After years of declaring ugh no I am NOT going to teach, I taught some master classes and survived.
Let me clarify, though.
I’ve taught in less formal contexts before. I (reluctantly) passed my pedagogy class as part of my dance minor, I led warm ups for the company on tour and during dance theater, and I (along with the other seniors) choreographed and taught the opening number for DancersDrummersDreamers. I’ve done some teaching, and I’ve done a lot of “public speaking” because of not only dance and comp but because of my english classes. So it wasn’t like I was trying to swim for the first time with no prior experience.
But this was the first time I led the entire class, beginning to end, warm up to center to technique to choreography. I taught about fifty (maybe. I am not good at guessing numbers) 14-17 year olds from the local high school dance teams, one of which was my own former dance team that got me started down this whole dancing adventure.
I was nervous both days, but I think it went well for a first attempt. I had sketched out my lesson plans but wasn’t so strict that I couldn’t deviate from plan when things were, well, not going according to plan. For example, we spent a lot more time on degages and tendus on the first day than I anticipated, and on the second day, we spent a lot more time on calypsos than I thought we would.
The main thing I focused on in class wasn’t so much the technique, which I could write an entire book about in itself, but about dancing bigger. After dancing with my peer group for so long, I’d forgotten what it was like to dance with beginners. Experienced dancers, even the ones who aren’t very good, tend to have a certain confidence about themselves and their movements. They tend to move big and make no apologies for taking up space. With these teenagers, there was a definite hesitation in taking the floor and manipulating their bodies in uncomfortable and new ways.
This isn’t a bad thing; it’s perfectly normal. But I had a feeling that dance team wasn’t the environment where they were going to be told “MAKE THIS COMBINATION YOUR BITCH” and “NO SURRENDER” – which then became the unofficial motto of the class. I talked plenty about turn out and about using your floor during tendus and about closing your ribs and about proper stretching technique, but I wanted to see them be less afraid of movement. I wanted to get across that this is the most important thing you will ever do.
I’m pretty sure some of them were very confused by this, and I can imagine the snark going on in some of their heads (because it was the sort of thing I would have thought too) – what is she talking about, my job/parents/boyfriend/homework is more important than waving my arms in the air. But if you act like each and ever thing you are doing in class is the most important thing in the world, your progress will be quick.
I guess, overall, I wanted to show them a different attitude about movement as much as I wanted to teach technique. Dancing, along with other types of movement and exercise, can really set you free. I hope that some of them were able to experience dance in a different way because of my classes.
I felt like the second day was a bit better than the first, partly because perhaps they knew what to expect and they were more used to my attitude. And we did way less ab work. The deer-in-the-headlight look was much more toned down, and some people were smiling and looked like they were having a good time when they moved. Some of the girls told me that I was “really supportive” and that they liked my teaching style, which was cool. I had another few girls ask for demonstrations and videos and pictures, and I gave away a few business cards. I’m always happy to answer any questions about the industry and academic dance. Even though I’m not far into my career, I feel like I’ve learned a lot in a short time and I wish someone had told me certain things (like don’t work for free and show up to every class and take lots of ballet and get your headshots done a certain way and here’s how to lay out your dance resume…and so on). I saw a lot of determination in a lot of the girls, and some of them could go really far if they work hard.
I still have zero desire to be a full time teacher. I have seen it with some of my own teachers, and I don’t want to devote 40 hours a week to instructing other girls and continuing the modern dance pyramid scheme. I did not study this friggin hard for this friggin long (short relative to many of my peers) to just turn around and teach instead of applying it. I want to choreograph and hone my craft as an artist, and I want to perform and become the best technician and mover that I can. I am definitely okay with teaching part time, especially since I make more and enjoy it more than, say, retail, but I do not want to devote my life to someone else’s growth. Maybe I’m selfish, but I don’t really care. Maybe I’ll feel differently when I’m older.
Overall, it was a really good experience for me. I look forward to teaching again (the Lakeland coach would like me to choreograph some), and I’m glad I could provide a different point of view for the girls, and hopefully I didn’t scare too many of them off. I liked teaching in this environment and will hopefully do it again soon.