Advice on how to teach complete beginners

Bellydance Oz

New member
I'm doing some relief teaching for a friend. I still regard myself an intermediate rather than an expert belly dancer, but I do have experience teaching aerobic dancing and flamenco and years of studying other dance genres, so I know how to teach safely.

I had no difficulty teaching the intermediate students, but I'm really struggling with the beginners. There are students in the class who've been learning for a whole term and are still moving as though their torso is a solid block.

Part of me thinks that if their regular teacher hasn't managed to teach them, I don't stand a chance in three lessons - but another part of me feels there must be some way to get through to them. I did have a little victory last night when I got two of them to do a shoulder shimmy without moving their whole body, but chest moves are a mystery and as for hips...

I think the problem is that when I started belly dance, I found it totally natural to move my hips and ribs independently so I've never gone through that phase myself.

It may be too late for this group, but if I'm going to do more teaching, I need to work on a beginners' lesson plan that can deal with inflexible people. I have a few "beginners" DVD's but they are all just "watch and copy" which isn't much help. Does anyone know of any good 'absolute beginners' DVD's that would give me some clues?
 
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Darshiva

Moderator
If you're going to use videos for inspiration on how to teach beginners, grab one of Rania Renee's instructionals for some great ideas on how to get the ideas across. I've had great success with beginners by pinching her ideas and using them in the classroom.
 

Bellydance Oz

New member
If you're going to use videos for inspiration ....
I guess that's the only thing I can think of right now.

I'm contemplating approaching one or two local teachers to ask if I can enrol in their absolute beginners' class for a term - but as it's nearly the end of the school year, that will have to wait till end January next year.

Thanks - your comment got cut off in midstream so I hope you come back with the rest!
 
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Darshiva

Moderator
This is actually part of the reason behind why I am such a strong advocate of (good) teacher training.

I hope you find the information you're looking for. :D
 

Pleasant dancer

New member
I had no difficulty teaching the intermediate students, but I'm really struggling with the beginners. There are students in the class who've been learning for a whole term and are still moving as though their torso is a solid block.

Hi, This is not unusual, especially if they are slightly older students who haven't dance before in any way. It obviously varies with each individual immensely but I often find that some students take at least 6 weeks of hourly lessons before they can achieve any form of isolation, some others however, as you found yourself, can achieve it almost immediately.

I think the problem is that when I started belly dance, I found it totally natural to move my hips and ribs independently so I've never gone through that phase myself.

Can you remember what it was like for others in your group when you started? Everyone needs a different form of stimulus to understand what they need to do (different learning styles etc).

It may be too late for this group, but if I'm going to do more teaching, I need to work on a beginners' lesson plan that can deal with inflexible people. I have a few "beginners" DVD's but they are all just "watch and copy" which isn't much help. Does anyone know of any good 'absolute beginners' DVD's that would give me some clues?
I think perhaps joining in on a few beginners classes again with view to learning the best way to approach this is an excellent idea. Also, speak to your teacher about his/her experience.

In my opinion, teaching beginners is very hard, cannot be rushed, can be rather boring for a teacher sometimes, but it's absolutely necessary to get it right. So much depends upon it if students are to grow as dancers. Best of luck!:)
 

Aziyade

New member
This is a really good absolute beginners dvd:

Visionary Belly Dance | Absolute Beginning Belly Dance with Delilah

She has thi
Thi?


I think what I typed was that she has this visual where you think of your hips on a clock face, and does some really basic exercises to help you learn to move your hips and torso upper body independently. She also has a great introduction to the shimmy, getting students used to pushing against the floor to feel the resistance of gravity and the weight of the body.

You know, slightly OT and Oz, this is NOT at all directed towards you, but I've never understood why 6-week wonders think they can teach absolute beginners. Beginners need the MOST experienced teachers to help them understand how to use the right muscles to drive the movements, and to diagnose what's wrong when they can't get the right "look" to the movement. As you're finding out, it's DARN HARD to teach raw beginners. And yet this is where the most inexperienced teachers often start out.

???
 

