So you’ve been dancing for a short while, and you’re thinking about teaching. You could have a number of reasons. Maybe you want your friends/partner to dance but they are nervous about taking a class. Or maybe you live in a place where the scene is small and young, or doesn’t really exist at all, and it’s up to you to take the reins. Hell, maybe you just love lindy hop and want to marry it, but since lindy hop isn’t a physical object, a human, or capable of giving consent, you just want to become as involved with it as possible. These are all awesome reasons to teach, and there are tons that I didn’t mention and probably haven’t thought of. Honestly, I’m not convinced that there’s such a thing as a bad reason to teach lindy hop. I hereby bless your pedagogical endeavor. You can start today!
What’s that you say? You’re still nervous? You are afraid because you’re still learning so much, you don’t think you’ll ever be a Rockstar™, or you’re not even in the top level of your scene? Well, friend, maybe I can help. I’ve been dancing for five years (today’s my lindyversary!), and teaching for only three months fewer—that’s right, I started teaching three months after my first class. Was I awesome? Hell no! Was I nervous? Hell yes! It’s natural to be nervous about teaching for the first time, but I’m glad I did it. Looking back, I realize I didn’t have to be as nervous as I was. Here are a few bits of information that could have saved me a lot of stress.
1. You Don’t Really Know How You Move until You Teach
This first point is more geared toward Why You Should Want to Teach rather than Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Teach. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the horrible, muscle-freezing fear in a second. First, I want you to understand why I want you to teach. One reason is that you might get a few people into dancing. Another is that even if you don’t, maybe you’ll leave people with a better idea of what it is, so they don’t just think we look like those dicks on Dance Like Everybody’s A Moron. The main reason, though, is that it’s good for you. Teaching will make you a better dancer. Our bodies do a lot of things that we never know about. That’s part of how we live. If we had to think about every heartbeat, every contraction necessary to push food to the next stage of digestion, every white blood cell needed to fight off an infection, we’d go crazy and poop ourselves and die. It’s also how we can do extremely complicated things like catch a ball that’s thrown to us. The good aspect of this is that once we learn how to do something and practice it a lot, we can back off thinking about it consciously and let it do its thing. The bad aspect is that when we’re learning a new skill we do a lot of dumb shit that we don’t even realize. Teaching can help us examine ourselves in a way that we may not be used to, because we’ll have to break down our movement such that a completely different human being can replicate it. When we start to examine ourselves in this way, shit pretty much just breaks down and we get a little QWOP-y, but if we power through it we come out of it with more knowledge and control than before. So teach! Now on to dealing with that pesky fear.
2. You’ll Never be “Ready”
This is something I’ve seen a lot in my time as a teacher. Students frequently tell me that they’re interested in teaching, but are worried that they’re not ready. This is a very understandable fear, and I’m glad they’re being responsible about the art we love. However, it’s also poppycock and I want them to get over it as quickly as possible. The thing is, you’ll never be “ready,” at least not the way you probably think about it now. Lindy hop can be a complicated and deep thing, and if you care enough to delve into it there’s no end to what you can learn. Because of this, there will (hopefully) never be a point where you say to yourself, “Yup, I know all there is. I’m ready to pass it on.” I mean it. If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll never teach. The solution? Don’t wait! Find some students and get started. Grow as a teacher even as you continue to grow as a dancer. Think you’ll have trouble finding those students? Fear not!
3. No Matter What, There is Someone Who Wants to Learn from You
So you’re not the top of your scene. So you’re not a Rockstar™. So you suspect you might be the worst student in your class. So what? You can still find someone to teach. There is someone who wants to learn from you. Like I said, I started teaching three months after my very first class. Do you think anybody at the social dance looked at me dancing and, the next day, hung a poster on their cubicle wall with my picture above a black strip, on which the phrase “SOME DAY” was typed in capital letters? Probably not, although that would be kind of cool. But I still found someone to teach, because even after just three months, I already knew more than someone who had never taken a class. No matter how new you are, you know more than your friends and family do. They are an excellent place to start learning how to teach. Worried that they won’t stick with it? Well, to be honest they probably won’t. Most people take a few lessons and drift away. But that makes them even better, because…
4. You Will Mess Up
It’s a fact. Teaching—just like dancing—is a skill, and acquiring it means that you’ll spend a lot of time messing up. If you’re anything like me, you’ll look back at your early days teaching and realize that you said some of the dumbest shit that’s ever been said about lindy hop. You’ll cringe to think about it. Don’t worry, though, because everyone’s been there. Anybody who’s ever taught has gone through that phase. As I mentioned, lindy hop is rich enough that you have the option of always growing. The things you believe about lindy hop today are valid and worthy of passing on to students, but they probably aren’t the same things you’ll believe a couple months or a year from now. This is part of why you shouldn’t wait to be ready. No matter how long you wait to start teaching, you’re going to be wrong some of the time, and that’s fine. Even if you check with every single teacher and they all approve what you’re going to say, you’ll still look back and find that you taught something you don’t agree with anymore. You know why?
5. Lindy Hop is Always Changing
Like many arts, lindy hop is alive. What we do isn’t simply re-creation of a bygone art. We aren’t just trying to imitate what we see in old clips. We are part of what lindy hop means. Each time we do it we change the definition. The way the dance is done by most people today is very different from the way it was done at first. We don’t dance like Frankie, and it’s not just because we can’t. It’s because of who we are and where we come from and what we want. The dance and its culture will always be tied to its roots, but in us it also has tens of thousands of wings, and so it will never be fixed in one place. If you didn’t know, now you know. Anyway, because of…all of that…lindy hop expertise will never be really attainable. It’ll always be just on the horizon, calling to us. It grows as we grow. Even the top dancers, the ones we all look up to, are still discovering—still investing. I happen to think this is a beautiful thing. It makes me feel more attached to my art, knowing that I’ll never run out of things to explore. It makes me feel more relaxed about teaching, knowing that there will never be a final, correct answer. It also makes me feel driven to keep learning, knowing that even the best advice I can give a student still has an expiration date.
6. There are Tons of Awesome Teachers in the World
You know what that means? It means you can relax about teaching, because even if you completely botch it, even if everything you say is wrong and garbled and a little racist, there are tons of great teachers who can set your students straight. This might not seem very encouraging, but if you look at if a certain way it can be liberating. Basically, the two absolute worst-case scenarios are:
- Your students will get wrong information – Big deal. If they keep learning it’ll work itself out.
- Your students will not want to keep learning – Sadly, most students don’t. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
Seriously, don’t sweat it too much. Try to do a good job, learn as you go, make mistakes and learn from them, always tell your students whatever you believe to be true at the time, refer them to other teachers so they can start their own journeys, and generally enjoy the process. Don’t worry about being perfect. If your students love lindy hop and really want to get good, it’ll probably take more than one crappy teacher to stop them. When I started I got tons of advice that I strongly disagree with now. I was taught all kinds of things that I make sure to teach differently now. It didn’t matter. I was having fun, so I kept doing it. When I got my first peek at what was really out there for me, I fell in love and started trying to learn as much as I could. While I disagree with what they taught me about certain aspects of the dance, I really appreciate my first teachers because they definitely showed me how to get started and have fun. A teacher has a lot of responsibilities, but as far as I’m concerned that one should always come first. As long as you remember that, you’ll be off to a good start.
Do you have any comforting words for new teachers? Advice? Threats?! Are you a new teacher with a question? Thoughts? DIRE WARNINGS?! Leave a comment and we’ll talk!