Once upon a time I dated a man who knew everything. He knew everything about everything – how to cook, how to clean, how to hang a picture, how to paint, how to plant flowers, how fix cement, how to build decks, how to install kitchens, how to do plumbing – well – you get the idea – he knew everything. Luckily for all of us around him – he was more than happy to pass on his knowledge – which he did – constantly. Apparently none of us knew how to do anything correctly. When I would ask him why he felt the need to correct everyone around him he always said the same thing – “you have to educate people.” Huh. Who knew? To be honest – sometimes I don’t appreciate backseat advice. Sometimes I’m actually quite happy with my method of operation.
At the beginning of our relationship – I would fight with the expert – trying to prove that my method was better OR that he didn’t know everything. Then one day – I just gave up. Seriously – why kill yourself trying when you’re going to be wrong anyway? Many a time I have left a meal to burn on the stove after receiving unsolicited advice from the expert. “It’s burning!” he would yell. “Yes, I know,” I would reply, “Since you know how it should be done – you do it.” Although this man is long gone from my life – I have come to realize that I still deal with “experts” the same way – most of the time – I simply walk away.
Lately I find myself surrounded by a lot of “experts”. People who know everything that there is to know about dance and life. Wow – I am impressed. After spending 18 years as a choreographer, 25 years as a professional dancer, 36 years as a dance teacher and 37 years as a rehearsal director, I know that I have barely scratched the surface when it comes to expertise in my field (that includes dance and life). The best that I can offer people is my personal experience of how something was achieved in the past – plus my opinion (which is fallible) and my support of their own efforts. I continually remind myself that dance (as life) continues to evolve and change and that what worked in the past might not work today. How can the classical works that I saw 40 years ago possibly look exactly the same when dancers’ bodies have changed, along with their training and artistic vision? The constant change is what excites me about dance – there is always something new to discover.
Now just because I’m able to ignore most of the unsolicited expert advice that I’m given – it does not mean that the advice is not annoying. So I’d like to take a moment to address all those “experts” who are bombarding my email and Facebook with useful information and helpful hints – reminding you that this is simply my observations and opinion: Improv is not a set technique. You can teach someone the tools to free their inner inhibitions when it comes to tapping into their psyche – but the movements that your students are creating have come out of their own minds (not yours) – hence the word “improv”. Don’t praise your dance training methods when you’ve only been on this side of the business for a few short years because many of your students received their basic training elsewhere. Be careful about becoming the self-appointed spokesperson for professional behavior and decorum – especially if your own track record on this subject is spotty. Then again – if this is your attempt to help others become what you were not – I applaud your effort. Be careful of all forms of rigidity when it comes to teaching. Look around – there are different body types in your classroom. Also – I would encourage you to really look at your own career – did you get where you got because you had the perfect body OR did you bring something unique and interesting to the table? And finally – if you really want me to pay attention to you – then prove your opinion and theories by your actions – and not your words.