Monday, September 5, 2011

Workshops, Intensives, or Classes?

I've had the good fortune to have access to quite a few different belly dance teachers in my short 4 and a half years of dancing, so I've experienced several different types of classes. From the three hour workshop to the multi-day intensive, to the 6-week class format and the beginning/intermediate/advanced class levels, I've been taking notes for when I eventually start my own teaching.

I love workshops because they give you a chance to get a taste of something completely new. A local-ish studio used to host several workshops, and I would sign up for about 2 or 3 of them per year. I also started taking workshops at Cairo Caravan this year, and learned about Indian fusion dance, adding some knowledge about spins and turns to my repertoire, and I learned about conditioning myself to do crazy things with my body. What I've really learned, though, is that if you don't take what you learn in your workshops and apply it to your practice, you'll soon forget it. There's at least one workshop I've taken, unfortunately with the lovely Sabrina Fox, where I don't actually remember what it was about. And I even took notes! But since I never applied it to my practice, it didn't stick in my memory. If you're going to take a workshop, decide beforehand what you want out of it and how you will apply it to your practice or performance.

I recently had the opportunity to take a 4-day intensive with Carolena Nericcio and Kristine Adams of FatChance Bellydance, and while it was the most exhausting thing I'd ever undertaken, it was also the most fun I've ever had as a dancer, second only to Cairo Caravan. I got the change to spend 5 hours a day with some great dancers, from all over the country and even one from halfway across the world, and even though we were swamped with tons of new information, I learned a lot. Even my teacher commented that the intensive improved my skill. My brain was fried after, but it was completely worth it. That being said, I think intensives should be a once-a-year thing. You might wind up overloading your brain if you do too many of them, and because intensives are usually packed full of new things, you'll be hard-pressed to find ways of applying all that new knowledge to your practice and performance.

Class Format
When it comes to classes, I do have a preference for the level class format over the 6-week format. With the level format, it's up to the teacher to assess whether or not you're ready to advance to the next stage. Everyone learns at a different pace, and moving everyone up after 6 weeks does a disservice to all the dancers, regardless of skill or talent, and to the teacher, who may end up having to teach to the lowest lowest level dancer. You'll end up with advanced dancers who are bored with the material, and lower level dancers who feel pressured to advance quickly, resulting in injury and high drop-out rates. And ending a "session" after 6 weeks doesn't give the dancer the right opportunity to perfect the moves, and she might end up losing her confidence as other dancers who have time to practice a little more or who are naturally talented seem to grasp concepts faster than she can. However, the level format does require a teacher who really knows her dancers, and can tell when someone is ready to move on. Unfortunately, the only place a teacher will learn that skill is through experience.

When I start teaching, I want to use the level class format. Not being an advanced student myself, my concentration will be on taking beginners by the hand and showing them the basics. I want to give them the confidence to start performing earlier, and to seek out more knowledge from other teachers and dancers. I'd like to start doing workshops one day when I sort out my performance style (though, strength-training for the belly dancer comes to mind), but I don't feel that I have enough to offer for the intensive. Leave the intensives for the innovators. I just want to share my love for the dance.

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