Attention Teachers

Aziyade

New member
Great catch!!


I REALLY wish we had ONE place to have all these great discussions -- with a good way to thread and archive old messages. Our collective wisdom is spreading out over dead sites like LiveJournal and Tribe, still active places like Bhuz and OD, a million different Facebook forums, plus Yahoo mailings and the old MEDance list -- it's too bad we can't keep it in one place. :(
 

MissVega

New member
I didn't read the thread, mainly because I have always taught that from first class to private lessons, musicality, improvisation, listening to the music and feeling how to move, and why to move etc should be taught from the very beginning. If you only teach technique (at any level) you teach someone a movement, not how to dance.
I've actually gotten a bit of flack for it before, so I'm glad that it is being talked about.
 

Yame

New member
There's a lot more to belly dance other than technique. Musicality, expression, cultural elements, stagecraft, etc should all be taught.

But at the beginning level, honestly, there is only so much you can teach before the student has at least some basic technique under her belt.

Musicality and culture are things I try to throw in from the very beginning because it needs to be taught alongside the technique (technique doesn't exist in a vacuum), and some very basic elements of stagecraft are thrown in there as well (things like how to position a move for best audience visibility, when to enter, etc) but expression I never ever teach until the student can do basic moves with some confidence.

I just think it's ridiculous to expect someone to express themselves before they have a reasonable level of technique mastered, I feel like it's too much to ask them to focus on at once.

But by the time you are doing choreography or improvisation (at middle to advanced beginner levels or intermediate levels) absolutely, expression needs to be talked about or else the student will develop the bad habit of focusing only on technique and performing this way.
 

shiradotnet

New member
I just think it's ridiculous to expect someone to express themselves before they have a reasonable level of technique mastered, I feel like it's too much to ask them to focus on at once.
I agree.

However, in my post on facebook, I wasn't talking about SELF expression, I was talking about EMOTIONAL expression. There are things that can be done even at the level of brand-new beginners to help people capture and feel the FUN and JOY of dancing. Ie, the teacher can choose to use joy/fun as the emotion to be expressed, and then do exercises in class that will allow those emotions to come out while dancing.
 

Yame

New member
I agree.

However, in my post on facebook, I wasn't talking about SELF expression, I was talking about EMOTIONAL expression. There are things that can be done even at the level of brand-new beginners to help people capture and feel the FUN and JOY of dancing. Ie, the teacher can choose to use joy/fun as the emotion to be expressed, and then do exercises in class that will allow those emotions to come out while dancing.
But even for something like that, you need at least some mastery of basic technique, wouldn't you say? Or are you telling me that from Day One (or Two, or Three) you are doing exercises to allow emotions to come out?
 

Darshiva

Moderator
I know I am. I'm tying it in with posture, but yep, it definitely comes in before we get to technique, musicality, improv or choreo.
 

shiradotnet

New member
But even for something like that, you need at least some mastery of basic technique, wouldn't you say? Or are you telling me that from Day One (or Two, or Three) you are doing exercises to allow emotions to come out?
On Day 1, after teaching a couple of basic moves, such as hip drops and shimmies, first I drill those moves, going around correcting technique individually. Then I put on some lighthearted Arabic pop music with a good beat and have them experiment with switching back and forth between the two, improvisationally. Then I add a third move, such as hip bumps, and drill that with corrections, then add it into the improvisation. Then I pause the music, compliment them on what they've accomplished so far, and warn them that I'm going to try to make them laugh. I put the music back on and have them start improvising again - as they do so, I make funny faces at them and do other stuff intended to lighten them up. It works - by the time they finish that improvisation exercise, they're smiling and having fun.

The way I see it, this dance began as a social dance, as something people do for FUN. Most of these students will never perform in front of strangers, not even at a hafla. I feel it's a higher priority to teach them how to dance socially, for fun, than it is to perfect technique - at least in the first 2-3 days of class. This also gives me an opportunity to mention the social-dance aspect of belly dancing, which is the history/culture lesson aspect of the first day of class.

I wouldn't delve deeply into intricate emotional expression the first day of class, but I do think it's valid to get them to experience the dance as FUN right from the beginning.
 

Yame

New member
That's interesting, but I don't love that approach for myself. I don't start improv or choreography exercises until students have some belly dance vocabulary under their belts. I think it's important to incorporate improvisation in classes early on, just not as early as Day 1.

