Friday, June 28, 2013

Teaching: by Beth Megill

I often find myself wanting to be everything to everyone as a dance teacher.  But, of course, not only is that impossible, but it is also exhausting.

As a teacher I am continually changing and updating my techniques, approaches, methods, tools and ideas.  I continue to search for the right balance between tuning into student needs/wants and creating innovative experiences for those students to be challenged. 

I mistakenly believe that I can be/want to be/should be the best teacher in the entire world!  And, if I am not, then I have failed! Ha!  That is just crazy talk.  But, deep down that is the belief under which I am operating.

I know it is crazy. But, emotional belief sets don't see the line between realistic and crazy. So, I get worried. One minute I worry that I am not enough of a physical challenge, and the next I worry that my material is totally inaccessible and too hard.  I worry that I am too boring, then I worry that I am not taking enough time to slow down and go deep. I worry that other teachers push harder, then I worry that I am pushing them too hard and risking injury.  I am a mess.

It's no wonder I often leave the dance classroom feeling like I have in someway fallen short of expectation.  I have set up demands and conditions for myself that are outright contradictory and therefore impossible. 

I can't be everything.

And I hate to break it to you... But, you can't be everything either. 

We are just as we are.  And, I am ready to let that be ok. 

So what type of a teacher am I? 

Curious:  I love curiosity. I am continually curious about the way the body moves, the way we think, the way we feel, and how/why we create art.  I don't have all the answers, and I am suspicious of people who think they do have all the answers.  I appreciate students who are willing to be curious with me.

Concerned:  I am very concerned for the physical and psychological health of my students. I have suffered so many injuries of the years, that I can't/won't push people.  If people want a drill sargeant, I am NOT the teacher for you.  I would rather you think, then try, then rest, then re-think, and try again.  Fatigue is a real hazzard for dancers, and I just am not willing to risk it. 

Playful:  I like to have fun. I have serious moments, but my love of dance really comes out when I am joyful in movement. I like to smile and be silly in most circumstances.  What I notice is that this takes me out of "work" mode and into play mode.  So, class starts to feel less like a "technique" class and more like a celebration. 

Varied:  You really never know what you will get with me. One day we might meditate, the next day we might make dances, the next we might work on alignment, the next work on fuettes.  I worry that I am somehow NOT consistent enough, but I am learning to just accept that this is what I love about dance, that there are so many facets to the surface of the diamond of dance.

Guiding:  I consider myself a guiding teacher rather than a driving teacher.  This is tough, because it requires that the students drive their learning.  I realize that this is hard for many students, and can be exhausting. Sometimes, we just want to be told what to do.  I have also felt that way as a student! But, it is not in my nature to tell you what to do.  I will ask you to try it, then you get to decide. 

Nerdy:  I am a total nerd.  I know many dancers who love dance because it allows their kinesthetic brain to take over for 2 hours.  I don't exactly work that way.  I am interested in cultivating thinking dancers. Dancers who listen to their bodies, make connections between their inner world and the outer world.  I get jazzed about dance theory.  It opens up a horizon filled with movement opportunities.  I believe in dance as a creative and intellectual process as much as a kinesthetic adventure. 

Interested in Personal Growth:  Sometimes I wonder whether it is dance that I love teaching or whether it is quality of life.  The truth is one feeds the other.  Dance is a vehicle for life-learning about who we are, how we operate in the world and how we express ourselves (to others and to ourselves).  Dance is a vulnerable activity in which we are completely exposed in our strengths and weaknesses (physical and mental).  It incorporates so many of the senses and forms of intelligence, it is the perfect tool for self reflection on all fronts.  I don't really care how high you kick your leg or how many turns you can do.  I might be able help you do both better, but that is just mechanics. 

A good friend and fellow dance instructor said to me the other day "I am more of a trainer and you are more of an educator."  I have been thinking a lot about that statement.  I understand what he meant, but it forced me to ask myself, what type of teacher am I and what type of teacher do I want to be? What am I teaching through dance? And, which elements might I be missing in my current classes? 

I find my friends word choice so interesting. . . He is right in that, I don't use the word trainer for what I do -- in fact I don't think I ever have ever used train for the learning process in dance.  I have never asked a someone to come "train with me."  Or, say "Yes, that dancer trained under me."  Interesting.  I am just now thinking about this for the first time.  I might say that student "studied with me."  Maybe.  But mostly I say I have "worked with a student"  Worked WITH, because I ask the students to work 100% of the time; they do the work, with me, side by side.  They make the discoveries; they make the connections; they ask the questions of themselves and others. 

I have found that I learn things when I need to learn them. . . not before.  So, I trust that the students will ask the questions when they are ready for the answers. And, to take it one step further, I believe they need to find the answers for themselves 90% or the time!

I am not sure, if this is the best approach. I am not sure what this means in terms of changing student's lives and their dance world.  I am not sure of many things at the moment. But, I do know that I have to stop trying to be everything to every student who walks in the door.  It just doesn't work that way.  I have to trust myself, teaching what feels right. And, I need to trust that those students who want to learn what I have to offer will be there, and that I can walk with them on their journey of learning and learn even more about dance and myself along the way. 


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