As a dance teacher, nothing thrills me more than a motivated student. I’m not just talking about motivation to learn a particular movement, but a general desire to learn and see progress/expansion of knowledge. With “bellydance,” this can take one of many forms: cultural/historical research, hunger for context, deliberate home practice, devoted to attending multiple classes per week, supporting fellow dancers, attending performances, performing at haflas/showcases, etc. But, sometimes people are not interested in measured progress. Sometimes, people want to escape the clutter of their lives for one hour a week and dance without pressure. Who am I to judge?
Sometimes I fantasize about tailoring my approach and expectations by forming separate classes for each category. You see, these various mindsets exist at every level. There’s a hungry beginner who takes 3 classes a week and studies the legends on YouTube in his/her spare time. There are also advanced dancers who only attend rehearsals or classes that lead to performance opportunities, but never demonstrate a curiosity to expand their knowledge. It would be nice to have the results-driven at every level and the “eh, I just want to sway to this beautiful song” types in separate classes. But, of course, it doesn’t work that way.
In a perfect world, a dancer’s ability would be directly related to their hunger for progress and learning. When there is a disconnect, we have a dilemma. Dance teachers, of course it isn’t fair to impose an expectation on a student, and some of us rely on income from our students, but how to we rectify these discrepancies? To some extent, it is a service industry. On the other hand, we have to make difficult choices such as opting not to advance a student when all of her friends have moved up a level. I’ve had to call students and have heart to heart conversations about their motivation and commitment. I’ve had to protect my reputation and my standards by uninviting men/women from my classes. I don’t enjoy this but the greater good won’t let me compromise.
I crave learning. I videotape my practicing and critique myself. I seek private lessons, take workshops, read books, research, watch other dancers for inspiration. When I see these qualities in a student, it thrills me to no end. There is always more to learn. Isn’t that the beauty of cultural dance? And yet, I put myself in the position of a student who recently had a baby and wants to do something for herself, or a working professional who faces unbelievable demands at work. Giving them a safe space to explore serpentine and percussive movements for an hour is a beautiful thing. I know there are instances when someone may be resistant to hearing my corrections because they just want to feel good for the duration of the class.
I have learned that I am not the kind of instructor that can go without correcting technique. I am tactful, use humor, focus on anatomical explanations but — even still — some people are there to get lost in the music and move. . .for years! Part of my role is to make people comfortable and sense when they are committed enough to respond well to challenges, feedback and opportunities that require a dedicated presence. For a student, I suppose it’s important to remain cognizant of your goals and expectations. Approach your dance training from a realistic standpoint. Communicate with your instructor so we can work together on meeting your goals (or no goals).
For people who like prizes, medals, the promise of a lucrative career in bellydance. . .well. . .this is not impossible. You can enter competitions, get some expensive costumes, build a website and hope for the best. But this, I can tell you, often leads to burnout. Dedication to a rich dance for the sake of learning and personal growth leads to a lifelong relationship. A love that keeps feeding you. And if you just want to have fun for an hour in class, well, that’s ok too. I just can’t promise I won’t push you a bit. It’s all part of my job.
Tava is a professional bellydancer, instructor and author in NYC and CT. She performs regularly for all family friendly events, galas, weddings and corporate events. Tava also performs in creative/theatrical endeavors and enjoys her balance of commercial and artistic fulfillment. To learn more about classes in Fairfield County, CT or to inquire about hosting Tava for a workshop, please visit: BellydancebyTava.com