How do we approach a master class? (A 3-Part Exposition)

Part 1: The teacher

For Part 2, click here. For Part 3, click here.

For a class to be considered “masterful”, there must be an element that furthers the learning for the students. A teacher must be experienced in the certain subject they are teaching and are able to offer information unique to their career path. For example, a juggling coach would be perfect to teach a juggling class because they are able to demonstrate the action and work with the students to achieve the goal of 3 balls in the air. A juggling coach would not be perfect to teach a class on Thermodynamics because it is not in their field. It makes logical sense.

So then, why are there teachers, that are currently working right now, who show up unprepared and uneducated in their respective skills? If they are not a master of their craft, then they cannot offer a master class. They are free to explain to the students that possibly they are still in training or almost finished a degree of some kind, but it is vital that that information is being communicated to the students. Afterall, most teachers nowadays balance teaching jobs as they continue to study their respective subjects. Whether or not that is the case, a teacher cannot stand in front of a class of eager students and pretend to carry the appropriate education on their back. It will show very quickly if a teacher is under-qualified. In addition, the students are most likely paying for this service, making it immorally wrong.

Now, there are instances where a teacher may be asked a question by their student that the teacher cannot answer. This is maybe due to the fact that a student has taken the information they learned from their teacher and expanded upon it. This is a teacher’s ideal goal for a master class because it shows that the student is at a point in their learning process where they feel comfortable and able to create their own hypotheses. The old saying of “The student becomes the teacher” is, in all forms of pedagogy, exactly what a teacher wants for their students. While it might frighten the teacher, the students are supposed to transition out of being beginners. That is why a master class is a great opportunity.

Let’s gravitate to a more specific example: a dance teacher who offers a class in popping and locking. Whether or not the students are starting from scratch or are already well-versed in this style, the teacher should choose to promote this as a master class. This style is a strand of hip-hop that requires profound coordinating of usual body parts. Some teachers would even say that it is more difficult to learn than ballet. So, there must be some way that the teacher is setting the students up for being interested in the style. If the teacher is qualified, they are welcome to market themselves as a master of popping and locking and the students will then be able to have a better respect for their teacher.

It begs the question if all dance classes should be labelled with “master” in the marketing. Shouldn’t all dance teachers be masters if they are old enough to teach? Sadly, this is not a sound argument because there are instances where a dancer thinks they have automatically graduated to the status of teacher. It is agreeable to say that all dance teachers can dance, but it is inaccurate to say that all dancers can teach. Whether or not, a dancer has had impressive training in a countless number of styles, there is a different perspective when teaching dance. Ultimately, the dancer must switch their brain into a less egotistical frame of mind. This is not to say that dancers are selfish. Dance is a very community-based genre of art. However, dancers must be able to let go of trying to show off their capabilities so that the students are actually learning rather than just watching. A master class is not for a teacher to dance their own choreography or exercises and abandon the proper values of teaching. It is for students to take their skill level to new heights. If a dancer wants to choreograph a combination and have another person provide the teaching of it, that is perfectly fine too.

So, to aptly call a dance class “master”, the teacher must be educated in the style they are teaching as well as focused solely on the students’ growth throughout the class.

To conclude this section, a teacher’s role in a master class rests on their history of training and their ability to communicate how a student will get to be at that skill-level. Any wavering of this perspective will send the students down a reverse path of development. Similarly, if a teacher wants to sleep at night and feel like they are a great teacher, they must remember to put the students first. Teaching is not an easy task to do, but when done correctly, it has the potential to be very significant in a student’s life.

How do we approach a master class? (A 3-Part Exposition)

Part 2: The students

For Part 1, click here. For Part 3, click here.

Now, to move onto the other humans in the room. It is crucial to understand that there will be an immense variety of students in a master class, whatever the subject. Due to the natural developments of the human brain, every student learns differently and at a different pace. Therefore, if the student is having trouble understanding the teacher or the concepts at play, then it may not be their fault. Students should use this obstacle as a way to further understand what helps them to learn. Here’s an example: a student is taking a course on Data Management and the teacher asks them to read the next chapter out of their textbook. For some students, this technique caters towards independent learning which can be beneficial for shy students. According to this website, this is referred to as Solitary or Intrapersonal Learning. However, for other students, they would rather learn with the teacher’s voice as the whole group of students participate in discussion because it offers a sense of communal trust. This is called Social or Interpersonal Learning. Of course, there are many more ways to learn and these are what make humans special. Thus, blaming the student for their difficulties is absurd because it may be a simple change of trying a different teaching method.

Let’s switch gears here. Not to be negative, but what if the student really is the problem? It is an appropriate question to consider because when a teacher outputs all the information they can in a manner that is helpful for the specific student, it is up to the student to take it and run with it. Unfortunately, there can be students (mostly young) who take the opportunity of a master class for granted. They might see it as a normal thing that they get ever week or so and might never see the great privilege they are getting. They might pretend they are bored and try to mess around with the teacher in hopes of getting a laugh out of the other students. Even still, a teacher cannot be directly blamed if a student is acting out in class or disrespecting the environment. The goal for the teacher is that the students are mastering their skills, but this cannot proceed if the student has no discipline or curiosity for learning. Indeed, this may come as they mature. If the students really take into consideration how powerful class time really is, maybe they will stop wasting it with silliness. After all, they are probably not the ones paying the high fees for a master class.