Yame

New member
Thi?
You know, slightly OT and Oz, this is NOT at all directed towards you, but I've never understood why 6-week wonders think they can teach absolute beginners. Beginners need the MOST experienced teachers to help them understand how to use the right muscles to drive the movements, and to diagnose what's wrong when they can't get the right "look" to the movement. As you're finding out, it's DARN HARD to teach raw beginners. And yet this is where the most inexperienced teachers often start out.

???
Teaching raw beginners and teaching advanced students are both very hard to do, IMO. But they are hard in different ways.

Someone who is not very advanced would not be able to teach an advanced class because their skill isn't there yet, there is very little (or nothing) someone can possibly teach to someone who is at their level, or at a higher level than they are. Plus, advanced dancers can pick up on detail, so if there are flaws in your dancing they will see it, whereas beginners would completely miss minor flaws. So teaching advanced students requires a lot more dance experience, ability, and knowledge.

On the other hand, teaching advanced students doesn't require as much of an ability to break things down as teaching beginners does. Sometimes, a dancer that is not that advanced is able to break down and explain movements and posture a lot better than some more experienced and advanced dancers. Some dancers have been dancing for so long that everything feels natural to them, and they've forgotten how to break everything down for someone who is just starting out.

So there is some logic in thinking that you don't need to know as much to teach beginners as you do to teach advanced dancers, in a way. It depends on how you think about it, or how it is worded. You need more of a certain type of knowledge and skillset to teach beginners than you do to teach advanced dancers, in a way. But you also need more of another type of knowledge and skillset to teach advanced dancers than you do for beginners, if you know what I mean.
 

LadyLoba

New member
As someone who is not a fellow teacher, but is someone who would be in the absolute beginner class....I would say, go a lot slower than you've become used to going and explain everything, even when it seems very very obvious to you and you're afraid somebody is going to go "Well no kidding. How stupid does she think we are?" Most of us at that level would feel thankful, not insulted.

I know with the DVD and online instruction I'm depending on, I'm doing best when it's presented as "This is a hip crescent. It is the front half of a hip circle" than when I put in a DVD and it's someone going "Let's focus on hips. Here's one move then this one now this and here's another way to do that."

I'm sure absolute beginners are hard to teach....the things that I have to study, learn, practice, study some more than practice some more...over and over and over again...are probably things that are second nature to you intermediate and advanced dancers.

Another thing you might be facing with an absolute beginner class is attitude. By the time someone is in an intermediate or an advanced belly dancing class, it is safe to assume she is genuinely interested in belly dance and has either taken beginner classes and taken them seriously, or studied on her own extensively or both. Some people who sign up for beginner classes in anything don't do well because they aren't there with the intention of learning to do something well....it's just for exercise for them, or they signed up on a whim and aren't really trying....I'm not saying this class is full of people like that...but that could be a problem in any beginning class.
 

Marya

Member
I specialize in teaching beginners, especially older ladies, I have come to absolutely love it.

I have developed a number of tricks and tips.

for shoulder shimmies I hold their hands. I have them spread their arms out into the inverted V position then I hold their hands and do shoulder shimmies with them. this helps them to feel what the movement should be while keeping their hands still. This does not mean they will instantly be able to do shoulder shimmies but it gives them a reference point and also a way to practice.

Use chairs if there is no barre and they need help balancing.

for hip drops I have them stand erect with one foot flat one on the ball of the foot and then ask them to drop the hip joint of the leg with the foot on the ball. many will drop the foot. If that happens I put my foot under theirs (the one on the ball of the foot) so that they cannot lower that foot. This prevents them from dropping that foot flat and focuses their attention on the proper body part.

Teaching beginners is way more intensive and hands on. I ask permission first, of course, to touch them. I also have them put their hands on my hips so that they can feel what they should be doing.

Older beginners sometimes have lost touch with their bodies and literally cannot make the connection from their brain to their feet, hips, shoulders, arms etc. This dance is an excellent way to them to reconnect and reestablish those connections.

I have found that holding their hands or having them hold hands with each other somehow helps them make those connections stronger.

I had one lady who could grapevine only if I held her hand, otherwise she just seem to stumble and wave her feet aimlessly around.

