Toward an Ethical Practice of Belly Dance Instruction. Part 2: Truth and Consistency
Originally published in Zaghareet Magazine
In the first part of this series, we explored our personal ethics or values and how they influence our motivations for teaching. Now that we have spent time reflecting on our own ethical framework, we will now turn to how to manifest our beliefs in practice.
Truth in advertising
Now that you have reflected upon who you are as a dancer/teacher and what you have to offer, it is important to be forthright with your prospective and current students. Students deserve to know the areas in which you have expertise and the limits of that knowledge. They should be given information about the type of dance you are teaching and information about the origins or history of that dance. If you aren’t particularly interested in the history, then at least know where to send your students who are seeking that kind of information. Provide a context from which your student can evaluate what they are learning. I often teach a move only to explain that there are variations in the name, execution or technique of the move depending on style of dance or individual teacher. I credit a teacher who has taught me the move that I am sharing with my students. It is truly amazing to me when I come across a student who has taken for years with a particular teacher, but doesn’t know what style of dance they are practicing.
Just as it is important to be honest with your audience, or students about who you are, it is also important to acknowledge that this article is a reflection of the authors’ ethical framework. The tools presented in this article will assist you in developing your own ethical standard even if you disagree with any of the specific assertions.
When students study with more than one teacher they are exposed to different styles of teaching and different types of oriental dance. These diverse experiences deepen a dancer’s understanding of oriental dance as well as improving their skill and technique. To that end, I freely refer students to other teachers rather than being territorial about keeping “my” students. In fact, if you are thinking of the students as “yours” then maybe you have crossed into the dangerous zone of feeling entitled to the students who choose to dance with you.
Students should be encouraged to pursue additional instruction without having to worry about the emotional or financial impact on their current teacher. This will be impossible for your students to do if they believe they have to take care of you (Damsel in Distress) or if you have talked badly about other teachers (Petty Criminal). As a teacher if you put your needs and interests first (e.g., income, prestige, prominence) rather than the autonomy of your students, you may have students who ultimately resent you for using them.
Consistency in policy and practice
Structure can also be a valuable part of creating an ethical teaching environment. Students pay you to provide a service to them. Policies help the students know what to expect and help the teacher to be consistent between students. Policies should include information regarding payment, attendance, make-up classes, and any other issues pertinent to your practice. One of the biggest mistakes that teachers can make is to be inconsistent in the application of the policies that they have established. Students notice and often question the honesty and the integrity of the teacher as a result.
Code of ethics
Much has already been written in the belly dance community on a code of ethics. I will highlight and summarize some of the common elements that are related to the teaching of oriental dance.
- Teachers maintain a standard of excellence when they continue in their own dance education.
- Teachers should show integrity by only offering services for which they are trained.
- Teachers should keep the physical and mental wellbeing of students as primary consideration. (The next section of the series will discuss this at length.)
- Teachers should not view students as competition, but instead offer mentorship, encouragement and professional feedback.
- Teachers should respect the intellectual property of others and credit sources.
- Teachers should guard the individual rights of students and not discriminate based on weight, disability, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
Teacher’s behavior as a model for students
Students look to their teacher for standards of behavior and appropriateness within the belly dance community. The teacher has a responsibility to model the standards of behavior in her dance community. If the teacher is engaging in unethical or illegal behaviors, then the students will assume the behaviors are acceptable. The teacher should behave in a professional manner demonstrating respect for all students and other dancers.
Some examples of unethical or illegal behavior are:
- Copying or selling other’s music for a profit
- Stealing other’s ideas or choreography and presenting them as your ownTreating students with rudeness, contempt or disgust
- Deliberately discouraging students from solo endeavors so as to not have competition in the marketplace
- Failing to encourage students to achieve their fullest potential because you feel threatened by their success
- Belittling students because of their appearance
- Using indirect or passive-aggressive communication
- Criticizing another teacher or dancer in front of your students
When we are intentional about who we are, what we have to offer and how we value our students, we create the support structure for ethical practice. As teachers, our words and behavior provides information to our students about who we are, what our dance is about and who they are. When our behavior is consistent with our words or philosophy, our students will thrive in a supportive, honest and straightforward environment.