Reflections of a Wannabe Dance Teacher

Trinity_Academy_of_Irish_DanceAs long as I can remember, my life has pretty much revolved around dance. I was three when I first watched an Irish dancing performance, was hooked on Riverdance from the time I was four and my neighbor gave me a VCR. I’ve been taking class the past 12 years of my life, and competing for the last 8. But now I’m seventeen, and it’s time to look into the future: college, a career. How can dance fit into the picture? It’s not easy with all the uncertainty.

The answer came (at least sort of) when I turned up to class too early one day in mid-November, and I watched a beginner doing a move wrong. Normally, I would have let it slide—my teacher would fix it later, when the class wasn’t so large—but, honestly, seeing this step done wrong killed me. So I walked over, and I taught the dancer how to do it properly. My teacher saw, and invited me to come assistant teach the following class. And so I did. Turns out, I love it.

One of the most emotional days of teaching was when I taught a beginner jig to a young dancer. This particular dancer, while talented, would have most likely been better off in our first beginner class, but she had moved into the second level because her friends had been moved up and the class was getting quite large. That Saturday morning, the dancer and I spent a good 45 minutes working on the newly-taught steps. I wrote this “note to myself” after this class:

The life I changed today was not really my own. It was my student’s. [My teacher] said that she’d never seen [the student] so involved, so focused. Today, I reminded a little girl that she can dance. Today, I was the teacher I would have wanted. I did work that I can be proud of, and work that I’m good at. Today was pretty great!!!!!

A different day, a student and I jumped around in order to celebrate that she fixed an enormous problem in her dancing—she would only hit the side of her foot in hard shoes, making very little noise. The week before, I’d advised her to practice doing the move with weight in the middle of her foot, so that we could hear her better. I’d also warned her that such a big change would most likely take weeks of practice to fix. But there she was a week later, looking (and sounding) so much better. I could see the hours of careful practice she had put into the step, and it was exhilarating.

That’s not to say it’s all easy, or that every class is a huge breakthrough. Take this week. I worked with a dancer who, while she could greatly benefit from the structure and positive nature of my dance school, can be incredibly frustrating to work with. She’ll directly defy instructions, cry at the drop of the hat (especially if you point out where she has made a mistake) and often complains. This Saturday, her eyes filled with tears when I informed her that I needed to see the first step, or the last portion of the dance, and she was certain the term meant the full dance. To many a young dancer, this could have been laughed off, but for this dancer, it wasn’t. For me, this argument meant another roadblock between a positive and successful interaction with a girl I wanted to encourage. I hate arguing with a student—I just want a student to be able to improve, both as a dancer and as a person, and fighting only makes me feel incredibly frustrated. As a teacher, it is harder to work with students who constantly argue—those kids convince me that they do not want to be there, and makes the road to a positive relationship so much harder. Then, there are the problems within the teaching community. What does one say when a senior teacher you deeply respect and admire openly favors the male dancers in the class because of their “unique male energy,” and claims that their (generally, quite average) dancing is spectacular? When another equally capable, normally excellent teacher calls a student who had an especially rough day in class an “attention whore?”

Overall, in the time I’ve worked, I have collected the occasional horror story, but I’ve also collected a lot of memories that made me feel so proud of the kids, their hard work, and their relationships with one another. It’s a joy to see the over 2-3’s slowly making progress, the sevens becoming more controlled and the rocks in the Saint Patrick Day set more neatly done each practice. I can’t wait to see what the next class, or the next year, will bring. I’m going to end this how one of my fellow teachers ends class each week: Good work today, and don’t forget to thank your grown-ups for taking you today!

For more information about dance, check out my prior Push to Talk posts on the subject:

-Emma, Greenwood, Teen Blogger


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