Last night I had nightmares about my dance teacher. Well, I had one nightmare, but it kept repeating. I don’t usually talk of my dreams, but it pretty much summed things up. I’d gone to talk to my teacher about the fact that her classes aren't challenging anymore, that she doesn’t seem to be pushing herself or us anymore, and that I am saddened to find that I’m getting more from my structured home-study of DVD’s, drills, and improvisation vs. structured chorography...Her solution was to make me teach her students the new things I’d learned outside of class…which wasn’t a solution to any of my problems and didn't make her a more chalenging teacher. I kept on awaking thinking “Nooooo, I don’t want to teach, I know what I am ready to teach and am not ready to teach. What I need is a teacher! A teacher who knows what she can and cannot do.”
The thing is, this dream scenario is not that far fetched. She’s asked me to teach little things to the class before, like a veil move I learned by going to Ansuya’s workshop, and on Saturday class nowadays I know her crazy drum solo choreography better than she does and sometimes I have to correct her because while reviewing the choreography she’s just skipped a move and thus confused the girls who will be performing. Sometimes I find myself asking questions on Saturday that I know the answers for (like, “You keep using the phrase isolated shimmy, can you explain how that is different from an Egyptian shimmy AND show us the difference?”) because I know the answer will help other students who seem confused about something. But I don’t want to teach what I know, I want to learn what I don’t.
Recently class and choreographies have gotten to a point where I wonder why I show up at all, and I need to sort out why, and what I need, because I know it’s going to get to the point where I discuss it with my teacher, and that’s always a mess. I’m not the only one, it would be fair to say that all gaijin in the troupe are going crazy and a few Japanese members have jumped ship.
What typically happens in a one hour “improv” class with my teacher nowadays.
-Stretching, and if I am unlucky we also do high impact bouncing. Nowadays I don’t imitate my teacher’s stretching form too closely, preferring to stretch the way I’ve been taught by DVD’s and other teachers. Recently stretching has including trying to do the splits, not because we’re doing any floor work that requires it, but because my teacher wants to be able to do the splits and figures scheduling it into class time will help her reach this goal.
- Some amount of time where we try to mimic how my teacher is dancing. She has introduced no new moves in over a year as far as I can tell. If someone’s form is horribly off she’ll correct it. Occasionally I am reminded to relax my shoulders. If I’m not getting feedback I see little difference between mimicking my teacher and mimicking a DVD, except the fact my teacher is 3-d and my performance DVD collection contains more complex moves.
-All of us in the intermediate to advanced classes had to put together a cd for a 26 minute dance set. We are slowly listening to each person’s cd, song by song. We may have finally finished listening to everyone’s first song. What do we do when we listen to the song? We improv dance. What does our teacher do during this time? She dances or tends to paper work. Do we get feedback on how we’re dancing? Rarely if ever. Two or three times she’s made us dance the same song focusing on some point (arms, shimmy, or - my favorite - dancing without ego). After the music is finished she gives that person some feedback on the choice of music….this is nominally helpful but repetitive…and I went through this back in March when I was told to assemble a full set. I don’t feel like I am learning much here, and without feedback on how I’m actually dancing I can’t see why this is any better than practicing at home.
-Practicing a new choreography. My teacher doesn’t like making choreographies and it shows when she makes them I don’t know why she doesn’t have Zilli or one of the choreo-savvy girls make one for us. My teacher’s choreographies do not include difficult moves, but they do contain random lefts and rights and such and are only confusing for lack of solid patterns and structure. Despite this, I learn them quickly…but I don’t care. Next we will be learning a choreography from a well known dancer/Dvd “Jillina’s drum solo”. It is a DVD I own, I know, and it is a beginners choreography. My teacher, the one day I was around while she started teaching it, is making mistakes that show me she hasn’t really worked through it well prior to teaching it. Once again, I don’t know why attending class to learn a DVD choreo I own is really helpful, unless my teacher gives me loads of feedback, but it seems her energies are spent remembering what she’s teaching us.
-And there is the in-class solo performance of the day. My teacher gives a bit of feedback, but on Saturdays sometimes tends to other things while the dancer is performing. In the past she has walked away to do paperwork while I was dancing.
My teacher doesn’t go to local workshops or study with any teachers nowadays. This worries me the most.
Why do I stay? A few friends and the fact I get jobs through my teacher. (sigh) Next month I'm back to my second teacher.