This past month, my friend Eva stayed with us in LA…to dance. Her trip was over three years in the making and it all started in an elementary classroom in Prague.
In 2015, every Wednesday afternoon at 13:00, I would scurry to Křesomyslova, a secondary school in the Nusle neighborhood, about 30+ minutes by metro from Prague’s city center. It reminded me of my own junior high school, Lincoln, back in Kenosha. Cavernous. Wide hallways. Tall ceilings. Oldish. (I’ve just Googled and discovered both schools were built in the late ’20s , 1927 and 1929 respectively. My heart is now warmed knowing my spidey vintage senses were piqued for good reason!)
I’d run up the school’s exterior concrete steps, barrel through the doors and announce myself with a quick wave and a smile to the school security person, who was perched in a sort of toll booth.
“Dobrý den! Jsem Učitelka!” (Good Day! I am teacher!)
I’d then run up the two wide flights of stairs past the crowds of children moving en masse down the stairs, some leaving for the day and others transitioning to what I deduced were their after-school activity courses, as that’s what I was there to teach to a select group of kids.
As the year went on, some of the students would start to wave to me (the running lady) and sort of stare at me inquisitively, wanting to say more. Once, a group of pre-teen girls stopped me in the hallway, full of smiles and giggles and one brave soul spoke English to say, “Hello Teacher. How are you doing?” I smiled back at them full of joy; up until then, I’d felt like such an outsider, a foreigner running through a foreign school full of questioning faces. It meant a lot to me that they took the time to get to know me in the way they knew how. I was honored.
I was hired by an outside organization created by a lovely woman named Blanka. I was referred to her by The Language House TEFL where I received my ESL teaching certificate. Even though I was super green, she trusted me to represent her company, and I took the position very seriously. My job there was to teach English to two groups, the first was to my three boys who were aged 8-10, and my second class was to my three girls, aged 10-13.
One of my boys, Kuba, would jump like a jumping bean frog in his rubbery Krocs when I’d arrive, he was so excited to be there and to learn. The other would literally roll his big blue eyes when I’d arrive and mutter begrudgingly in Czech; he didn’t want to be there at all. And the third, (a 10-year old James Spader type) who would only show up if he didn’t have hockey practice, would stroll in with his English workbooks his mom made him bring, but would then want to play much more than work the books. I was exhausted after those 45 minutes. This was my first teaching job and I learned straight away that it’s really hard to teach even the alphabet to kids learning a new language. Half the time, my prepared lesson went out the window and we would play some running game I created. They had to draw an animal picture from the pile, say the name in English and whomever got it right first got to lead us (me, too) in a sprint around the room.
I’d stand at the door after class for my handshake, as I’d taught them to do; hoping at least I would teach them simple greetings. They’d say brokenly, “Sank you, Paní (madam)” and run out. The one that didn’t want to be there would shake my arm off like he was pumping well water on a farm. I’d have to say, “Ok, ok, that’s enough. Dekuji, dekuji. (Thank you. Thank you.)” I’d then gather my homemade flash cards and head over to the next classroom, where I’d wait for my girls to arrive. They had to walk from another school and through the park to arrive to me. They were more advanced and we had tighter lessons and conversations together. With them, I read Little Women (my favorite childhood book) and then I had them write their own stories developed from their Rolodex of new words learned which we then turned into homemade books (inspired by a project I did in school at that age). I loved teaching them.
Their class happened to be in the classroom of another teacher, a Czech woman, tall with dark wavy hair, who would help me find things like chalk and markers. We became friendly and one day she asked if I’d teach her English after my class; no grammar but conversation practice with correction. I agreed and soon she told another teacher, and that person was Eva.
Eva was in her late 20s, a math teacher by day and a dancer by passionate design always. We clicked immediately. The other teacher was a mom and a wife in her early 40s which was comforting because I knew very few women in my age range. She brought life experience to our little group. I created conversation strips like, “What is your dream in life?” “What makes you sad?” “What scares you?” It was lovely.
During one lesson, Eva told us she was planning to go to LA; it was her dream to take lessons in my city. I immediately said, “I have friends, you can stay with my friends!” She took her trip and it didn’t pan out for her to stay with any of my friends, and she also broke her ankle during that trip and everything sort of sucked. But that didn’t stop her from dreaming to go again, with better circumstances.
I stopped teaching at the school and we no longer saw each other weekly, but Eva and I never lost touch as dance kept us together. She choreographed a piece for the Prague Betties, and three of us Betties took her Contemporary class. When I returned home to LA, I messaged her and told her she definitely had a place to stay when she was ready to return.
That day came June 20th.
Eva stayed with us for two weeks. For anyone who travels, especially internationally, you know that a couch can be the biggest gift ever and it warmed my heart (and Matthew’s) to offer ours.
I think and believe that when you express and share your passion, the universe opens up to deliver.
Eva saved for her trip for over a year, I believe. And as luck and the universe would have it, our apartment is one block away from Movement Lifestyle, the main studio where she had targeted to study, and about 15 minutes by bike (which she gladly used ours) to Millennium. (Our flat was also on the same block where she tripped over the sidewalk and broke her ankle during her last trip. And the one good Czech friend that she has here, Thomas, lives nearby. All very surreal.) A contemporary dancer and choreographer, she meticulously took everything she could from street jazz to contemporary to hip hop at these studios and a few others.
I’m sharing this story with you because in the end, Eva totally inspired me. And I want to do the same for you.
She came here to dance and she did the damn thing. She took up to three classes a day, (plus yoga with Matthew sometimes) and did very little extra, “Because,why?” she would say. “I am here to take some lessons, and that is all. Why I spend money on some stupid things like clothes from shopping or so much coffee?” With each class being upwards of $15 each, she was smart about it all and very right.
I was inspired by her healthy energy. Now, Matthew practices yoga; that’s great and all, but him walking out the door with his yoga mat in the morning does nothing for me, sadly (except his shoulders look really nice in his yoga shirt). Dance inspires me. Pretending I’m still a track star inspires me. When Eva would walk out the door in her dance gear or leave to work out in our apartment complex gym, or even just stretch her toes while sitting on the couch, my inner dancer/athlete started twitching. So guess what guys? I started running! (It was my goal to start in June, as it has been a year since I broke my ankle, but who knows if I would have attacked it as strongly without the light of Eva.) I’ve lost two pounds, praise baby Jesus, and I feel stronger and happy about myself. I also took a street jazz class at Movement Lifestyle with her, as promised. (Matt was like, “You haven’t been to a single dance class in year. It’s about time.”) By the way, I was seriously, easily 2x older than every person in that class, pffft! Nonetheless, I challenged myself to not give up on myself with learning the choreography, as I sometimes do. And when I f*cked up, I didn’t call it (or me) a f*ck up, I was just like, “Ummm, that was very fast; I don’t get it and I’m just gonna stick this hip-shake part right here and do that very, very well.”
This is a real reminder that it is super duper important that you surround yourself with things that inspire you, be it people who do what you want/need to do, a picture of where you want to go, or a piece of fabric that makes you want to design a dress or suit. Truly. It matters.
And this is also a reminder to take risks. Eva admits she does not speak our language well (she had a very funny mishap at Jon’s grocery trying to find rice cakes) and she very rarely understood what we or her dance instructors were saying the majority of the time. She also had the interesting fortune to be here for not one, but two earthquakes, (“I am scary!” she said) which made for a rocking July 4th celebration.
Determination, dreams and passion can really take you far. I implore you to be like Eva. Don’t let language stop you. Don’t let fear stop you. Don’t let money stop you. Simply let passion guide you. Then, find a way to go, and then go ahead on with your bad self.