The Joy of Teaching

December 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

I feel like my dance class is really flourishing.  I have enough regular students now, they can practice full formations in class, and I can watch, observe and offer help.  When we perform, I’m not the only one leading.  In fact, I can lead less and less, and let my students gain the experience and grow stronger.

As a teacher, there are moments that are so fulfilling:  The “aha” moments in my students.  The first time they really get a move.  Watching one of my students lead for the first time.  The first time one of them wants to lead in a performance.  The first time someone unexpectedly takes the lead (no really, you have no idea how exciting that is!).

I am glad I have been able to participate in this movement. I am grateful that I have gotten to continue being involved in ATS even as I have moved a couple times. I am extremely happy that I have been given the opportunity to teach this powerful and beautiful dance style to others, and through teaching, have fallen in love with American Tribal Style all over again. Yallah, Habibis!

American Tribal Style?

November 19, 2009 § 7 Comments

A few months back, I had to do some belly dance teacher soul searching. I teach American Tribal Style Belly Dance. Recently, the creator of this amazing dance form, Carolena Nericcio, has become increasingly vocal that all ATS dancers should do the dance the way she does, or it shouldn’t be called ATS. Now, I teach a form of ATS that is very closely based on the Fat Chance dance vocabulary with a few stylistic decisions made here and there, some by me, some by my first teacher. Carolena has expressed that moves that haven’t been approved by her should not be considered ATS.

I understand where she’s coming from. I have seen a lot of ATS over the last 8 years. Some has been really good, some mediocre, and some really not true to the ATS style.   ATS has spawned a whole movement of growing and changing (and sometimes difficult to define) genres of belly dance. There is a great article on this at What a lovely movement this has been. Art giving birth to art.

So a couple months ago, after a few discussions and after reading the above article, I had to do some soul searching. If everything I’m performing and teaching is not exactly as Fat Chance would do it, am I really doing American Tribal Style?

I let this marinate in my mind for a bit and kept teaching the style as I learned it with some occasional stylistic choices and decisions made amongst my dancers to clarify cues and transitions to make our dancing cleaner.

I thought about how some of the stylistic decisions had been made by my first teach, Myra Krien, and thought of her decades of belly dance experience and decade of ATS experience. I trust her judgment.

I also thought about the incredibly strong technique and stylistic base she instilled in me in my several years of training with her.

I still had some doubt in my mind, until my two best ATS students went to TribOriginal last month. One of the workshops they took was with a couple of lovely ladies who perform ATS and study directly under Carolena.

First of all, my students expressed how confident they felt in this workshop and how they felt like their arms were in the correct places, their posture was correct and they had a pretty easy time following along and picking up the new moves they learned.  Other students asked for tips when they were getting something easily or their way of executing the movement looked correct. This made me feel very proud; proud of them for their dedication to classes and how much they’ve learned, proud of me for teaching them so well, and proud to be part of such a massive global dance movement.

This along with this next tidbit restored my confidence in my right to call myself an American Tribal Style dancer. They learned in this workshop that even the Fat Chance language is still evolving.  Even the base dance form is evolving. In beautiful ways. And we evolve with it.

And I feel confident enough in my ATS training and experience to make some technical, artistic or stylistic choices and still keep the integrity of the ATS language and style in tact.  As with any language, there may be slightly different dialects from place to place. Language is fluid, more about what you’re communicating than the exact words you are speaking. The sentence, more powerful than an individual word.  Art communicates in an organic way, with a life of its own.

I can honestly say I think we are representing American Tribal Style well.

Belly Dance Classes

August 16, 2009 § 5 Comments

At the beginning of the summer I started a new Beginning American Tribal Style class in a new, more popular time slot. I’ve gained a lot of new students. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve designed it around the very basic ATS movements and the standard triplet zill pattern. It takes 6 weeks to cycle back through so everything gets reviewed every month and a half.

The students are great. Very excited, and very supportive of each other. I try to bestow upon them the little gems of knowledge I’ve collected and find the most useful. Planting seeds.

Starting in the fall, I will have an ATS Beginning II class following my Beginning class that will focus on beginning combo moves and specialty moves with a couple specialty zill patterns. I’m planning on also designing this class on a 6 week cycle.

I love having a bigger class and new students who I can really help develop a safe and strong technique. I feel newly inspired by my students each week. I always leave class rejuvenated and energized.

The only downside to the new class schedule is there’s no official time now for my Intermediate students from my troupe who have been dancing with me the last 2 years. The Intermediate class has been tacked onto the end of troupe rehearsal since we are the performance level dancers. Unfortunately, our time usually gets swallowed by other parts of rehearsal. Must find some way to remedy this….

Oh yeah, check out this short clip taken by an audience member of me and my Performance students performing some slow ATS at Panoply a couple months ago.

Students and Self Promotion

December 2, 2008 § 2 Comments

My dance class is shrinking slightly again.  I lose students periodically to such things as giving birth, foot surgery, personal lives and exhaustion.  I’m sure every class does.  It takes awhile to build a program.

I began fearing I wouldn’t make a profit on the class anymore, or worse, it would actually cost me money again.  I started considering canceling the class, but after teaching class tonight with a mere one student, and seeing her excitement for learning new moves and the feeling of accomplishment we both got from having made it through the whole vocabulary of movements I had put together for the class, I’ve decided that it’s absolutely worth it whether I have one student or twenty.

Babies get bigger and feet heal and obstacles pass.  Old students will come back.  New students will get interested.

I guess my biggest goal in teaching really is to share what I know; for a couple reasons.  First of all, it’s fun!  And I want people to dance with!  My greater goal is to pass on what I know and stabilize a good Tribal program that could continue on even if I was to move away.  It’s about passing the torch and sharing the love for the dance.  And even if I only get to do that with a few students, it will have been worthwhile.

