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How to Create a Toxic-Free Dance Community



Navigating Toxicity

Have you ever felt like your passion for dance has been overshadowed by drama, negativity, self-doubt, and toxicity? Dance has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Since I was a kid, it was all I thought about, I lived for it, and It was the most important thing to me. But, from a young age, I could see all the drama constantly unfolding - girls upset about their spots in the dance, dance-moms attacking kids at competitions, it was awful. Not only that, but I realized the teachers I was learning from were uneducated and unqualified. I would leave dance with my body hurting and my technique suffering compared to other students who danced at nearby studios. Nonetheless, I continued, because like I said, it was my world. 


That world was then flipped upside down at age fifteen, when I needed to get extensive back surgery (unrelated to dance). But, I was told by doctors that I may never dance again. After many long months of recovery, I promised myself I would never train at a poor, unqualified dance studio ever again and I switched my focus to just ballet. Although I learned a ton about ballet, I started to see my body in a different way, becoming toxic towards myself. Unfortunately, an all ballet school comes with a bad rep, and this one definitely had its quirks. Our teacher was incredibly mean, yelling at the top of her lungs at us, and would call us failures consistently enough that I vividly remember it. This was not tough love, it was hatred. We could never please her and we always felt like we were walking on thin ice. It was not a great environment for learning, especially as kids.



Finding Hope

Fortunately, things got better when I was accepted into the Department of Dance at the college I attended and had the best experience ever. The school I went to focused on ‘dancing for a lifetime,’ which has really stuck with me. I still embody that mindset every single day. In school, we learned EVERYTHING and I mean everything. I truly became such a well rounded dancer because of my experience in college. From technique classes, to choreography classes, to anatomy and somatic conditioning, to stage management and music classes, we did it all. I left school with my BFA in Dance Performance and Choreography (and my BS Business Administration / Marketing), confident as heck. I was ready to take on the real world and things were looking up.


I landed my first full-time job at a professional dance company, working in development. I worked on fundraising campaigns with major donors, sat next to some of the best choreographers in the world, got to work side by side with dancers I absolutely admired, and stepped out of my comfort zone for the first time ever. This part was a great experience! But the toxicity was still prevalent in a professional company. The dancers were worked to the bone while being drastically underpaid, the staff was not treated with respect, the artistic director was cruel, and there was no room to grow. I was even told to use my female assets to get more money out of a specific donor, which was only one of the many things they tried to force me to do. Good news - I didn't comply with any of it. They were going to let me go at the end of the year and this was not the environment I wanted to be in, so I didn’t wait around and I left.


Luckily, outside of that company, I had already started teaching a lot of dance and started Flair. I was determined to change the dance world and create a positive and welcoming experience, no matter what. At first, Flair was just the Flair Dance Festival. Opportunities were limited because of government shutdowns and everyone was just so happy to be doing what they loved again, including me. The response at the festival was incredible. Dancers from New Jersey, Philly, New York, Delaware, etc. all came together to get on stage for the first time in a couple years. It was truly a magical experience and I saw what a positive and toxic-free dance community looked like with Flair. I knew in my heart that this was just the beginning!


Confronting Toxicity

As time went on, the Flair Dance Festival transitioned to Flair Dance Company, and we started offering more opportunities, mainly for adults, focusing on workshops and performances. While doing this I was still teaching for a few other businesses in the area, and I noticed a change in attitude towards me from one owner that was not a pleasant experience.  I was simply trying to support myself with Flair with no effect on their business, and I was condemned for it. One example was an attempt at criticism of my class structure. I was told to hurry up the warm up because the clients wanted to get to the “actual technique”. Anybody who knows anything about dance, sports, or any other physical activity, knows the importance of a proper warm up. It’s the foundation of technique and performance. I refused to comply and gently tried to educate the owner because she didn’t have the background to know any better, and dance at this business was becoming more noticeably watered down, selfishly money grabbing from their adult clientele. I realized this scenario was just like the people who I experienced as a child, uneducated and unqualified, so I stood my ground. After multiple attempts at trying to break me, I was deemed a threat and was told I was being let go in a month. Of course, I didn’t wait around, and again I left. The other dance studios that I worked for in the area were the opposite experience and were great. Not only that, the Flair community was becoming something that I never expected so this was just another instance pushing me in the right direction. The response to what we were and still are doing with Flair has been so overwhelmingly positive and life changing for so many people, including myself. I have seen it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly but everything was pushing me towards making Flair Dance Company my world and my purpose.


We had our eyes set on making a company that was supportive, with proper dance education, and differentiated offerings. We started to do this with our workshops, the festival, and our Christmas show, Cracked Nuts, so we decided we were finally going to open our own studio! When doing this, of course there were some growing pains and it didn’t come easy. Aside from that I regretfully admit I wasn’t always as aware of negativity as I am today. There were still a few people involved with Flair who were not aligning with our mission and I had no clue. One of them was a staff member, who was providing what we can just call a negative experience that I was unaware of, for more clients than I could count. One client after the other brought it to my attention, once people knew others were speaking up. Those clients didn’t leave because they knew that’s not what Flair was about but either way it needed to be addressed. I tried to give this employee a chance to take accountability and move forward in a positive direction, but they refused due to ego, and we parted ways. Other scenarios started to pop up as I began to take more notice, which included clients. These people were hating on their peers and admittedly doing so. Why were they doing this? Was it because they had a toxic dance past, poor family upbringing, or current life problems? I don’t know. At Flair we decided it was a zero-tolerance policy for drama and hate. If everything else is falling apart, Flair can be your saving grace. Something so precious has to be protected and poison is poison, and if you don’t take care of it swiftly, it spreads. 


Inspiring Change

More times than we probably care to admit, we’re comfortably complacent with the status quo. “That’s just how it is” is something I refuse to accept and sometimes you need to learn a lesson in order to move things forward. So many parents have come to me saying that they actually feel like their child has fallen in love with dance again and they’re learning properly and feeling confident and educated. So many adults have come forward about how they’ve been brought back to the stage in what feels like forever, they’re feeling challenged but supported or that the environment feels extremely welcoming as soon as you come through the door. Maybe sometimes things have to get so bad that it forces you into action. I’ve finally created something that I’m proud to stand behind and I’m sure there will always be opportunities for growth. What does dance mean to me? To me, dance is more than movement, it's a soulful expression, a language of emotions, and a journey of self-discovery. It's my sanctuary, where I find bliss and connection with the present moment. Through dance, I learn discipline, resilience, and the power of vulnerability. It fosters deep connections with others and transcends barriers. Ultimately, dance is my passion, purpose, and the essence of who I am—a rhythm that beats in harmony with my soul. If anything comes in the way of that, I’m ready to fight for it, not only for myself, but for my peers, and for future generations.


Sincerely

-Your friendly neighborhood dance company



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