Teaching cultural African dance styles is challenging, perhaps much more than it is with any other dance style from the different parts of the world. It requires a lot more creativity in the teaching methods because it is misunderstood, much like people refer to all countries on the continent as ‘Africa’, when Africa is in fact not a country. Personally, African dance is a foreign concept that is misused to represent cultural styles found in sub-Saharan Africa. Teaching these different styles is more difficult because one has to first debunk the abused concept of African dance and then reconstruct it to represent the actual dance style you will be teaching. In Zimbabwe alone, there are more than 13 major cultural dance styles that represent very different things. My colleague Victor Peturo will touch more on what makes a dance African, where he will dig deeper into this topic that even seasoned practitioners abuse due to misunderstanding – be on the lookout for that blog post.
What I love most about teaching is the pressure to be creative, both with the material I will be teaching as well as the way I teach. My focus is always on the students – how will they receive it? Is it easy to understand? Will the lesson inspire and build the confidence of the students? Overall, will I be able to ensure the students fulfill their dance potential, either professionally or for recreational purposes? Ultimately, you prepare the best way you think will yield the answer “yes” to these questions and hope for the best. But as we always tell our AfroFeet (our African dance teaching programme) students, excellence is a good sign of preparedness.
I am excited about walking into class every time I teach because I know it is an opportunity for me to learn what I did not know the day before. I learn a lot about myself, about my students, about teaching methods, and every now and then my students teach me a thing or two about cultural dance movements. Frankly, teaching humbles you and makes you accept that you don’t know it all. It is important to take notes, during and after class, and not to rely on your memory alone. Our AfroFeet curriculum for example is always evolving evolving based on such notes and keeps getting better and better such that we received interest from Namibia and Zambia to train their teachers on teaching African dance styles.
It is also important to keep in my mind the symbolism of cultural African dance styles. Dinhe dance for example, practiced by the people in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo Province is a ritual dance performed after a bumper harvest. The people give thanks to their ancestors for providing them with a good yield. So in addition to teaching dance movement and choreography, you also take on the hat of a history, culture, heritage and moral teacher.
Becoming an effective dance teacher takes practice and like every artist, you have to stay loyal to your craft by constantly developing your skills every single day. Like achieving success in anything, I believe it is easy to attain it – however, I know it is also easy to avoid doing the easy things that propel you closer to success. I mention this because I know there are a lot of people who yearn to be teachers and one thing is for sure, you either are or will soon will be – consistency is key.
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