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As part of the ‘Dancing Boots’ day, I’ll be teaching a short bellydance session on Saturday June 2nd at the Bristo Yoga School at 1 Bristo Place.  Ticket price is £10 for the whole afternoon, which covers my session, Zumba, Urban Funk and Boot Camp activities (should you feel so energetic to do them all!).  For more details keep an eye on the Facebook event page or buy your tickets here.

The event is a fundraiser for the new St Columba’s Hospice.  This Edinburgh hospice exists to improve the quality of life for people with progressive, far advanced disease and to provide support for their families.  They are hoping to make it look something like this:

Please do let your friends & family know about this event. I’d love to see you all there!

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The Scottish Bellydance community is active! Between now and October we have…

Some of the Bellydance Superstars & local dancers performing on May 24th in Club Bellydance

Mardi Love performing and teaching September 15th & 16th

Aaaand Carolena Nericcio and Megha Gavin performing and teaching as Tribal Pura October 5-7th!

Click the pictures for more details & booking info.

Thank you to the organisers of all these events – thank you for working so hard to bring these wonderful events to Scotland.  You’re awesome!

I read this interesting article about bellydance appearing to be spiraling back downwards in terms of public perception (from the authors experience) and thought I’d share it. 

http://www.gildedserpent.com/cms/2012/04/17/ask-yasmina-18-bellydance-downward-spiral/#axzz1sOHYesnb

I wonder if it ties into the loss of ground we’ve seen in the last several years in terms of equal pay and (effectively) gendered UK budget cuts, to name but two…

I know a thing or two about professional teaching and about educational theory (*cough* Post Graduate Certificate in Education, with Distinction *cough*). Following the years I spent teaching for a living in Secondary School (or High School for my North American readers) I moved back into education myself and these last three years have seen me become a student in many areas of life – academically, professionally and in my leisure time. I’ve been overawed by some of the amazing teachers who have taught me in the last few years, and taken note of those teachers I felt “could do better”.

I’ve recently been reflecting on these years of learning and decided I would put down in writing some tips and thoughts for teachers, both for my own edification and also because I think that they might just possibly be helpful for others. There’s no particular order to this list, it’s simply the order that they popped into my head. But the last one is the most important one.

1) Be aware of your own power

When you are in the position of teacher you have a great deal of power. Even when there is no exam, even when the class is just for fun, you have power. You know something that the people in front of you are hoping to learn. They have given you their time in the hope that they will get something of worth to them back from it. They may have given you money. Remember that. And remember that everyone, everyone, is vulnerable. That is particularly true when they are in the position of ‘student’.

You have the power to make people feel stupid, no good, to feel worthless. You have the power to make them feel clever, talented, full of value. You have the power make people feel bad about themselves or to feel good about themselves. And no matter how technically brilliant your explanations and insights may be, your students will remember most of all how you made them feel. Be aware of that immense power and use it wisely. Praise publically and criticise privately. Or better yet offer constructive feedback, and still do it privately. And pay attention to everyone, even the people hiding at the back right hand corner of the room (that’s typically where the really shy people navigate to). They may well be shy, but they still want and deserve attention – even just a bit of eye contact, a nod and a smile.

2) Empower your students

If your teaching is worthwhile you will be giving your students the opportunity to change something. This change might be in expanding their knowledge, it might be teaching their body to do something new. Change has consequences. Let them know what they are, and give them the choice.

I always remember when I first started learning Geology, back in the dim and distant. In the first lecture we were told that this class would change the way we viewed scenery and landscapes. And it was true. By the end of it I couldn’t just look at a landscape and think “Aww, that’s pretty”. No, I would look and see the faults and folds, I would theorise about the geological events that had caused the land to look the way it did. And because I was forewarned, I felt like the change was at least somewhat within my power – it was not ‘done to me’, I felt that I had done it to myself.

Another example is from a workshop I took with Ansuya where she taught floorwork. At one point during the workshop she stopped and talked to us about “acceptable pain”. About the bruises, cuts, scrapes and the pain that she and many other performers were prepared to accept as part of their work. She explained that what she was about to teach next was sore, particularly if we did it repeatedly. In doing so she offered us the opportunity to participate or not, depending on our individual attitudes to pain and bruising. That was empowering because I didn’t just go into it blindly and then feel resentful afterwards for the pain I’d suffered.

Dancing connects you more firmly with your own body. For many people this is welcome, but for others it might not be (I’m thinking particularly of people with chronic pain, as an example). If people are new to dance they might not be aware of this consequence of learning your dance form – let them know. Let them know if there’s a good chance they will ache afterwards or even bruise. You don’t know their plans – they might be going to a wedding the next day, or modelling and those bruises may not be okay for them to have. Give them the power to choose by giving them enough information to make the choice. Never assume that they will know, and certainly do not assume that they will be okay with it.

