that way.
2. It’s what I am known for. Maria? Oh, she teaches babies to preschoolers.
3. I have an umbrella (some people may refer to it is a brand). You might have heard of it — Maria’s Movers.
When I first started teaching in NYC I was what I like to call a “floater,” floating from place to place just doing my thing.
I did anything and everything I could to “make it.” I set guidelines for myself, but only after I’d learned the hard way that it was needed or I would go insane.
One year I was doing crazy things like traveling across city boroughs twice in one day. That, my friends, was not fun. But I loved teaching so much that I was willing to do it. Plus, I knew that what I was doing would bring me to what I am doing now.
Even though I was seeing about 200 kids per week, I still didn’t feel like I belonged to any of the communities I freelanced within. What helped me most was building my own umbrella, a place to call home. Now that umbrella guides what and where I will teach.
If you are looking to build an umbrella for yourself, here are some ideas to start with:
If you want to teach young kids, work with children wherever you can.
One day, no joke, I dressed up in a cow costume at an ice cream shop for a kid’s birthday party. Another semester I taught cooking. I taught gymnastics and art. I scooped ice cream and traveled at least 2.5 hours a day on the subway everyday. Whatever it was, I made sure the experience I was getting was with little ones.
Failure = Opportunity
I was on track to being a public school dance teacher, but for some reason I couldn’t pass just one test (the dance one!) to get certified. I took it four times and still couldn’t pass it. At the time, I felt like a failure. Later, I realized it was a blessing in disguise, because teaching early childhood is what I am meant to do.
Be patient while it builds.
It takes time to build a house, and it takes time to build an umbrella too. I have been in NYC for almost 8 years, 2 of those years were for graduate school. Just this year, I am able to pick and choose my schedule and actually say “no” to teaching cooking and dressing up in a cow costume. It takes time, probably even more time than you think.
Be willing to go there.
Maybe you have to travel a little further to get to a job that would be inline with your ultimate goal. I say do it. You can always drop it later if needed but, who knows? It could be the best job you ever had. Weigh your options and then take a risk. Being known for teaching a specific niche means you have to find an opportunity first!
Word to the mothers.
I truly believe that moms of kids in my classes are equally important to building my umbrella, especially in NYC, but word-of-mouth works anywhere. With so many choices for kids these days, Moms with good things to say about you and your teaching makes your umbrella bigger.
Think outside the studio.
Think about other places you can teach and spread the love of dance to young children.
1) Homeschools – You could add this into your day, and traveling to them makes it all the more fun. Co-ops are often looking for qualified teachers.
2) Libraries – Story time loves movement teachers.
3) Basements or playrooms – In the summertime I go to playrooms and basements and teach dance. It’s not a dance studio, but it doesn’t matter. They just want to move!
4) Preschools – Not every child has the opportunity to dance outside of school. It could be very fulfilling to approach preschools and teach dance/movement during their school day.
Creating an umbrella, your own brand is empowering. I’m not suggesting you need a blog, or even a website (although you should have one), but I am suggesting that you think about what your umbrella (or brand) might look like.
I have been wanting to write this blog post for a very long time. I hope it inspires you to find your niche, whatever it may be, and work to position your own umbrella.
What I love so much about my umbrella is that I get to choose what goes under it.
Are you a floating teacher? Do you have an umbrella?
Do you have advice to add on building and maintaining an umbrella? I would love to hear!
A passionate advocate for early childhood dance education, Maria Hanley Blakemore specializes in teaching ages 0 months to 6 years. She left NYC, where she designed and implemented programs at Manhattan’s Jewish Community Center, Dancewave Center and The Mark Morris Dance Group, to teach dancers in the greater Cleveland area. Maria holds a Master’s degree in dance education from New York University (2007) and a Bachelor’s degree in dance performance from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania (2005). Maria authors the blog Maria’s Movers (www.mariasmovers.com) where she shares creative ideas and strategies for teaching young dancers. Maria served on the Dance/NYC Junior Committee for 2 years and presented at the 2012 Dance USA Conference. She also presents at the Dance Teacher Summit in New York City. Read Maria’s posts.