Always Learning, Always Flexible

Always learning
Always learning

Last night I had my first *new* class as a dance student, and it reminded me that I’m never NOT a student. I believe that it is worth it to always be a student, to always be learning and taking in new information. I’d forgotten how much I love those opportunities, and was very grateful last night.

A friend of mine is also doing her first class as a teacher, and her excitement last night was extremely palpable and infectious. It was fantastic to be there, and I hope I was a supportive student. I think what I find most difficult is that balance between a student who just listens and doesn’t respond verbally and those times when student input is good for both the teacher and the other students. There have been times when I’ve observed some classes in which student feedback is not necessarily encouraged but a sense that the teacher is the only one who talks and describes what is going on. In other classes, I’ve seen teachers encouraging students to offer their observations, their ideas, and to make those leaps of understanding and share them with everyone there. A cooperative learning environment doesn’t always work but sometimes it is exactly how everyone can benefit. Sometimes some of my spinning students will observe something I’ve never thought of, and when they contribute it is really fantastic. Other times, students might make a leap in thinking, but they’ve landed on a solution that will cause them trouble later. Then I have to gently show them another option and we can all see why some options are better than others.

When I’m an instructor, it seems easier to guide everyone’s discussions so that we can all learn from one another. It’s harder to know, especially in the beginning, when it is okay to volunteer an idea, an experience, a story, an observation, or even to ask a question to see if I’m headed down the right path when I’m a student. I can only hope that I’m gaining the wisdom to read the room better, each time. I can say that I had a blast last night, and I’m enjoying this class. I hope I can dance with these folks more often. Our instructor has some fantastic dance training, and I can already see the excellent ways in which she’s bringing that to her new instruction style.

Today, I also had an opportunity to share some flexibility with some students that really encouraged them. Sometimes we get sick and have to heal, sometimes we have family obiligations, sometimes we have appointments come up that we couldn’t foresee. One friend and I want to be dancing regularly together, and we still haven’t had the opportunity. Another couple of friends and I were supposed to dance tonight, but things came up. In all these cases, I love that I have the chance to soothe their worries and assure them that my flexibility is specifically why I am teaching the way I do. I’m not a standard “classroom and schedule” kind of instructor. For some reason, I’ve been called to be a “mobile strike-unit” type of teacher. I’m reaching the students who cannot go to a weekly class in a classroom after a commute. I’m reaching students who cannot leave their homes because of small children. I’m reaching students who already have other obligations but would love to dance informally in a park, dreaming of doing more and other types of dance later.

And if you couldn’t tell, I *love* being this type of teacher. I couldn’t be happier.

Getting Good Feedback

Teaching spinning this past weekend: Laughing and Encouraging my students
Teaching spinning this past weekend:
Laughing and Encouraging my students

Week two of my guest-lecture series in the park was last night. This is an SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) fighter practice for a local barony, and they’ve been doing informal (free) bellydancing for years. They’ve been kind enough to allow me to be their guest instructor for an 8-week series to demonstate ATS instruction. It gives me an excellent chance to refine my teaching and to work with a larger number of dancers at one time. My other teaching engagements right now are limited to a 1- or 2-student lessons, so I love the variety in the park.

Also, I never know who might show up at the park. Even though the material builds on foundations introduced in earlier lessons, this series is specifically open to *any* student to drop in on *any* week. So I also need to refine the lessons to allow for both the review material that makes new drop-ins feel welcome and still challenge returning students with new material.

A friend I haven’t seen in many years dropped in last night and complimented me on the experience.

You rocked it! You are an amazing bellydance teacher! Amazingly funny and yet detailed and calm. Great class. See you next week!

Of course the straight-up compliments are very encouraging. But best of all, I never thought about how my instruction style often includes humor. She’s right, I do crack small jokes throughout the instruction, trying to get everyone to relax and laugh and smile while they are working so hard. It’s even easier in the SCA-context because there are so many silly references I can make to help them visualize the posture we’re working on. Want their arms to be wide and strong frames? Envision trying to hug a very sweaty fighter or a kitchen cook covered in flour. Want to have them angle their faces towards the audience? Describe how the fighter who is standing there watching our practice is actually an invited guest at our dance performance, and she’s taking photos. We want to present pretty formations so she gets the best photos of us! (Said fighter played along with my narrative and immediately mimed taking pictures of us.)

