Trained VS. Self-Taught: A False Dichotomy in Dance

dI Community Corner

What is art?

Art to me is an escape from reality. A way to express our thoughts, feelings, emotions and experiences.

Throughout my artistic journey, I have encountered many situations where people were engaged in conversations on the differences between the qualifications of a trained/ technical dancer versus a self-taught dancer. The debate on whether one is more equipped to succeed in their professional artistic career than the other. This led me to question myself on what determines the longevity and accomplishments in an artistic journey. Also, at the end of the day, does your academia or life experiences matter in evaluating or appreciating your talent and your gift?

A technically trained dancer or professional is defined as one who has received formal training from an educational institution, whereas a self-taught dancer is one who learned through discovery and learning from others within the dance community. Although in theory, these two seem clear cut, in reality the lines are blurred, or at times non-existent. Every dancer at one point or another will go through some form of formal training whether it’s through classes, and/or workshops, residencies, or mentorship programs. Just like how every dancer at some point, through discovery, will use their life experiences to develop their own artistic voice that is not taught in an educational institution.

In saying that, I am curious if we can or will ever reach a point where we can debunk the idea of technical segregation. Dance is not a singular entity, there are hundreds if not thousands of different genres across the globe so who determines which “technique” supersedes another?

Stephen Wang writes in his book, Triple Crown Leadership, “No matter what job you have in life, 5 % of your success will be determined by your academic credentials, 15% by your professional experiences and 80% by your communication skills.”

Do you agree? Do you believe that technical training, life experiences, or a combination of both will help you be successful in your artistic journey?

What are your thoughts? Please comment on this blog if you would like to participate and share your experiences in this community discussion. If you have thoughts that you would rather not share publicly, please email me at


Yours truly,


15 replies
  1. Ama
    Ama says:

    Whether trained or self-thought I think what matters is the person’s intention and authenticity to the art of dancing. Self-thaught artists can gain specific technics and understanding of dance that the trained one wouldn’t have and vice-versa. I might be bias but I see a self-taught person to be more intuned with themselves and can speak to their audience with their movements in a way that a trained dancer might not be able to do. Then again they are still both being trained but just in a different ways one is not better than the other.

    • Zahra
      Zahra says:

      Hello Ama,
      Thank you for your comment. Indeed dancing from the heart with authenticity and truth should be the main focus of an artist. From an audience perspective, the goal should be to feel the honesty behind the movement regardless of the medium you came from.

  2. GeNie Baffoe
    GeNie Baffoe says:

    Super interesting question and discussion. To me it goes in multiple directions. For starters I’ll define my point of view. The term “self-taught” for me often refers to one’s singular desire to learn exactly what they are interested in, wish to acquire and do so at their own tempo, speed and inspiration. Where “Professionally trained” refers to the monetary ability to seek guidance at a pace, tempo that someone else determines.

    With this in mind there are pros and cons to each path. Self Taught artists are often more willing to draw outside of the lines so the speak. They are less bound by “the way of doing things” because they haven’t had the pre-determined structure that professionally trained artists are given. However, professionally trained artists are given the tools necessary for success laid out in front of them. Because the pace of growth of integrated into their training they often reach their “goals” quicker in my opinion.

    The true test for both sides remains the same. Finding themselves in the sea of information that they are acquiring. We can go on about which is better for success. My core answer to that is neither. I believe both sides can find themselves going no where if they do not create their own lane, find their own voice and create their own path based on the tools, information and skills sets they acquired in their own way.

    Self Taught artists are more creative in their approach for that they excel. Professionally trained artists have the training to know exactly how to do exactly what they are trained in and excel. However, both artists have to find what makes them unique, or they method of gathering skills will lost in the sea of other artists.

    I think that makes sense. You tell me LOL.

    • Zahra Badua
      Zahra Badua says:

      Hello Genie,
      Thank you for your insights. You are making a lot of sense. Whether the individual is self-trained or professional trained, one must find their own creative voice with the tools they have gathered during their “training” in order to help them navigate their artistic career and find success.

