Process: Teaching

Sadists make the best Teachers.

This is most duly noted in the arts and in sports due mostly in part to the competitive natures and the already evident masochistic tendencies therein of artists and athletes. Many adages can be referenced i.e. “No pain no gain.” It is easy to listen to that proverbial Devil voice inside your head but sometimes you need it screamed from someone on the outside looking in, a veritable Saint of motivation. All of my most memorable teachers and coaches have been the ones that have pushed me the hardest and made me feel horrible about myself.

I haven’t been teaching for the past year and a half and it’s killing me. Besides my input on movie sets, my sparse and sporadic editing jobs and working as a movement consultant, I’ve been lacking in that concrete, constructed way of disseminating knowledge. I miss making lesson plans, I miss the challenge of individualized teaching, I miss feeling useful and needed, I miss those painful and pleased faces indicative of “finally getting it right”…I miss my passion.

While I started and finished as a teacher for children and adult learners, I fear that that path has ended for me and I really want to go back to university level teaching. Academia is somewhere I feel the most at home and because so much of my personal artistic work is research-based, I need that nest of higher learning to nurture my craft; I’m jaded from beginners that don’t know what a plié is.

At the end of my stint in teaching a beginner’s modern jazz class almost two years ago, I was so frustrated with the constant of a lack of comprehension (from experience, not my teaching) and I started to get very angry with my students (and also my typisch Berliner Angst was becoming more than I could handle). In this I became that aggressive, demeaning instructor that I try to avoid and a funny thing happened: my students began to love me more.

“That was a really tough class, thank you!” was the general consensus amongst them as they would come up to me after a session, sweaty and nauseous with the pain I doled out – pain derivative of my lack of control in other regards.

My first teaching job (2005) was for a dance school for children and I almost got fired for being too nice.  I was getting complaints from parents that my teaching skills were weak and pacifying; I needed to toughen up. Of course I had already suffered through years and years of being an athlete and a dancer, so I knew what was expected of me – but for some reason I took a gentle approach despite the fact that the most memorable and effective teachers I knew were the ones who called us “fat” and “miserable” while we would sweat for hours in front of mirrors wearing skin tight clothing.

When I started mimicking my predecessors, my efforts were appreciated and rewarded. I then continued on this mean streak in my work as a choreographer and director – and when I tried (again) to finish my Education degree, I molded a sort of pedagogy that involved somewhat of a S/M philosophy with compassion.



I’ve been focusing my energies on my writing in the past few months, revisiting scripts and novels strewn about my notebooks, my computer, my USB drives and in my psyche, and trying to hone them into something presentable.

I am STILL looking for a reputable composer for my musical that I wrote almost 8 years ago. I’ve tidied up a few things and I’ve been correlating all of my efforts with a heaping load of research and I came across this:



This is such a glaring example of how S/M can play into the teaching realm. If you’ve had the painful pleasure of being involved with a piece by Sondheim, you know very well that his works are a lesson in brutality as they are seemingly impossible to master. Here in the video you can see the joy in his face as he watches his art slaves try to navigate their way through the difficult persuasion he has drawn out for them.

What I love best about this video is that there are glaring examples of individualized teaching and learning through three paradigms of typical art students.

Notice the different styles he uses for each.


The Hopeless: There is a method that is used for the student who is shy and does not push as hard as the other students. Usually it is best to leave them alone and create a certain pocket of negative energy within themselves. They are more likely to gain confidence as a bystander or onlooker, taking notes in their head as to how the other more progressive students are adapting to the challenge. The day will come where The Hopeless student will take all of that negative energy from being virtually ignored (besides having the instructor roll his/her eyes at him/her)  and push himself harder to achieve and thus earn the respect and attention of the instructor.

The Diva: You must handle the Diva very delicately, as pointed out by Sondheim in the video. The Diva cannot really be corrected harshly, but guided in a way that reassures their already superfluous superiority complex. This may seem counteractive, but in the end, The Diva will always rely on praise rather than insult, so in a way a bout of reverse psychology is necessary here. Subtle subliminal cues can be given to The Diva wordlessly because like The Hopeless, the lack of attention will enforce a sense of “trying harder” in order to get the instructor’s attention.

The Sponge: The Sponge is the most tortured and respected kind of student. You will see it in virtually every art form and in every sport. The best student or player gets the most negative attention. They are called horrible names and nothing they do is right. I always tell my Sponges “That was perfect, now do it better,” never giving up on them and never letting them get a free ride. That is the nice side. Note in the video that the corrections are taken and utilized immediately, through one of the most difficult musical theater compositions ever created (Sondheim once described the piece as “having an asthma attack gracefully”). Instructors love The Sponge type of student because this is where the most punishment is allocated, and in turn, the most reward is attained.