Marya
 

Bellydance Oz

New member
You know, slightly OT and Oz, this is NOT at all directed towards you, but I've never understood why 6-week wonders think they can teach absolute beginners. ... As you're finding out, it's DARN HARD to teach raw beginners. And yet this is where the most inexperienced teachers often start out.
I agree, Aziyade! I think the trouble is that belly dance appears so simple and natural, new dancers often don't realize how little they know. So they're off performing gigs after three or four lessons, or starting up their own dance school on the strength of a couple of terms.

I've actually been studying belly dance for four years - but because I spent 30 years of my life studying ballet and flamenco before that, I'm aware how much depth there is in any dance genre and how much I still have to learn.

As someone who is not a fellow teacher, but is someone who would be in the absolute beginner class....I would say, go a lot slower than you've become used to going and explain everything, even when it seems very very obvious to you and you're afraid somebody is going to go "Well no kidding. How stupid does she think we are?" Most of us at that level would feel thankful, not insulted.
Thanks for that reassurance! I am conscious of what you said about attitude, too - here in Sydney, there are a few teachers who don't correct students much or push technique, because they say most adults are there to have fun rather than to learn. My instinct is the opposite because I'm used to ballet and flamenco, where students are usually there to learn and improve. So maybe I need to chill a bit!

for shoulder shimmies I hold their hands. ...
Use chairs if there is no barre and they need help balancing.

for hip drops I have them stand erect with one foot flat one on the ball of the foot and then ask them to drop the hip joint of the leg with the foot on the ball. many will drop the foot. If that happens I put my foot under theirs (the one on the ball of the foot) so that they cannot lower that foot. This prevents them from dropping that foot flat and focuses their attention on the proper body part.

...
Older beginners sometimes have lost touch with their bodies and literally cannot make the connection from their brain to their feet, hips, shoulders, arms etc. This dance is an excellent way to them to reconnect and reestablish those connections.

Marya
Marya, your post was wonderfully helpful. My little trick (which got the shoulder shimmies going) was to do the upper body work seated, so they didn't have to think about posture or balance. I'll certainly use your idea for the hip drop, and maybe holding on to a chair will stop them moving their upper body during hip work.

I absolutely agree with you that older people lose body awareness. In fact it happens quite young - I remember teaching dance aerobics in the Jane Fonda era, to a group of thirty-somethings. A common move was to stretch one arm above their head. They lifted their arm but the variety of shapes was astonishing, and no amount of calling seemed to make a difference. When I marched over and straightened their arm myself, most of them were astonished - they really thought their arm was straight already.

The other thing I tried with the belly dance class was to get them to visualize their skeleton, with nothing but air between their rib cage and pelvis to stop them moving. That seemed to help one student.

Some dancers have been dancing for so long that everything feels natural to them, and they've forgotten how to break everything down for someone who is just starting out.

So there is some logic in thinking that you don't need to know as much to teach beginners as you do to teach advanced dancers, in a way.
Yes and no, IMO. If you're only going to teach simple moves, then it doesn't matter if you don't know more advanced ones. However, as you progress in dancing you don't just learn steps, you gather a lot more knowledge as well. The most dangerous thing about "6-week wonders" teaching, to quote Aziyade, is that they don't know enough about the anatomy of the movement - they may not realize, for instance, that you can injure your knee if you do a hip twist incorrectly.

Sorry for the multiple posting but everybody had such great posts, I had to answer them!
 
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Kashmir

New member
I think the problem is that when I started belly dance, I found it totally natural to move my hips and ribs independently so I've never gone through that phase myself.
A friend who started her own school had the same issue. She was a natural (and good) dancer and couldn't understand why people couldn't get it. Her solution was to hire a left brain type who liked reverse engineering (me) to teach the beginners.

You want to do a hip drop? Okay, identitfy all the individual skills and make sure the student can do each one on its own before lumping them all together.

With some you also need to consider safety. For instance there are obvious movements that someone needs to be able to do a camel. But the automatic engagement of the abs to protect the back may not be obvious - so we put this off until the students had had considerable time doing movements which (we hoped) would develop this skill.

