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  1. #1
    V.I.P. PracticalDancer's Avatar
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    Default What can you learn when you "can't learn from" an instructor?

    This summer I had an experience that may resonate with some of you, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

    I went to take a 2 day workshop with an internationally known instructor. Since she had been given high praise here and elsewhere, I was truly looking forward to it. Instead, I found that I was very frustrated by her teaching style and had a very hard time being open to anything she had to offer.

    As my frustration mounted, I became more determined to learn something, anything from her, even if it was not what she intended to teach. After some (many, many, many) deep breaths and water breaks, I realized that I was learning a lot about my preferred learning style -- what I needed in order to learn was not what she was proficient in. I needed a teacher who could describe, not just "do" a move. Identifying this helped me to see what she could offer, and I was then able to take away some lessons about the emotional (vs. technical) aspects of the dance.

    After a while, I began to notice how other students were reacting, and some were feeling similarly frustrated. While I am a long way from teaching, putting myself in the role of a 3rd party observer taught me a lot about class dynamics and how to teach successfully (or, unsuccessfully, as it were).

    I now had two things I had learned that were not part of the course.

    So, fellow dancers, what have you been able to learn when you "can't learn from" an instructor?

  2. #2
    V.I.P. Kashmir's Avatar
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    I had a similar - but different - experience with Dr Mo years back. I'd done some wonderful folkloric work swith Aisha Ali and Denise Enan and Dr Mo's workshop was advertised as "folkloric". Until then I had never met Reda style in the flesh. I hated it. I loathed the arabeques. I cringed at the cutesy pie. For two or three nights I stomped back to my digs thinking about how much time and money I had invested in this fiasco.

    Then one morning I decided to re-approach it. His style wasn't going to change - not after 40 odd years. So what could I gain? I just pretended I was doing a dance class, just a dance class, not at all bellydance related. As dance training it was very useful. As a way of approaching group choreography there were tips to pick up. Oddly enough once that light bulb went off I could then find crumbs of folkloric buried under the dross and I could often ellicit the information I needed with carefully worded questions.

    (Ironically Dr Mo is one of the most Western style Egyptian teachers - he does break things down, he does plan what and how to teach, he does have his music picked and his choreographies worked out before he turns up - but personally I prefer the following the bouncing bum teaching style because it teaches what you cannot achieve with hours of drilling in front of a mirror)

  3. #3
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    Default Follow the Bouncing Butt

    I too have had similar experiences having taken many workshops and had three different dance teachers in eight years. Not only that but I have studied art, drawing and painting for twenty years and have run into the same kind of thing with art instructors, artists, etc. There is a notion out there that anyone can just look at something and do it or that they can feel it. Maybe that's the learning style for some people, but it doesn't work for all people. I have discovered that I need to use all three methods to understand and learn, visual, auditory and kinethestic. Just one or two by themselves doesn't do it. I can't follow the bouncing butt method. I need to have a through explanation of the move, the muscles, where the weight is, the footwork, then I need to see it and then I need to do it many times, eyes open, eyes closed, with and without a mirror. So, alot of workshops are difficult for me. I much perfer DVD's where I watch, take notes, hear the instructor and then do the moves. Then sometimes I still need to have a teacher actually see what I'm doing. Since I am aware of my learning style, I am very careful when I select workshops as they are expensive. I also teach, so I incorporate all learning styles in my teaching to accomodate all kinds of learners. I am amazed that experienced, professional teachers don't know that about students.

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    V.I.P. Maria_Aya's Avatar
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    There is only one thing that can put me off in a workshop.
    A non-prepared teacher.
    Beside that, even if I hate the style, the music, the method, I know that I can gain things, that I might not enjoy at that moment but I can work with them after by my self to make my teaching style, and dancing better.
    Ok and I get extremly bored from teachers that speak all the time in the class about them selfs and how great they are, succesfull blah blah blah.. we know that already, thats why we picked the workshop

    Maria Aya

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    V.I.P. Jane's Avatar
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    When I take a class from a teacher or look at any art, I figure out what I like, what I don't, what works or not and *why*. I think about how I can use the information for myself and my students.

    Also, my tastes and needs have changed. Information that was insignifiant ten years ago for me, might be vital now. Write or record everthing for later.
    No learning is ever wasted.

    Some people are good examples, others are severe warnings...

