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Doing vs. Teaching

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Cooking and TeachingI am a pretty competent cook. When people eat my cooking, I get lots of compliments, and I know my way around my kitchen. But if someone asked me to teach a six week course on cooking, I am not sure I would do such a great job. I think the best I could offer would be to teach a different recipe every week. I would definitely teach the ones I know best, not necessarily the ones someone should learn as a foundation for strong cooking skills. I wouldn’t be able to talk very competently about what went into making the recipe, be able to clearly explain why the flavors balance the way they do, or confidently suggest what substitutions one might be able to make to tweak the flavors or caloric contents…

I wouldn’t be able to talk about cookware, and what to look for in a good pan–I use the pans I have and they work fine, but a true chef and cooking teacher might be able to make better recommendations. I couldn’t teach good knife technique, or how to do that cool jerk-the-pan action which flips things effortlessly, since I have never had to develop those skills as someone who just cooks for herself at home. I was never fully trained to cook, so I don’t know very what one needs to train others to cook. I doubt I would have people leaving the room in disgust, but I also wouldn’t be able to turn out folks much better than myself, let alone prepared to work in restaurants one day.

Of course, this is all a metaphor for dance teaching. Many dancers think that if they can dance, they can teach dance. And they are two very different skills to study! One may be able to execute moves beautifully, and yet not really be prepared to help others achieve that same goal. Much like with cooking, to be a good cooking teacher, you need to know more than just the recipe. You have to understand much more detail about food, spices, cookware, and technique, (not to mention safe food handling and other important information I can’t even begin to think of since I am not a cooking trainer!). To just teach a move as a simple movement, or even muscular contraction isn’t really enough to really train other students in how to dance.  One must have some knowledge of anatomy, and understanding safe practices with stretching/warm-ups and movement execution, have a grasp of Middle Eastern rhythms and musical structure which in turn drives musical interpretation, body line/posture, and presentation, and much more. When teaching a movement, it’s important to know the different ways students learn, and be able to explain concepts several different ways to be able to guide different kinds of learners in your classroom.  Knowing some of the history of the dance you are doing, including current culture of the dance regionally and beyond, is also key. The depth of knowledge seems endless, and one doesn’t need to “know it all” to teach, but…

Simply put, knowing how to do something isn’t knowing how to teach something. If more teachers understood that, we would have better teachers, better students, and a stronger community of dancers in general!

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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

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    That is an excellent metaphor!

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    Yes! As a professional yoga instructor, with over 2000 hours of teacher training and 17 years of personal practice, I distinguish the classes that I teach from “monkey see, monkey do” type of yoga class (which, sadly, is the most prevalent kind).

    You, Shay, are both an amazing dancer AND an amazing teacher. Not all people can embody both, but your teaching, which is clear, precise, informed, and ever-evolving is what hooked me on your classes!

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