Bellydance U

Is Your Teacher Toxic?

Image via Wikimedia Commons by Keith Ellwood

Toxic people exist in every walk of life, but the bellydance world seems to have more than its fair share. When the topic arises, online discussion groups light up with dancers from around the world who have survived Toxic Teachers.

What is a ‘Toxic Teacher?” A toxic person is someone so filled with negativity that they damage the psyche of those around them. Interacting with toxic people leaves you feeling drained, used, or even abused.

Toxic personalities come in several varieties.Some are critical and destroy your self-esteem over time. Others are hotheaded and do their damage in bursts, but keep you around by treating you well in between. Many are ‘victim’ types who drag you into their negative viewpoint or manipulate you into their service. Generally,  toxic people are takers; people with little to give who have very unbalanced relationships.

Identifying the Toxic Teacher

No one is perfect, of course; even great teachers might display one or two of these characteristics, and even a teacher who is extremely toxic might have many good qualities.

Characteristics of A Toxic Teacher:

Ticking just one box on this list doesn’t mean your teacher is abusive. A teacher is a flawed human being and won’t exhibit perfect behavior at all time.  The bottom line is how you feel after interacting with your teacher. You should feel uplifted and joyful, excited about the next performance or event.

What to do if your teacher is toxic

Obviously, if your teacher is eating your soul, you want to leave. But that’s not always easy.

Sometimes, the only teacher in an area is a toxic character. In fact, the role of ‘only available bellydance teacher’ seems to be particularly attractive to toxic types, as it offers them the control they crave.

Other times, the toxic teacher is the very best teacher in your area, or the best one in the style you want to learn. Unfortunately, the performing arts and fragile egos often go hand in hand, so it’s not uncommon for a spectacular dancer to also be a very difficult individual.

If you decide to remain in class with a toxic character, here are some ideas to reduce your vulnerability:

When you have to leave

Often a dancer is ready to leave a Toxic Teacher long before she actually makes that move. Why? Fear keeps her in class. If your teacher is negative, critical, moody and scary when she likes you, how will she act when you try to leave?

Sadly, being able to leave one instructor for another without drama can be considered a sign that your teacher is NOT toxic. The toxic ones will feel threatened, angry, frightened and confused by your move. Simple explanations like ‘this class is closer to my home’ or ‘this teacher is more my style’ make perfect sense to a mentally healthy instructor. But to a toxic character is more likely to take your move to another class as a personal attack and try to “fight back.”

Know this: Whatever drama happens when you leave is inevitable. There are ways to minimize it, but you cannot prevent it. There will never be a good time for drama in your life, so putting it off until after the next hafla or after you start your new job is just sentencing yourself to more weeks of torture.

Here are some tips for handling your departure:

Sadly, some students leave dance altogether. Says one former dancer, “All of these things are … why I gave up on [belly] dance. Too many fragile egos and too much drama…” It’s tragic to have to give up something you love because of a neurotic teacher. Here’s hoping your situation doesn’t end that way!