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  1. #1
    Moderator Daimona's Avatar
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    Default Follow the bouncing butt - the watch and copy method of learning dance

    A discussion started in another thread about the watch and copy method of learning was too good not to give its own thread in the proper sub-forum.

    Quote Originally Posted by XanaDance View Post
    Maybe I'll ask a LOT more questions on technique when I don't know what we're meant to be doing. Possibly she will then start giving more verbal instructions alongside saying "Just copy me"
    Quote Originally Posted by Bellydance Oz View Post
    In my experience, a LOT of traditional dance styles are taught by the "watch and copy" method, with little or no explanation. I've come across it a lot in belly dance and frequently in flamenco, too.

    My theory is that these are dances which are learnt from childhood in their countries of origin - and "watch and copy" works for children. They're not ready to intellectualise what they're doing anyway. Then, when your Middle Eastern teacher comes to the West and starts passing on her knowledge, she teaches it the way SHE was taught as a child.

    I once had this conversation with a Turkish teacher, who told me she didn't start explaining about the correct use of the muscles (especially the abdominal muscles) until the students were in their third year. In the first two years she just wanted to get the students familiar with the movements.

    That seemed completely back-to-front to me, because I always feel I do a movement better if I know the explanation beforehand. In fact, I found myself having to "unlearn" some steps where I was using my legs to drive hip movements, when it was finally explained!!

    I also suspect this is the reason I see so many belly dancers in Australia with taught legs and saggy tummies - they use their legs. I once asked one Sydney belly dance teacher whether she'd ever been taught how to use the abdominal muscles in belly dance, other than for camels and undulations - and she actually said "you don't".

    Quote Originally Posted by Roshanna View Post
    This seems illustrative of the importance of general physical awareness/proprioception in learning dance. I think that if someone had trained in *any* movement discipline that encouraged being mindful of muscle engagement and aware of the body (e.g. pilates), they would get a lot further with 'watch and follow' teaching. When I watch a dancer now, I can almost feel what muscles she is using (or isn't) - but this definitely wasn't the case as a beginner. I do find that I now find it easier to pick up non-bellydance dance movement by watching, too, having developed that set of skills.

    The problem with 'watch and follow' for beginners in bellydance is that so many of our new dancers are not only adults, but do not have any previous relevant movement background, and so have not developed the motor skills to learn in this way. So as teachers, giving new students that toolkit of body awareness has to be a top priority in order for them to get anywhere.

    Sorry to go totally off topic, but this is an interesting digression...
    But now we're on topic again. Please go ahead and discuss further.
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  2. #2
    Member Bellydance Oz's Avatar
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    I agree 100% with Roshanna when she says,
    The problem with 'watch and follow' for beginners in bellydance is that so many of our new dancers are not only adults, but do not have any previous relevant movement background, and so have not developed the motor skills to learn in this way.


    Actually I think even some experienced dancers may not be able to "see" the muscles moving. I came to belly dance in my fifties with a background in ballet, jazz and flamenco and I had my own instinctive way of approaching the movements, but I wasn't consciously "seeing" the muscles the teacher was using. I do know I was able to mimic the movements far more accurately than my classmates though, because I had a much better spatial awareness (i.e. I knew exactly where my arm or leg was in space - something that people with no dance experience often don't know!).

  3. #3
    V.I.P. Kashmir's Avatar
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    I came to belly dance with 8 years of modern jazz - so I did have some idea of how to create movement (and many are very similar). However, even though my jazz teachers taught in a western style this was way before the anatomical breakdown some teachers use today in belly dance. Closest we came was when one teacher "explained" that a particular move should come from your "gut" - she then demonstrated - but without showing what the other approach looked like. (Unlike rib slides where she did demonstrate rib shift vs spinal movement something that has stayed with me for decades)

    What we did was drill - with feedback. Over and over. As I said, 8 years 2-4 classes a week and in that time maybe 4 or 5 performances.

    When I moved to belly dance, drilling dropped (and I have the devil's own time trying to get my own students to drill as much as I think they need - although this year we have agreed to do more). Classes seemed to be more performance focused. Moves were sometimes broken down - but often not and sometimes wrongly. Breaking down movements requires a lot of awareness on the part of the teacher. The fact that many teachers are selected because they are good dancers - often natural dancers who don't know how they do a move - doesn't help. Lack of awareness of other people's ability to create movement makes things worse.

    My first fully "bouncing butt" teacher was Denise Enan - and I loved what she could teach - what was missing in almost all my previous 7 years of classes - getting the feel of the dance. Slipping into the music. And I don't mean in a self indulgent woo-woo way - how to slip in appropriately. So, maybe it wasn't just butt bouncing. Denise would talk about the music; often showing appropriate and inappropriate movements to it, then she would dance in that style and we would follow - for hours. Personally, I loved it. Many hated it.

