Sometimes I watch my student’s dance with such great concentration that I get goose bumps and chills up my spine. It’s when I am in amazement of their creative “natural state of being”.

 

As a teacher the ability to ‘teach’ another dancer is a position that I don’t take lightly. It is an honor.

 

In the beginning of my classes most of my students can’t wait to get started learning our ancient art form. And for those students who come to me with experience they can’t wait to learn something different. When class starts I am always in amazement at the array of talent and enthusiasm in each student.

 

This is the best time and it is a reminder as to why every year I teach and nurture the aspiring belly dancer to be.

 

The relationship that develops between a teacher and student in any form of learning is a crucial one. Unfortunately I can’t say that all my relationships with my students were the best. Why this happens has been perplexing to me for years. But after years of teaching I often think back remembering some of the interesting situations that have come up with some of my students. Some of these experiences I would like to share with you. Maybe in sharing I will be able to help other teachers out there to see what “not” to do with your students.

 

The studio that I had a few years ago was a sanctuary for dancers to come in and feel creative and dance freely. This I thought was what everybody wanted who walked through my front door…. well, not quite.

 

Teaching is one thing but counseling is another. Students would come in and bring in problems, issues, and occasionally bad habits. Now, as a teacher I would give them the best class that I could but eventually I wasn’t leaving the studio until late at night because of my “counseling sessions”. This was nobody’s fault but my own. Well what do you suppose happened? I became involved advising some of my students on issues outside of dance. And eventually these late night talks came back to bite me in my (you know where).

 

You must first and foremost be their dance teacher…period. As I learned the hard way that is all I was really required to do. But it is hard when a student confides in you to turn your back on her or him and insist that they keep their issues and problems outside the studio. I don’t know a dance teacher who is a friend of mine who can do that. We all want our students to be happy because they in a way become an extension of us. But this is unrealistic because our students are individuals when they walk in the front door and they will continue on in life whether they stay with us or not. I found I did not live in a glass house so I needed to stop being “Leyla the advisor”.

 

At one point I have to tell you I really thought I had an invisible sign that read:

 

“If you are a little odd come to my studio”

One couple came into my studio and brought their marital problems with them every time they had class with me.

 

You can imagine the sarcastic remarks, snide grimaces, and shocking language that was tossed back and forth across the dance floor.

 

Another student decided she wanted to become a vampire. (That’s a whole other story)

 

Than there was the student that had two nervous break downs in class to the point I literally had to hold her up and get her to breathing normally as she was crying uncontrollably. She would hold up class for up to 20 minutes.

 

There was a student who was the tantrum queen if she didn’t understand a combination or if she didn’t get that “personal” attention. She would go and sulk in the corner until I told her to get back into class. That was her queue to tell me “no”. And she would sit and glare at me throughout the rest of class eventually leaving with a major chip on her shoulder.

 

Last but not least was the alcoholic dancer who was so “bubbly” in class that she was continually coming on to some of the other students and their spouses. Though, she could never remember any of her inappropriate conduct and was in disbelief when confronted with her actions.

 

Now, I can’t say everybody has had these kinds of situations but what I realized is that people can’t help but bring their emotional baggage that they are experiencing in life into class. But there are certain lines that cannot be crossed within a studio. So what did I do with students like the ones I mentioned? It was simple; I asked them to leave the studio. The studio was no longer respected by these students. Mutual respect between teachers and students is a must.

 

I have had a few students who were disappointed in me because they felt I didn’t know as much as they thought I should. This is what I call the “pedestal syndrome”. They quickly put me up on a pedestal only to knock me off at the first hint of disappointment. My first experience with the “pedestal syndrome” was when I had an audition at my studio for my students to have a chance to perform with a local band at one of the casinos here in our area. I had informed the girls ahead of time that I would have snacks and drinks including some alcohol so those dancers apprehensive could have a little something to calm their nerves. The head musician came and all went well I thought. He made his choice and thanked me profusely for having the audition and he thanked the girls for dancing for him. But it all landed on deaf ears. The girls who were not picked got very upset and blamed me. They said he was insulting and that they felt like pieces of meat. The two girls that he picked were my newest students and of course they got picked because they flirted with him according to “these” dancers. All in all I was cornered in my own studio and berated because I should have known better and how could I let any of that happen. I was told that I was not the teacher they thought I was. Students took sides and I lost 4 because of the audition.

 

My first mistake was thinking that these students could handle the disappointment of not being picked. So they were right, I should have known that. The ego is a very fragile and shallow part of the human emotions. It doesn’t take much for it to break and for any us to fall apart. I realized at that moment that the dancers who were so quick to put me up on a pedestal were the ones with the most fragile egos. A fragile ego always needs a scapegoat because nobody wants to admit that they weren’t good enough. And if they weren’t good enough to be picked than it had to be my fault. I was their teacher and I should have done better. This was a great lesson for me because I realized that what I had given my students couldn’t be appreciated. They had no guidelines or experience to know that what I did was in the safety of the studio. I knew this because of my auditions I went through over the years. I experienced some really horrible auditions. You can’t give to your students what they can’t appreciate. They won’t respect you for it and you will end up losing them as students.

 

It’s also important to know when to let your students go. There were a few times that my students didn’t want to go to other teachers. I insist that my students take from as many teachers as possible because I feel they will progress faster. But there are those students that come to us who complain about other studios and teachers. So as a teacher what do we do? If someone says that you are so nice and so and so is so mean and she would much rather take from you, how do you handle it? It’s quite the question because what we say in our dance community will usually get back to the person we talked about. I had a student that came in and told me she had been to many studios and was treated terribly. So I told her stay with me and we’ll see how things go. Well low and behold she was telling the other studios how mean I was during the time she was taking classes from me. So she was taking from all of us and telling each teacher how mean the other teachers were. Eventually a student like this leaves because she can’t ever be satisfied. She creates chaos because if she fails she can blame all her teachers. You can’t take it personal when a student leaves you either in good conditions or bad. Either way we must wish them off on their journey with light and love. This is what our dance is all about.

 

So what does any of this mean? It means that as long as any of us are willing to teach others this amazing dance form, we will be in the forefront of aspiring belly dancers hopes, dreams, disappointments and disillusionments. And as long as we continue to learn and grow ourselves we can than become the teachers our students will hold in their hearts as they become the next generation of teachers. And as teachers, what better success can we have than to know that this dance will thrive and grow long after we are gone.

 

Leyla Najma is a professional belly dancer with 25 years experience teaching and performing as well as writing with articles recently published in “The Chronicles”.

Every day, drivers across New York double-park their cars as street sweepers pass by, a practice known as alternate-side parking. A new bill before the City Council could change the dance….

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