Bellyflop #3: The Unteachable Teacher

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.”

“Oh.”

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:

  1. 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.

    I took Yamil's class at the Miami Bellydance Convention for the hell of it. Turns out I have a knack for the Argentinian style, and now it's my favorite form outside of Tribal Fusion bellydance.
    I took Yamil’s class at the Miami Bellydance Convention for the hell of it. Turns out I have a knack for the Argentinian style, and now it’s my favorite form outside of Tribal Fusion bellydance. Who knew?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

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8 thoughts on “Bellyflop #3: The Unteachable Teacher

  1. Great post – I’ve missed your blog posts! 🙂
    I do agree with everything you’ve written – it’s so important to never stop learning!

    I teach for the same studio that I take classes with. Sometimes I even teach the class that I’m in – which has it’s own ups and downs. But if I stopped taking that class, the closest belly dance class to me would be an hour’s drive from my current classes (which is already +-25min drive from my house).
    I think that for those in a similar situation to me, learning from DVDs or Online classes could be an ideal solution. It stops you from going “stale”, and although it’s no substitution for the real deal, it’ll have to do. 🙂

    1. Thanks, lady! I’m glad to be back behind the keyboard.

      It’s definitely tricky going between teacher and student at the same studio, but I’m sure you do it with grace and can attest to the fact that it’s better than nothing.

      And I absolutely agree regarding DVDs/online classes. Now that I no longer live in Manhattan, I only get class time with a real human being when I can afford the expensive trek into the city, but by using tools like Datura Online, I’m keeping things fresh and interesting in my personal practice, and that absolutely carries over to my classes and performances.

  2. YAY! was just thinking the other day that it would be great to see a blogpost from you again! been ages! And yes i agree with everything you have said, I love seeing the famous dancers join in with the rest of us… its so inspiring and its exciting to me that no-matter how long I am involved in this dance form, i will never ever be bored… there is just far too much to learn! This year i took over the studio I was a student at officially and i now teach all the classes.Its been really great to get together with a couple of other teachers from other studios and all learn ATS (the first FCBD sister studio in our province started this year) for the first time together. It is great having one day a week where i get to be a student again as i have missed it!

    I love learning and wish financially i could do more in other belly styles or even in other dance styles, but for now my focus is on tribal related studies as that is our studio focus. Being first generation tribal teachers in a country that is at the bottom of Africa and therefore geographically isolated from all the happenings and opportunities available in the Americas and Europe is hard, but i feel a shift is happening and as we slowly build the blocks and foundation of tribal in SA I see more of us are devouring the opportunities that increased access to online classes, streaming video, skyping etc has made available. It has brought the global community a little nearer to our tip of Africa. We may be doing things more slowly down here, but its not called “Africa time” for nothing;)

    I also see those teachers who are not willing to learn, share and be involved in the community getting shifted bit by bit out of the limelight. not by others deliberate intentions, but because if you don’t want to join in, then opportunities won’t be there for you to take- simple!

    When you stop learning, that is the level you stay at!
    looking forward to more posts!
    Tarah

  3. So true! The more I learn, the more I realise I want to learn, and the more I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of what’s out there. And like you, I love seeing super-awesome dancers alongside me in workshops struggling with the rest of us – it gives me hope that I can be that awesome one day.

  4. Learning is good for your body, your career, and your brain. Why would anyone want to deny themselves that? Especially with so many great workshops, on-line classes and DVDs out there for the teacher who is too busy to commit to a weekly in-person class.

  5. I’d also like to say to those teaching, that when another teacher comes into your class, please consider it a compliment, not a challenge. I have had a couple of bad experiences with teachers who felt threatened by having a out of town teacher (me) take their class just for fun. It happened twice, and was so unpleasant that I hesitate to do it again.

  6. Great post, Jenna! And applicable to life as well as dance. If you’re not open to learning, growing, and trying new moves you are stagnating – you are not living life to the fullest. Ironically, when you don’t take the risk of learning new moves you run the greater risk of “being caught with your pants down.” In life, this is never where you want or need to be. As in dance.

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