My mother loved dancing, and when she was younger, she was good at it. She wanted me to love dancing too, and she enrolled me in dance lessons as a child: tap, jazz, and ballet.
At first, I thought this sounded pretty good; I imagined learning some moves to music, and I truly enjoyed music. However, my enthusiasm would not last, and I would instead find myself tortured by the whole experience.
First one must understand that most dance classes take a rather methodical approach to their lessons. You learn a certain move in isolation and repeat the darn thing over and over to build the muscle memory. You then get to start piecing these things together in a series set to a song, and the teacher selects the songs. If you are lucky enough to like the song, you will probably hate it by time you learned the routine for it piece by piece.
However, I reasoned that I could learn these things and perhaps create my own choreography, and to music I enjoyed. Unfortunately, my mother explained that I needed to learn the routine as the teacher explained, and to the song she chose, because I had to be able to do it correctly on stage during the recital.
What?! Was she nuts?! I was no way, no how, going on stage! The very idea was terrifying, and I had no desire whatsoever to perform for a crowd, and to that music, and we won’t even talk about the costumes. Why couldn’t I just take the lessons and then use them in a way that made sense to me?
My mother tried different angles to convince me, finally using the good ol’ guilt trip in the end. She meant well; she really wanted me to have a full appreciation for the world of dance, and she thought that this was the way to make that happen. I didn’t complain but just went on with the routines, and went on stage, and wore those costumes, and gained anything BUT an appreciation for dance. This misguided torture went on for three years until a pediatrician told her to take me out due to how violently ill I would become starting about a month before recitals each year. Smart guy.
My mom didn’t hold it against me; she came to an understanding that I simply was not her. In fact, she lamented that I was just like my father, but that is a whole other story. Unfortunately, I felt somehow hampered in my ability to truly dance — to move, to feel music… in the intuitive way that would be more true to how, perhaps, I could dance.
In recent years, I found myself roped into dancing again, this time by my youngest daughter who was too young to sign up for lessons unless a parent signed on too. And what a blessing this was — as I found myself taught by a wonderful bellydancing teacher (yep — not tap, jazz, ballet – but bellydancing)… and who taught in a personalized way. We could perform, but we did not have to. We could make our own routines. We could apply it to different songs. And the costumes were great! The dance was a personal thing, and it was joyful. Just months before my mother’s death, I had finally discovered an appreciation for dance.
This isn’t just a lesson for parents. Recently, I was talking with some English instructors, and we were discussing how to teach the students what they need to know while understanding that people learn in different ways and have different goals and motivations. While I love reading and writing, and would like for everyone to have a true appreciation for literary elements and the fine art of rhetoric as well as creative devices… I also understand that 1) some students will never truly love English and literature – especially the stuff deemed important by most state standards, and 2) the best a teacher can do is to teach it in ways that do connect or otherwise appeal to them.
To let them learn how they learn best. Let them apply the learning to what makes sense for them. Let them dance.