Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Dreaded 'F' Word

Margaret Barr's 'Strange Children' ballet, State Library of New South Wales
That's right. I'm going to use the 'F' word: Failure. Cringe, right? You immediately think of humiliation, shame, everyone pointing and laughing at you. Really, there are no better words for failure than failure.

But I bet there's a lot about failure you don't know. What it really means, how you can use it to make you a better dancer, teacher, and performer. It all lies in the way you look at your failures.

To other people

Failure is something to be swept under the rug. You never speak of it, never learn from it, and if you fail it means you should never try again. Some people do their utmost just to avoid failure, including never trying to do something. How many times have you avoided taking a performance opportunity, or turned down a teaching gig because you were afraid of failing? How many times have you avoided a risky choreography or a new show idea because you were worried about people hating it?

What failure will mean to you

Failure just means something that didn't work. Take another path. Try something different next time. It's not the be all and end all to your dance career, and you shouldn't let it be. Sure, there's people out there who will point out your failures and try to use them against you, but take a good hard look at what they've done, and I bet that they haven't even attempted half the things you have. As Princess Farhana has said, most people can't even leave a voicemail, let alone get on a stage and dance! Failure never has to mean the end of the road. It's just the option to go back and take another road.

How does failure make you a better dancer?

I'm sure we've all seen the articles about famous people who failed their first time around. But how does that compare to your career as a dancer?

It means you take more risks. Don't be afraid of trying something new on stage. Use that song you've been thinking about. Infuse those new salsa classes with your performance. Take that teaching position, even if you don't feel ready for it, or sign up to do that performance. Sure, you might fail, but you also might succeed. You could end up with new friends, a new dance gig, or at the very least, respect from those around you who are afraid to do what you just did.

I got my teaching job when the owner of a studio I once studied at called up to ask me if I could sub for a sick belly dance teacher. Teaching was on my horizon, but I didn't expect to go from a phone call to my first job as a teacher in 8 hours! In the last year, I've lost half my students who didn't like my style, but I've also kept two students who love dancing just as much as I do. They've progressed so much, and I've learned a lot about teaching on the way, and become a better dancer because of it. Sure, I failed in losing some of my students, but I succeeded in learning about what makes me a better teacher and dancer.

Don't be afraid to fail. It means you tried harder than everyone else around you, because you were willing to fail. If you never fail, you've never really danced.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Teaching the Same Choreographies

So, you've found yourself teaching your first belly dance class, congratulations! Teaching baby belly dancers how to do basic moves and watching as they grasp how to circle their hips or handle a veil is so rewarding. But after the first few weeks or months almost everyone has usually grasped the basics and are looking to you to provide more. But your new students aren't ready for a performance yet, nor are they ready for an advanced class. What do you teach them now?

They might not be ready for a performance yet, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't learn a choreography! Getting used to remembering a long string of moves will be helpful later, as well as give them an early shot at learning how to combine all those moves together in a 3-6 minute sequence. Plus, you'll be ready for a performance at a moment's notice, once they've got a good choreography under their belt.

But once you've got that first choreo down, then what? Do you just keep rehearsing it? No! Teach them another one. So they're still not ready for a performance? No matter, there's a huge benefit in having a group of dancers that all know a couple of the same choreos. Why is that?

Well, if you have a couple of go-to choreos, you will always have dancers that can perform it. You'll always be ready for student performances, and you'll give new bellydance students something to aspire to. A new bellydancer will see dancers in the classes above her performing these dances beautifully, and she'll want to work for the day when she can perform with them. Also, you have a crop of dancers who can help out the baby dancers and practice with them outside of class--you have a built in team!

And if you're introducing a new choreo, you can spend entire classes working on combos or breaking down skills needed for a specific move. Class planning at its easiest!

Also, you'll be following in the footsteps of many a professional dance company. Several dance companies are known for the dances they put on year after year, and the choreography that goes with them. They don't change it up very often--why should you? Don't be afraid to tweak it every so often, if you don't like a part or you just notice your dancers having a hard time with sections, but there's no reason to throw out all your hard work and start afresh. If you want something new, just add it to your repertoire!

My very first dance teacher had 4 or 5 choreos that she taught beginning students. I recently saw a video of her latest students doing a performance--they were still doing the same choreos I learned in her beginning class, but each dancer added her own personality to it. If you stick to a set of core choreographies, you won't ever look like the same tired old troupe. There's always new dancers, new costumes, new blocking, and new venues.

In short, having a set of choreographies is only beneficial to you and your students. You'll have an easier time planning classes, your students have something to work towards, even if it's not a performance, and you'll always be ready for a show. You can't beat it!