Advice for Dancers : Emotional Counsel and Practical Strategies
by Linda H. Hamilton
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A former Balanchine ballerina and popular "Dance" magazine columnist offers sensible advice for coping with the highs and lows, the achievements and challenges, the lifetime rewards and ever-present heartbreaks of the dance world
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"What do You Owe Your Dance Teacher,

besides a Christmas Fruitcake?"

by Najia Marlyz
Originally written for Caravan Magazine June 1, 1994
Rewritten and enhanced for Gilded Serpent, August 30, 2001

I find myself in the position of teaching more teachers these days, partially  because of the private lesson format of my studio instruction.  The work is fascinating because it shows just how wide the chasm between the ability to actually do something and the capability to articulate it and transmit it to others.  The motivation to teach and share one's art is a desire that should be examined with a jaundiced eye.

Teaching involves a selflessness that often does not often jibe with the egotism it takes to be an outstanding performer.  Perhaps that fact may be part of the reason that the exceptional teachers are nearly always those who have experienced a fulfilling career in dance before deeming themselves worthy of "passing on their legacy".

Isn't it a little sad that a youngish woman with beauty and talent would place herself in the position of showing others how to accomplish the recognition in the dance form that should be sought for herself when she is still at the peak of her stride?

Reflecting back on my own career, even though I spent nearly twenty years with two agencies dancing in the Western U.S.A. (mostly California and Nevada) for conferences, retirements, and promotional award ceremonies, my University years were spent learning the skill of teaching. Therefore, it took only a little encouragement from my teacher, Bert Balladine, and my closest supporters, for me to begin teaching Oriental dance (Belly dance) as my major calling in life. At that point I had only been performing for about three years.  Though premature by most standards, it seemed natural for me to lease space and begin a dance center which included Middle Eastern dance as only one of the offerings.  Looking back, it seems embarrassing that I still had so much to learn!   Naivete allowed me to teach an ethnic form without having traveled to the countries in which it originated!

My calling as an instructor was to inspire my students to believe in themselves and to share with them my love for the search for the essence of Raks Sharqi.  Back at the start of my career, hardly any of us had fully explored Middle Eastern culture.  I was honestly excited by the adventure.  I expect that I will always feel that my adventure into dance is incomplete.  When my own knowledge of dance and teaching stops evolving, I will definitely want to retire.  The joy is largely in the discovery!

If you are a dance student, you must stop relying upon your instructor or your several instructors for the information you need to perfect your version of Oriental dance.  There is no "one correct way to dance" and there is no instructor quite like life itself, travel, and personal interactions with Middle-eastern culture and dance to coax your dance to the fore.

Though Oriental dance is folkloric in its origins, it is not a folkdance per se and it cannot and should not be taught or pursued in that manner.   

If you are motivated to teach because you think you will be a "nobody" if you don't, you have been misled! Many great dancers though-out history never felt compelled to take on such a heavy responsibility for such a small return.  The accomplished dancer or dance student is rare who is charismatic and who gives as well as receives

Many dancers do not become aware until late in the life of their careers that more is owed to the teacher than the class fee.  Before you begin to feel defensive about my statement, let's explore just what I think you owe your teacher besides the class fee and a fruitcake at Christmas.

  • What you owe to your teacher is to be true to yourself about your dance. 
  • You owe your teacher your continued individual effort towards finding new music, going to see dance of all forms, bringing to the lesson and to your dance something beyond what you have been spoon-fed.
  • Certainly, attending workshops in dance is a significant part of that process. 
  • You cannot, so far as I know, be reborn into the Middle-eastern culture, but you can read extensively, travel study music, poetry, art, language and customs of the area.
  • Never be satisfied that you can take somebody else's choreography, learn it perfectly and dance or teach it repeatedly without adding your personal message or your own creativity into the outcome. 
  • If you believe you do not have much creative energy, quit Oriental dance and go into folk dance or sports.

Just as a great dancer must close the circle and bring "self" to the creation of a unique dance, a teacher has an even greater responsibility to research the dance and invent methods of transmission of the "why" rather than the "how".  If teaching a bunch of steps to eager and grateful students were all there is to the process, life would truly be an uninspiring venture.

We owe it to each other, learners and teachers alike, to stay open and vital to the adventures possible through ethnic dance.

Ready for more?

more by Najia-
11-19-01 "A Star Remembered, The Maturation of a Career in Performing"
last thing in the world that I wanted for myself and my own dance career was to be a "forty year old belly dancer".

10-28-01 "Faddah" (Silver) by Hossam Ramzy, A Review and Commentary by Najia El-Mouzayen
Dancers who have enjoyed many of Hossam Ramzy's 16 other CDs will doubtlessly be thrilled by this
beautifully produced collection of new music.

1-22-02 The Healing power of Dance by Sharifa
Many dancer enthusiasts I have encountered come from wounded childhoods.

12-25-01 Najia's gift -Stage-worthy Names for Dancers
A whole book of names in a PDF file!


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