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  1. #1
    Member BigJim's Avatar
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    Default The 8 Most Important Lessons?

    If you are a Bellydance instructor and are teaching classes I hope the title of this topic has caught your attention. This is a personal observation of a situation that I've been observing for the last couple of months and I'd like to share it with the Forum.
    The story goes like this... I've been trying in a low pressure way to encourage my daughter to start taking bellydance classes. She is no rookie as she has 15 years of Jazz Tap and Ballet experience. She has moved to a city about 3 hours away and to try an encourage her to continue dancing I said i'd pay for her initial set of beginner lessons in bellydance. She signed up with an instructor who has a good reputation... who is a professional and is one of the kingpins in the city...so far so good.
    So how did it work out.... the first couple of lessons generated some interest... my kid was sick for the 3rd and missed it... instructor was sick for the 4th and missed again... 5th lesson had a venue change to a cramped location... to many dancers... not enough room... by the 8th lesson desire to dance not really there... asked her if she wanted to continue on and answer was "well maybe but this instructor was to disorganized for her liking".

    And now we get to the point of the story... maybe my daughter was to advanced for this class and didn't have the patience to go with the flow and know that this class was just to learn the basics.... or maybe the instructor had to many newbies to handle, felt like she was trying to herd chickens and was just happy to get the class done and hoped that they picked up something along the way... I don't know what happened because I wasn't there. But I do know she's probably not going to try bellydance again and I think it's a real shame because she could be a great dancer.

    After reading this, if you are a teacher or instructor, the question might be"WHAT ARE MY MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS THAT i'M TEACHING" ... the answer might not be teaching the advanced students the more difficult concepts... or choreography... or zils... etc etc... but in figuring out a way to give your absolute best to the newest students... if they are happy they will come back....

    This comment has been made not to offend anyone but to try and generate some ideas or thoughts on getting people interested in bellydance and keeping them in the system....looking forward to any comments

  2. #2
    Moderator Shanazel's Avatar
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    First of all, I want to say I have no desire to keep students in the system if they don't want to be there.

    No, I am not shouting. Dignified ladies do not raise their voices and I am a very, very dignified lady. The emphasis is to indicate firmness and clarity.

    Basically you are asking teachers how you can get your daughter to fufill your ambitions for her. My advice as a teacher is to quit trying. After fifteen years of dance perhaps your daughter would prefer singing lessons or a course in cabinet making or instruction in mountaineering.

    I seriously doubt your daughter was "too advanced" for the class, though she might well have lacked "the patience to go with the flow and know that this class was just to learn the basics." She was a newby belly dancer, right? New to the music, new to the movement vocabulary, new to the whole belly dance scene? That makes her a beginning BD student no matter how many times she danced Clara at Christmas.

    This semester I got a new student who has forty years of ballet, jazz, and modern experience. She danced in a professional ballet company for a number of years and taught for a good twenty-five years thereafter. She struggles with her new BD vocabulary just like the students with no experience at all struggle.

    The knowledge she DID bring with her from her dance background was 1) one must learn to walk before one dances; 2) one has to come to class to learn to walk; and 3) one must practice between classes in order to advance (now there's a concept some people NEVER get ).

    Even the best teacher cannot teach the desire to dance, the willingness to show up and suit up week after week, or the determination to learn despite all odds.
    "Well, now that we have seen each other," said the unicorn " if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you."

  3. #3
    V.I.P. shiradotnet's Avatar
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    Well, regardless of the material taught in the class, the instructor needs to behave professionally. She needs to be punctual. She needs to know before she walks in the door what she's going to teach that day and have the music organized properly to teach it. She needs to conduct the class in a disciplined manner that sticks to the task of teaching dance, not admiring the latest cute exercise garb worn by a class member or chit-chatting about how much fun the latest hafla was.

    Assuming that criterion of professional behavior is met, the teacher should teach level-appropriate material. Beginners should be taught to hear the beat in the music so they can move their bodies in time to it. They should be taught correct posture, and how to assemble basic moves into combinations. The class should include level-appropriate information about culture/history to help students understand it a little better.

