On being ready to teach

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.)

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A new chapter: returning to my roots.

In the early 2000s, I was living in an unfamiliar town, without a lot of friends or family, and was profoundly lonely. I stepped into a group improv bellydance class and found — community. Joy. Support. It was life-changing. And so when I moved across the country to Maine, one of the first things I did was find a bellydance class; I knew exactly how to find community.

As I matured in my dance, and as I grew closer to the the source of ATS®, that focus changed, little by little. Distractions began to pile up.

First it was the obsession with the costume: not just a belt, but the right belt. Not just a skirt, but the right skirt. Ten yards or more, please. And then the makeup: not that lipstick, it’s too neutral. Your bindi isn’t big enough. You need to fix your eyeshadow. Paint your nails. Your eyebrows aren’t right. And the jewelry, oh, the endless jewelry.

(A confession: I despise wearing so much jewelry.)

And then it was the technique, even beyond the quest for perfection: am I doing this right? Is my elbow at exactly the right angle? Is her elbow at exactly the right angle? Should I dance with someone who doesn’t have great technique? Will someone tell me if don’t have great technique? Will someone tell me directly if I’m doing something wrong?

And finally, and most pernicious, the obsession with hierarchy. What are the guidelines for advancing to the next level? Who’s in the troupe, and who’s out?  What are the rules for getting in? Who’s good enough? Who has the wrong attitude? Who has the certifications, who’s approved to teach? Who can successfully intuit the ever-changing unspoken rules?

I’m ashamed and sad to say that I got caught up in this culture, because I thought it was necessary to support the ATS® brand. No more.

All of these distractions from the reason I started dancing have built up to this:

I’m no longer part of the FatChanceBellyDance® teaching collective. This was not by my choice, and I’ll save the story for in-person conversations. This heartbreaking shift has caused me to re-evaluate my relationship with dance, what I want out of it, and whether I will choose to continue.

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: I want to remember why I started doing this in the first place. I want to go back to the beginning.

The most important thing for me in dance — beyond technique, beyond spectacle, beyond performativity — is connection. I cherish my connections with the worldwide ATS® community. That is the root of why I do this, and that is where I will focus as I move forward.

Speaking of roots: “community” and “communication” share the same linguistic root. We can’t build community if we are hesitant or afraid to communicate freely, honestly, and authentically. With open, compassionate hearts. Fearlessly.

I want to dance with people who are fearless communicators, on and off the dance floor.

I want to dance with people who are bighearted, generous, and kind.

I want to dance with people who only expect mind-reading when we’re dancing together.

I want dance partners who find the good in their fellow dancers. I want dance partners who open up communication instead of shutting it down.

I want to dance with people who don’t care about hierarchy. I want dance partners who prioritize joyful connection. I want dance partners who know that our art form isn’t a sorority, it’s a method of communication.

I want to work with community builders.

So, what does this mean in practice?

I’m still devoted to American Tribal Style® bellydance, as created by Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman and FatChanceBellyDance®. I love the strength, the beauty, and especially the connection that having a clear shared dance language enables. I respect Carolena and her brand, and will continue to support her artistic vision to the best of my ability, as I have for many years.

And I will still be teaching at ATS® Homecoming in January 2017, and offering SSCE at least at that event and perhaps beyond.

I will not be teaching regular classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. There are enough excellent teachers here, and I respect the local teachers who rely on dance for their income.

However, I will happily travel to teach workshops. I love working with the global community. It’s also important to me to keep the workshops affordable for the communities in which I offer them; reach out to me if you’d like to talk logistics.

Additionally, I don’t want to run my dance career as a business any more; I only want to support the worldwide ATS® community. To that end, any funds I earn will go to charity, or to support your local dance community.

And if you live in the Bay Area — or are visiting — and you share my goals, consider this an invitation to come dance with me. In my living room, in yours, in a studio, or in the street. Come back to the roots with me, and let’s focus on connection and communication.

Come dance with me in joyful community.

 

(Photo credit: Don Labit Design)

On being in community

There’s just something about ATS® dancers.  We’re a big, close-knit community, a worldwide extended family. Cues and Tattoos felt like a family reunion.  And I think Homecoming will feel even more wonderful.

We all have personalities and opinions, and it’s ok to let those unique stars shine. When ATS® works well, it’s a beautiful coming-together of diverse people who share a common passion. We all trust each other, and we all have to trust ourselves.  (Go read Wendy Allen’s essay on Trust, ATS® style for why it’s important to trust yourself.)

tribal-reacharound

The community does break down sometimes.  I’ve seen it happen in dance communities all over the world.  Here are two of the reasons why it happens.

1. Jealousy. We have feelings about other dancers’ successes and opportunities.  It happens.

However, if you think other students are advancing because they are sucking up or kissing ass, you are wrong. They’re advancing because they’re working harder, showing up, being easy and fun to work with, and generally devoting more of their time, energy, and focus to the dance than you are.

Consider this: there is a difference between jealousy (I’m afraid you will take an opportunity from me) and envy (I want something you have, but I’m glad you have it).

Envy has the potential to be a much more positive, supportive emotion than jealousy. But did you catch the definition of jealousy? At its heart, it’s about fear. And if you’re so afraid that someone will take something from you, consider what that says about you.

2. Entitlement. We think we are owed an opportunity for some reason.

Here’s the thing: I don’t care how long you’ve been dancing, or what other dance styles you know — or even how good you are. If you think you are entitled to anything, you are wrong.

And the more you act entitled, the fewer opportunities you will get.  No one wants to work with someone who thinks the world owes them something.

We all have these feelings. We all have feelings of jealousy, entitlement, and so on.  That’s ok; we’re human, and emotions are part of the human experience.  What’s critical, though, to live and dance in community is to acknowledge them for what they are and let them go.

We need to release these things to be in community with other dancers. And the more we release our egos and enter into the dance with an open, inquisitive mind, the better dancers we become, and the more opportunities avail themselves to us.

My point is this: get over your own ego. Get out of your own way.  Stop worrying about other people, and worry about yourself.  Work on your own technique. Be easy to work with.

These things build community, and they build joy. And who doesn’t want that?

This is hard sometimes.  I struggle with this too, and it’s  not always easy to come to the studio with an open, inquisitive heart. Sometimes, I honestly need a break from the studio so I can take care of my own needs first.  And sometimes, if I’m feeling ungrounded, it’s a little too easy to get caught up in the swirling whirlwind of others’ egos.  It’s necessary sometimes to take a step back.

What tools or techniques do you use to release your ego?  In what ways do you build up, rather than break down our community?  I invite you to share in the comments below.