I never thought about it consciously but yes, I joke through my instruction and I hope it continues to resonate with students who want to study with me. It won’t work for everyone, but it does seem to draw the kind of students I adore to want to spend time in my classes

“I Teach Bellydance”

Sticker from
Sticker from

Our workplace has tandem parking spots in the parking structure, where you can park directly behind someone and block them in (or be blocked in) and then you log your parking into a database. Then when someone needs to leave, they can find you and ask you to move your car for them. I was walking out to the structure with one of the guys who was leaving at 2:45 pm, and as we walked up to our cars he saw my bumper sticker.

He asked me, “So, what are Zills?” I explained that zills are Finger Cymbals. And I almost did a double-take on myself as I continued, “I teach bellydance.”

Whoa. That’s the first time I said that naturally in conversation to someone who never knew I studied bellydance, never knew I had been trying to get to a place of teaching since my very first hour of ATS, and never knew how I’d only just recently started to make that transition from full-time student to part-time instructor.

But yes, I teach bellydance.

Integrated Musical Inspiration

Image from wikipedia,  Musicians of Amun, Tomb of Nakht, 18th Dynasty, Western Thebes.
Image from wikipedia,
Musicians of Amun, Tomb of Nakht, 18th Dynasty, Western Thebes.

My background is stronger in music than in dance, if by shear number of years of experience over any other metric. I can remember singing and making up songs just walking around the neighborhood before I was in kindergarten (so I must have been 4 or so). I started piano in 2nd grade, flute in 5th, piccolo in 7th, mallets (xylophone, marimba, vibraphone) in 9th grade, additional percussion in early college (especially timpani), guitar around my 3rd year of college, doubek and other middle eastern drums near the end of my college years, and continued singing throughout. Music is very nearly how I think (with Color running a close second).

But I never really consciously thought about how integrated music is within dance until today. One of my students wrote the following (quoted with permission).

I’ve avoided proper “workouts” for a while because my mind isn’t engaged, even when I have my headphones in. I find myself thinking about the music, and the movements are things that distract me from that mental stimulation. But in dancing, the movements and the music are integral to one another, so all of me is being involved at the same time. WAY better, IMO.

What a fantastic way to look at it. I think being steeped in music in my very being for most of my life, I hadn’t noticed how connected the music and movement can really be. Of course, I’m reminded that nearly every ATS instructor has mentioned that the movements are inspired and, possibly even dictated, by the inspiration from the music. Many of the instructors talk about the Musicality of our improvisational dance form.

This is an excellent reminder for me to consider how to share this integration with my students. Dancing is more than just a series of steps, performed with technique skill and grace, in shared group formations with my fellow dancers. It is the visual representation of the way in which Music moves my very Heart and Soul, shared with my fellow dancers and then shared together with our audience.

And this satisfies me in a way that few things do.

Now I’m Dreaming It

General Skills Modern Certification, April 2013
General Skills Modern Certification, April 2013

I’ve started participating in an informal bellydance practice within the SCA context as a “guest lecturer series” introducing my SCA friends to ATS® in pure FCBD style. The SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) has a long history of artistic classes in a “you research, you teach your friends” style for decades. This gives me a fantastic opportunity to “practice how to teach” with close friends of mine in a safe setting. They’ve been meeting weekly for years to share various bellydance styles with one another, and a couple of them have always been interested in my studies over the past several years. It’s been a great opportunity for me to offer something to my friends, give me a reason to develop my own handouts, and give me the hands-on chance to put into practice all my studies for the past three years.

As a result, now I’m dreaming about teaching classes. Hours and hours of my morning brain were swirling with classes in the park and an amazing set of women, all having fun together dancing. I couldn’t be happier.