Most every teacher I know has run into this question in one form or another from new students–some of us hear it many times a year. “I saw ‘The World Famous Debbie Dancer’ on YouTube. Can you teach me to dance like her?”
The short answer? No.
The only slightly longer answer?
Neither can she!
No teacher can truly teach you to dance just like them. What they can provide you is tools for your own dance–tools perhaps they themselves used to arrive at their own personal style, which you can then take to create your own personal style.
I am here in Lincoln, Nebraska getting ready to teach my first of two workshops at the Tribal Dreams Festival, and over breakfast this morning was chatting with Jawahara of Chicago about teaching and workshops and the culture of the bellydance world today as we know it. And one phenomenon we were talking about was the propensity for some dancers to come to classes or workshops wanting to be or dance just like another dancer. Jawahara was talking about dancers who would look at old footage of Taheya Carioca and Samia Gamal, and wanting to emulate every little nuance of those dancer’s performances. For others, it might be like the many people who watch Rachel Brice or Aziza of Montreal, and try to make every single detail look and feel exactly the same.
It’s a good jumping-off point, but the question is, are you trying to be them, or do you want to be you inspired by them?
Jawahara and I agreed on many points, but one that I want to share with you here is that every single teacher, every single class, every single workshop has something to teach you. Much like when we talked about the steady diet of fusion (Fusion As Dessert), if all you ever feed yourself is one teacher’s interpretation, or one stylization, where is there room for you in the equation? And dammit, that’s the juiciest, awesomest part! YOU!
Even if your ultimate goal is to devote yourself to one particular style, it behooves you to be open to many dance experiences, and always always be looking at how your personal flavor is being injected into the final product. When you walk into a workshop, don’t just try to pick out finished ideas, sprung wholly formed from the instructor’s forehead. Instead, learn to look more critically at what is being offered–at the individual pieces of information that make up the body of work the teacher is sharing with you–and learn to parse out bits that really speak to you personally. Look at the information as a tool bag, not a shopping list.
Tomorrow at Tribal Dreams, I will be teaching “Cook Your Own Combos”–a workshop designed for just this kind of thought process. Learning to break down movement into individual components which we can then remix to reflect our own style. If you learn to see the dance as a collection of delicious spices and ingredients, rather than complete unalterable recipes, then you can cook up a new combo every day of the week and always inject your own flavor! I can’t teach you to dance like me, but I am happy to give you some tools to help you be your most fabulous self.