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 studying 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?