The way I see it, if I'm trying out a new class I'm nervous enough as it is... I'd feel a bit stressed about having to improvise using material I just started learning and probably can't even execute yet. For me it would be impossible to think about expression... even if I am having fun, it would take away from my focus, having to think about trying to show that I am having fun.

So I approach my classes from that angle... trying to think about how I personally would have preferred to be taught. But I am sure it works for your students.

Anyway, this is why it's good to take classes from different teachers. Different teachers have different philosophies and teaching methods which will resonate with different students.

And details aside, the main point still stands. It took me many years to find a teacher who taught anything other than just technique so trust me, I know just what you mean. I had to teach myself a lot of what I know by reading, interacting online, and watching videos, so it's very important for me to pass on that knowledge when I teach.
 
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Aziyade

New member
Maybe it's because I already was a dancer, but the thing that really captivated me about bellydance was that with just a handful of moves, I felt like I COULD self-express.

Mind you, this had nothing to do with choreography or performance, but I took those probably half a dozen movements, and played with them with music at home, and darn if I didn't feel expressive! Even now, actually, when I'm just bopping around for the heck of it at the hookah bar, I tend to only use those same basic shapes/movements.

I'm not saying this would apply to all students, and I HATED improvising in class, but at home it was a different story.


I think the problem so many teachers have is simply limited time. I teach a 6-week session of one hour each week. So I have SIX HOURS to teach basic movements, demonstrate different rhythms and get students used to Arab music, inform on the "cultural bits" and dispel misconceptions, make sure everybody is moving in a safe fashion and doing okay with transitions ... and whatever else I've forgotten to list.

Also I'd much rather see ADVICE, like Shira gave in the original thread, rather than berating teachers for focusing on "the moves." We all know there are good and bad teachers out there. Let's share advice to help struggling teachers do better. Shira, I like your idea of using the rhythms in the warmup. I may add that in to my classes this session.
 

Yame

New member
Maybe it's because I already was a dancer, but the thing that really captivated me about bellydance was that with just a handful of moves, I felt like I COULD self-express.
I felt the same way. But it took time to get "a handful of moves" under my belt. By the time I started belly dance classes I already knew how to move because I was already doing it on my own while searching for classes, but if I had started classes before that, I would not have felt ready to improvise on day one, and would have found that to be stressful rather than fun.

As I said, improvisation is important very early on, before it becomes this big huge monster everyone is afraid of. But just because it's important doesn't mean it has to be taught during the first few weeks. It generally takes more than just one class to be able to execute half a dozen moves, even not very well... let alone to remember them and be able to "pull them out" in an improvisation scenario.

I'm not saying it's wrong to add improvisation to the first class, just defending my choice not to do it.


I think the problem so many teachers have is simply limited time. I teach a 6-week session of one hour each week. So I have SIX HOURS to teach basic movements, demonstrate different rhythms and get students used to Arab music, inform on the "cultural bits" and dispel misconceptions, make sure everybody is moving in a safe fashion and doing okay with transitions ... and whatever else I've forgotten to list.
That is most certainly a problem. Think about how much more information we would be able to add if our regular students came in 3x a week for 1.5 hour classes each time? And how much faster they would progress...

But there just isn't that much demand for most teachers to be able to teach that many classes.

But I do think another problem is that many teachers either do not know much past technique, or do not know how to teach it or think it's not necessary to teach it.
 

shiradotnet

New member
When I made the original post on Facebook, my intent was to nudge people into thinking about what they teach in their beginner class - to take a step back and ask themselves, "Should I make any changes?"

So many people simply format their classes the way their teachers before them did. They don't really consider whether they can improve on it. They don't try to come up with exercises to teach things that their teachers never taught. I say that because that's how I used to do it when I first started to teach. But then I started thinking about the craft of teaching, and I made changes to how I structured my classes.

Whatever we do in our classrooms, we should do it FOR A REASON, and not just because that's how our teachers did it before us.

It generally takes more than just one class to be able to execute half a dozen moves, even not very well... let alone to remember them and be able to "pull them out" in an improvisation scenario.
I agree 100%. I guess you and I are looking at the improv thing differently.

