Last night was spent catching up with a close friend and professional associate and the following blog is a result of a very informal conversation around the subject of teachers and motivation.
We both trained at the Stella Mann College from 1991- 1994. She started at 16, whilst I was 18.
We left college with the same teaching qualifications. She went on to perform for many years, whilst I went into teaching. She currently teaches, choreographes and coaches a wide range of students.
Both our dance training prior to this was in ballet, tap, modern with festival work and show performances.
I started talking about the BAPP inquiry and how I find myself drawn to the topic of motivation in students - the how's and why's - and in particular what motivates students who are not thinking of dance as a career. I also talked about how I would like to write about our conversation in my BAPP blog and that I would keep it anonymous (I will call her J from here) and J was happy for this to happen.
N.B. I will also be altering the names of any teachers mentioned within this post.
I started the ball rolling by telling J that another student on the course had produced a survey which asked if we had been inspired or motivated by any particular teacher and that my response had been immediate - Miss A. She was always so high energy, even if we weren't, and she spoke loudly and with big hand gestures and leapt about the studio between us all until you couldn't really help but be lifted up by her (even if you really didn't want to be!). J remembered the teacher well and agreed in my recollection of her classes.
I then pointed out how, on reflection, I had realised that I had only really attended her classes for a relatively short period of time before my timetable meant that I wasn't in her lessons any more. She seemed to have made a big impact on me as a student, and a big influence on the kind of teacher I am today. Why?
We began to talk about how in her lessons you always felt she knew you were there - that you weren't just a body in a class but an individual with your own abilities, faults, personality and problems. Somethin we both agreed was not the case with other teachers.
I then asked J who she would say had been the most memorable for her (in a positive way) and she replied Miss B. Why? Because of her creativity in her choreography - both in class and in show numbers. I agreed that I found her numbers to be the most satisfying to perform, and J talked about the way she could take even a plie exercise and make it exciting or challenging.
We then hit upon one teacher who elicited very different responses - Miss C. I have nothing but gratitude and respect for her, she took me in hand at a time when I was very negative about ballet - not the discipline itself but my lack of turnout, dodgy hips, soggy stomach muscles, restricted limbering, low stamina levels, etc., etc., etc. I was in a very "I can't" place when I started her lessons and she really gave me the tools to feel better about what I could achieve but without ever being unrealistic. J, however, had a completely different memory of her, one in which a love and desire to dance was systematically squashed and belittled and made to feel of less value than another class member who, how shall I put it, was blessed with a body that did whatever it was told!
We both sat back at this point...
Now, (and I realise you might put this down to personal bias on my part) I have never met another person who oozes dance out of her very being as much as J. She's got the heart of a dancer, the passion of a dancer, the style, the poise but, and I know she won't mind me saying this, she was never going to be a ballerina (me neither, for that matter). However, I know that she worked harder than most to be the best that she could be - motivated by her own desire. So how did the teacher who, in one class, took me beyond my limitations to achieve more than I ever thought I could cause J, in another lesson, to feel worthless and without ability.
Conclusion (of sorts)
The conversation really opened my eyes to how everything is subjective and dependent on the specific situation or the individuals experience.
In talking about people we both studied under we came up with very different outlooks. I can suggest that my fondness for Miss A is perhaps the similarity between my natural teaching style/ personality and hers...or that my memory of feeling important in her class has stayed with me and become important to me to pass on to my students.
J is a very creative, talented choreographer so it makes sense (in hindsight) that she would take particular pleasure out of Miss B's classes.
As for Miss C. Well. I can see how her sharp comments and strict discipline wouldn't sit well with every student. J said that she could respect her as a teacher who knew her stuff but that she felt she favoured some students over others.
In thinking about how this applies to my possible inquiry topic 'developing motivation in students' I can see that even by looking into what motivates/ demotivates students it is unlikely to produce a definitive list of do's and don'ts - J summed it up when she said 'as individuals within a class they will all need different things.' However by identifying common areas of, or by entering into discussions about, motivation in the dance studio I hope that it will give me more tools with which to try...