Being a dance teacher is what I do. It has become who I am. I have had great teachers over the years. Not all of them were kind, not all of them were good. I learned as much from the “bad” ones as I did from the good ones. I had one teacher who was incredibly mean. I believe her goal was to weed out the kids who couldn’t hack it.
I could hack it. I stayed and was abused and scared, but I loved what I was doing enough to stay. After all, criticism is really just a way to be kind. Abuse is just another form of love. Especially verbal abuse. Verbally abusing a child is really just shaping and molding them for their own good. Now, I know that’s a load of crap, but there are so very many who believe that.
I also had a teacher who was there to teach. That meant sharing her knowledge and wisdom. In those classes, I learned how to pass along the knowledge. She wasn’t promoting herself, she wasn’t there for an ego trip. She was there to pass along hundreds of years of dance that had been given to her by her teachers. From her, I learned that dance was much more than how to do a jete or where your feet and arms are supposed to be in second position. She taught us the history behind what she was saying. She didn’t back up her teaching with facts or trivia, she didn’t impress us with where she had been or what she had accomplished, she gave us what she knew. She gave us part of her soul. Because part of her soul was dance.
I had another teacher who showed me the love of dance. She loved dance like it was partner. When she spoke to us of dance it was as if she were speaking of a beloved. And when she danced, although she was old and couldn’t move like she had in her prime, she was beautiful. She was the one who believed that everyone of us, no matter the size of our thighs, or the extension of our legs or the beauty of our faces, all of us had something to express through dance. She loved us because we danced. She was our teacher, but we were all equals. After all, dance is a personal thing, it comes from within. She could teach us, she could pass on what she knew, she could even inspire us to be the best we could be, but if we didn’t light the candle within ourselves then we would not dance. Self discipline.
So, I am a combination of my teachers. I am unique yet common. I believe that all of my students have the ability to achieve what they are meant to. In that, I have no doubt. And I am there simply to facilitate a love, knowledge and a way for them to feel good about themselves. It is a path to self awareness. Not all of my students go on to a life in dance. Most of them don’t. But they all go on to love dance. To appreciate it. To know that no matter the rotation of their turnout, or the length of their balance, they have a place in the world of dance. Dance includes everyone. In that respect, it is the best of the performing arts.
To dance, all you need is desire. The only thing that can stop a person from dancing is themselves. When you dance from your heart there is no such thing as “I’m not a good dancer”. Some people sing, some act, some paint or draw. They have talent in that area. Dance is something we do as soon as we hear music. We all have the ability and desire in the beginning. For some people, it is one person who says “you can’t dance” and for some, it is one who says “you can dance”. It depends on who we hear. But no matter who we hear, if we listen to ourselves, we know we have the ability and we all have the desire.
My job is not to control or criticize or belittle. My job is not to tell a student that they should lose weight or change their physical appearance. My job is to share, guide and encourage. My job is not about me and my talent, or my ego. My job is not to turn out dancers who are like me. My job is to support and encourage my students to find their own strengths, to find their love, to give them not only the history of the dance but the origin of the movement they are doing. Where it comes from within their body and why.
I am very lucky to be able to do what I love. But I am even more blessed to share what I love with my students. I am a composite of all who have gone before me. I am passing along a tradition that is older than recorded history. And I do it with love. Sometimes with irritation, sometimes from a low place, but always with love. For my craft and for my students.
They can tell you that sometimes I yank their leg to heights they never wanted their leg to go. Sometimes I bore them to tears with the history of Bourneville or where the energy should be coming from as they hold their arm in second position. Sometime I crack them up with stories of what happened to me when I was performing. But always I have faith in them and I am always learning from them. Totally cliché but, I have learned more form my students in the last 21years than I have taught them I am sure. That is the beauty of being a teacher. A real teacher. As we dance teachers know, we do not do it for the money. Cause there is never enough. We do it for the love. We do it because we know we have to pass this history along to other generations to keep it alive and well.
In general, dance doesn’t have a written record. The choreography is passed down in the simple way of teaching. Even when there is a record, written or visual, it still needs to be interpreted. It still needs to have life and love breathed into it. That is our job. As teachers and students.
So, I never say anymore that I am “just a dancer”. We are more than just dancers. We are the keepers of history. We have universal story telling ability. There are no language barriers when it comes to dance. We do not need interpreters for foreign audiences. Where as a singer or actor may need to learn another language or have subtitles on their work, we dancers do not. Where as an artist may have to verbally explain a splash of paint on canvas, we dancers do not. We can, if we choose to, explain. But without explanation or words or work stands on its own, always.