My little trick (which got the shoulder shimmies going) was to do the upper body work seated, so they didn't have to think about posture or balance.
Put the two together - learn on a motorbike :D As few people ride motorbikes these days I suggest they practice while seated at the lights when driving (while moving may be a little distracting)

In class, along with pairing people up to hold hands steady, I pass out the canes (pseudo-bike handlebars)
 
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Marya

Member
In class, along with pairing people up to hold hands steady, I pass out the canes (pseudo-bike handlebars)
Yes, the day I taught Raks Asaya everyone did really well, I hadn't thought about the cane providing a stabilizing effect.

Marya
 

Mosaic

Super Moderator
I specialize in teaching beginners, especially older ladies, I have come to absolutely love it.

I have developed a number of tricks and tips.

for shoulder shimmies I hold their hands. I have them spread their arms out into the inverted V position then I hold their hands and do shoulder shimmies with them. this helps them to feel what the movement should be while keeping their hands still. This does not mean they will instantly be able to do shoulder shimmies but it gives them a reference point and also a way to practice.

Use chairs if there is no barre and they need help balancing.

for hip drops I have them stand erect with one foot flat one on the ball of the foot and then ask them to drop the hip joint of the leg with the foot on the ball. many will drop the foot. If that happens I put my foot under theirs (the one on the ball of the foot) so that they cannot lower that foot. This prevents them from dropping that foot flat and focuses their attention on the proper body part.

Teaching beginners is way more intensive and hands on. I ask permission first, of course, to touch them. I also have them put their hands on my hips so that they can feel what they should be doing.

Older beginners sometimes have lost touch with their bodies and literally cannot make the connection from their brain to their feet, hips, shoulders, arms etc. This dance is an excellent way to them to reconnect and reestablish those connections.

I have found that holding their hands or having them hold hands with each other somehow helps them make those connections stronger.

I had one lady who could grapevine only if I held her hand, otherwise she just seem to stumble and wave her feet aimlessly around.

Marya
I have a class of older ladies and they are absolute beginners and it is hard work. I must try the holding hands for the shoulder shimmies as they are having so much trouble with finding just their shoulders. Even posture doesn't always register. I go over that every single week. They are lovely though and so enthusiastic. We did hipdrops last week and all of them were beginning to get it by the end of class except for one lady, they are so happy when they begin to 'get' something. Most have finally got the grapevine YAY! That took a while. But we have fun and they always want homework, so I always have a small handout with a description of a step/movement we have learnt and get them to practice that, as well as the previous ones. The other class I teach is beyond beginners of mixed abilities ( I took this class over from a friend who could no longer teach it and she asked me if I would), they are a lot easier to teach but also can be difficult because some think they know it all so to speak, and have excuses when you correct them ( nicely;)). Overall even though they may not be perfect the understanding is there, these ladies are younger 30s early 40s. I can use the holding hands shoulder shimmies for them too, as some of them look awkward and a bit jerky. Thanks for the tip!
~Mosaic
 

Shakti

New member
I am partial to any DVD by Mesmera. I have taken seminars with her a few times and when I was beginning bellydance she was the one I had the most breakthroughs with, especially with learning layering.

I used to cover classes for my dance partner when she would travel to get things to vend. My advice is to keep it as fun as possible. At the end of class I would take 15 minutes and a simple piece of music and have the students do every move in an eight count, like an easy choreography. They would decide how to arrange it. I was the audience. It gave me a chance to really praise them , they got to know each other and bond and it got them used to performing. Everyone is there to learn and make a new friend. if you have a friend in class you are more likely to stick with classes and continue learning.
 
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Bellydance Oz

New member
A friend who started her own school had the same issue. She was a natural (and good) dancer and couldn't understand why people couldn't get it. Her solution was to hire a left brain type who liked reverse engineering (me) to teach the beginners.
Kashmir, every time I read one of your posts, I think I should hop on a plane to NZ - you have such a fund of exactly the kind of knowledge I'm thirsty for!
 

Marya

Member
I just remembered one of my tricks for teaching beginners. I have them hold very light weight gauzy nylon scarves in their hands. This helps them "see" where their arms are and gives them something to do that looks pretty.

I also noticed once at a African Drum party that was at my studio that no one was dancing. I tried to get a friend to join me but she was tired. She suggested passing out my scarves to everyone. Soon they were all dancing, just like magic.

Marya
 
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