3) Know your limits

Be aware of where your knowledge and competence stops and be okay with that. No-one knows everything, no-one is competent at everything, and it’s alright to learn from others even when you yourself are a teacher. In fact it’s more than alright, I would argue it’s necessary that you keep learning – both to broaden your knowledge/competence base and to remind you of what it’s like to be a student.

Be prepared to admit when you don’t know something or how to do something. You will have far more integrity if you own your own ignorance. In doing so you make it okay for your students to not know things too, and you avoid straying into the potentially dangerous (and perhaps even litigious) areas of making things up because you are ashamed that you don’t know, or making your students feel stupid for asking by giving a defensive response that hides your ignorance. When you acknowledge your own limits you create an environment where not knowing is fine, where it is acceptable. This is the fertile ground where learning occurs best. I split this post as it was getting looong, click here to read the rest

Everyone around me seems to be getting pregnant – co-workers, teachers, friends. It must just be that time of life and time of year. It’s reminded me of my very first teacher, a lovely woman in Glasgow who was heavily pregnant when classes begun. The very first live bellydance performance I ever saw was with this *very* pregnant lady, dancing beautifully and even spinning to ‘Mysterious Ways’ by U2. I think it really shaped my ideas about bellydance and about pregnancy and how well they fit together.

As a teenager I viewed the pregnant ‘bump’ with extreme suspicion. It looked alien and very odd to me. I never really wrapped my head around the pregnant ‘glow’ until I saw that teacher dance. Looking back I marvel at how well she had adjusted to the ways in which her body was changing – particularly with the practical things like adapting to an ever-changing centre of mass. When I saw the below video I was reminded of that performance – and very struck by the spinning!

 

And here is the same woman doing a full-on performance, 8 months’ pregnant.

 

I was and still am captivated by these performances and catch myself just watching her belly as she dances. It’s hypnotic.  I’ve tried to find videos of other dance forms performed by pregnant women and had a very hard time.  I found a short contemporary performance and a few videos of ballet practice or informal performance with pregnant dancers and that was pretty much it.  I’m thinking that not many other dance forms really lend themselves to pregnant performances – they’re not really body friendly in that way.

I know there’s some who believe and claim that bellydance started out as a way to help with birth and post-natal physical recovery.  From what I’ve looked into, the historical record doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to say about this (Shira has a good article about ‘wishtory‘ that could be relevant here).  On the other hand, ‘women’s’ issues are not covered particularly well in older records so who knows.

A former colleague told me about exercises she’d been taught in an antenatal class that looked exactly the same as hip circles and figures of eight from bellydance – which makes perfect sense to me as those movements can be particularly good for easing lower back pain – which is a common difficulty with pregnancy I’m told. So regardless of whether bellydance has historical roots in pregnancy, birthing and post-natal recovery, it is a pregnancy and birth-friendly dance form (if care is taken to avoid sharp movement, backbends, etc.).   I have a feeling that it can be helpful in a psychological sense too as dance connects you to and roots you in your body – which is constantly changing during pregnancy.  I imagine that staying connected to your changing form can only be helpful in fighting back against that inner voice that calls you unattractive, which I’m told becomes even more forceful for many women when pregnant.

Connection is at the heart of so much in life and so it’s no surprise that it is an absolutely key element in performance too.  Humans without connection wither and die like plants without water; isolation at the heart of a great deal of psychological distress.  In live performances how well a performer can connect with her audience is a profound part of how enjoyable the audience member – and, dare I say it, the dancer – finds the performance.

I recently had a wonderful chat about connection in performance with a friend who has studied theatrical clowning.  As she studied it, theatrical clowning was about being spontaneously fun, in a deeply authentic way – a hugely difficult thing to learn and do.  Throughout her training she and her classmates were able to sense when a peer was being genuine, or not, and gave feedback on what an enormous impact this had on how they felt about the performance.  Performances that were genuine were seen as funny and engaging regardless of what the performer did; those that were not genuine were experienced as dull or even irritating.

Although it sounds like hokum, or magic, people can pick up on whether or not a performer is being genuine, is in touch with their inner self.  By connecting with yourself and responding from that place, you can connect with your audience in a profound way.  I’ve watched live dance performances that were technically perfect but that did not engage me at all – and I have watched performances that had some technical flaws but still gave me goosebumps, or moved me to tears.  The key difference is that ephemeral sense that the performer is performing from their soul – that they are genuine, that they are not just going through the motions.

Of course you won’t always connect with your audience, even if you are in touch with yourself.  They have to be open – at least a little bit – to the connection.  Connection always requires the Other with whom you can connect.  That’s another part of what can make it so hard.  It can be painful to offer that precious, beautiful internal “you” and to not have it received.  Performers need open hearts and thick skins to thrive and to survive.

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