Thursday, February 16, 2012

On Professional Integrity

I have been thinking a lot on this topic lately simply because of the number of dancers who are taking on teaching. Oftentimes these are dancers who have had no dance training to speak of save for the maybe year or so of sporadic belly dance.
I have come up with a check list for those seeking out dance instruction (of any type…not just belly dance or ATS® specifically…) of things to watch and listen for when choosing to take a class that you are paying money for, be they dance or martial arts or yoga or any sort of movement class:
1.) Your instructor’s bio: How long has she been dancing? Where did she receive her training and from whom? Has she had experience in performing? What other dance modalities does she/has she studied? If she can’t answer these questions consistently, or is incredibly vague in her answers, chances are her bio is greatly over inflated. This is cause for concern.
2.) Your instructor’s location: is she teaching in a studio with mirrors and a suitable surface and ample space for students to stretch and dance without running into one another? A proper space is just as important as the quality of the instruction. Now, having been one who taught in the basement of a local Pagan book store, I can say that while this can be an OK place, it’s a place suitable for classes that are for gathering, and not really for teaching. I taught in said bookstore after my move to the Twin Cities. I just wanted to dance and truly didn’t adhere to any sort of format. My “classes” were dubbed as Tribal Belly Dance, NOT ATS ®. I instructed in basic belly dance principle with a tribal flair and mostly, we just danced and played lead and follow with very few cues. Additionally, I never advertised these classes outside of the bookstore.  If you are labeling yourself as a professional dancer and a professional instructor, advertising your classes as the place to be for quality instruction, then a professional space is required.
3.) Your instructor’s “fit” level: Does your instructor often sit out because she is injured? Does she have others teach in her stead when she needs to sit out? This is often a sign of a lack of personal dedication to dance. A dancer who has honed her body and muscle memory and who practices proper posture in and out of dance is far less likely to have this issue.  One does not do this honing and strengthening in one class a week-even two classes, and certainly not an instructor.
4.) Your instructor’s knowledge: Does she confuse her vocabulary often and easily? Does she know the muscle mechanics behind the movements she is teaching you? Does she know how to not only execute the movement properly, but also break it down simply and accurately? Failure to know the vocabulary can be highly detrimental to your learning; additionally, not being able to break it down accurately and instruct proper muscle use can severely impact a student physically. Injury can happen in one false movement if you are being instructed poorly, incorrectly, or not at all with regard to muscle movement.
6.) Does your instructor know the history of this dance form? Can she answer questions about how movements have been formed?  The past is prologue they say. The history of dance overall is wide and deep and beautiful. The history of Middle Eastern dance is so rich and abundant and to not know it’s history, or about the people groups who most influenced this art is a travesty not only to the student, but to the dance itself.  To know where you are going, you must know from where you came.
7.) Is your instructor not able to give constructive critique, ie. insight as to how you can improve your dance-devoid of personal sentiment? If not, chances are she fits into #4 above. An instructor who doesn’t know proper technique and the execution of said technique will absolutely be unable to give you constructive feedback on how to improve your dance. A student-teacher relationship can be friendly, of course, but would you expect in college for your Chemistry Professor to tell you that mixing these volatile chemicals together is OK even though they exploded, simply because no one got hurt? Extreme example sure, but what does it benefit anyone to have warm fuzzies about what they are doing incorrectly?
Overall, what sort of experience are you looking to pay for? You can spend $60-$100 for a simple 6 week series. You can either spend it at a studio, paying a teacher who has studied dance for her whole life, has thorough knowledge of belly dance and very specific knowledge of the genre she teaches, who has dedicated all of her passion and dedication to the dance…or you can go to a basement and pay that same money to a dancer who has had a cumulative of perhaps a year of actual dance training inside two years’ time…even more grievous, you could pay that money, at a studio, to a credentialed teacher who has no real aptitude or skill. She might have knowledge, but knowledge and execution are two different things. Knowledge without the ability to execute is nearly pointless. Equally, passion without dedication is just as pointless. The teacher you should want to spend your money on for precise and quality instruction is the teacher who has passion, dedication, knowledge, experience, the ability to execute and the joy in her heart and the strength of character to uphold the integrity of the dance she loves.
I would love to hear thoughts on this. I do have part three of On Dedication coming, but I have tweaked it after considerable reflection, and changing a lot about the situation…changing what I could, and realizing the rest was so petty that it wasn’t worth my time or integrity.
I start practice packing next week for my trip to Bloomington, IN for Pura, GS and TT. I am elated and excited and a little bit nervous about the flying part, but you know what? When I get back, it will all be worth the time and effort and the steep hill climb I have had to get to this point in my dance…and you know what, I’m just going to keep on climbing.
Dance on sisters and brothers….


  1. The only reason not to call integrity into question is if you have none. Integrity is first and foremost to me in ALL dance and in all of the dance I have had in my life.

  2. I agree on all points. It is particularly distressing when you see someone who has hardly any belly dance under her belt set up her shingle in the same area as an experienced teacher, and you know some people who don't know better will go to the inexperienced teacher and possibly get put off the whole thing!

  3. Those dancers are usually a flash in the pan in my experience. What concerns me are the students who stick with them thinking this is quality instruction. They (the instructors) are doing a disservice to the student in a number of ways and it's really abhorrent to me. I have seen first hand former students go to other less experienced dancers for instruction, only to go backwards in their skill level. it's really an upsetting thing to watch.

    I don't dance for the money. that would be impossible at this point in my life. I dance because it calls my body and my spirit and when I feel compelled to teach that, it's because I'm being led to based on my experience, knowledge and desire to further dance int he world.

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE when people dance, but calling oneself a professional, or a teacher when you have no business doing so lacks some serious ethic and integrity.

  4. I feel the same about yoga. I love teaching, but there's got to be training behind the teaching to make certain that you aren't harming the students physically. I think if I were to want to hang out and dance, I would, but if I wanted to become a professional, then I would go to a professional.

  5. Where's no. 5?

    Many of our students who came to us said that they didn't feel challenge at other places. Some stay until now and have blossomed, some pursued other dance styles and took off. I guess this goes along with no. 7, that the teacher must also find ways to constantly challenge the students while at the same time drill them the basics.

    I hate "advanced" students who would whine and sit down during the drill sessions because they think they've already got it, but we're not talking about students, so I'm kind of digressing here. Haha.

    Good to finally read more from you. Keep 'em coming, and good luck for the Pura, TT, & GS!

  6. HAHA number 5...I was renumbering!! lol Sorry about that...