One of the hardest parts of teaching belly dance is knowing when and how to make corrections. Too many corrections and the students will loose heart. Too few, and your class may have an unrealistic view of how good they are. The very best teachers are those who can mix critique with praise to the perfect balance and motivate each dancer to do their best.
Where to start ? Firstly, make sure you have talked to each student about their existing fitness and injuries. If they have a problem with any part of their body, be sure to encourage safe posture in that area first. Cover posture at the start of every lesson, and focus your initial corrections on postural problems. If their whole posture is off, and they don't complain of a particular issue, I tend to start with hips, back and shoulders.
Make it your mission in life to observe posture. Watch people walk, stand, sit and dance. Look for clues to pain, such as favoring one leg, or a dip of the shoulders. Understand how our muscles and skeleton work together to make belly dance movements. When observing your students, first look at them from a distance, watch their whole body movements. Then walk closer to them, so you can see the mechanics in action and observe the root of problems.
I like to offer up personal corrections only when I am standing close enough that the other students can not hear. Usually I will set up an exercise and then walk the room, observing and critiquing each dancer in turn. One correction per exercise is usually enough, unless their posture is particularly bad. I use the "critique sandwich" technique: that is I place my correction between two positive statements, such as:
"I see you have been practicing! Watch that you don't roll onto the outside of your right foot, keep your weight centered and strong. Your arms are looking much better this week."
This kind of correction is easy for the dancer to focus on and usually the correction can be made within a few moments. If you feel that your whole group has a problem, or that an issue needs to be addressed, wait until after the exercise and aim your critique at the whole group, like this:
"I noticed that lots of you were having trouble with the weight shift. Make sure that you are passing your weight through your center, and only pushing out as far as you are comfortable. If you feel like your weight is on the outer edge of your foot, or if you start to feel pressure in your ankles, shrink your hip move, so that it is putting less strain on your lower body."
Returning to each dancer later in the lesson, its easy to see if the correction has been taken or needs to be re-enforced. If an improvement can be seen, you can praise the student for taking the note, add the next correction, and then praise them again. Thus they are reminded of a previous note, and how they improved. Most students will make four or five corrections per lesson.
Once your student has perfect posture, then you can work on other improvements. You may feel they need to focus on the size of their moves, or the flow. Maybe you like to see perfect arms, or beautiful smiles from your students. Where you focus your attention is up to you, and greatly impacts the kind of dancers you will produce.
Gradual, achievable corrections, given regularly and mixed in with praise, will help your students improve their dance skills and make your job as a belly dance teacher so much easie
Sara Shrapnell is a belly dance writer, teacher and performer.
She has taught more than 4,000 belly dance classes, both in the UK and US. She now teaches in Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore in the SF bay area, as well as workshops world wide and on-line via the Belly Dance Business Academy. Her classes are known for their humor, detailed breakdowns and cultural context. Students who have studied with Sara have gone on to teach and perform in all styles of belly dance and many have made their living through performance or teaching.
Sara’s first book “Teaching Belly Dance” came out in 2014. Her second "Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage", co- written with Dawn Devine, Alisha Westerfeld and Poppy Maya, was published last month. Both are available on Amazon
"Your First Belly Dance Workshop"
The Top Ten Belly Dance Tunes for Performance"
"Finding a Great Belly Dance Teacher"