July 17, 2014

“Student Teachers” – A Common Dilemma

student teachers.jpg

student teachers.jpg a student and teacher of belly dance here in America, it has become quite common to see what I call “student teachers”, and while there can be both positive and negative notions, the long term negative effects are what have me alarmed.


There is no established curriculum of belly dance, no guideline as to how long one should train or what are MUST-DO items before one is to ever teach this art form, nor any written code of the ethics on the subject. In the middle east this is passed down generation to generation but this is America and we have structured and westernized the process to make it simpler to pass on the information to others here.


While there very well may never be a guideline, one issue that I would love to open the floor to you is the topic of “student teachers”. This term refers to individuals who have taken belly dance classes through a beginner level, and upon entering the intermediate level, branch off at some point and teach other students what they know, or are invited by their instructors to teach beginners level classes.


Here is my argument for why this is unhealthy in the long run:


1.     At the intermediate level, a student is precisely that, an intermediate dancer/student. We all start somewhere, we all progress, many know that a strong foundation of technique in this dance is important, but at the intermediate level I RARELY IF EVER, have seen a student who truly understands the basic cultural, musical, or sociological meaning of what they are portraying in this dance.


If one wishes to teach belly dance shouldn’t he/she must have at a minimum studied the roots of the dance, the regions and the difference that makes in the dance stylistically, major icons in the history of the dance, rhythms and their significance, significant composers, folklore studies and how that has shaped oriental and more modern styles today so they can intelligently convey to their students where movements come from and any stylistic modifications they may made to the movement, the ethics of this business, shouldn’t they have a strong understanding of the foundational movements and modifications, have an understanding of what muscles are and are not necessary to achieve clean and safe isolations and study of a proper warm up and stretch technique?


If all of this is not known before a person decides to teach this art form, then what are they really passing down? What are people b2ap3_thumbnail_apple-book.jpgstudying under these student teachers warped into believing to be belly dance?


2.     Student teachers by nature can foster the notion to others that belly dance can be learned quickly, easily, learned cheaply and after the intermediate level are “good enough” to go off on their own without need to be highly mentored.

Now this is not true for everyone, but in general that is what this action typically shows. Somehow it is acceptable to teach an art form to others with minimal education in this genre, but yet if it were another dance genre, that would never fly.


Sadly I have had a couple of student teachers pass through my curriculum. I have had one woman who came to me to take private lessons with me to learn belly dance. We began and after about 2 months it was time for her level one exam where she must show proficiency in belly dance fundamental movements, basic cultural understanding of Egypt and how it correlates to the dance and she failed. She failed the exam and worked hard to improve and retest. When she retested she passed and disclosed to me that she had begun teaching belly dance! WHAT!!! A week later she was busy setting up her teaching roster and left the curriculum. Wow!


Another student came to me to learn belly dance. She was young, pretty and self taught. We began to work on true belly dance fundamental technique, and what she was representing and she begins to talk about how she landed jobs belly dancing because it was fun and paid well! I explain that to work as a belly dancer should be much later, but she continues working as a “belly dancer”.  I can’t make her stop so I say that if she is to work this soon, even though I do not like it, then she needs to double up the training and study what she is representing. After a while I just couldn’t do it anymore…and now she teaches and dances at parties!


It is frustrating, you meet women who are smart, nice people, but it becomes about money, or about feeling beautiful, and where is the education? Where is the belly dance? How is it OK for a student to think it is fine to teach something they barely know themselves and make money off it? It is sad.

 Just yesterday I was sitting beside sa woman conversing with her friend and she was telling her friend that she was dumb for paying $20 to do a pilates class when she could just be doing pilates at home via youtube videos like she does for free! 

I open the floor to you…what are your thoughts on this epidemic here in the states?

5 Comments on ““Student Teachers” – A Common Dilemma

July 17, 2014 at 10:22 pm

It is a problem. One thing that is going to be an issue, is that last part… the changing times of people looking to the internet and streaming media for classes and instruction. We need to change with the times and offer online instruction, both live and recorded, one-on-one and group. This may help to some degree. Especially if articles like this and cultural links are posted alongside videos.

July 18, 2014 at 2:03 am

Oft times students come to us with only the desire to, “Shake It!” But does online class offer the proper practice and technique corrections of a live instructor. Should we cater to the, “I don’t have time or desire to go to the studio” mentality. Would you go to a Dr. who learned to do surgery online or fly with a pilot who has only done online simulations?? I don’t think that’s the answer! Nothing beats human to human interaction.

I think there will always be those who seek the easy path to success. Quality…well lack there of eventually will show itself. Those that truly want to learn the “Art of Belly Dance” look for and recognize quality while others are looking for and seek out microwave instruction, or come with the delusional notion that they will be a belly dancer, “In 3 easy 6week sessions.” Many of us have studied for YEARS and still feel we have soo much to still learn and absorb. As seasoned instructors it is our duty to always teach what we know to be proper form, culture, and history. The rest, I’m not sure what the solution.

August 7, 2014 at 5:24 pm

It is misleading to anyone when a “student-teacher” starts to be a professional (by teaching or getting gigs). The quality and the image of accomplished belly dancers is paying for it but I think they might eventually understand that. When people are asking questions and they feel stupid because they don’t know what is a kanoon or where baladi comes from and why we dance it this way, with this kind of costume… It’s prejudicial to the professional dancers, that’s the sadest thing.
I’ve been dancing for several years and just started solo a year ago but I keep learning everyday, every class (I don’t teach, I take classes), every technic exercise. I think that even when you are a professional, your dance keep evolving and you must keep taking workshops and classes. Never assume your knowledge is complete. That’s the key.

August 7, 2014 at 5:41 pm

yes Sophie, you said it perfectly! And yes the image of belly dance as a whole suffers due to this. No matter where one is, there is literally sooo much to learn in this artform, you can never stop learning. i don’t think a lifetime is still enough. it is a big responsibility to teach. why all the fuss to do so early? This is a big problem.

August 7, 2014 at 5:42 pm

For sure Cinderelly. This media rich world needs more options so people dont jsut learn off youtube but can have quality instruction online as well. Skype has been amazing for this, and online classes from rachel brice and tamalyn and so many others are wonderful too. I plan to join this evolution as well coming January. Knowledge is power


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