When I was five and I lived in Aurora, Colorado, I had a black vinyl dance bag. I use the term loosely, because the “bag” was actually a rectangular cardboard box covered in ink-black shiny vinyl imprinted with a pink pair of ballet toe shoes in Sous-sou.
Two to three times a week I made a sojourn from my home on the Army base to the doors of Ernie Miller’s dance studio to practice ballet and tap. Again, I use the term “practice” loosely. At the age of five through eight, I mostly flailed grossly. And yet at the end of each dance lesson I was reward with a Dum Dum sucker, being the adorable “little peanut” I was.
Every year the studio would have a recital. Every year Ernie and his wife would dance the very last dance in the show. It was a lovely and vulnerable and authentic moment. So much so that it made quite an impression on me in a time in my life when I don’t remember much detail. It was that special.
The deal is, Ernie and his wife and his beautiful daughters who taught in the studio WERE the studio.
Of course there were physical walls, and spring-loaded wood floors, and barres fastened securely to the walls. But the studio was Ernie. He created it. He carved out the space for it to exist. And he and his family populated it. They created the tone. They created the atmosphere. They created the philosophy. They lived it and breathed life into it.
So now fast forward 30 years. I am an adult. I’ve rediscovered dancing through the medium of ballroom. I’ve been through three instructors and now I’m on my fourth. I’ve recently left my most favorite instructor (thus far) who moved me forward exponentially. I’m now with this crazy Bosnian who is so very ORDINARY.
He emphasizes proper alignment of the bones and the body over anything flashy. He promotes repetition, repetition, repetition of any and all steps, done properly, 10,000 times. He is not teaching me any new figures or choreography whatsoever. He’s simply going deeper into the most basic work.
So here I am, being serious and all about my dancing. I don’t have much interest in being a social dancer. I don’t care much to dance with people who are less experienced than I.
And yet, I’m invited to the annual EuroRhythm Luau. With all manner of enthusiams! Not only from Damir, but also from his wife. Truth is, my hubby was out of town so what else was I going to do Friday night? I figured there were worse ways to spend time and bought a ticket to attend what I thought would most likely be a hokey stupid party.
And so after work I took a break then got out my hair dryer and straightener. I put on mascara and a comfortable outfit. I got myself ready and drove over to the studio.
At first, it definitely seemed super hokey! And then, after about 2 minutes, it seemed awesome. It seemed like home.
It struck me as shockingly as if I had stuck my fingers into a socket – I have lived this before. I have lived this as a five-year-old in Ernie Miller’s Studio.
It was family. As humble as it might be, as hokey as it could be, who the hell cares. There was joy in that space. There were families present with grandparents and grandchildren.
And this studio, that I am now a part of, is Damir and his family. He’s so very clear about his role as the leader of it. He knows absolutely that he sets the tone, the rules. He knows beyond a doubt that he is the one that creates and holds the space.
I’m not going to lie. The physical space of EuroRhythm is tiny! It seems humble. From the outside it is just a part of a strip mall. On the inside there is nothing flashy.
And you know what, for me it melts away. It’s not what I notice. I walk into this space and I am embraced as I am, where I am, who I am in this moment. I notice that I feel comfortable, I feel that it is safe and supported. I know that I am surrounded by greatness, and that greatness is eagerly, generously shared with all those who walk through the doors; it’s shared with all those who seek the wisdom being offered.
I was just so singularly struck by this feeling of familiarity Friday night. I knew that I knew this space. It recalled and referenced my past experiences with Ernie Miller. And wow, how very grateful I am about it all.
I got a great start with Ernie. My mother to this day will profess the influence he and his daughters had on me in terms of molding me and shaping me to be the dancer I am today. What a blessing and advantage I had being able to dance at such a young age. I am especially grateful to my mother and my father for making that possible for me.
And Damir is just like Ernie. He IS the studio. His family IS the studio. He sets the tone. He creates the atmosphere. And I’m just left agog. What an amazing human being I have come to interact with. He has come from a war-torn country, experienced unspeakable traumas, I’m sure, he became a world-class dancer, he immigrated, he created his own studio, and best of all, he is a JOYFUL and GIVING human being. He has arrived on the other side of all these negative circumstances and chosen to be a compassionate, loving, generous, passionate, kind, caring, gentle, expert human being and dance coach. He has created a home for all of us who chose to accept his brand of study and excellence.
Damir, and the results he creates, looking both at the students of his I know and his studio, are seemingly humble, simple, and, even, dare I say, boring! And yet, they are also captivating, impeccable, and embodying excellence. He has a quiet sort of “shouting” to the world. And his results speak loud and clear for those with eyes to see, for those who have the clarity of mind to understand.
So you know what? I am so happy I went Friday. I realized that I will never miss a party for the studio again if I can help it! I realized that it’s about family. And I realized, on a whole new level, what a special and excepetional human being Damir is. God bless him for creating this space.
I am come home.