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    V.I.P. PracticalDancer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jane View Post
    When I take a class from a teacher or look at any art, I figure out what I like, what I don't, what works or not and *why*. I think about how I can use the information for myself and my students.
    Jane, I think this is what I was looking for, specifically more insight into this process. Since I am hoping to keep studying for at least the next 45 years, I imagine this will happen to me at least once more!

    For all others who have been kind enough to reply, please know that I do not want this to be a debate on the "bouncing butt" method of teaching. It can be a highly effective method. In fact, one of my favorite workshops was with Tamalyn Dallal, who barely spoke. Her experiences teaching abroad came through and she was a shining example of how to communicate without words and how to teach by example.

    Alas, for the Famous Instructor in question, the butt was not bouncing -- it was hardly moving at all! I am struggling to limit details as she is very respected! But, she kept saying that the movements were "internal" -- leaving some to joke that the moves were not visible without the benefit of Xrays. Yet, I know that she had worked hard to earn her reputation, and a chance to study with her may not appear again. So, if I were to take anything away from her class, I needed a way to open my mind and learn other lessons.

    That is what I want to learn more about: what Kashmir calls the process of finding the "crumbs" and then asking careful questions. Can you offer more guidance on this process?

    Thanks,

    Anala

  7. #7
    Senior Member Eshta's Avatar
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    I think it also took me a few years of workshop attendance to realise that I need to be very honest with myself as to what I intend to gain from the workshop, and if that's realistic. Just because she's an internationally renown dancer doesn't necessarily mean I will benefit from the workshop.

    I took workshops with Aziza a while ago. She was a fabulous teacher, I enjoy her performances, but after 15 minutes into the drum solo choreography I had to ask myself, 'what the *&% am I doing here?!' I couldn't fault Aziza as a teacher and performer, I like drum solos, but I am not interested in learning the pop n lock drum solo style, even if I enjoy watching them. So I made an error in signing up to that particular workshop.

    As long as I am honest about my objective for attending a workshop, I usually come out ok. I attended Asmahan's workshop at the Nile festival, but just sat on the side. I think I gained way more out of that workshop than many of the ladies trying to keep up with her fast-paced choreography. Reason being I wanted a chance to get up close and analyse what gives Asmahan her drama, her dynamism. I don't want to dance like Asmahan, but I admire her showmanship. From that point of view, I learnt loads!

    I also had similar experiences with Reda-style dance workshops. Not something I want to dance, but it really opens my mind up to new possibilities and new ideas, so as long as I don't lose sight of that, I love it!

  8. #8
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    Default Methods of Learning & Crumbs

    Reply to the concept of "follow the bouncing butt" or "monkey see monkey do", some people learn that way and that's fine. My comment is that not all students learn that way and I am one of those, so workshops where instructors teach that way are not for me as an intermediate dancer. Maybe when I'm advanced I can see internally what they are doing. I feel that instructors who teach should present their material in different ways so that all students have a chance to learn their material. I have several DVDs by Tamalyn Dahlal and she seems to give very complete instructions on those. I've never taken a live workshop from her so I can't comment about that. I have studied with one of her senior students who has recently moved to my town and she is very thorough, so I like her instruction a lot. I took a workshop this summer from a highly known instructor who teaches Egyptian style. She handed out lots of notes and her instruction was very good. However, later that night she danced at our hafla and I was not impressed with the internal style. She had gained a lot of weight, wore a full black dress that covered her midsection and the stage area was kind of dark. I couldn't see any of those small, internal moves on her body. It appeared she just did a lot of turns and arabesques. I know that Egyptian style is all the rave these days for oriental dancers but personally, I really like the American Cabaret style. I like the external moves on the body that really show. I really like learning from DVDs at this stage in my dancing. I've been dancing for eight years and have had three different teachers and attended many workshops, so I can pick up a lot from DVDs. I like the fact that I can watch and take notes, replay it as much as I want and drill as much as I want. I don't have to get into the teacher's personality and it's affordable and flexible. You do have to be a motivated and disciplined person who will do the work on your own. Workshops are expensive if you also consider lodging, food and gas. It's too expensive for me to just get some crumbs of teaching. If money is no object then that's fine. I really am careful of which teachers I take workshops with.
    Last edited by Shashi; 11-30-2008 at 06:44 PM.

