The After-Path

My sense of living well has shifted. 

The things I care about are different. 

I nourish plants. I roll my own pasta. I teach dance to kids. I work from home for a fintech company. I snowboard. I do yoga. I work out. I have friends outside of “dance.” I pour love into my partnership, and I pour love into our grown-ass kids.

I pour love into the non-profit organization I’ve worked with for years, the Institute for Dunham Technique Certification. I pour into the youth classes I teach at two local studios.

No longer overwhelmed by the endless tasks of a full-time teacher, my energy has many more directions to go.

I stand outside our public school system, our university system, and our educational systems in general. Besides the students I work with in my local studios, no one reports to me as an authority.

My previous employer did not stop at removing me from my post. Because I refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement, they retaliated against me by interfering with my ability to draw on unemployment insurance in Arizona. It was financially devastating.

Working as an educator all these years, I always felt the rewards outweighed the sacrifice. There are a lot of folks out there like me. Making money means nothing if the work doesn’t benefit real people. 

What’s troubling is that we’re investing less and less in public education, especially in red states. The public’s trust has been tarnished, and the stories that media outlets report are often negative.

Let’s step away from the dominant narrative. Our public schools always delivered essential services to our most underserved and isolated communities. Think of how the most profoundly struggling districts still fed meals to their students during COVID-19 or how many districts offered wifi hotspots to their students’ families so that learners could continue learning. I saw schools rally for their communities at a time when many state governments operated to deride their efforts.

When I consider my colleagues who remain full-time in dance education, I think about what it means that they’re introducing dance to young people. They empower the next generation by raising students’ self-esteem, fueling their creativity, and building life skills that help them persevere through any problem. 

I think of my colleagues’ selflessness, drive, and how many nights they spend working, whether grading, planning, producing student concerts, taking professional development courses to maintain their licenses, or writing recommendation letters.

It’s challenging work; by contrast, the work I have found outside of dance education is relatively easy. I receive loads more support in my new workplace. When I clock out, I’m done. There’s no taking work home with me. I get reimbursed for expenses to work remotely. I receive phenomenal wellness benefits. I earn better wages than most jobs I’ve had as an educator, even as I start over in a new career field. I have also met wonderful people who value what I value- personal growth, community, inclusivity, and economic empowerment. 

And despite all of this, I haven’t stopped trying to get my foot back in the proverbial door of higher education. Knowing what I know now, I might strike a better life balance in the next round. It was clear that I needed to detach from my wholesale acceptance of hustle culture, but I only began to understand the alternative after I was terminated.

To do artistic and cultural work and to serve others, we must take time to replenish ourselves.

When I first interviewed for professorships in 2021, I mitigated my role as a change agent, fearing that colleges and universities would want to steer away from controversy and avoid bringing on someone like me, someone who was fired for being “too political.” I cast a wide net, looking anywhere and everywhere. I knew I wouldn’t teach for another private Christian college, but I was unclear about much else. I was prepared to make any sacrifice for the chance to begin anew. Perhaps it’s no surprise that I was met with rejection. 

In 2022, I broadened my search beyond dance education, testing the response in other fields. I applied for a Ph.D. program in Dance Studiesā€”still nothing.

Heading into the third season of my job search, I resolved to apply only for positions that called to me and met my qualifications closely, to locations where my partner could imagine himself thriving by my side, and where, above all, I might find acceptance and support as a change agent.

I’m still waiting, but I stand firmly in my truth. I know who I am, and I know what I can bring to a leadership role. I am a Phoenix, tried and tested by fire.

At the national conference of the National Dance Education’s annual conference in Atlanta last fall, I found myself speaking to many leaders in the field. Hearing their tales of scarcity and exploitation in their everyday work lives, it struck me that my forced exit was not the worst thing. My work’s value and impact are not constantly challenged, and my freedom of speech is intact. I have time and space to pursue dance however I see fit- writing, dancing, teaching, and creating, and I don’t have to do it through a religious lens. 

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