Recently, a dancer reached out to me with a question: “How does one know when they’re ready to teach ATS®?”
What a doozy of a question for a Monday morning! There are so many complicating factors that have nothing to do with how good a dancer you are. But here are some initial thoughts on the matter.
1. Be able to “walk the walk.”
Being an excellent teacher requires very different skills than being an excellent dancer. But realistically, most students will never surpass the level of technique they see on your body.
So be honest with yourself about your posture and technique. Video yourself, watch the videos with an eye toward self-improvement, and be ready to continue to commit to your own ongoing education.
2. Be able to “talk the talk.”
When I started teaching in Maine, I was terrified. I spent hours with the instructional DVDs, memorizing every word, sometimes transcribing them. I hadn’t completed General Skills yet, and was very, very new. But I did bring an in-depth understanding of anatomy and other movement forms, including some knowledge of other styles of bellydance, and because I was working with a friendly community, I was supported.
You do not need to be a Sister Studio to teach ATS®. You don’t even need to have completed General Skills or Teacher Training. It is not required, and never has been. It sure does help, though.
It’s also helpful to understand anatomy, and specifically the muscles used for our posture. I also recommend gaining an understanding of the broader culture of bellydance beyond ATS®, so you can answer questions intelligently.
The most important thing, though: be ready to admit when you don’t know something. And be able to do it with grace.
3. Be ready for the “business of the business.”
You may have decided that you want to teach because you love the art form and you want to share it. That’s great! But for the vast majority of aspiring teachers, you will also find yourself running a small business, even if you don’t think of it that way.
You will all of a sudden have to deal with the reality of renting a space, marketing yourself to keep your classes full, keeping track of attendance, and handling the financial transactions. You might need to deal with practical matters that you’ve never thought about, like music licensing and liability insurance.
After a while, your students will be hungry for performance opportunities, and you’ll need to find or create them. You’ll need to coordinate costuming, or at least provide advice. You might need to create a student troupe.
You’ll need to deal with the softer skills of managing a class of adult learners, and deciding about the boundaries you’d like to have (or not have) with your students. You’ll need to figure out how to lead confidently, but with warmth.
You’ll need to make endless decisions about what you want your business to look like, and be ready to make different decisions if the first ones turn out to not be great. You might find yourself suffering from decision fatigue (yes! It’s a real thing!) and you’ll need to press on anyway.
4. Be prepared for the community’s reaction.
I was lucky; there was no one else really teaching ATS® when I started teaching in Maine, but there was a strong dance community already, and a clear interest in this art form.
You may not be so lucky. There may already be a glut of local ATS® teachers in your area. Are you prepared to work together with them? Perhaps you’ll need be flexible about the nights you teach, so you’re not in direct competition. Maybe you can commit to taking each other’s classes, or holding events together, so the community can see you’re collaborating. Support your fellow teachers.
Or maybe there’s no dance community to speak of, and you’ll need to build that from scratch. You might need to get creative about your marketing so you can attract students, and you might need to do this in an area where no one really knows or understands what you’re trying to do.
5. Be prepared to make it look easy.
Yes, there’s a lot of extra work. But the best teachers don’t place the blame on their students for this work. They don’t berate or shame their students for sometimes having other lives and not making it to class; instead, they create a positive atmosphere so that people genuinely want to show up to class and practice.
Be a destination that people want to go to, and they will.
There’s so much more; this only scrapes the surface. And ultimately, as a community we need to support people who are willing to teach and share this lovely, graceful, community-oriented art form.
I’m sure there’s more. What do you think? For those of you who are teachers, how did you know when you were ready?
(Featured photo: Carrie Meyer, The Dancer’s Eye Photography. With the delightful Bethany Maxwell.)