It is evident how a student approaches a master class when they make a blunt mistake. For example, if a dance student falls while executing a pirouette turn, they may laugh about it, cry about it, brush it off, slap themselves for it, ask the teacher for more guidance, hide from the teacher… the list goes on. Mistakes are the most natural thing to happen in a master class, yet they are often seen as failure or weakness. Due to pressure from the others, the student may feel they cannot make a mistake because their peers would look down on them. This student dynamic will ruin the opportunity for growth, and make the students feel like they have to be perfect. So, whether it comes from the teacher, a parent, or the student themselves, making a mistake should be expected in a master class. Then the student can let go of any anxiety that’s stopping their development and strive to be better with each day. Nobody wants to feel like they are incapable of something great.

So, for a student to really “master” their skills and perform to the best of their abilities, they must honour the gift of class and set free any worry that they are going to look bad. This is easier said than done for some students, but if each and every student in the group is supporting one another, everyone can learn in the style that suits them best.

To conclude this section, here is a video of a young Brianna taking her first Stomp The Yard class with Dahlia Caro at Leeming Danceworks in 2012. Notice the fear in my face. I was the youngest of the group and definitely the least experienced with the style, but I remember feeling safe enough to try. Dahlia was always a very comforting teacher who wanted to see the best out of her students. Go check her out on Instagram here. This video documents an extremely scary moment in my life, however, I like to look back on it as a successful one too.

 

How do we approach a master class? (A 3-Part Exposition)

Part 3: Social media

For Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here.

Another huge part of how we approach a master class that has taken off in recent years is social media. It has mostly taken off in the dance world, so this section will be geared towards the society of dance in North America.

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Whether or not a teacher or student uses it in a class, social media has changed the way we approach a master class. There are now countless videos online that display a combination of moves from the end of a dance class. If you are unaware, go check out Tricia Miranda’s YouTube channel here, and you’ll see exactly how popular these videos can be for viewers. It’s as accessible as ever to watch what the teacher and dancers worked on. So, it begs the question if it is changing the dance world for the better or for the worst.

Starting off with the pros, social media allows dancers/teachers to share their experience within a master class for the purposes of archival material. The teacher may want to develop a portfolio for future work or to reference for a later project. This is an admirable desire because it shows that the teacher is proud of their work and thinks that others can be inspired by it. Likewise, the dancer may want to show off (in an un-diva way) the movements and concepts they worked on because they were satisfied with their improvement during the class. This is also an admirable desire because it shows that a dancer is not afraid to expose their mistakes and achievements. The dancer is putting themselves up for critique and again, building a portfolio for future jobs/opportunities. Posting a video for everyone to see not only helps promote the teacher/dancer, but also the space they are dancing in. Millennium Dance Complex in Los Angeles has built a reputation upon posting dance videos, and it has grown as a popular studio ever since. More people gravitate toward it because they know it will provide a platform for pursuing a career in dance. Wonderful! Everyone can grow!

Another benefit to social media is that audiences can decide if they would like to try a certain master class and what dance styles appeal to them from viewing a video posted on a teacher’s/dancer’s account. This creates a community of openness for dancers who feel they are new to a certain style, as well as an opportunity for advanced dancers to try other styles/teachers. Again, another wonderful situation for growth!

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However, when looking at the cons of social media’s role in the dance world, there are many destructive habits that are constantly being used. One of these being the idea that if you do not post about a master class, it is considered that you were not there. There is a certain amount of pressure that comes with posting because the audience may forget about you if you do not show them what exactly what you do with your time. This pressure can be so toxic and negative for everyone. It can turn us into self-centered people whose only ambition is to get attention from others. In addition, we may feel like we missed out on a master class if a certain post gets tons of likes or comments, even though the class is completely separate from the video that is posted. FOMO is real.

Not only does social media create more pressure to post about every class, it also can ruin the incredible experience of a master class for a dancer/teacher. A dancer might end up spending the whole class worried about getting picked for the video that they will lose all sight of what a master class if for: learning. Let’s say a teacher has a high following on social media and the master class they are teaching gathers a crowd of over 100 students. It is almost certain that this teacher will end out the class by finding a group(s) of dancers that they feel did the best and video taping the combo/routine for posting. That is so much extra pressure on the students!! They may end up feeling like they cannot actually attempt new concepts because then the video may not be “post-worthy”. In my own experience, I have taken many classes where the teacher does not even seem interested in how the students are progressing because they are more fixated on how good their video will look. What a waste of time!!

If a teacher is spending the whole hour and a half thinking about which dancers look good together and which dancers do not deserve to be in the video, they are putting up a wall between them and the students. A class cannot be deemed “master” if the teacher prioritizes the end result of a class rather than the journey it takes to get there.

So, it is a bit of a mixed bag when looking at social media and master classes. Do we continue to share what we did in hopes that others will be inspired? Do we continue to share what we did in hopes that others will like us? It’s up to us to use our knowledge as dancers and teachers to make a decision about social media. Or else, it could lead us to spoil the great blessing that is a master class.

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