B.A. in Sociology - Quinnipiac University
Samantha Litvak advises, “Follow your heart but use your brain.” And her heart has always been firmly planted in a pair of dance shoes. Majoring in sociology, Samantha decided during her junior year of college that she owed it to herself to try and turn her passion into a profession. Seventy tries (yes, seven-zero) later, Samantha found herself exactly where she always thought she should be — in a studio teaching and choreographing.
As fun as job full of sequins, tap shoes and music might sound, Samantha has learned that teaching often involves just as much choreography as the dance itself. There is paperwork, sales, editing music and a whole lot of careful scheduling. Even on the busiest days, Samantha takes it in stride, focusing on what drew her to teaching in the first place. “Even on days when the stress of paperwork and life get to me, I know my day will end with a bunch of really excite, really talented, smiling faces,” she says.
Strive to make yourself happy, because it’s contagious.
How did you discover your current job?
I’ve been dancing since I was little. Even when dance wasn’t my job, I was in the studio five or six days a week. In high school, I got the amazing opportunity to assist my tap teacher and I caught the bug. My junior year of college, I decided I wanted to at least try choreography and teaching as a job. I had a lot of support from my mom.
How do you organize your day?
Most mornings I spend answering emails, cutting music, scheduling, in the gym or choreographing. Afternoons, nights and weekends are spent at the studio teaching. I also do scheduling for a national competition company. Luckily, I’m a night owl, and often I’m productive when I get home from teaching, too.
What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?
Even on days when the stress of paperwork and life get to me, I know my day will end with a bunch of really excited, really talented, smiling faces. Many children spend their whole day excited to come to dance, even if it’s only for one hour. It’s especially rewarding to see children with behavioral or developmental issues discover dance. It’s one of my favorite ways to express myself, and I’m so lucky that I get to share it with more than 150 students a week!
What challenges keep you awake at night?
That is the question of the year! It would be loose ends. This music has to be cut by tomorrow…these costumes need to be altered…my flight is cancelled; how am I going to get to Missouri. It all sounds trivial, but it adds up. Besides that, dance is not a stable job. During some months I work 30 days straight; other months my jobs are scattered. Dance teachers/choreographers/performers don’t get benefits or a retirement plan. The future is always a bit scary.
Is work/life balance ever a problem with you? If so, what is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
Absolutely. I work nights (between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.) and I travel some weekends. The transition from college student to dance teacher was much more difficult than I expected. I’ve found it most important to make time, even if you truly have to schedule someone in. My college roommate and I plan dinner once a month. It’s our time to catch up and just be 20-somethings. My best friend is also a dance teacher and we schedule phone calls for our long drives. I put her on speakerphone and it makes the drives go faster. She’s getting married and she planned her wedding around her teaching schedule. It’s important to do things like this, because it’s easy to overbook yourself.
Was there ever a moment in your career where you’ve thought, “I made it!” What was it?
I think in dance, even the smallest victories are still victories. For me, it was the first time I was flown out to teach. They sent me emails asking what I wanted to eat while I was there and they put me up in a hotel. After I taught, the kids asked me to sign their tap shoes. It was a life-changing weekend. I still teach at that studio and every time I fly out, the kids show me my signature on their tap shoes. It makes me smile just as much as when they first asked.
What are some of the rules you live by?
1. Follow your heart but use your brain.
2. Take pride in your work and yourself.
3. You can’t be everything to everyone. I’m still working on this one. But you won’t always be the perfect sister, daughter, teacher, girlfriend, employee or gym enthusiast. You just can’t make everyone happy all the time. Strive to make yourself happy, because it’s contagious.
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?
You have to be friendly, organized, professional and innovative. We are educators, artists and salespeople. We sell our service to customers, whether that is dance studios or students or other professionals. Because many of us are self-employed or work at several studios, we have to be organized and innovative. You hear the same songs on the radio every day and it’s your job to pick a song that you’re inspired by but that the kids want to dance to and make a piece of art.
On the other end, you have to be persistent and not afraid to take criticism. After I graduated, I applied to more than 70 studios for choreography and teaching. Most studios sent back polite no’s. Others didn’t respond. In terms of criticism, you create these intricate, personal pieces of art and then send them to a competition to be judged. If you take everything personally, it will eat you alive.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a 21-year-old version of yourself?
You will be OK. I know that doesn’t seem like very deep advice, but I spent a lot of time worrying about my future, my abilities, my weight, if this person liked me or if I was going to get a B or a B+ on my midterm. I let a lot of experiences pass me by because of fear. I was definitely my own worst enemy at 21.