Wednesday, June 6, 2018

"Those Who Can Do, & Those Who Can't Teach" the Bellydance Edition

  Maybe because I worked as a professional performer for 20 years before I had the guts to teach, I am truly amazed by the audacity of some of the people I see teaching Bellydance. I barely feel qualified myself when I think of all there is to know, & how much, after 40 years immersed in this dance, I don't know. But then I'm the queen of self deprecation, so I could be a little wrong about that.

  What I'm not wrong about is that there are a lot of people being fooled out there, being taught by "teachers" who have no business trying to impart knowledge, when they have such a shallow well to draw from. But how do you know this if you are a new student to the dance? And do you care, if all you want is a little exercise, or to put on a fancy costume occasionally? Well I really wish you would care, because whether or not this dance survives in a world of high octane dance forms, depends on who is teaching. And you really should have some respect for a dance form from a specific culture, & know that you are treading into something steeped in a tradition & history you may know nothing about, but really should before you put that costume on.

  If you find yourself really loving this dance, & coming to the realization that your teacher might not be all she/he pretends to be, you have studied with this person for years, working hard & not improving, or you've been going blithely along without knowing anything about your teacher's true credentials, then maybe I can give you some tips & warning signs.

Here goes:

Ask your teacher if she/he has been a professional performing dancer. How long did they dance, where did they dance, for what ethnic groups did the teacher perform for. If the teacher was a successful performer, popular with Middle Eastern people, then give them 20 points.

If your teacher is a native to a country whose dance they are teaching, and that teacher has been successful in their home country, then give them 50 points.

How long has your teacher been a professional in at least 2 aspects of Middle Eastern dance i.e. teacher, professional performer, academic. Add 2 points for every year.

Ask your teacher how long they studied Bellydance, & with what teachers. Ask your teacher's teachers if this person was qualified to teach, or particularly talented enough to teach. Teachers will let you know if the former student was truly qualified, or just possessed a distorted vision of their own talents, believing they had the right to teach before they really did. If you discover your teacher is more hype than knowledge, then give them -10 points.

 If your teacher's teacher is a master, & acknowledges that your teacher was a gifted protege, one who may not have had professional experience, but possessed a talent for teaching, then give them 15 points.

Ask your teacher what other dance forms they studied. Sometimes a strong background in another style is a detriment, & other times it is an asset. Some knowledge of ballet & ballet terms can be an advantage. If your teacher has studied a wide variety of dance, then give them 5 points. 

Is your teacher a dancer you enjoy watching? Is your teacher well respected in the dance community? Does your teacher have an original style? If yes to all the above, then give them 10 points.

A good teacher should not keep their students to themselves. A student shouldn't be made to feel they are betraying a teacher if they would like to further their dance education with other teachers. A good teacher will assist a student in finding the best teachers to broaden their skills. If your teacher has selflessly introduced you to other excellent teachers, then give them 10 points. If your teacher tries to keep you from other teachers, then give them -10 points.

If you often see your teacher taking class from other dancers, participating in workshops & furthering their own educations, then give them 10 points.

Add it up.
60+ points - a definite yes!
40+ points - you're in good hands!
30+ points - you may not be with a top teacher, but you're still learning something valuable!
20 & under points - red flags should go up, & you should research who the best teachers are in your area.

This is by no means scientific, but could be used as a general guideline.
There are some great teachers out there. Give them your business, your heart, your sweat, your trust, & your skill level will rise quickly. Don't stop there! Take advantage of workshops, go to the Middle East & North Africa to study, travel to festivals.

If you are young & cute & find yourself working as a dancer, don't rest on your laurels. If you don't continue your dance education, when your youth & looks fade you will no longer be needed. But if you are educated & talented, other doors will open & this dance can become a lifelong passion.

Find your great teachers, and dance dance dance. It will be worth it. Trust me!