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    Premium Member Aniseteph's Avatar
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    (ah what's the point trying - I can't put what I want to say any better than Shanazel already did)

    IMO for every serious dance student who is put off by a perceived lack of organisation/professionalism in belly dance classes there is at least one person who doesn't even think of herself as a dancer but goes along anyway and starts discovering something wonderful - about the dance, about herself, about moving, expression, acceptance, friends, discovering a world of new music...

    Yes if I was a serious dance student I'd have been thinking WTH? in my first classes. But unless you are in a big city where there are teachers who can afford to have classes for fast-tracking wannabe pros, belly dance classes are going to be catering to a mixed bag and a particular class is unlikely to tick everyone's personal boxes all the time. If you really want to learn you suck that up and work with it.

    ...the newest students... if they are happy they will come back....
    Agreed. But you can't please everyone all of the time. Assuming we are taking basic professionalism as Shira mentioned as a given (it's not of course, but it should be), some students will be unhappy because they didn't get enough feedback, others because they got too much and felt criticised. Some will want goddessy ancient mysticism and be disappointed, others will be turned off at any hint of communing with their inner ancient priestess. Some will be disappointed that it's not shaking your behind to seduce the sultan. Some will be disappointed that it's much harder than it looks, others that it's not a cardio workout or full of gym-speak.

    I think all you can do is do the right thing by the dance, keep content appropriate for the students' level so there's a mix of challenging and familiar, in terms of movement and music, and give as much individual attention tailored to the ability/needs of each student as possible.

  5. #5
    Member BigJim's Avatar
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    Shanazel... You are absolutely right... if the student is not interested they are wasting their time and also the instructors.
    It sounds from your reply that I've come across as a pushy parent who has an agenda for my daughters dance career and is miffed that it hasn't started and am looking to blame the instructor. All I can say is that I've been down that road already as a Hockey Dad and have learned along the way that if it's not something the kid wants to do then they shouldn't be doing it. Agreed.

    Aniseteph brings in some good points about the expectations of students as they start dancing... how difficult it is to work with many different personalities and the impossible task of trying to teach a class that would please everyone all the time.

    I hope the topic of this thread flows towards the thought of the first 8 beginner lessons... are they the most important?... as a teacher have you evaluated your lesson plan lately to maximize your effectiveness... maybe by making a small change here and there you can retain more students to the next level.... or maybe the system works just fine as it is.... that those with an actual desire to dance will continue on and the rest will weed themselves automatically...

  6. #6
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    Hi Jim,

    I think I might have a good parallel for you. A good friend of mine is a second-Dan black belt in hapkido. She's trained since she was 8, she was the first female black belt in the Candian Hapkido Association, she teaches. Any time she has entred another martial arts school to learn a new style or technique, she starts again as a white belt. She might advance more quickly than other students, due to her existing level of knowledge and skill, but she takes the classes, learns the technique, and grades just like any other student.

    I grew up in dance studios too. 3 years of tap as a tiny kid, 12 years of ballet, 8 years of jazz. I'd even done a couple of semesters of belly dance recreationally in university. When I picked it up again at 29, the day after my first class I had a muscle spasm so severe in my lower back, that I couldn't even get up off the floor for an hour or so and walking was an effort for days. It's a totally different style of movement and my body wasn't going to put up with it. I took two beginner's level sessions before I felt like I was ready to move on. I still struggle with some of the basics. You've seen me dance, Jim. I pick up choreography quickly, and I have pretty good posture and arms, but I'm not much better than average!

    So yes, the beginner's sessions are important and really it's ultimately up to the dancer to recognize that. Taking up a pursuit as an adult is much different than being a kid going through the dance school system. Adults need to be much more self-directed in their goals, it's not up to the teachers to seize on potential ability and shape a star, the way that parents and teachers might push a talented child. It could be that right now, with move to a new city and all, your daughter is just to busy to put the focus into it that she needs to if she really, genuinely wants to pursue belly dance seriously. I'm guessing she's young? Probably still trying to figure out who and what the adult version of herself is going to be? Maybe 5 years from now, it will be an entirely different story and she'll be knocking our socks off

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    V.I.P. Yame's Avatar
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    Belly dance classes can be a bit disorganized in comparison to other dance classes. This can happen with teachers who are unqualified and/or inexperienced and/or uninterested in actually teaching, but it also happens with teachers who are experienced, qualified, and quite good...