  9. #9
    V.I.P. Yasmine Bint Al Nubia's Avatar
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    Hi Anala, this is a very good topic!!! I enjoy going to workshops, not just to learn from a well respected eacher but also to commune with my fellow dancers. With that being sadi, it's also fun to learn about other dancers in the area and after going to several workshops, one tends to see the same faces..almost like a mini reunion. To me that's the secret joy in workshop attendance..the behind the secenes networking.

    Usually before I attend a workshop, I like to investigate the teacher's style. The best way to do that is by watching performance or instructional videos. In this way I can be prepared for the lesson, even if it varies.

    I also try not to learn an entire choreogaphy if it's taught, rather I try to learn a few combos and practice those at home. If I have questions about how a move is done or the music that is used(i.e artist, album, style) I ALWAYS make sure to ask.

    One thing I did learn from my very first workshop was to build on what I already knew..basic posture, weight placement and transitions. Even if I couldn't approximate the steps, my body would use the building blocks of which I was familiar. And by doing so I could focus on the teachers' body line and weight placement. Sometimes, it's very difficult for teachers to EXPLAIN every move in detail(especially with a lot of students), so it's important to watch what is done as well as what is said.
    Yasmine

  10. #10
    V.I.P. Aisha Azar's Avatar
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    Default Instruction, etc.

    Dear Anala,

    Alas, for the Famous Instructor in question, the butt was not bouncing -- it was hardly moving at all! I am struggling to limit details as she is very respected! But, she kept saying that the movements were "internal" -- leaving some to joke that the moves were not visible without the benefit of Xrays. Yet, I know that she had worked hard to earn her reputation, and a chance to study with her may not appear again. So, if I were to take anything away from her class, I needed a way to open my mind and learn other lessons.
    I know I have been to many workshops where the very respected instructor turns out to be not only NOT a good instructor, but many times not even a good dancer. It is like the person is famous for being famous and not much more.
    Then there are those who are good teachers in some subjects but not others. There are poor teachers who perform well and good performers who are bad teachers. Some have great academic knowledge but little talent for the dance. Some are showy dancers but do not know their backsides from their elbows about the history or cultural aspects of the dance. Some claim to know it all and when you scratch beneath a very thin surface, you get zilch. Teachers come in a vast array of skill and weakness sets! Personally, I like a teacher who is thoroughly versed in the subjects that she teaches including all aspects from movement to music to costuming to historical and cultural info.... and this is something that one can only really do with so many subjects. If someone is teaching 29 different dances and claims vast knowledge of them all, I immediately suspect the depth of their knowledge.


    That is what I want to learn more about: what Kashmir calls the process of finding the "crumbs" and then asking careful questions. Can you offer more guidance on this process?
    First, try to figure out what it is that YOU want to learn, Don't take a workshop just because it is there or because the person is famous or very well respected. Respect often is not a measure of what the person has to offer, but more of good marketing. I know some terrible dancers and teachers who are well respected!!
    Second, look into the instructor as much as possible. I know I have very high standards for teaching, both when I am the instructor and when I am the student. Go to the person's website and look at any video, and endorsements,etc. If you can, rent a dvd of them from the library on interlibrary loan if no other way. Email the person and see how they respond to any questions you may have about what they are teaching. Can they give you an in depth, accurate and clear response to your questions? Do they have any to ask you? Does it appear from this that the instructor is student aware? Or does it seem like you get brush off answers that have a general feel with no real sense of you as a person at the other end of the email?
    (You want, "We will be exploring Basic Egyptian in depth, including variations, layers and phrasing. We will be looking at the mechanics of the movement family with the focus on the way BE works on individual bodies and within cultural boundaries." as opposed to "Trust me, you will have a great time.")
    Third, be prepared to come away with small chunks of knowledge rather than a big amount, because the truth is that in most workshop situations, the average person is going to learn 3-4 concepts that will be small epiphanies in dance, rather than have a huge orgasmic learning experience in which nearly all material is absorbed. (The only person with whom I can say I have had the latter is Shareen El Safy!!
    Fourth, this may or may not be helpful, but on my website, Raqs Azar there is an article called "The Student/Instructor Relationship in Middle Eastern Dance." You might find some guidance there as far as what shouj;d be expected of an instructor and what they should expect from you. some of the info applies to class or workshops and some applies to performance opportunities.
    I hope this has been helpful.
    Regards,
    A'isha
    Thanks,

    Anala[/QUOTE]

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