    So is technical breakdown needed? In some cases yes - for beginners to get them to move (but not too technical and not too much "engage the obliques" talk) and sometimes for experienced dancers to sharpen up. But obsessing on technique can make windup doll dancers who are doing bad jazz rather than belly dance. The feel is vital. The musical connection in the cultural context is even more so.

  4. #4
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    This is interesting. As a complete beginner I would certainly like a little more explanation. Even a pointer as to where a movement comes from would help. And feedback on whether I'm right or wrong would be good! It doesn't need to be a complete breakdown or which specific muscles as I appreciate not everyone will know.

    I agree with you Kashmir - my experience of classes is that they are focussed on performance techniques and what to do for your audience. I would prefer to drill some basic steps. I don't mind practicing at home, but the whole point of going to a class for me is to learn in a focussed environment with some proper feedback.

    It's interesting that the way bellydance is learnt is watch and copy - I'll need to check and see if my teacher is an immigrant. I got the impression that she's not.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bellydance Oz View Post

    [/I]
    I do know I was able to mimic the movements far more accurately than my classmates though, because I had a much better spatial awareness (i.e. I knew exactly where my arm or leg was in space - something that people with no dance experience often don't know!).
    Also I agree with this completely! My space & body awareness are NOT great. There's a girl who came to class who has studied ballet for many years and she's instantly better than me because of this. It's very discouraging.

  6. #6
    Moderator Daimona's Avatar
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    Almost all dance teaching is watch and copy to some extent.

    In my experience: Complete beginners without prior dance (or martial arts) training and body awareness who don't know anything different are happy with it because they've never tried anything else.
    If you're used to more explanations you'll most likely want more vocal instruction in addition until you've come so far that you don't need it and still understand where the movements come from just by watching.

    I agree that for getting the feeling of the music and the dance it is the best method, but you need a certain understanding what is happening physically if you want to copy the exact moves and the timing of the moves. For learning technique it is, in my opinion, not very good as the only way of learning. We do need both methods if we want to be dancers with both technical skills and with a true feeling of the music.


    One of my dancing friends only teaches "follow the bouncing butt" method. She is a good dancer, but she has no vocabulary of explaining the various moves and no awareness of what muscles are used to produce the various moves. I've attended some of her classes (on various levels) where I've ended up being an assistant teacher because I was able to tell (most of my dance training is western) what she was doing and what the other students needed to do to produce similar movements and not a variant or a completely different move. In her ideal world she would only teach advanced students, but the world isn't perfect...
    Last edited by Daimona; 01-15-2016 at 08:26 AM. Reason: rephrasing
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  7. #7
    Moderator Shanazel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by XanaDance View Post
    Also I agree with this completely! My space & body awareness are NOT great. There's a girl who came to class who has studied ballet for many years and she's instantly better than me because of this. It's very discouraging.
    One of my students is a ballerina- a real, professional ballerina/teacher- who once told me that belly dance was the hardest thing she'd ever done. She struggles with movements and techniques just like everyone else though her sense of music and timing is better.

    I think the only generality one can make is... one cannot make generalities.

    PS

    I hate the word "drill." My dad was an army drill sergeant and the word sets my teeth on edge. I will have my students rehearse, practice, repeat, hone, train, intensively study, run through, go over- anything but drill.
    "Well, now that we have seen each other," said the unicorn " if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you."

  8. #8
    Member Bellydance Oz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kashmir View Post
    What we did was drill - with feedback.
    That's the bit I failed to mention - feedback. I think "watch and copy" can work, IF there is feedback and correction.

    I once went to a few classes with a teacher who taught by "watch and copy" but gave no feedback. She was a lovely dancer herself so I had high hopes. I joined her intermediate group - and was shocked. The class were barely more than beginners in their technique - they all knew the names of the steps and thought they knew how to do them, but some couldn't even do a hip drop properly. Because she never corrected, each student was simply copying the moves as best they could, and as there were no mirrors in the studio, they couldn't visually compare their shape with the teacher's.

    By contrast, most of my flamenco teachers have been "watch and copy" teachers, but they would call out to specific students as they taught (Marisa! Tummy!), walk round the room and prod and pull us into position, or stand us all in front of the mirror to look at the shapes we were making, etc.

  9. #9
    Moderator Daimona's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bellydance Oz View Post
    That's the bit I failed to mention - feedback. I think "watch and copy" can work, IF there is feedback and correction.
    I second this one.
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  10. #10
    Moderator Shanazel's Avatar
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    Third.
    "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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