Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why I Don't Teach

Photo by Santa Joe.
Maybe about once a month or so, I come across someone who thinks I should be teaching belly dance. I always smile and say something like "Oh, maybe some day, but not right now" which you think would be enough, but sometimes they come back with "Oh, why not?" or "You really should" or "I think you'd be great." So let me spell out a few reasons why I, and probably a lot of other dancers like me, do not teach yet.
1. Let's just get this out of the way. I am not as good of a dancer as you think I am! No, I'm not being excessively humble or tearing myself down. I think I am a good dancer, but I'm not yet a great dancer. More importantly, when you see me perform, you see the best of me. I only break out the moves that I am good at, the props that I am proficient with, the sort of music I'm comfortable with. You don't see all the elements of a well-rounded dance knowledge that I am still struggling with.
2. I am not even dancing professionally yet. This isn't to say that I think a teacher has to also be a professional performer. Maybe a teacher might have another job or family commitments that makes it hard for her to be out performing at night. But I think a teacher should be good enough that she (or he) could be performing professionally.
3. Knowing how to dance is not the same as knowing how to teach dance. I know how something works and feels in my body -- that doesn't mean that I know how it works and feels in your body. Or what might be making it not work in your body. Or how you can safely do that move if you have a knee injury. Before I teach belly dance, I want to make sure to get some formal training in anatomy and physiology, because I would hate to cause an injury to a student due to a lack of knowledge of body mechanics.
4. Tucson doesn't need yet another teacher offering beginning belly dance classes, and currently, that's all I'd be able to teach. There are other, more experienced, more qualified teachers already offering classes in my city, why would I compete with them?
5. Hanging your shingle as a teacher before you're ready can be really damaging to your reputation as a dancer. I don't want to overstep my bounds of where I am as a dancer and burn bridges with people who I might want to work with in the future. I'm in dance for the long haul and I want to foster good, healthy relationships rather than trying to shove myself into the void left by my own teacher moving away and making a quick buck or two before people realize that I'm in over my head.
So yes, I do appreciate the vote of confidence and I'm glad that I put forth an image of being professional, skilled, and knowledgeable but no, I am not ready to teach. Yet. Talk to me again in a couple more years! 


  1. See, those are all excellent reasons. I read an article in Women's Day a number of years ago where a woman had learned bellydance via DVD (which I have no argument with) and loved it so much she decided to teach it! No mention of her taking any classes from a live teacher, just that she decided to teach. HOW CAN YOU TEACH WHEN YOU WEREN'T TAUGHT!?!? (sigh) I wish more were as insightful as you! Keep up the good work, lady! :)

    1. Thank you, Pam! And YIKES, I can't imagine studying with a teacher who had only learned from DVD. I hope the article was misleading and that she got some more dance education between her DVD start and her teaching career.

  2. I wish more people had your respect for teaching! I do not teach for the same reasons. Not everyone can do it and I really hate it when I hear people who are teaching say things like "I can't zill" - well, if you can't do it, how do you teach it? And if they are teaching a form where zilling isn't really optional, why are they teaching?

    1. I feel like I'd give someone a bit of a pass on not being able to zill, since it's a skill that definitely ebbs and flows in popularity. They might have gotten their start in dance during a low point in zill popularity, or in an area where there wasn't anyone available to teach it. But yes, I wouldn't give them a pass if despite their lack of skill in it, they decided to try to teach ATS or a classic Egyptian set with a zill section!

      I also think teachers need to be honest about what they are and are not capable of teaching, and be willing and able to offer references to other teachers who can help their students broaden their experience. If I go to a teacher who can't zill very well and say "I want to learn zills!" I don't want her to do a bad job of teaching me triplets, I want her to say "That's not really my strong suit, but I think Princess Sparklepants is starting a new zill session next month, you should definitely check it out."


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