Recently, dance educator Sheena Jeffers wrote the blog post, “Teaching Dancers: Non-serious v. Serious” to which I contributed a few brief thoughts as did our highly esteemed friends, Nichelle at Dance Advantage and Dance_Reader. Sheena is an inspired teacher with a clear perspective and serious motivation. Her post was started as a conversation on Twitter that has had my wheels turning for some time. Here’s where I am right now.
Confession Number 1
I don’t think we necessarily need a million more professional dancers but we do need smarter people and an arts literate culture. Dance can do both.
Dance training takes on many different looks and often there is a primary focus: to produce professional dancers. Anyone else encountered on the road is met with polite interest and tolerance if they manage to hold their own. If they don’t, or they decide to follow a different path, then they simply didn’t have “what it takes”. In this sense, the objective becomes subjective; the business becomes personal. The person that left is dismissed; the one that remained is lauded.
The hierarchy in dance education somehow remains- those that “do” are often more valued than those that “practiced” as if somehow those that watch, fund, discuss, teach, and advocate are lesser than those that perform and create.
Confession Number 2
Once upon a time, that was my view. I felt my “success” was mainly due not necessarily to talent or skill, but desire and passion. I suppose I still do, but in very different terms than when I started teaching.
When I was a student in a college dance pedagogy course, we were instructed to write a paper “teaching” something that we felt we did better than others- something that we felt set us apart from the rest. Expecting turns, leaps, or petite allegro, I suspect my professor was taken aback when I submitted my paper topic as “passion”. After a brief conversation, she directed to another professor (the grand lioness of the department) to talk over my point of view.
We eventually agreed that passion could be inspired but not taught.
That said, I still felt if one was majoring in dance, or pursuing a life as a professional dancer, one needed to “put up or shut up”, “go big or go home”, “go balls to the walls” …you get the idea. When it came to being cast in a piece or dancing in technique class, it wasn’t that I was competitive with my peers. I was competitive with myself.
But I imagined the life of a dancer to be one of privilege due to sacrifice. I didn’t feel everyone deserved to be a dancer simply because they wanted to be, but because they earned the right to be. I suppose I still do, but in very different terms than when I started teaching.
When I set out to finally accomplish what I’d been dreaming about for years, I was stunned to find it wasn’t my dance experiences that shaped my happiness- it was the rest of me that had gone unacknowledged, unnoticed, undeveloped in the years I focused so sharply on preparing for professional dance. I remembered that I liked to read books, write, spend time with friends, watch movies, take walks in parks, learn, teach, laugh,….. And it didn’t all have to be connected to dance in order for me to still be a dancer (even professional), and for me to be serious about my craft.
It took years, but I finally understand that I am not a lesser dancer. I am a better person.
These experiences have made me a better teacher. Teaching has made me a better parent and vice versa.
Confession Number 3
Here’s the thing: I hope there comes a time, a turning point in a dancer/dance educator’s life, when that view changes- not just intellectually, but sincerely. When it shifts from being something that we acknowledge could be true (in a very politically correct way) to something we believe. When we truly and honestly push forward with an understanding that each of us wears many different hats, and we each have a role to play in the enhancement of our aesthetics and our communities. When we put aside what separates us from them as a category and instead use it as a tool to push dialogue, boundaries, and forge collaboration.
Confession Number 4
I used to think I wanted to only teach “serious” dancers. For me, this meant dancers that were as dedicated and committed as I was. This meant dancers that saw themselves dancing professionally and would not stop until they “made it”.
Now, I want to teach.
I used to think that I needed to bring students to my level of commitment, understanding, and eventually mastery.
Now, I meet them where they are.
I used to think my favorite students would be the “best”. That probably meant technically/artistically/behaviorally.
Now, they are sometimes the ones that learned the most, those that make me laugh the most, or those that I’ve spent the most time with (which may include detention!). They are always the ones that trust me enough- or will risk enough- to share a meaningful moment, idea, or laugh.
I hope this post doesn’t seem critical of the views Sheena and others shared in her original post. My intention is quite the opposite- to highlight that teaching is just as much of a journey as learning. We each have our individual styles, needs, motivations, and goals.
The important thing is that there is thought, care, and a willingness to discuss. Thanks to Sheena, Nichelle, Dance_Readers and others for these three things and so many more.