Learning to Teach
A relationship of a shishya or student with his or her guru or dance teacher is a strong one on many levels. Students turn to their teachers for guidance consciously, subconsciously and even unconsciously.
Indeed, this puts a whole lot of responsibility on the shoulders of those who consider themselves ‘dance teachers’ or call themselves ‘gurus’. The awareness of this responsibility led me to examine just what kind of teachers are we today. It dawned upon me that before we talk about the proper or correct method of training students, there needs to be some reflection on the ways in which we teach dance. Teachers need to ask themselves – Are we trained or training ourselves to be educators? Do we see ‘dance teaching’ as a ‘side-job’ or an actual education? What do we consider to be a dance education?
The first question begs further questions to be answered such as – Is knowing how to dance well, enough to be a good dance teacher? If not, what involves training to become a teacher of dance? These questions need to be addressed and their answers sought out before one even begins to think of becoming a dance teacher.
Moreover, why one teaches dance also becomes an important question to ask. There are several performers who teach ad hoc in various schools and dance institutions. I can say, with almost complete certainty, that one of the reasons for performers drifting into the pedagogical world of dance is because that is where they can earn a steady income. But is that a good enough reason? Teaching to earn a stable income is one thing, and given the abysmal conditions of performing opportunities and financial support for dancers, it is a justified reason for stepping into the world of dance pedagogy. After all, dancers have to make a living somewhere! But is that one reason, reason enough? Where does income measure up to the passion of passing on knowledge and transmitting skill? Is dance teaching more than a ‘side job’? Is your training a bland and robotic handover of information or an actual education for your students?
The string of questions leads to yet another one. An important question – what do we consider to be a dance education? Is teaching steps through imitation and repetition enough? If it is enough, then perhaps DVDs of steps, dance sequences and dance pieces should replace us as teachers. If it isn’t enough, then what else goes into dance education? In my view, dance education would involve an instruction in understanding rhythm, cultivating musicality, encouraging creativity, guiding students to research into dance history and theory.
A Bharatanatyam student is not educated if he or she learns an entire margam without knowing names of the adavus or the talas and ragas of the Bharatanatyam pieces they perform. A contemporary dancer who trains in the Graham technique is not educated if he or she does not understand the life and philosophy of Martha Graham, and a hip-hop student who is not aware of the social and political surroundings from which hip-hop was born has not had a complete education of the form. In order for our students to be educated in dance, our teachers must value dance education, be educated and constantly re-educate themselves too.