Nina Davies — Alex Waterhouse-Hayward May 2009

In my years of teaching language (Spanish and English) and high school in Mexico or photography in Vancouver I eschewed the lesson plan. In Mexico City in one of the high schools I was teaching I had that terrible problem of having to hand in my lesson plan for the year at the end of the school year. I felt that a lesson plan made the teacher stay in one course that could become a rut. I remember having students tell me that I had already given them a version of “important” information.

More recently in teaching photography I discovered that I could give the same class twice without having my students notice. With open laptops (the school in question did not prohibit this) while munching take-out food and social networking or Photoshopping photographs for other classes they mostly did not pay any attention.

I have seen quite the opposite at dance classes at Arts Umbrella. The students seem to adore their instructors. They rarely misbehave or talk during these sessions.

While chatting with Arts Umbrella Dance Company Artistic Director Artemis (Arty) Gordon a couple of days ago we were discussing ex-alumnus Nina Davies’s retrospective essay of her days at Arts Umbrella. Arty said something like this, “Nina mentioned a talk I gave to her class, perhaps ten years ago. I think I gave the same talk to this class (the graduation students) just a few days ago!”

It is important in photography (at least I think it is important) that the idea of a model, a studio, a backdrop wall, a camera, a light and a photographer behind the camera is a formula for numbing failure. This is invariably the case unless a plan is thought out ahead of time, perhaps a theme of sorts. Important stuff has to be repeated and it will never go out of style.

I believe that Arty understands this and she was simply marveling with some sadness the march of time.

A few minutes after the chat with Arty I mentioned to the grads that they should read Nina’s essay. The blank expression on some of their faces was no surprise. Nina has been gone from Arts Umbrella since 2009. Who would remember her? And who would remember that other favorite Arts Umbrella dancer Kiera Hill?

I often run into perfect strangers who warmly greet me. My excuse for not remembering that they have been my students (when they tell me) is the joking remark that I have had too many drugs and alcohol in my past (not true).

While I have never taught dance I do have a thread of commonality with Arty. This is that as a teacher we watch students come and go. Sometimes they are youngsters who then leave when they are almost formed adults. They come and they go while we, the teachers remain where we are while getting older.

But there is a bittersweet measure of gratification every time one of those students returns with a smile or writes an essay like Nina’s. Yes we might have been richer had we chosen to be plumbers, but the pleasure of having helped to form a human being (perhaps for the better) is something that is most satisfying.

Link to: They Go — We Stay

Originally published at

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at: