Merche Esmeralda–where to begin!? After my first class with her, I was flipping out; she walks in with her poofy short hair, ties it up in a scrunchy, sits down with a bastón (cane), closes her eyes and thinks through some steps, marking the feet. Once class begins she’s strict–old school strict, yelling at the students, demanding 100% concentration and respect, and she’s not afraid to touch or tap students to help bring awareness to misalignment–yet her choreographies and her class strike me as very contemporary. I found her approach to teaching refreshing, even though it comes from an old fashioned approach.
When a student clearly attempted to hold back tears and another student tried to console her (the latter overstepping her bounds, as you should not talk in class), Merche took the opportunity to explain in detail her teaching philosophy. She explained she could teach exercise after exercise and never say anything to correct the students, and she would keep charging money, and really that would just benefit her. But she does not keep quiet because she feels an obligation to help the students; that’s why we pay her, not so that we can continue to dance as we already do, but to improve and learn. I’ve spoken with several students in Madrid who don’t like her class because they feel Merche’s directness, which often come off as anger, makes her overstep her bounds as teacher and leaves her less effective as a teacher. Yes, she gives harshly honest corrections, and she expects discipline and concentration from the moment the class begins to the moment it ends, but that’s what I want in a teacher.
Should this approach be any different for students who dance as a hobby with no aspirations to dance professionally? I don’t think so; dance requires discipline and a hunger for improvement, no matter where you want to go. Merche explained in one class that we should never feel satisfied with our capacities, we need to say “I want to get just a little bit further today” and we may not get there that day, but we work towards that; once we get further, we have to push ourselves to get a step further…over and over again; dance is a long and never-ending journey.
Yelling at students; I’m not sure if that is the most effective way to bring about improvement, but instilling a sense of “‘just do it’ because you have the ability, you just need to apply yourself,” I think, is essential. It’s not yelling out of anger so much as disappointment, which means the teacher believes you can do it. Merche’s yelling cannot be taken personally; it cannot affect your perception of self-worth (another “easier said than done”).
We had moments of laughter and joked around in class too. Yes, it’s a bit terrifying to be in her class–nothing slips past her–nothing. But you’re there to learn, and I learned a lot from her in just a couple of weeks. What a privilege to be able to study with such a master.
For more on her life, spoken from her, here is a link to an interview (in spanish):