Sunday, October 23, 2005

To Teach or not to Teach

That is the question. While I have always preferred performing to teaching, I must say I miss it and wish I had time to do it. Instead, I've had to put that on hold till next year where I have just committed to doing a number of workshops.

Teaching has always been a double edged sword for me and I think many other teachers of dance feel the same. While I have been taking a break due to my extremely hectic work schedule, it also means that I am out of the scene and can be easily forgotten. However, the current condition of the dance scene does not incentivise me to jump back into my dance shoes anytime soon. This year, I have found the dance scene becoming increasingly sleazy and cheap with many so-called dance professionals taking on jobs and doing things which really denigrate the art. Especially when there is a sudden influx of exotic dance forms like pole dancing, bar top dancing and "stripper" dancing. It makes me want to distance myself more and more.

However, it still irks when one of the biggest culprits of degrading the dance form and dancers in general makes a fake, concerned comment that I am "not seen or heard anymore" and that I am "nowhere". I took the high road and just replied that I had a life that I would like to live. They knew of what they speak when they called us prima donnas. Or bitches in this case.

Anyway, I have nothing against exotic dancers and I have seen some whom I have thought are amazingly talented and skilled. But of the few I have seen live and not on some lame movie, the majority have consistently failed to impress me. Frankly a lot of them appear to be uncomfortable in their own skin and are trying too hard to appear sexual instead of sensual, coming across as looking vulgar instead of seductive. To me, it is a damn shame.

I have a couple of friends who are exotic dancers and they have always asked me to teach them to dance "properly". I have always demurred by saying truthfully that I am too busy to teach. But the biggest reason, and I am slightly ashamed to admit, is that I do not want to be known as a teacher of exotic dancers.

I remember a class I taught in a community club a long time ago. Two young mainland Chinese ladies came to my afternoon class dressed in tight, black sparkly dresses. Blinking hard, I told them that comfortable exercise gear was a better option in my class as they did not hinder movement. However, they kept turning up dressed like that and I began to wonder what they did for a living. I later realised they worked in some karaoke lounge as hostesses. I was horrified. I know it is snooty of me but I am just not comfortable with this. And I always felt bad and a little hypocritical ("I can be your friend but please do not tell people I am your teacher" hypocrisy) for feeling this way until I heard a story from Serene recently.

Apparently, a very famous dance teacher whom we shall call Y Sharif, had gone out on a rare boys night with his friends in New York and was taken to a strip club. The moment he entered, one of the dancers gasped and shrieked loudly, "Oh, my teacher!"

He was absolutely humiliated and horrified and begged his friends to leave immediately. But, as good mates all over the world do, they refused and made fun of him throughout the entire night.

I felt so much better hearing this story as I realised that it was a genuine concern and I was not alone. It also made me feel happier about sticking to my principles despite many criticisms and bitching about me being too up myself to teach all and sundry. I have the right to choose who and where I teach or perform and I often exercise that right. To lose gigs because of this is painful and insulting sometimes but I strongly believe that those who want me will wait or will understand my position. Which is usually validated by my true clients.

It is preferable to being all over the place and being a lesser dancer, if not in stature, but in dignity, talent, class, skills, techniques, morals, creativity and more importantly ... soul. I would rather be forgotten than cheap. Dancing comes from the soul ... not from the purse.

So for now, I choose not ... to teach or perform. Till hopefully the day when the dance community remembers why we started dancing in the first place.

Oh, to those who wondered, my ex-colleague had to cancel the mulled wine adventure to another weekend. So I ended up at Kampong Glam for the Hari Raya Light-up instead.

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