• Su Crossland

Teacher Vs Dancer

“You’re a great dancer, you can definitely teach others to do that”

“You can’t really teach dance unless you’ve danced professionally”

These are both phrases that I have heard many times over the years, and I wholeheartedly disagree with both!

Dancing and teaching are two completely different skill sets and not everyone can be great at both. I have known amazing dancers who have really struggled with how to teach others; they’ve been unable to put themselves in the place of the student and adapt their teaching style to help the student gain the understanding they need. Yet they have danced beautifully. I have also known many amazing teachers who have never danced professionally but can inspire a roomful of students to really understand what they are trying to achieve. I have also known a few who are great at both!

For me personally, I never wanted to dance professionally (I admit to having had a secret desire in my youth to be recognised as a world class figure skater, despite never having done any figure skating at all!!) I knew what I wanted to do from junior school and that was work with people with disabilities to help improve their life. When I went to secondary school I learned about Occupational Therapy, and that was my life goal from then on. Everything I did throughout school and college was aimed at getting into university to study OT. I graduated from York, St Johns in 2001 with my BHSc(hons) in Occupational Therapy and immediately started work as an OT, a job I loved for many years.

However, alongside this path I continued my dancing, and I had the most amazing opportunities from my childhood ballet teacher, Mrs Norris, to kick-start my love of teaching. Once we reached a certain level of training we were invited to join the Junior Student programme at the school – something everyone aspired to back then. As a Junior Student you followed the vocational syllabus alongside the grade syllabus, and you began to help out with the younger classes. Mrs Norris used to pick me up on a Tuesday after school on her way past and take me with her to help with the younger classes. I would demonstrate exercises, help with small groups, go over things with the class and generally help out with whatever needed doing. After a while I began to start the class off whilst Mrs Norris dealt with parent queries / uniform orders / etc. and, eventually I was teaching the classes whilst Mrs Norris was out of action following surgery. It gave me a solid foundation in what was required to teach a class of students, from watching a master (or a ballet mistress) at work, to trialling different techniques of teaching and helping younger students. But even at this point I wasn’t planning on a career in dance, even teaching it, and I left Birmingham to start my degree.

I continued dancing during my years at university and once I was working, eventually moving back to Birmingham and teaching again for Mrs Norris. This time I had a branch of the school to run and I loved it – alongside my OT work. I was all ready to sign up to start my teaching qualification when I became pregnant and I decided it was too much to take on at that point, physically and financially. Another daughter later and I started taking adult classes with another teacher friend of mine, and eventually became a regular cover teacher for her. I covered everything from pre-school dance, through lower grade freestyle (and anyone who knows my dance style will know how far out my comfort zone that is!), higher grade ballet, to adult tap. I even taught an Irish dance class at one point – or maybe they taught me that day!

I loved my teaching, and I was getting disillusioned with my OT work: too many barriers to achieving the real goal for the individual, it made me sad, and I felt like I was fighting a losing battle every day. And that’s when we upped sticks and moved from Birmingham to Bay.

People kept suggesting I opened my own dance school when I moved but I still didn’t have a teaching qualification. There are many people out there that are teaching without a qualification, as I did on and off for years. But I was always under the (albeit long-arm-) supervision of qualified and very experienced teachers. Even so, I always felt a bit of a fraud. As a health professional for so many years I know the importance of being qualified and working within your limitations. For me, personally and professionally, I could not open a school without the relevant qualifications, insurances, licenses, etc. to ensure the welfare of both my students and myself. Then a friend told me of an intensive teacher training course happening in Birmingham about a week before we were due to move. I figured I didn’t have anything to lose and even if I didn’t start my own classes I could always teach for someone else.

So now I’m qualified to teach ballet, tap and contemporary dance. I’ve never danced professionally in my life. But I know I can teach! I love the challenge of finding ways to get each student to understand what I’m teaching them – and each student will do that differently. I love the excitement when a student suddenly ‘gets it’ and they master something they’ve struggled with. I love it when a student repeats back to you something that you thought they might not have heard or taken in. I love it when they support each other to learn and grow. And I love seeing their accomplishments as they develop through the school; from exams, to competitions, to performances, and even through their own personal growth.

Teaching isn’t easy, there’s so much planning and preparation that goes into it to ensure each student gets the most out of each class. Just like there’s so much preparation and training that goes into getting the most out of your own performance as a professional dancer. But those two roles are very different. And they’re both equally valid.

Professional dancing has never been for me, but teaching wouldn’t leave me alone until I took it up full time!

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