Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The teaching dilemma

Why do so many belly dance students become belly dance teachers? Am I the only person who sometimes wonders if belly dance can be like a university's English Lit. department, turning out students that will become teachers to the next generation of students in a never ending cycle (this is coming from someone with a degree in English with a Women's Lit. concentration. I have two career choices there: teach,maybe at the college level, or be a barista. Ahem).

I ask this because I sometimes wonder about my own place in this chain. A year and a half ago I did an evaluation with my teacher before she moved away. She asked me at one point if I ever thought about teaching belly dance (not in the near future, but when I had more experience). I said I wasn't sure I was cut out for it, as I don't think of myself as very patient especially with people who have trouble understanding and need lots of help, or people who don't think/learn like I do and need different teaching methods to help them understand. This is something I've always had trouble with; one of my big challenges at work is training, as I want to tell people, "Just . . . do it. It's not hard. Figure it out!" (which is much how I was trained to do my my job, or parts of it).

Currently I do not feel I have enough belly dance experience to teach other people. I don't feel that I am 100% totally positive all the time accurate on how I do moves, especially since we do a lot of ATS and it is a codified "system" of dance. I don't want to teach and realize I'm constantly changing what I am doing. Not that dance does not change and evolve, but I want to make sure if I teach a vertical hip figure eight on the down up (taqsim) that I am doing teaching it exactly right. To go hand in hand with that, my troupe is currently tweaking moves, dropping or changing things we were taught to fit the ATS format or to better reflect our style of dance. I feel we're in a state of refinement that reflects our growth as dancers and as a troupe, which is good but also currently unstable.

So with my "no teaching!" stance why then did I just start a notebook where I am entering detailed notes on all the moves I know, from the ATS standards to solo dancer moves to Kallisti specific ideas? Because Baltimore is lacking so horribly in a tribal scene that I feel one day I'm going to throw my hands up in disgust and admit, "F#@k it, I'll teach!" (actually, if you know me you know it'll involve a lot more cussing than that). If I eventually get to that day I want to make sure I have lots of background work accomplished - information on the moves, the formations, how I'd put them together, what works, what does not, tips and tricks for passing on this detailed body of knowledge. Even if this information is never utilized in the classroom it is still valuable for me, a personal tribal compendium perhaps.

If that day does reluctantly come I hope I have other tools under my belt: a Fat Chance Belly Dance General Skills certification, probably an ACE certification, insurance, about a million more years of dance experience, a steady tribal teacher of my own. Ok, hell may freeze over before the last one happens, but you can't blame me for being optimistic! Most of all, though, I hope I have the confidence to pass on not only the practical details of tribal belly dance but also my enthusiasm and love of this art form.

Edited: to correct definition of taqsim. See!


Natalia said...

I don't think that so many dance students actually do become teachers... it just looks that way because it's the most serious students, the ones you see all the time that become teachers. the other 99% of students aren't as memorable because they come to class for a couple of months or year, then fade out. Or they don't often come out to perform etc.

As for why so many of the most serious of students go on to teach? Well where else is there to go? There's performance, but that isn't an option for everyone. (While dance classes are for everyone, working as a dancer is definately leaving the "bellydance world" and entering the "showbusiness world", where both looks and negotiation skills often trump skill)

I think a notebook like yours is very valuable for all student dancers. I keep a box of index cards, with one move on the front of each card, and notes about variations, music, etc on the back. I use them as a practice aid, where I basically deal myself a couple of lower body moves, a couple of upper body moves, and a couple of traveling moves, then improv to music, trying to incorporate those moves into my dance. It's been a big help to get myself out of my using-the-same-moves rut.

Amy said...

As I was writing this I was thinking that it is the serious students who you see going on to teach. Sometimes it can seem (especially in places plagued with the 6-week-wonder dancers) that it's sort of an endless circle of student to teacher, but then . . . why not? Art for arts sake is awesome!

I need to make my practice deck. I want mine on big 5 x 7 cards with velcro on the back and a big velcro sticky wall or something so I can slap them up in random order and GO! Like the felt boards from kindergarten!

Natalia said...

" it's sort of an endless circle of student to teacher"

That's not such a bad thing. There are two more senior teachers in St Louis (both have been dancing for over 25 years) they both still study seriously with their own teachers, Nourhan Sharif and Suhaila Salimpour respectively. Yet, on the other hand, they continue to mentor the less experienced teachers here in town.

Its when people become teachers and completely *stop* being students of their own dance that they stagnate and start losing perspective.

Lisa said...

hmmm... well. What I like about what you are saying is that you are cautious about it. Too many people jump in too fast.

Not everyone is made to teach - that's really key, I think. Some people are better performers, some better teachers and some just life long students.

That's where I think bellydance falls short. There are professional jazz dancers who would NEVER teach b/c they aren't suited for it. I wish that would cross over.

I think it's good to be open with your students about where you are with your experience too.

I never would have taught without my ACE certification. Having been an aerobics teacher really helped me communicate, as well as having other teacher training. I also think having a dance background was really helpful - so taking classes outside of bellydnce helps you learn dance basics.

sorry. random assortment of thoughts there.

I don't have a regular teacher here so I'm learning that I have to travel. I get to travel and take classes with Ava Fleming, Aziza, Piper, Yasmin, and Suhaila this year - woo hoo!

Amy said...

Yeah, I could have taught by now, even if it was just a mini-workshop here or there. But I don't want to, I'd feel like I was doing a disservice to my students. Hell, I don't think I've even found my own style yet!

I need to get off my butt and try some other teacher's in town. Maybe even *gulp* do to DC!