When I was first starting out, a good friend and teacher (we’ll call her Sally), told me the following cautionary tale:
Once upon a time on a little island called Manhattan, Sally was going out to meet an old dance friend. Although they had studied from the same teacher, their careers had taken them in different directions. As such, they hadn’t been in touch for a few years and were both largely unaware of how each other’s dance careers had progressed during that time. Naturally, after making the usual small talk, the conversation turned to dance. Both seemed to be doing very well. They were teaching and performing as much as they wanted, but Sally was curious. “Who do you study with now?” she asked.
“Oh, I teach,” was the response.
“Right. But who do you study with?”
“No. I teach.”
In that moment, it all became clear. Sally felt her respect for her old friend slip just a few notches. While once upon a time, Sally had very much enjoyed working and dancing with this woman, she had become one of the Unteachables. One of those teachers who fails to recognize the value of learning from others and isolates his or herself in his/her own bubble of a career. The Unteachables never take someone else’s workshop, no matter how legendary the artist’s talents, and you certainly won’t find them taking regular classes from any of the local teachers (who they probably view as competition rather than artistic peers). They know what they know, and they think it’s enough.
Let’s face it. We all know ’em, and unfortunately, we have to tolerate their presence in our communities. Often, the Unteachable has a successful career, but rather than use that momentum to push her work to the next level, she decides to no longer take class from anyone but herself. She has her students and her regular gigs. She’s making a living, so why spend the money to continue learning and growing?
Here is the argument I would make to these Unteachable Teachers in the hopes that they might consider changing their ways:
- Learning is just plain old exciting! At the New York Theatrical Bellydance Conference, I asked Kaeshi Chai, who I often spot taking other people’s workshops, why she continued to take class when she’s more or less done it all (Bellydance Superstars, Bellydance Evolution, BellyQueen, PURE, the list goes on). Her simple reply, “Because it’s fun!” And that’s really the essence of it, isn’t it? Trying something new has an innate sense of play, and in these hectic times, we could all stand a little more playtime.
- You’ll never get caught with your pants down! I hate (as in capital H, Hate) being caught off guard or unprepared. It makes me get all awkward and flustered and is really just a terrible experience. So by learning as much as I can from as many people as I can, I significantly reduce that risk. I want to be able to do anything that anyone throws at me so I’ve studied from the Egyptian heavy-hitters, the glitterati of Cabaret, and the Tribal Fusion greats. Always better to be over prepared than underprepared, don’t you think?
- Nobody’s watching you, and if they are, you’re probably inspiring them! I’m not going to lie, when I see a teacher/Super Famous Person come in to take class, I say to myself, “Oh! I should make a point of watching her. I might learn something.” And then the class begins, and I’ve got sweat in my eyes, and my left hip drop won’t cooperate, and before you know it, class is over and I have no idea what anyone else did or looked like. On the rare occasion that I do get to watch said Super Famous Person in class, like on across the floor exercises, I get super excited when they make mistakes, but not for the reasons you’re thinking! It shows me that they too are human, and that if they can have the courage to suck at something until they get it right, then I can too! You see? So there’s no reason to avoid class, or sit down when you get out of your comfort zone. Keep going, because you’re setting the room on fire with your shining example of hard work and determination!
But for those Unteachable Teachers who refuse to change their ways and think they know it all, I hereby dub thee Knights of the Kingdom of Bellyflop. To put it bluntly, the day you stop learning is the day you start falling behind. You are doing a direct disservice to your audiences, the community, your students, and most especially, yourself. Happily, the solution is simple, and it’s never too late to change your ways! Grab the nearest $20 bill, and go to a class. Anyone’s class! I promise that once you’re back in the studio as a student, you’ll kick yourself for not doing it earlier. You’ll leave much more inspired than when you entered, and you’ll never go back to your old bellyflopping ways.