Dance Students: Results-Driven vs. Just Here for an Hour of Fun


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?

lucy-ballet1Sometimes 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.

Tava's bellydance class at Work It Dance & Fitness

Tava’s bellydance class at Work It Dance & Fitness

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.

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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

3 thoughts on “Dance Students: Results-Driven vs. Just Here for an Hour of Fun

  1. Nice blog entry 🙂 As a fellow dance teacher, I too fantasise about grouping students according to their motive and drive haha 😛 I would teach the lessons so differently! However, difficult as it may be to find the balance, in many ways having students with different drives can create quite a dynamic multilayered group, each inspiring one another 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment! I do agree that the various motivations together in one studio does create some interesting and largely positive dynamics. In the end, it’s great to have students who come to enjoy whatever aspect of the dance they latch on to. But yes, in my dance fantasy, everyone would be super jazzed about nuance and yearn to learn as much as possible 😉

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