In my recent China tour I met numerous talented and dedicated dancers all over the country. This was my 3rd trip there and I visited 6 cities and everywhere it was the same, the students wowed me. Their spongelike ability to learn and unparalleled motivation to improve themselves means that China really is progressing fast as one of the top countries to be looking to in the future for great dancers.
The thing I hate though, is the copies. Everyone knows that China is no.1 in the world for copies. In fact, I just have to say this and mention 'handbags' for all my students there to laugh and agree proudly!
Copying other people's dance, their style and their choreographies, will get a student so far and certainly will speed up their learning in the beginning. However, in my opinion, this should only be viewed as part of the learning process- not as the end goal!
To me, dance is art. 'Tracing' and 'colouring in' can certainly look pretty and can have elements of creativity in it, however I am not sure I would call it art. A print of a painting is fabulous is you don't have access, or funds, for the original canvas, but I think everyone would agree- it's not the same! Especially if people then pass this off as their own work!
Sadly I still meet many dancers, many of them teachers, who only every perform (and teach), step for step, other people's choreographies rather than improvising, or creating their own.
My aim with the work I do in China (and elsewhere around the world) is to try to show my dancers how to think for themselves (something the culture there does not really encourage) . How to listen to the music and think about what sort of experience they want to create for their audience and for themselves. To examine their reasons for making dance such a huge part of their lives and to recognise what they need to put into it (physically and emotionally) in order to get the most out of it and to give the most to their audiences.
Without fail, at the end of each course I have taught, I've been bursting with pride at the mental and emotional effort the students have made and how they have opened up to the music and dance.
Not everyone will become a professional dancer, but that is not everyone's aim anyway. I just really want people to feel good about what they are doing and be aware how they can improve themselves.
I feel honored to have to opportunity to tour such an amazing interesting country and teach such thirsty students. They don't realise it, but they teach me so much.
I can't help but be a little intimidated by the hours, expense and effort that these dancers in China will spend in order to improve themselves. Never too proud to be the student. Skipping sleep in order to work, learn and raise families. All at the same time. Even the way they learn is different. Setting aside an entire week to learn for 5 hours a day with one teacher. It's quite a commitment. Many of them also attend classes in order to learn other skills to help them improve their own dance, from yoga to pole dance to ballet.
How much are you committed to improving yourself? I know I cannot even begin to hold a candle to the majority of my students efforts and they have inspired me, yet again, to take a more active role in my own life. I have found in nearly 10 years in Cairo that it is too easy to sit back and let it all just happen to you. I've become lazy.
Thank you to all my students, especially those all over China, who have shown me how much you can improve yourself if you set your mind to it. I will endeavor to be less complacent in the future and push myself harder. The teacher has become the student!