When those who can’t, …teach

 I believe that a teacher should have a love of the dance that takes them beyond themselves. In a dance form that has no standardized curriculum or governing body and where a student doesn’t advance through a series of tested levels, it is imperative that teachers have a thirst that drives them to personal professional development: to study with as many teachers as they can find, take on-going classes if they can, and to search and practice endlessly on their own.  To always want to know more, and to NEED to share that because it is their hearts desire to share it with others. And make it an ongoing quest to learn how to share it effectively.

Hard as it is to believe (ha!), there are people in the world who hang out their shingle without the expertise to back it up (and not only in bellydance – I’m sure it happens in a lot of disciplines). Why does this drive me crazy? Because an unprofessional teacher can potentially:

#1)  injure the student by teaching a movement incorrectly, such as teaching an advanced movement that a beginner does not have the strength for, or by not taking the time to learn about body mechanics, posture & weight placement, and being unable to recognize what it looks like on different bodies.

#2) show disrespect to the student because students assume that they are paying for high quality, safe instruction. If you hang your shingle out, you are proclaiming yourself to be a professional. Students don’t know that maybe you only watched a few videos or took a few classes or are teaching because you’ve been doing bellydance for so long, you figure you might as well teach (without thought of preparation).  I’ve also sometimes heard, “but I’m only teaching beginners” or “I’m only teaching kids” said almost as an apology (I know I’m not qualified to teach , but beginners & kids are easy, right?…”  Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong. Don’t get me started! Each group has very unique needs with different approaches in the classroom. This is a topic for another post. lol!

#3) show disrespect to other (excellent) teachers already working in the field. This drives us bananas because we put a huge effort into our craft, hold the dance in very high esteem, and hold ourselves to very high standards.

#3) show disrespect to the dance form through ignorance and/or miss-representation. In my travels, I once had the opportunity to attend another teacher’s drop-in class (I won’t mention the city or teacher, so don’t ask!), and at the end of the class students were invited to perform a little impromptu improvisation.  So, of course (being me!) I took a turn and danced. In the parking lot as we were leaving, some students came up and asked me what style of dance I had done (Egyptian Oriental). They said they enjoyed it very much but noticed that it was different from what they were learning (ATS). Then they asked me “what kind of bellydance are we learning?” They didn’t know what style of dance they were learning! Arrrrgghhh! (I told them that they should ask their teacher). 

One time, a friend told me that while she would love to be in one of my classes, she couldn’t because she had taken a class from someone else (again, I will not divulge the name or city – so don’t bother asking!)  and “sucked”. Hummm (thinks me), so of course I asked some questions …and it turns out that she didn’t enjoy it (“sucked”) because her teacher started these brand new dancers off with some very advanced movements (which of course they were unable to do and became frustrated with) with no regard to the student’s personal fitness level – and (and!) no movement breakdown was given. What my friend took away from the experience was “bellydance hurts my back” and “I am a klutz” and “this is no fun”. Arrrrggghhh! The worst scenario ever and hits all of my pet peeve points! That teacher, without even realizing it, has taken potential students away from legitimate teachers, blemished the name of this beautiful dance form, injured her students’ bodies & self-esteem and denied them the future pleasure of truly learning and enjoying this (usually) empowering dance form.

Obviously, I don’t believe just anyone should teach. Teaching is a profession. It isn’t something to do for a lark or “just because.”  If you are considering teaching, ask yourself, “what qualifies me?” “Why do I want to teach?”  “How passionate about this am I?” (becasue believe me, passion is a must). Be honest with yourself. Does simply having taken classes for many years qualify you? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t – the answer depends on your accumulated body of knowledge, your ability to present it in a clean, efficient, fun, safe, accurate and professional manner, your humbleness in recognizing and acknowledging that there is a lot you don’t know and on your willingness to seek on-going professional development to fill in those blanks and learn how to do it well. You also need a lot of spare time for research and lesson planning so that you are prepared in the classroom.  

I’ll save the rest for another post!

I'd love to hear your thoughts!