From Dance to Online Spanish, Teacher Helps Students Express Themselves

Written by Christina Peebles

March 19, 2020

Blog | Teacher Stories

Whether she is teaching dance in India or online Spanish for students in the United States, Proximity Learning teacher Shauna Derrickson enjoys helping students build the confidence to express themselves through physical movement and spoken language.

“Throughout all of it, I teach,” Derrickson said. “When you are able to get somebody to a better understanding of themselves, it doesn’t matter exactly what the content is that you are trying to do that with. But that’s our ultimate goal.”

Derrickson enjoys the different energy, feelings and challenges that she can express through different dance forms. She’s practiced nihon buyo in Japan, flamenco in Venezuela, swing, LA and Cuban salsa, bachata and belly dance. From the wild, open nature of swing dancing to sensual, expressive bachata dancing, she loves teaching people how to connect to themselves in different ways.

“[I’m] trying to teach [bachata] in a culture that doesn’t encourage men and women to really hang out and socialize with each other,” Derrickson said. “So in a very conservative place you are teaching guys how to hold a woman’s hand for the first time, how to share personal space in a respectful way [and] how to hold somebody in a respectful way.”

Derrickson has been teaching belly dancing for about a decade in India. She said it has been fun to teach people how to feel comfortable and have control over their bodies.

“It’s nice because the women here especially, … as they’re younger it’s changing, but they’re a little more conservative,” Derrickson. “So teaching people how to feel comfortable with their bodies. Teaching people that you have control over your body, which is the basic idea of the belly dance we focus on.”

At the heart of all the dance forms, Derrickson teaches social dance. Through the steps and turns, she described how a sheepish beginner will gradually become more in touch with themself and the dance, building confidence that can’t be taught in any other shape or form.

“It’s amazing when you see people who aren’t used to being in close contact with another person finally having the confidence in themselves to be able to, without words, ask a partner to follow them in a dance,” Derrickson said. “To go to somebody else and ask: ‘Would you dance with me?’ Or to see their face when they get rejected and know they have the confidence to ask the next partner.”

Similar to how Derrickson can help her dance students express themselves, she said she hopes to combine PLI technology with her language instruction to connect with students virtually in a new way. Even though she will not primarily be teaching them how to socialize through dance, her ultimate goal of aiding with self-growth is still the same.

“You would hope that you’re able to get the students to connect still because that’s your ultimate goal is that idea of connection and that idea of self-discovery and self-expression,” Derrickson said. “I know we’re in a time of huge teacher shortage and being able to put a qualified teacher in the classroom is an amazing thing.”

For Derrickson, Spanish is a fantastic vehicle for teaching students about tolerance, appreciation, acceptance and connecting to something bigger than themselves. She said her priorities in the classroom are not to ensure that her students remember conjugations or past tense of verbs, but that they gain the skills and confidence to learn a new language.

“I’m not your source of information, you can get information from the computer and I think more and more that’s true for our kids today,” Derrickson said. “They don’t need someone who is standing up there teaching them content. Content is not what’s happening, you need to be able to teach them how to think.”

A native Texan, Derrickson’s experience traveling, learning new languages and dancing in different countries opened her mind to new perspectives so much that she had to leave the state she grew up in. Today, she hopes to share the lessons she learned connecting with new cultures in the online classroom.

“You need to teach them how to change perspective,” Derrickson said. “We need to teach them how to engage other people, how to interact, how to connect, because those are the really important skills.”

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