Those who can, teach

Mar 3, 2021

Martha Buss

Martha Buss

Opinion & Experience

It is fair to say that families across the country have had their admiration for teachers re-instated whilst attempting to home-school children over the COVID-19 lockdown. Enthusiasm, charisma and patience are just a few of the skills needed to uphold an authoritative and respectful relationship between a teacher and their students. I believe this is true across all subjects and settings – yet in practice, is a lot easier said than done. Teaching makes up a large chunk of employment in the dance sector and is the crucial key to its continuation, as there is always a new generation to inspire. If you are considering a career in teaching you ultimately need to care: care about the creative industries, care about your student’s progression and care about accurate and safe delivery.

Unfortunately, variations of the provocative phrase ‘those who can’t do, teach” hover like a dark cloud above the profession and are a rightful cause of anger amongst the teaching community. Certainly in application to dance, this mind-set is fundamentally flawed by a basic lack of acknowledgement towards the level of physical skill required to pass qualifications! From a young age, I was uncomfortable with how teaching dance was talked about as a ‘backup’ if you weren’t successful in the pursuit of a performing career. Secondly, but no less damaging, only something you would consider once retired from dancing professionally. Fortunately, there are educational routes available to those wise enough to reject this and passionate enough to commit their working life directly to teaching, e.g. Canterbury Christ Church’s undergraduate degree in Dance Education. I also think it’s important to note that turning to teaching later in your career, as an ex-performer, should not be seen as an easy or safe option. It still requires a period of training in order to successfully deliver your expertise and experience in a credible educational format.

Difficult scenarios will likely present themselves to newly qualified dance teachers and there will be times you doubt your ability. There is not a book you can read or a course you can take that will prepare you for every eventuality in teaching! In a given group you will always have a variety of opinions, experiences and abilities. A memory that springs to mind when admiring this command is being taught Dance at Key Stage 3 level. My classes (merged into the Physical Education curriculum) certainly had a common trend of peers kicking up a fuss about taking part. Teachers must be prepared and equipped to navigate this fear of creative vulnerability, masked as being too ‘cool’ to get sweaty: remaining encouraging without pandering to hormonal teenagers. This unpredictability is arguably one of the joys of being a dance teacher as every day is different, but it certainly makes approaching the job that little bit more daunting.

Developing confidence with such skills takes years of practice and so the profound approach of ‘fake it till you make it’ can be useful in this process and is one that I have personally trialled! I always intended to acquire basic experience of teaching in order to inform and refine my career ambitions. Despite the nerves, I thought it wise not to rule opportunities out until tried and tested. Teachers of mine that I note as being influential were those who enforced behavioural expectations and demonstrated admirable skill/knowledge whilst remaining approachable and I was curious to see how I would cope in an attempted re-staging of this. Between supporting youth classes for Rambert at their London headquarters and travelling to France to deliver a programme of contemporary dance classes at the Zen Meditation & Yoga Retreat Centre, I have gained a glimpse into the challenges and rewards of teaching dance. Working with children and vulnerable groups in particular really brought home my appreciation of movement therapy, seeing how dance can be used to successfully promote wellbeing and improve health, as well as give confidence to the shyest of participants.

I would describe myself as an assertive and out-going person yet would get easily tongue-tied when delivering instructions in the studio, even messing up my 5, 6, 7, 8’s. There were certain pressures I couldn’t account for when planning my classes. As much as I could rehearse the exercises and choreography, standing in the metaphorical spotlight and managing the feeling of responsibility occasionally crippled my (usually unimpeded) voice. Yet I am wholly glad I threw myself in the deep end with each of my teaching experiences. Despite not wishing to make it a regular feature in my career, the lessons I learnt and skills I managed to hone continue to support my professional work today.

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