I have my students do their first improvisation exercise when they only know TWO moves. At that point, I tell them to use ONLY those two moves, even if they may have learned others through DVD, other teachers, etc. I tell them the purpose of that exercise is simply to get used to transitioning between the two moves they know. And I come out and say, "I don't expect great art, I just want you to get used to switching from one to the other."

So, the PURPOSE that I state for the exercise is to practice the skill of transitions, and NOT to create a spontaneous dance. I think that stating this purpose defuses some of the anxiety. Also, since they only have two moves to choose from, there's less need to "pull them out".

I'm not saying it's wrong to add improvisation to the first class, just defending my choice not to do it.
And I agree with you that someone can be a very good teacher without teaching improv the very first day of class. My motive in starting the discussion was to nudge people into thinking about what they teach, what they don't teach, and why they do it that way.

But I do think another problem is that many teachers either do not know much past technique, or do not know how to teach it or think it's not necessary to teach it.
I agree. In addition to starting people thinking about what should be taught, I also hoped to inspire those who do teach things other than technique to share how they do it - to help those who don't know how to teach it get ideas on where to start.

I think the problem so many teachers have is simply limited time. I teach a 6-week session of one hour each week. So I have SIX HOURS to teach basic movements, demonstrate different rhythms and get students used to Arab music, inform on the "cultural bits" and dispel misconceptions, make sure everybody is moving in a safe fashion and doing okay with transitions ... and whatever else I've forgotten to list.
Yup, I too teach 6-week sessions. And yes, there's definitely a limit to what we can cover in that time! :)

So we all have to make choices on how to use our classroom time, and that means tradeoffs in deciding what to teach, what NOT to teach.

So the tradeoff I've chosen is this: I choose to NOT teach every basic move in 6 weeks. I pick 3-4 step combinations, and teach the building blocks needed to do them, but moves not used by the combos don't get taught. So, for example, someone might make it through my first 6 weeks without learning how to do a rib cage circle or snake arms. I teach different groups of step combinations each 6-week period, and I encourage my beginners to stay in Level 1 for 2-3 times before moving on to Level 2, as a way of learning moves/combos that they didn't learn their first time through it.

Other teachers prefer to teach a more complete catalog of building blocks the first 6 weeks or so. It's a different way to structure the class from what I do, but if it works for them, then that's what they should do.
 
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Roshanna

New member
I have my students do their first improvisation exercise when they only know TWO moves. At that point, I tell them to use ONLY those two moves, even if they may have learned others through DVD, other teachers, etc. I tell them the purpose of that exercise is simply to get used to transitioning between the two moves they know. And I come out and say, "I don't expect great art, I just want you to get used to switching from one to the other."
This is very similar to what I've been doing. This term, I did include improvisation in my very first class. My students had learned hip rocks, shimmies, and shoulder rolls in the class. At the end, I did a section of rhythm exercises which included trying hip rocks with different timings (e.g. 123 123). Then I put on a ney taquasim with a drum beat underneath, and asked them to dance using only hip rocks (acknowledging the beat, with the option for returning students who were already confident with the technique to vary the timing), and shoulder rolls (acknowledging the ney melody, again with scope for my returning students to vary timing to fit the melody), changing between the two. It seemed to go OK!
 

Aziyade

New member
So the tradeoff I've chosen is this: I choose to NOT teach every basic move in 6 weeks. I pick 3-4 step combinations, and teach the building blocks needed to do them, but moves not used by the combos don't get taught. So, for example, someone might make it through my first 6 weeks without learning how to do a rib cage circle or snake arms. I teach different groups of step combinations each 6-week period, and I encourage my beginners to stay in Level 1 for 2-3 times before moving on to Level 2, as a way of learning moves/combos that they didn't learn their first time through it.
Okay, I really like this idea. I have also been looking for a way to allow my beginners to "continue" and improve, without having to take the SAME syllabus over and over again. (Formerly I taught a "bootcamp" class, which taught a lot -- probably too many -- basic moves, but it was the same class every time.) I like the idea of having maybe a 3-session "block" with different things taught in each block. Developing an 18-week full session would be MUCH better.
 
As a student might I add my 2 cents. I loved improv in class. That is what made it a belly dance class and not a belly dance excercise class. I felt that improv taught how to listen to the music and related the two together...and no I never expected to do a full out performance... just a happy getting to understand things dance.

Shira I think it is great that you introduce the music, and say where it is from and what it is about. That is a great teaching tool.
 
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