Teaching What We Know

I have seen a lot of social media posts on dance teacher websites in which teachers are asking for information on how to teach a particular genre of dance in which they are not experienced. Some of these teachers proclaiming “I’ve been teaching since I’m 12!” I’ve actually found some of these posts shocking. I am not talking about qualified teachers sharing ideas about how they teach. I am referring to teachers who are unfamiliar with a genre or technique trying to figure out a way to teach something about which the know next to nothing. I have resisted commenting on these posts. I know that I have very strong opinions, but I always try to present my opinions without criticizing others for their’s. I do believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion and I love the discussions where different opinions are expressed.

I am well aware that I do not fully understand the economic problems of running a small neighborhood dance studio, especially one that is not in a major city. And my only experience in the competition dance world has been as a guest teacher in numerous competition studios (I LOVE visiting these schools to expose the dancers to different ways of working). So with no knowledge of running a neighborhood studio or with training dancers For competitions, I’m presenting my opinion on this topic.

Each genre of Dance has its own rich tradition and history. And part of that history is how we pass down the discipline, the training, the art form, from one generation to the next. I teach both ballet and jazz. I had a full preprofessional ballet education under Madame Gabriella Darvash, herself a student of the legendary Agrippina Vaganova. I am also able to trace my educational lineage directly to Enrico Cecchetti. Ballet has traditionally been passed down from teacher to student in a school/studio environment…teachers having had full pre-professional training followed by performing experience before starting to teach. Many great teachers have undergone extensive pedagogy training as well. My Jazz education was under the brilliant Luigi (for my entire career). I have also studied with Frank Hatchett (another Jazz innovator) and Christopher Chadman who brought to the studio the work of his mentor, the great Bob Fosse. Jazz has a similar history as to how the work is taught and passed on.

My opinion: if you are going to teach students, you should be fully trained in and part of the tradition that you are teaching. I do not and will not attempt to teach anything else. Hip-hop (which is something in which I have no experience) has a very different history. It was created in the streets and to my knowledge (correct me if I’m wrong) the greats of the hip hop world come from a tradition of acquiring the training NOT in a studio. I have worked as a ballet teacher in a studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn who’s Hip Hop teacher was stunning…and never had a single lesson inside a studio. He learned by being immersed in, and training in, the authentic Hip hop culture in Brooklyn and brought that training and history to his students. It is necessary to be part of the tradition that you are teaching, and have acquired extensive knowledge in a way that is consistent with the traditions of the genre. I know that I am fortunate in that I was born in and have always lived in New York City where it is easy to find great teachers and great training. But as I travel the country as a guest teacher, I keep discovering great teaching everywhere I visit. If we are going to be effective teachers, we must be fully educated in the subject that we teach. I teach workshops on The Luigi Jazz Technique for teachers. The goal of these workshops is not to work with these teachers for a few hours and then send them out to teach the Luigi Technique. That would be impossible. The goal is to bring these teachers some of the PHILOSOPHIES of the technique so that they can apply these concepts to the work they are already doing.

I could read a medical book, memorize the steps involved in removing an appendix, walk into a medical school and repeat that information to the students. Would you want one of those students to remove your appendix? This may be an extreme comparison…but I think it makes my point.

Our students believe we are experts. When a student places their trust in us, there is an implied promise that we will deliver high quality training. They are paying for our expertise with their money, their time and in some cases their chances of having a career. Before we step into that studio, we should be sure we know what we can effectively educate them. When we accept a student’s trust, it is our obligation to deliver.

7 thoughts on “Teaching What We Know

  1. Sharon, thanks so much for participating in the conversation. Hip-hop, to my knowledge, and as the experts tell me, very different in its history and in the way it is passed on. This concept of being “immersed in the culture” is at the core of what hip-hop is about.

    Ballet, on the other hand, is very different. To quote the article: “Ballet has traditionally been passed down from teacher to student in a school/studio environment…teachers having had full pre-professional training followed by performing experience before starting to teach. Many great teachers have undergone extensive pedagogy training as well.”


  2. I totally agree, William. Unfortunately, in small town America, what a talented teacher brings to the table is exposure to an art form which would otherwise be non-existent for our population, and a group of students would never dance. I have personally immersed myself in a genre not in my wheelhouse and with the creativity my mama (a ballet teacher as well) gave me, and intense work, I was able to adequately acquire the technique. Adequacy may not be mastery but again, without this, there would be no dancing at all. Without a college or large city nearby, I can hardly muster a sub. With the help of my few amazing teachers, we set pretty decent full length ballets and expose our students to a variety of styles, doing our best to educate them in history and fundamentals. Are we training students for ABT?, Nope. Are we allowing young people to explore dance and express themselves? Absolutely. I think we’re important.

    Leslie Hodges

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this article Mr. Waldinger, you are so very correct that we as dance educators need to teach what we know. We are always learning and I have a decent “breadth knowledge” of Hip-Hop, Tap, and certain ballroom styles, however I avoid teaching them at all costs and when I have to (usually for adult students or a couple for their wedding), I am forth coming in my limited knowledge and experience. Thank you for being a voice for many of us and for your fantastic vision.


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