The Women in Housing series is a month-long project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Mikal Kenfield.
Ballet has been a part of my life as long as I can remember, and I’m lucky enough to continue my involvement in this beautiful (and challenging) art form today. Even though my full-time role as director of residence life certainly keeps me busy, on Saturdays I trade in my blazer and heels for a leotard and pointe shoes.
When I volunteered to write a post for this Women in Housing series, I wasn’t quite sure what I could add to the narrative that might be unique. And then, during a Saturday ballet class, it hit me: there are some very powerful pieces of advice I give my dance students each week that relate just as well to this blog’s audience.
So take a moment to stretch, slip on your tutu, and read on:
1. “Let go of the barre.”
Most ballet classes begin at the barre and dancers typically perform warm up exercises while holding onto the barre with one hand. As the exercises progress, they often end with balances – poses where the dancer attempts to balance on one foot. It’s common for my students to cling to the barre with a vice grip, unwilling to let go and truly test – or trust – their balance.
Think about your current role. What is your ‘barre’? What are you afraid of letting go of? Are you afraid of falling? Why? Maybe you’re afraid to apply for a new job, afraid to suggest a new idea or afraid to leave your comfort zone. Whatever it is, consider ways to release your grip and trust in your ability to balance.
2. “Take your space!”
My students know that one of my biggest pet peeves is timid dancing. When I teach a combination that moves across the floor, I want my dancers to attack the movement assertively and with enthusiasm. I’d rather have them do the wrong steps in a big way than the correct steps half-heartedly .
I believe this advice is particularly salient for women in our field – we are often perceived as less assertive or less capable than our male counterparts, simply because of our gender. We can fall victim to imposter syndrome, or otherwise second-guess our talents and abilities. So be bold. Be proud. Take your space, and don’t apologize. Ask yourself how you can dance big!
3. “If you’re not sweating, you’re doing it wrong.”
With my dancers, I mean this literally. If they aren’t working up a healthy sweat, they obviously aren’t putting in enough effort, or using their muscles appropriately.
In housing, I mean this more metaphorically. While your work certainly shouldn’t be painful, or a constant struggle, remember that there is value in conflict. You should wrestle with tough situations and complicated decisions. Those are the experiences that allow you to grow, to define your set of personal ethics, and to propel you forward in your career. So ask yourself if you’re sweating, or if you’re coasting. If you’re coasting, how can you turn up the heat?
4. “Feel the floor.”
Dancers must be connected to their environment, and a major component of this is their connection with the floor. I train my students to focus on the pressure of the floor upward on their foot, and on the sensation of their foot as it pushes back into the floor. This grounds the dancer, provides stability and ultimately allows for more meaningful movement.
In the hectic world of housing, it can be easy to lose your connection with your environment. We get so wrapped up in student emergencies, back-to-back meetings, balancing our intersecting identities, looming deadlines, the figurative (and literal!) fires, -- we seldom take time to get back to our center. I challenge you make it a habit to ‘feel the floor’ at least once a day. Slow down. Breathe. Notice your surroundings. How can you stay grounded in the present moment?
5. “Assume the correction applies to you, too.”
After each exercise during ballet class, I typically give corrections based on how the group performed the particular steps. Sometimes, these corrections are given broadly to the whole class. But often, a correction is given directly to one student. When I work one-on-one with a student, the other class members know to observe carefully and consider how they can also use this feedback. These corrections are given multiple times each class – not collected and shared once a year.
Maximize your growth by getting feedback in any and every way possible. Does your department have a method for you get feedback from your peers? Direct reports? Indirect reports? Colleagues outside of your department? If not, determine a way to gather this feedback yourself. When your supervisor gives feedback to the group, assume it applies to you. When you give feedback to your supervisor, consider if you might take your own advice. How are you incorporating frequent corrections into your goals and professional development?
6. “Point your feet, and get off the ground!”
My students have heard me say this so many times that a few years ago that they actually made a shirt for me with this statement written on it. (In glitter paint, of course.) I wear it proudly. When I yell out this correction to my class, my underlying message is the both/and message of “use your technique; have fun”. Yes, it’s vital to point your feet, turn out, execute the correct steps – but it’s just as (perhaps more!) important to showcase enthusiasm, artistry and joy.
In our roles, we are called to understand student development theory, occupancy management, budgeting philosophies, human resources, gender dynamics, and so much more. But ultimately, we must to allow ourselves to find the fun in what we do. How do you incorporate humor, humility and fun in your workplace? How do you get off the ground and fly once in a while?
As a closing thought, one of my favorite traditions of ballet is the strict classroom etiquette. A component of this etiquette includes closing each class with ‘reverence’. At the end of reverence, the students curtsy or bow to the instructor and pianist, as a way to show thanks and respect. I encourage you to think of a woman in housing who has mentored you or positively impacted you in some way. Take a moment to say thank you – maybe it’s a note, email, phone call or personal visit (bonus points if you throw in an actual curtsy). Whatever the method, share your gratitude. And then, think about how you plan to pass that wisdom on. That’s how we keep dancing!
Mikal Kenfield is mom to Marshall and Julian, partner to Josh, and the director of residence life at Concordia College, Moorhead. She is a lover of spreadsheets, post-it notes, grand jetés, and ALL THE COFFEE. Her higher ed interests include assessment, instructional technology, residential curriculum and teaching people to be kind to one another.