How I went from the classroom to the dance room

We asked a former non-native English teacher – with the Cambridge Proficiency and Celta – to tell her story of how she moved from TEFL to DJing.

‘Everything happens for a reason’ … It’s never seemed like that for me. Often unprepared and completely out of my comfort zone, I have had to learn, change and adapt, and in many instances the necessary training and preparation to face those new challenges came from the most unexpected sources. One of those was my experience of teaching English as a foreign language and the new skills I developed during my years as a teacher when I began my career in music. I had never planned to become a teacher, nor had I planned to become a music producer and a DJ, but when – for some reason – I did, I found that the first had inevitably facilitated the latter. 

Preparation and managing anxiety 

It is fair to say that teaching a class of students that gets to know you over time and grows fond of you is nowhere near as nerve wracking as pleasing the expert and picky crowds of the global underground club music scene. However, I remember the anxiety weighing down on my chest during my first years of teaching: the insecurity of being a non-native speaker, the fear of lacking knowledge, the many ‘what do I do if..’ questions flocking my mind, the imposter syndrome stemming from having won a free CELTA that had got me in a position that I had to believe I deserved and the consequent self-doubt arising from it.

Some of these feelings had not gone away when I started my career in music, as a matter of fact they were amplified, but back then, preparation was always the key to managing those unsettling emotions and a valuable addition to my skill set. Anticipating every possible issue, question or challenge when preparing lessons has a lot of similarities with preparing a DJ set. Researching and understanding the crowd and the artists you’re going to perform with (understanding your students), deciding the tracks that you are going to play and at what point of the set (choosing the topics and the learning tasks), receiving and analysing feedback by the crowd engagement, the new followers (have the lesson’s objectives been achieved?).

Reading the (dance) room 

The performative element in TEFL is undeniable. When I was a high school student in Pisa, I loved English lessons because they were fun and engaging. Listening to teachers always felt like watching actors on stage, especially when working on vocabulary or pronunciation. In fact, reading the room and adapting my performance accordingly is something that I used to do as a teacher and that I now do as a performer.

As a teacher I would change type of activity, voice intonation, grouping, timings, techniques, props in order to keep the students engaged and achieve the lesson’s objectives. And that’s exactly what I do as a DJ, especially during really long 4-5 hours DJ sets: from setting different moods to switching genres and tempo, to sometimes trying riskier transitions in order to keep the crowd interested. Reading the classroom and reading the dance floor are indeed very similar in my experience.

Cultural Awareness

Growing up as a mixed-raced girl in Italy, living abroad for most of my adult life and being a sociology graduate undoubtedly made me a very culturally aware individual. Nonetheless teaching English as a foreign language at an international college for 5 years has had a huge impact me. Understanding cultural norms, body language, attitudes, personalities, and learning about different cultures is something that I cherished a lot when I used to teach. When the language ability is limited or lacking, cultural sensitivity is a precious skill and, as DJing internationally involves a lot of travelling, I’m very grateful to have been been able to develop mine during my TEFL years.

Creative thinking (on the spot) 

When DJing internationally, you never know what might happen before or during a DJ set. Faulty equipment, terrible venue acoustics, difficult crowd, lost luggage, wrong file formats on your USB stick, outfit emergencies, flight delays, performance schedule delays, weather adversities if you’re playing outdoors… I could go on and on. The classroom environment is certainly easier to control but being prepared and being able to come up with last minute ideas and solutions for whatever issue may arise is crucial. Preparing my lessons taught me to always have a plan B, C, D and – often times – E, just in case. But sometimes plan F was needed, so learning to think creatively on the spot is a skill that has come to my help many times, whether I had to completely switch a classroom activity that wasn’t going as planned or I had to have a piece of equipment replaced mid-set while playing in front of an excited dancing crowd.

Italian producer and DJ, Ehua has been making waves since the release of her 2018 debut EP, ‘Diplozoon’ on Femme Culture. She’s since remixed records for Ninja Tune, played at some of Europe’s most iconic festivals and recently started a residency at Rinse FM, where she explores the percussion-influenced realms of experimental techno each month. 

Her most recent releases include ‘Clouds’ EP [3024],  ‘Aquamarine via Nervous Horizon, an EP inspired by both the colour and motion of water, ‘Venom, single part of Cutcross’s V/A CXT003 ‘With The Pulse’, ‘Helios’ on Fabric Presents Leon Vynehall and ‘Deepstaria’ via Nervous Horizon latest compilation NH V/A Vol. 4. 

Away from club music, Ehua also retains a life-long interest in the arts and has composed various soundtracks for short and feature films, as well as for artistic performances. Ehua is part of GRIOT — a collective and influential online media hub based in Italy focusing on arts from Africa and its diaspora.