And that brings me to the aspect of gaining students. Self promotion.  This isn’t my strength.  I usually just do my thing.  I’d have to make fliers and videos and advertise and make myself personally sellable as a teacher.  Ugh.  I work full time.  I’m tired a lot.  And I’m on the modest side.  I just don’t have the time and energy for all that.

So, I guess I need to reasearch some easy yet effective ways to promote.  Wish me luck.

A Shimmy Progressive

September 19, 2008 § 2 Comments

Dance classes are going really well finally.  I feel like I’ve really improved as a teacher, just in the fact that I’m now comfortable teaching. I actually have several students who come to class regularly.  This is a major improvement. And we are set to have our next performance at the end of October.

The dilemma I’m still facing, however, is time management.  How do you fit everything into an hour long class?  I still haven’t figured it out.  I’ve finally just succumb to the fact that I have to sacrifice something every week and prioritize what is really necessary to ensure we are in the best position to progress.

This week, I had to sacrifice the entire slow section to give a major zill break down intensive.  I hate to do it.  I feel like the slow family of movements already gets neglected as it is, but I really felt like the zill thing had to be done now before we got too far without them and then have to re-learn everything with them.  I promised to pay extra attention to the slow family of moves next week to make up for it.

So my class plan from now on, warm-up (always with shimmy practice, because you always need shimmy practice), one fast move breakdown and drilling, fast move vocabulary practice (revisiting things we’ve already covered) now with zills, one slow move breakdown and drilling, slow move vocabulary practice, and cool-down and stretching.  As soon as the zills come together more, the vocabulary practice sections of the class will also become leading and following practice sections.

So I will keep sacrificing things when it’s necessary to break something down in more detail and then keep building a more complexly structured dance class. Which makes sense because American Tribal Style is a complex dance form.  Like my teacher used to say, it’s like learning to drive a standard while talking on the phone, drinking a soda, putting on mascara and changing the radio.

Only prettier.

Dance Class Jibber Jabber

July 28, 2008 § 2 Comments

Since I relaunched my American Tribal Style dance class, interest is growing and I’ve gotten some new students.  The class is still not paying its own rent, but this is only the second month in.  What the class needs is stability.  When I get a more regular student body, it will be much easier to make progress.  Everyone interested and participating so far is a member of the performance troupe, which makes sense since all of our dedicated students end up in the troupe eventually anyway.  Learning American Tribal Style is like learning a particular dialect within the belly dance language so it takes a little effort.  The benefit about troupe members participating in my class is it will mean performance opportunities.  Getting us to a performance level is the challenge.

For the next two weeks, I have been asked to teach some American Tribal Style for part of our performance class.  I think I’m going to be emphasizing leading and following so they can get a feel for what Tribal is really all about.  I will not be focusing on breaking down perfect arm positions and detailed technique or widely expanding our dance vocabulary as much as I do in my weekly classes.  Instead, I will teach a couple of combinations to show how to transition from one move to another and how to lead and follow the cues for the movements.  I will break down the class into trios or quartets and have them take turns leading the combos and encourage them to change the order of the movements once they feel confident. Very Carolena Nericcio-workshop inspired.  I think this will be fun and give the ones who haven’t tried Tribal a good feel for it.

What I’m working on now for my weekly class is developing a really good standard warm-up.  I am going to focus on overall stretching and focus my warm up exercises on building strength, control and muscle memory specifically for moves commonly used in Tribal Style, and not put time into anything not used in the Tribal family.  For example, instead of doing alternating shoulder shimmy warm-ups, we will focus on three-quarter shoulder shimmies only since we will never use an alternating shoulder shimmy when dancing together.

I have been changing the class every week depending on the students present that day and where they need to start from and I’ve been changing the warm-up to correspond with what I’ll be teaching them that day. I will continue to adjust the class focus according to student skill level, but I really think a standard well-rounded warm-up will work better in the long run.  That way we get in a little practice with all the muscle groups every class even if it’s not the focus that day.

I’d eventually like to start filming the classes and video-blogging a condensed version every week.  That will come a little later.

An American (Tribal) Girl

May 29, 2008 § Leave a comment

I start teaching dance class again next week. It’s been about two months since I took my class on hiatus. Now, my dance studio has expanded to twice the size, is getting a new name and is re-debuting next week. And so is my American Tribal Style class–in a new and (hopefully) more convenient time slot.

I’m a little nervous and not sure where to restart. I will have a couple brand new students. So, I suppose I should start at the very beginning again. Review will be good for all of us anyway.

It’s hard to start at the beginning. I get excited and want to show the class my very favorite moves–all at once! And I want to get to the advanced stuff right away so we can start performing the most fun and impressive things and show people what this dance form can be!

But I have to learn to have patience. Building a whole program from the ground up is a slow process that takes discipline and time. How long did it take me to learn the bulk of the ATS language? A couple years? Two or three? Hmmm….

Plus, I don’t have a huge student base yet–not enough for multiple classes–which means I teach one multilevel class. The challenge here is keeping the class fast-paced enough for the more advanced dancers while going slow enough to not scare off beginners. It’s a precarious balance.

And finally, there’s the time limits. I have one hour to teach my class. I wanted to use the same class structure that my American Tribal teacher used: warm-up, one fast move, one slow move, fake-it-till-you-make-it/leading circle, and a cool down. I have no idea how she managed to fit that into a single hour and still include proper posture, technique, equal break down and practice on both the right and left sides, intent, facial expressions, zils!… I tried this structure the first go around with my class and kept running out of time! I may have to turn it into alternating slow movement days and fast movement days. We’ll see.

So now, I just have to start, be patient and see how everything develops. Wish me luck!

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