I have often been asked by dancers in small towns or remote areas about the dilemma of not having a teacher in their area, and what they can do to learn and dance with others as they would like. Particularly for us ATS/Tribal dancers, you can’t really dance without a group to dance WITH, so it can be frustrating to be stuck without a community to draw from. Many times they think their only option is to start teaching themselves. And in some cases, that may be true…IF the student has prepared themselves to teach either through extensive experience studying under another professional teacher, and/or done a teacher training program with a trusted mentor.
There is often this impression in the bellydance world that a teacher is just the person with the most experience, or essentially: “in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is King.” I don’t agree with this sentiment, and feel strongly that one should only teach when they have trained appropriately, not just because no one else has studied much either!
So what is there to do when one finds themselves in a town or region without a qualified teacher, and they themselves are not yet prepared to become a teacher themselves? Form a dance collective! Read on…
For dancers who find themselves in an area where there are no qualified teachers, or no teachers in a particular style you wish to study, I recommend creating a Dance Collective or Club. Find other dancers interested in the dance, and meet once a week, or once every other week, or once a month–whatever works best for everyone. Meet at someone’s house or rotate meeting at different dancers’ houses, or if the group is too large or no appropriate free space is available, chip in $ to rent a space together. Then everyone take turns bringing a lesson, a video, a costuming project, something to share with the group. Then everyone explores that concept together for the duration, playing with it and turning it over and around to learn more about it, and end with some jam time. Keep rotating the responsibility of bringing the lesson. Don’t let people just be hangers-on–everyone needs to contribute, so no one becomes a de-facto teacher or leader. Keep it equal and democratic as much as possible. Having one or two people to facilitate is good, to manage communications on where you are meeting, collecting money for rent, etc; but they should not be expected to teach or lead more than anyone else in the group. This keeps the group on even ground, and makes it so no one burns out on trying to keep things afloat while others are just taking advantage.
You can make it even more fun by rotating a snack-master! Or a wine master! Everyone takes a turn bringing a nibble or a drink to share with the group. You may choose different themes to work on each month or each quarter, such as different dance styles, geographical regions, music styles, troupes or dancers you admire and want to study, or what have you. This will keep things fresh and give you all a way to focus your energies and try new things.
As it grows, you can pool your energies and finances to host instructors in your town, sharing the financial burden with everyone benefiting from the chance to study with a professional teacher. You could put on community haflas or parties, and other networking opportunities to expand your group. The possibilities are endless. So no one is a teacher, it isn’t a troupe…it’s a collective, if you will. Everyone contributes, everyone benefits!