The 8 Most Important Lessons?

BigJim

New member
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
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
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 :rolleyes:).

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.
 

shiradotnet

New member
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.
 

Aniseteph

New member
(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.
 

BigJim

New member
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...
 

SidraK

New member
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 :)
 

Yame

New member
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.
 

Yame

New member
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?
 

Pleasant dancer

New member
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. :)
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
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. ;)
 

Amulya

Moderator
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 was going to mention exactly the same. I had several teachers and some just didn't work for me, but did work for others. There needs to be a click between the teacher and the student, if not it won't work out.
Each teacher is different, actually very different: teaching techniques (different ways of explaining, different speed of teaching, if very slow it gets boring for many people), how strict they are (some don't let students have fun and talk a bit at all) etc. Plus belly dance style (there are many styles out there and it's personal taste what someone likes)
I don't think that just the first 8 lessons are important, the lessons after are just as important :)
 

mahsati_janan

New member
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".
At this point, all I can tell from this is that the teacher was sick one day and that the class location was changed (which may have been out of the instructor's hands). Was there something else that made this seem disorganized? To me, this doesn't necessarily sound disorganized as much as a teacher working to meet obligations while sick and having to relocate classes for an unexpected reason.

Personally, without more information, I can't give any better advice than to understand that if your daughter wanted to belly dance, she would work on getting to classes on her own without your prompting. She may have fabulous potential, but it is up to her to decide what to do with it.
 

Pleasant dancer

New member
Shanazel...

I hope the topic of this thread flows towards the thought of the first 8 beginner lessons... are they the most important?...

I often feel that it's the lessons that come after the first few that are the most important in retaining students' interest. In the first 6+ lessons there is enough of a novelty factor to keep most people interested, however what happens next, i.e. when things get a little more difficult, is the crucial factor. Sometimes students get very disheartened when they find it's actually quite a difficult dance to do well and they need to have the positives reinforced, e.g. how far they have come already.

as a teacher have you evaluated your lesson plan lately to maximize your effectiveness...

All the time, every term, and sometimes even half term. I had to do this radically recently for an adult education course when both the number of students and the number of sessions were reduced. The students were a very mixed ability/level group also.


maybe by making a small change here and there you can retain more students to the next level

Any teacher worth their salt would be doing this I hope, especially if they have had some form of teacher training.

But at the end of the day:


that those with an actual desire to dance will continue on and the rest will weed themselves automatically...
I'm inclined to think this from my own experience. But each student is an individual and there are many different factors involved, so I can't generalise too much. Students are just humans in all our complexity after all! :D
 

MissVega

New member
"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".

WHat Mahasati said!
I actually had a student get upset at me over this before. She missed a class because it was her daughter's birthday. Unfortunately I missed a class because I was travelling out of province and weather/circumstances way beyond my control, all the roads leading home were washed out, physically was no route home). I sent the email out 48 hours before the class when I realized I would not be home in time. And then one more class I had to cancel because my eye was inflamed and swollen and I couldn't physically see to drive. I did all I could do which was offer to make up for the 2 classes that were missed at a time most convenient for the students.
I've also had the time of my class changed mid session without any say in it. I got an email telling me that it had happened. I tried to reason with them that they can't do that to the students but they pulled "studio policy" and that was that:(

No instructor (that I know) ever wants their students to be unhappy or unfulfilled with the classes, but there are occasional circumstances that can't be helped.

That fact that your daughter projected her reason to not do it on the instructor says that maybe she just feels it wasn't for her, or maybe that the instructor is the best fit for her. That happens too.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
I missed three classes in October to tour Germany and Belgium with a childrens theater group. The rec center allowed my students to come at their regular scheduled time to practice and after I returned, I added two classes to the end of the semester and fifteen minutes to each of five classes to make up for lost time. If any students complained, it never reached my ears and they all professed delight at my chance to see Europe. I am a very lucky teacher. :D
 

nightdancer

New member
my daughter to start taking bellydance classes. She is no rookie as she has 15 years of Jazz Tap and Ballet experience.
That means absolutely nothing. The music, the expression, the timing, everything is different. She is truly a beginner bellydancer. However, she may be tired. 15 years is a long time to do anything.

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.
That's her choice, at this point. She is an adult and if she wants to be at class, or is interested in finding another teacher, she will do so. As parents, we have the habit of seeing "potential" in our children that not only are they totally unmotivated for, they actively do not want to do. If you keep pressuring her, she's not only going to resist you, it will turn into an active dislike of bellydance as a whole.

My eldest daughter is built just like an Olympic swimmer, broad through the shoulder, long-armed, with the hip and thigh as her powerhouse. She was on a swim team, and winning, by the time she was 5. Olympics, here we come... By 7, she'd totally lost interest and fought me tooth and nail about swimming. About 9, I gave up. When she started high school this year, she decided to pick it back up. She was the only freshman on the swim team to letter.

