Words from the publisher
In this issue’s “Ask Rhee Gold” column, I advise a school owner on how to approach a delicate situation. You’ve all encountered complex issues among your students’ families—divorces, deaths, substance abuse, and so on. But as our world changes, so do its complexities. The question this woman asked isn’t one that any of us would have heard even five years ago, but it’s likely to become more common.
The advice sought was about how to respond to—and how to explain to other students and their parents—a young transgender student’s request to be recognized as Jessica rather than as Josh.
The question has been on my mind since I responded to this teacher, who seems eager to do right by the child. Here’s what I’ve been thinking.
First, this teacher was brave to write to me. I have heard the question before, but it was always at a conference, between sessions. The person asking the question would say, “I have something to ask you, but I didn’t want to do it in front of everyone.”
Stop right there. We need to ask tough questions in front of everyone, because that’s how people learn that open discussion is a good thing. Asking tough questions and not shying away from delicate topics is part of being the best mentors and leaders we can be.
Personal discomfort and tough questions go beyond issues of identity into realms of ability, safety, and health, both physical and mental. For example, many teachers are afraid to accept children who have special needs into their classes, because they have been trained to work with only able-bodied children. They’re afraid to talk to the parents of these children, or anyone else, because the situation makes them uncomfortable.
In my seminars I encounter questions like “What do you do if you know or suspect that a child is being abused?” or “Is it appropriate to talk to a student who I believe is experimenting with drugs or alcohol?” Or—and I can’t tell you how often I am asked this—“How do you keep a boy in class who loves to dance but is being bullied by his schoolmates?” The question usually comes from a woman at a school where there are no or few other male students, and she has no idea how to advise or mentor this boy. She wants to help, but she feels uncomfortable.
All of these circumstances and questions have something in common: they concern matters outside of many people’s personal experience.
It’s time for a change. Dance teachers cannot let personal discomfort or a lack of familiarity get in the way of leading; instead, they must become knowledgeable about, sensitive to, and accepting of the diversity in our society, as well as the challenges young people can face. They must be able to meet the needs of future generations of students and their families regardless of who they are.
I’m not spewing advice I won’t follow—I plan to incorporate training from experts on these topics at my seminars. I challenge all who offer continuing education for dance educators to take the reins in addressing the role of 21st-century teachers.
Teaching dance is about teaching more than steps—I say that all the time. Today it’s truer than ever.
DSL publisher Rhee Gold has owned a dance competition, presided over national dance teaching organizations, and founded Project Motivate. His book, The Complete Guide to Teaching Dance, is in its second printing.