'The work of the instructor is an art, and what a great art! The artist creates the role; the teacher molds the personality of the artist into one capable of creating an artistic image…Let us not discuss who is more important. Let us agree that the work of the artist and the work of the teacher are both arts'
How easy it is for dance teachers to undervalue themselves and we probably all do it at one time or another. When the daily grind of teaching starts to wear us down and the students just don't seem to be co-operating or improving it can be disheartening and downright depressing. It seems that we are always trying to prepare our students for something, a performance, a competition, an examination or just trying to teach them how to stand up straight and look like a dancer! It is at these times that it is important to remember that not only do we need to celebrate ourselves but also all dance teachers around the world. Those words used by Galina Ulanova, a supreme artist in her own right, really do sum up what we do for a living.
So where is the art in teaching, you may ask yourself, especially when you survey all your students. Is there only art in teaching your most advanced students? Does art really come in to it when you have a class of beginner, recreational students? Sometimes it is hard to believe but the art is there if you permit it to be. In fact I have found that unless I make a conscientious effort to really concentrate on the artistic side of teaching it is easy to become disenchanted with myself and my classes. I love dance with such a passion and it has been my main focus in life since I took my first dance class at the age of three that I decided a long time ago that it is my obligation to pass as much of that on as possible to my students.
Of course the lesson plans must be made and the classes must be controlled but the emphasis needs to always be on the artistic side of what dance really is. That is the biggest 'hook' of all to keep our students engaged and ready to learn and to keep the 'fun' in learning to dance. It is when we challenge the imaginations of our students and see the results and when we observe that they really understand that the reason we devote so much time to learning and perfecting technique is to give them the total freedom to use their artistic and creative ability that they can truly appreciate us as teachers.
What can we do to help our students develop and achieve both good technique and artistry? We have to feel it ourselves first and then find ways to bring it out in our students. I think it starts with the whole atmosphere of the class from the moment you walk through the door to the end of the class. Each of us has our own way of teaching and bringing out the best in our students and we each need to retain our individuality to keep it real for ourselves. Sometimes just remembering our own feelings for a teacher who inspired us helps remind us of how they helped to not only shape our dance lives but our personal lives too.
What defines a great teacher? From my perspective I believe that personality is the number one criteria to be a great teacher because it opens the doors to the student's minds that might otherwise be closed. Personality entices the students to want to take your classes and then be receptive to what you have to say. Personality makes the technique and all the hard work involved palatable and keeps them coming back for more. This is why I think that it is so important for dance teachers to keep concentrating on themselves. To keep developing themselves and to find new ways to not only strengthen the technique of our students but also to encourage them to find ways to use their artistry.
So, here's a toast to all dance teachers for all the care and thought that you put into your classes and for all the hours of preparation and guidance that you give to your students. The world is a better place because of you.