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What Are the Qualifications of a Dance Teacher?

"For Beginners"
(reprinted from ZAGHAREET! Sept/Oct. 2003)
by Anthea Kawakib Poole

   This month I'm featuring material written by my former teacher, Bedia (Sandra Doubleday, M.A. Dance Education). (A longer version of this article previously appeared in Middle Eastern Dancer magazine which is no longer in publication.)
   Sandy, who's semi-retired from dance and has numerous other pursuits filling her life in sunny Florida, graciously allowed me to quote so extensively that I should just call her a guest writer for this issue's column.

   A personal introduction: I not infrequently thank the powers that be for leading me to study with Bedia. I'm also indebted to Zarifa Said (Libby Parker) for handing me the workshop flyer that brought me to Bedia's door. I switched from Zarifa to Bedia because the location was a little closer (still over an hour from home at that time), I would have been in good hands either way, but I thank her nonetheless.

   Disclaimer! Please don't read this and start resenting, belittling, or openly questioning your teacher if you think she doesn't measure up - it would be difficult to fulfill all these qualifications all the time, and you may not even understand how your teacher is accomplishing some of these goals. Rather, use this article as a springboard to a deeper understanding of what dance is all about, and a deeper appreciation of all a teacher takes on in every class. But, if this doesn't sound like your teacher AT ALL, you may want to look around at other possibilities.

What To Look For In a Dance Teacher

by Bedia (Sandy McQueen)

  1. Teacher's Objectives: What evidence is there of teaching for specific, measurable, observable goals for students, both for class and over the "long run"?
  2. Motivation & Readiness for Dance: Evidence of carefully planned warm-ups designed effectively and appropriately for dance activities that will follow? Teacher's ability to focus student's attention and bring them mentally, physically, and emotionally to a state of readiness to learn?
  3. Development of Movement Sequence: Logically developed dance activities that provide for axial work (center work, isolations), traveling steps (movement across the floor, through space), a variety of movement dynamics, choreography, interpretation of music, development of rhythm and timing, speed, agility, and creative development of the individual dancer?
  4. Communication of Information: Teacher's ability to present "steps" or movements using a variety of approaches - clear, precise movement descriptions, clear verbal instructions, auditory and kinesthetic cues, evidence of anatomical understanding of movement, use of imagery.
  5. Student Assessment and Evaluations: Teacher's ability to measure students' skills prior to class experience, during student performance in class, and particularly in terms of accomplishing objectives at the end of class. Teacher's provision for constant individual feedback, EFFECTIVE corrections. Teacher's ability to handle different levels within the class, to adapt work for individuals with varying skills.
SUMMARY: Look for evidence of a structured approach to teaching leading to successful mastery of technique and performance skills.

That's a lot to think about isn't it? And we haven't even mentioned the additional specialized knowledge and skills pertinent to teaching an ethnic dance art like belly dance (history, culture of the specific country/people; various styles, genres).

One could liken someone who "teaches too soon" (before becoming an accomplished performer) to a teenager who has a child. (I feel I can make this comparison since I and two of my daughters were teenage mothers!). It's not a tragedy, but would probably work better if a mature, fully-grown person took on the job.
After some years of teaching I can also add that a teacher should evidence effective personal management skills (tact, diplomacy) to handle difficult/disruptive students, club owners/managers, and  musicians; and communicate a clear policy on ethics and standard practices in the dance community.

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