A professional dance teacher needs to know more than just steps to a particular cultural African dance style. They should be competent and able to teach the history of dance, dance notation, aspects of human anatomy, and physiology. Knowledge of these aspects are critical to a successful dance teaching career.
They say that ability will allow you to climb up the tree, but only your character will keep you there. Similarly in dance, talent alone is not enough, there is a different skills set that is often not taught in schools, and these I will highlight for my fellow dance teachers, aspiring teachers, as well as students of dance.
Know yourself: Anatomy, physiology. You may be wondering what these have to do with a dance teacher, well – everything.
You have to study your own body before teaching dance, well any half decent school will be sure to highlight this all important fact. Tuck away your ego, because like me, after having been performing for many years, I thought I knew dance quite well, even more so my own body. I was highly mistaken, and glad I sought proper guidance. This is why schools such as Dance Trust of Zimbabwe (Dance Foundation Course) and AfriKera Arts Trust among others exist in Zimbabwe, so enroll, learn, build, and grow. Talent, confidence, passion are good ingredients for success. Students can easily see when you lack talent and can walk all over you when you lack confidence and when there is no passion, well what the hell are doing in the dance studio? Cultural African dance styles demand all of these traits because of their symbolism and their deep roots in community life; loaded with meaning, and so you cannot fake it.
Passion: There is power down the corridor of introspection – so do a lot of soul searching before making a final decision to become a dance teacher or even a performer. Passion is an intense desire, a compelling emotion that every dance professional should possess. Dance is like a lover or life partner, you should be comfortable to wake up to and it is the first thing you do, like kissing your partner good morning and something you do all day like eat (and from my experience, eating is secondary to my dance and most professionals share similar sentiments). It is common to forget to eat in our line of work - FYI. Side benefits are the calories you burn hahaha!!! So whether you teach people taking dance as a hobby or students pursuing a professional career in dance, the passion remains the same – it is contagious and makes your job easier as well – so think about passion as a selfish emotion that helps out with doing your job.
I, for one, tried to resist and ignored this compelling emotion for a while but succumbed in the end. There are many of my colleagues with whom I have this story in common. It doesn’t matter who you are and what your background is, when it calls, you will answer!
Hard work/practice: remember teaching in itself takes a lot of endurance and focus to do it everyday. It is necessary to cut out other physical activities that may make you stiff. This is a lesson I teach my students and remind other professional dance teachers as well to take heed of. Practice, and practice hard – there is no such thing as overdoing it. After all, dance and teaching should become your second nature. A day you don’t practice your craft represents 2 or more steps back in your development as a teacher and this is a lesson you have to emphasize to your students as well. You in fact lose something with each day that passes and you have not practiced your craft. This goes for everyone, a painter, a makeup artist, or an accountant.
Another thing they won’t teach you in dance school is the importance of recording your practice sessions. Use your phone, computer or any video recording device. It is important to showcase your work with students and they can learn when you are not there or in the comfort of their homes. Dance too is part of the technology industry, and as a teacher I appreciate platforms such as YouTube that allow me to share with the world what goes on when we prepare for classes, rehearsal for shows as well as the final product. With our dance team Tamba African Ensemble, festival organisers often request past work as well as rehearsal footage before inviting us to participate.
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