Let me tell you a little secret about teaching belly dance: Not everyone learns in the same way, at the same speed or at the same time. Sometimes I know that one of my students is not going to get a new combo within the lesson time and that is ok.
When I was doing my teacher training. the UK education system was a little bit obsessed with "Equal Opportunities". My Adult Ed teacher explained that equal opportunities in education doesn't mean what most people think it means. It doesn't mean that everyone gets the same amount of time, or attention, or must reach the same level. It means that the teacher should give everyone every opportunity to learn.
I'll explain this in the context of a belly dance class: Lets imagine I am teaching a combo that is part of the opening of a new choreography. Dancer A will need to see it once and be able to perform it at the show in 6 months time. Dancer B needs me to call out the count seven times. Dancer C will need to video me dancing the combo from the front and will play the video 100 times before she can perform the combination. Dancer D will not be able to do the combo until she understands all the weight shifts. Dancer E has to make up a little song to the music. Dancer F needs to sleep on it. Dancer G would like to repeat the combo for the next 45 minutes, while Dancer H would like to move on.....
I'm sure you can see that, no matter how I plan out my lesson, not everyone is going to be happy. Some will think the lesson moved on to the next topic too quickly, others wish we could have taken more time on that combo. At the end of the lesson some will think they know the combo, and others will think they don't. My job as a teacher is to have set everyone up so that they have every opportunity to learn the combo. To that end I will have shown it, counted it, sung it, explained the weight shifts, drilled it, allowed some people to video it. I also plan time into the next lesson for a refresh and renew.
This is a very long way of getting to my main point, which is about corrections. Recently someone told me that I dont make enough corrections in class. My reply was that I dont think a good teacher makes lots of corrections - a good teacher makes the right corrections!
Lets imagine for one moment that I am teaching that combination to a visual learner. Her mistake is that she is putting the hip lift on the 3rd count and not the 4th. If I stand at the front and shout 1234567812345678 - she won't understand why I am shouting and will continue to lift on the 3rd. However, if I move myself so she can see me and make sure to point to the hip lift, or make it super large, then she will quickly adjust her movements to match mine. Maybe I have a verbal learner who is making the same mistake. Counting may or may not help her, but singing the music might, particularly if we are lifting to a beat. Maybe I need to sing "dum,dah, dum, PING, dum, dah, dum, dum" - or "Step, cross, step, LIFT, step, cross, step, step".
These are all corrections! And thousands of them happen in every lesson. Hopefully the student doesnt really notice. Because if the student noticed they were constantly being corrected, dance class might not be as much fun. And one of our main jobs as a teacher is to make belly dance class fun.
So now let me get to those people I know won't get the combo during the lesson. I said before that some students need to sleep on a combo, or watch a video, or practice in their own space. The teachers role is to make sure they have all the tools they need to be able to come back next week with the combo perfected - and that might be a video, a written choreography or a song.
Finally we have people in class who are having an "off day". These are dancers who would normally be able to learn the combo, but something else is causing a block. Let us imagine for one moment that the very dear loved one of a student has just been arrested. They text their teacher during the day to say they might not come to class because their life has just been turned upside down and they dont know what to do. Its no surprise that they are not getting the new combo. The teacher make the usual corrections, but its not making any difference. Their head is somewhere else. The class teacher knows that they will get the combo next week, so moves on to more familiar ground and while keeping everything upbeat and cheerful. Somethings are more important than a belly dance class !
And here is another secret - if you teach 30 or more students a week, at least one of them will be having major stresses outside the dance studio. At least one of them will be having job troubles, family strife, illness, bereavement, depression, stalker issues, or one of the thousands of stresses that we all cope with through our lives.
And those issues are far more important than learning a combo.
So the next time you see one of your fellow dancers make mistakes or take a long time to learn, ask yourself what is really going on. Is your teacher correcting them in a way that you dont even notice? Or is your teacher giving them space and time away from their life to enjoy dancing ? Every dancer needs to focus on their own learning. Judging others doesn't help with that journey. Forgive your classmates who take longer to learn and dont complain when the class doesnt progress at the perfect speed for you.
Your teacher wants to give everyone the tools they need to learn. Everyone learns differently. And sometimes people can't learn at that moment - and that is OK.
If you like this blog keep scrolling down for others you might like including:
"I'm Perfect for Belly Dance, And so are You!"
"Assessing your Performance Videos"
"Picking out a Troupe Costume"
and "Why Travelling is one of the Best Ways to Improve your Belly Dance"
Or check out my Hub Blogs including:
"Your First Belly Dance Workshop"
The Top Ten Belly Dance Tunes for Performance"
"Finding a Great Belly Dance Teacher"
Sara Shrapnell is a belly dance writer, teacher and performer.
She has taught more than 5,000 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. 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” was published in 2014. Her second "Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage", co- written with Dawn Devine, Alisha Westerfeld and Poppy Maya, is a stagecraft handbook for belly dancers of all styles and levels. Both are available on Amazon.
Sara also teaches through the Belly Dance Business Academy. This online resource includes lessons, classes and workshops for belly dance professionals. Check out her most recent workshop "52 Lesson Plans - And How to Write 5,000 More."
Sara Shrapnell is a belly dance writer, teacher and performer.
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