    Because our market isn't so huge, often teachers have no choice but to offer mixed-level classes. Because our market, at least in this country, is mostly consisted of people who begin as adults, we have to cater our classes to people who want something relaxing and fun and can't make a commitment more than once a week, *if* that. We have to cater our classes to people who are probably never going to become professional, and/or people who will not advance as quickly as someone in their teens would. We have to cater our classes to people who often have no prior dance experience. I could go on...

    The point is that the way someone would teach a class full of 15-year-olds with prior dance experience and with the discipline that comes with it, plus plenty of available time, is very different from the way someone would teach a class full of women in their 40s and 50s and 60s who have never danced before, who have lives, and for whom dance is more of an escape.

    Now personally as a teacher, I teach every single student as much as I can and treat all of them as future performers (even if they don't become professional, and have no performance aspirations when they start, they might choose to perform at haflas and the like later on). Everyone can get better, no matter their age and goals... but people do have different levels of commitment and different learning curves and depending on the class make-up, the class will progress differently and have a different dynamic.

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    V.I.P. Yame's Avatar
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    So that could help explain some of the disorganization your daughter experienced. With that said though, when you say you think the teacher should have focused more on her, I think that is probably an unreasonable expectation.

    Sure, a teacher needs to help a baby beginner out if she is having trouble in class, but you can't stop the class to focus on one person at the peril of everyone there. It gets frustrating for more advanced dancers to constantly have to stop because someone new can't get it... and it's especially frustrating when that person isn't even interested enough to keep going to class.

    Why should the loyal students who have been coming back time and time again and paying for class time and time again have to be constantly hampered by a new person who's probably not even going to come back?

  9. #9
    Member Pleasant dancer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigJim View Post

    But I do know she's probably not going to try bellydance again and I think it's a real shame because she could be a great dancer.

    I have had quite a few students who could have been great dancers - if they wanted to. They didn't. Whatever it is about this dance that attracts people, these students didn't get it, even if they had potential. They go on to something else that they do "get".

    if they are happy they will come back....

    And sometimes even when they are happy they don't come back. I've met past students who have just done and term or two who have said how much they enjoyed it, but.... they had had enough. They just didn't have the intense interest in belly dancing to continue, and I do believe it takes an intense interest to continue to do the dance for a long time.

    This comment has been made not to offend anyone but to try and generate some ideas or thoughts on getting people interested in bellydance and keeping them in the system....looking forward to any comments
    I think the only way your daughter will find out if she really likes bellydancing it to try another teacher, if she can. Some teachers suit some people more than others. I don't really think that anyone who has a real interest would be easily put off. I've known a few students who have been to every available teacher in the area, and then drop out. In my estimation the interest just isn't there, or perhaps something else in their life is much more important.

    Just my thoughts and experience.

  10. #10
    Moderator Shanazel's Avatar
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    as a teacher have you evaluated your lesson plan lately to maximize your effectiveness... maybe by making a small change here and there you can retain more students to the next level....
    Teaching belly dance is not like teaching math with carefully designed lesson plans to reach carefully calculated goals. There are no clearly defined universal levels of belly dance (student A shall be able to execute perfect chest circles, an American shimmy, and balance a sword on her head while skipping on a log across a pit of alligators).

    Every class requires on the spot re-evaluation and adjustments to meet the changing needs and skills of a wide variety of students. I may have a semester where the entire class advances by leaps and bounds and another where students struggle to learn a decent gliding walk.

    Yes, you did come across as a stage dad. I'm glad you see the light.
    "Well, now that we have seen each other," said the unicorn " if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you."

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