  3. Helen H
    Helen H says:

    Thank you for sparking these thought-provoking discussions. I am writing as a lover and (loving observer) of dance but not as someone who is a part of the professional community.

    I think the question of whether being trained or self-taught will help you be more “successful” is fascinating because “success” is a construct of the mind. Does success mean recognition by a professional body or community? Does success mean accolades and awards? Does it mean mastery of the conventions and technique of a particular genre of dance?

    This “segregation” as you mention of trained vs. self-taught dancers I guess is dangerous separation because as the comment above states trained dancers have the monetary ability to access classes and teachers. If we favour trained over self-taught dancers than it suggests that dance and expression is only accessible to those who train.

    I think there is such a beauty in being able to add personality and depth of expression to movement. If we go by this idea that the dancer communicates a message or theme through movement than technical trained dancers only enhance their performance through experience and interaction within the community and by moving away from rigidity and stagnancy (robotically adhering to technique with no expression) and self-taught dancers only enhance their understanding of dance (and expression) gained through experience by refining their movements through training. A gifted dancer accesses technique and experience and delicately weaves the two. I suppose the self-taught dancer has more barriers in front of them in a setting where “credentials” are overvalued but if dance and “success” in dance is about communicating (80% of success) than the dancer that has the most outreach to the audience, irrespective of background, counts themselves as “successful”.

    • Zahra Badus
      Zahra Badus says:

      Hello Helen,
      Thank you for your comment. You bring up a good point about access and the definition of “success”. Could one be successful in their artistic endeavors due to their financial disposition and favorable accessibility, rather than their technical skills or natural abilities.

      A new way of looking at this topic. Thank you for your point of view.


  4. Kwasi Obeng
    Kwasi Obeng says:

    I believe that perseverance is the key factor that determines one’s longevity. I went to an arts school with many technically trained dancers while I and a few others were self taught. I’m the only person to have actually continued dancing. There are definitely benefits from being technically trained as well as being self taught. Having learned on my own I feel I have discovered in myself more freedom in my movement, being able to express without having to think so technically about it.

    • Zahra Badua
      Zahra Badua says:

      Hello Kwasi,
      Thank you for your comment. Perseverance is definitely the key to longevity and success within one’s artistic journey. Also you bring up a good point in terms of possible elements missing within the technically training. Could it be a question that within their training, they learn to feel and connect more with themselves, their art and their movement?

  5. Felicia Agyekum
    Felicia Agyekum says:

    I am not a dancer except my one two steps expressed in my admiration of whatever music is played. I agree with all comments expressed. Whether self taught or trained, one’s interest and skill will create the art of dancing and add to longevity. Most people who spent money in the field may give up because they no longer find it appealing probably because it becomes regimental and too technical. Self taught, on the other hand has the ability to be creative as they are bound by no set of restrictions and or technicalities – at least not in any book. I know of a young man who took interest in dancing with no formal education in dancing and no footsteps. But with perseverance, tenacity and purpose- driven he has created wonders in his field and continues with fresh ideas daily. To me it does not necessarily matter; either one keeps me entertained. LOL

    • Zahra Badua
      Zahra Badua says:

      Hello Ms. Felicia,
      Thank you for your response. It seems to be the common thread that regardless of where you find yourself in terms of your background in the artistry, perseverance and drive will guide you through in your career. Thank you for appreciating dance as a two step connoisseur.

  6. Shannon
    Shannon says:

    Very interesting article. It brought me back to where I learned how to dance and it wasn’t in school. I saw my parents and family and I use to imitate their moves. There was no classes, basically show and tell. Then it was the choreography in music videos where I use to practice with my sister and friends… I do believe that what we learned was throughout life was taught weither it was in a class or not. Bottom line, we imitate what we saw or what was shown to us. The experience and knowledge comes from both backgrounds. There’s shouldn’t be one better than the other one. Both are magical in their own intent or combined

    • Zahra Badua
      Zahra Badua says:

      Hello Shannon,
      The beauty of watching and imitating your parents or the elders is indeed magical. It is our first form of training. It is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing.


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