You noted that perhaps a teacher shouldn't focus on teaching more advanced students new concepts, and really focus on the newbies. But let me posit this--Newbies that stick with it are going to become those more advanced students. If they feel they are not receiving instruction, they are going to leave. Every class cycle brings brand new students and then those on their journey. You cannot ignore one for the other. From a business sense, that's suicide. It's your repeat students that pay the bills. If someone is a good teacher, she will balance those needs.
 

RahimaMJR

New member
I can see both sides of the argument here. I have found that some studios/teachers focus more on dance as a fun hobby, while others take it more seriously as a discipline (definitely also true in ballroom dance and other activities, I'm sure). It is a difficult balancing act and sometimes you have to try a few different teachers till it feels right. But, if the interest is not there in the first place, you could have a hard time convincing someone that another shot is worth it.

All I know is, after a belly dance class I feel invigorated and ready for more, no matter who is teaching it, or even if I'm at home with a DVD. The music, the exercise, I love everything about it.

However, when that desire is present, a good teacher (or one that you just connect with) can definitely enhance the experience. When I first walked in to my current belly dance class, I didn't expect much because it is an ongoing, open level class for members of my gym. But the teaching style of my instructor, who focuses on anatomical correctness and building a solid foundation rather than satisfying curious newcomers with veils and prancing about, really hooked me. She really balanced what continuing learners need to reinforce with what newcomers need to learn, and the newbies are "infected" then with the enthusiasm and keep coming back. Or they don't, but that just brings us back to square one.
 

PracticalDancer

New member
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.
I agree and disagree with this. I agree that belly dance classes RARELY have an organized pattern of teaching them, and that the mixed levels of students contributes to the adjusting (of the course content) the instructor has to do to keep students engaged.

But, I disagree in that I think far too many instructors use "I never know who will show up this (session, week, class)" as an excuse for not preparing. Now, I have to be careful how I say this, because I have many, many friends who teach (disclaimer: I do not); but, there is a difference between having a plan and deliberately tweaking it vs. showing up and making it up as you go along. I find it fascinating that certain teachers who only dance choreography when they perform come into class unprepared and improvise their way through it -- and they dare to look down on improv dancers! (ok, off that tangent now)

This lack of preparation appalled me as a student:
"Oh, I must have left my notes at home."
"I have to figure out what music to use."
"What did we do last week?"
"How many more sessions are there in this term?"
"Didn't I teach you that already?"

There were certain teachers that I completely lost patience with because each 1 hour class lost 20 to 30 minutes to digging for notes, trying to find music, trying to sell (scarves, music, etc.), and plugging workshops. Very little instruction or dance happened, and it was a complete "Whitman's sampler" of moves -- you never knew what teacher X would come up with that week.

There were moments of teaching brilliance with all of the teachers I studied with. I was lucky, in that I had a foundation from "good" teachers before I studied with the one who did every example I provided above. And, having time to mull this over over the years, it has made me REALLY think about what approach I would take if I were to teach. I am all for a syllabus of what will be covered, thought about each week's lesson plan, a framework of how to build on what was covered last week -- in essence, a level-appropriate way of helping students understand what they will be "getting" in that session.

Now, I may be dismissed as not knowing what I am talking about since I am not an instructor. That is a fair argument.

But, I have over ten years of experience being a student. So, I think I am WELL qualified to offer critiques on what I did or did not get out of classes. After all, I paid for every one of them. ;)
 

Greek Bonfire

Well-known member
My first teacher was biased, had her favorites, although she gave out some real kick butt classes. My second teacher catered mostly to newbies as the rest of us were in agreement that she didn't really want to work too hard after that. The third teacher taught me good technique but not much else. The fourth taught all improv and catered to those who mostly just wanted a good workout and ignored the students who wanted to become dancers. The fifth was the best of the bunch but she taught what SHE wanted and not want the students wanted.

There are good teachers and bad teachers. But my point is that no matter what, I was going to become a bellydancer despite whether teachers were good or bad, I moved on to what I needed when I felt the teacher was no longer interested in my education. I had a run of bad luck but it never, ever stopped me from becoming a dancer. So it was MY decision and if that is not first and foremost in a student's goals, no one else can make a dancer unless the drive and passion is there first.

By the way, I did learn a lot from all of the above teachers and the one I have now is the best. I took what I needed and when there was nothing more I could learn, I moved on.
 

Lydia

New member
i did not see or perhaps missed it...how old your ,,little one ,, is but if she did already 15 years she is not that little....i geuss?....the yes it was metioned before perhaps another teacher ? she was not lucky because differant things classes are not on....but what is said above aswell ,she is new in oriental dance so a beginner a very much beginner student and has to be patient....and you have to be patient aswell.....she will only be a succesfull dancer if she wants to be...if she realy likes it she will not care for anything she will go back and be ,,bored,, patient,, take a crapy teacher on top of that...if she want to do this she will...and if she keeps on making excuses just forget it....it will be a waste of time...
 
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