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Earlier this year I wrote quite a long post about teaching with tips for teachers. Having re-read it recently I think there are a couple more tips that are also important.  More fundamental, perhaps, than what I wrote then.  This is what I’m talking about here.

1. Lesson Planning

Have a plan, let your students know it and make sure you stick to it.  Now it is fine to go off on a tangent if something relevant comes up, but make sure you get back to the main thing you had planned to do, and make sure you do it.

Tell your students what you’re planning on teaching them, and then teach them that. If you want to be really awesome, summarise what they’ve learned at the end. This is the older teacher’s hat trick of “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them it, then tell them what you told them.”  One of the best examples of this I’ve had lately is the ATS Classes at Drummond High School.  On the first day of term I was given a list of the moves I’d be learning during the term.  And we did learn all the moves that were on the sheet. They also handed out a suggested music list and some biographical information about the teacher, which was very helpful and informative.

To help keep you on track a playlist can be really helpful.  If you’ve planned it out beforehand, you can pick music that suits what you want to teach in the class.  You can have your warm-up music, then music suitable to whatever you’re teaching, and lastly the cool-down music.  Build your playlist so that it’s as long as your class is. Then, if that’s running in the background, the start of the cool-down music will remind you it’s time to start winding down the lesson, stretching out and summarising what you’ve taught that day or so far that term.  It will also help keep you on time, which leads nicely onto the next tip:

2. Time Management

Be mindful of the time.  There’s nothing wrong with looking over at a clock or your watch to check how much time there is left in the class and adjusting your teaching accordingly. Make sure you bring a watch or a clock – don’t rely on the venue!

I know that sometimes it can be rude to check your watch – teaching is not one of those times.  When teaching, it is rude not to be mindful of time. If you don’t pay attention to time you could overrun. This is particularly problematic if there is another class waiting to get into your space. There was one particular class I was a student of where the (non-bellydance) class before always overran by 3-5 minutes and that ate into our time. It was so frustrating.  We use to stand at the side and jingle our coin belts to try and give their teacher a not-so subtle hint.

Even when you’re not eating into another classes’ time, if you overrun you are eating into your students time.  They will more than likely have somewhere to be once class is over. In your class there are probably a few busy people who have every minute of the day accounted for.  There may be students who have arranged childcare to cover the class and need to get back to their kids promptly. If you don’t finish on time you are eating into their time, time which they have not agreed to give you when they signed up for the class.

I once had a workshop that started very late because we were all chatting, teacher included.  Because of the late start the workshop overran by at least 30 minutes.  I say “at least” because at that point I had to leave as I’d made arrangements for later in the day and couldn’t stay any longer. The workshop kept going after I left.  That teacher’s lack of timekeeping meant I had to choose between missing out on teaching I’d already paid for and was looking forward to, or being late/missing the thing I’d planned for later.  So while it might seem rude to start a class when people are still chatting, it’s really not.  You are being respectful of everyone’s time.

Many thanks to the lovely Atiya who got me thinking about this.  She’s starting classes up in Dundee – if you’re in the area go check them out!

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Tribal Tigerlily is teaching some tribal fusion classes in Edinburgh.  Yipee!

The fabulously talented and gorgeous Tribal Tigerlily

She running a 4 week ‘taster’ set before Christmas starting Sun Nov 18th, and a 6 week regular term afterwards starting Sun Jan 20th, £9/£7 per class in advance, £10 on the door.  Both sets are being held at the Edinburgh Studios, off Leith Walk.  You can get full details, and whatnot on the Facebook event page.

And, because it’s such a treat, here’s a video of her performing:

 

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I found a Lebanese restaurant in Prague that has tribal fusion bellydance performances every Monday and Thursday night.

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April Rose is a captivating, technically brilliant, soulful dancer.

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So last time I was talking about how some tribal-fusion bellydance aesthetic has been influenced by art, particularly Mucha.  What’s also been of interest to me is how bellydance has influenced art.  For example, this painting by Sam Flegal‘s (below) has strong elements of tribal-fusion styling in terms of the bra, jewelry, belt, stocking & panel skirt:

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Growing up in a city festooned with Rennie Mackintosh buildings and art meant that that Art Nouveau became the sort of background aesthetic to my younger life, and there’s something I still find deeply appealing about his, and other artists of that movement.  I particularly like Alphonse Mucha.  I love how he paints women, I love the headdresses he creates:

 

I like headdresses in bellydance, and have seen some particularly beautiful ones on tribal fusion dancers.  For example, in the below Kimberly MacKoy models this gold Mucha-inspired piece created by Medina Maitreya

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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!

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.

In late September last year I injured my back after a long weekend full of exuberant DIY. I didn’t know I’d injured it at the time – there was no spasm, or any pain other than what seemed like regular muscle pain from a weekend of hard work. It was twingey on Monday, gaining to very sore by Tuesday, increasing in pain to the point that I ended up with a recommended local osteopath (the fantastic Lynn Bennett) and at my doctors.

The (locum) doctor gave me lots of strong painkillers and (essentially) told me to go away for twelve weeks. Lynn, the osteopath, was much more helpful, and in addition to diagnosing me as hypermobile, gave me “adjustments” that eased the pain on a temporary basis. Over a number of weeks, seeing Lynn helped reduce my pain considerably, though due to my hypermobility her adjustments wouldn’t fully “stick” particularly long – my back would just adjust itself back to being sore within a day or so, sometimes less. Lynn explained with my kind of back and this type of problem that it would probably take quite a bit of time for it to fully settle down. For a long-term solution, she suggested that I go to Pilates classes to help strengthen my core, which would then support and stabilise my back and reduce the pain and the chance of the pain returning.

Well, I hummed, and hawed about it. I’d been to a Pilates class once before (courtesy of a curious friend). I had not enjoyed the Pilates class. It felt a bit like Yoga (which I like), without any of the calmness, bendiness or precision (which I also like). Additionally, it seemed like my back was settling down and slowly getting back to normal with her treatments so I put the Pilates classes off and mentally marked them as a “maybe”.

Fast-forward to January, when my back went into an incredibly painful spasm while I was at home. I had to take several days off work. I went back to the doctors and was given more painkillers, my hypermobile diagnosis was confirmed by them, and I was given a note excusing me from my up-and-coming jury duty.

All and all it was not – in any way – a good experience.

What it did do, however, was make up my mind about trying a Pilates class. Anything, anything, would be better than going through that pain again. I asked around and a former student suggested I try Bea Alexander Pilates. After going onto her waiting list (she is REALLY popular), I managed to get into a beginners class. I explained to Bea about my injury & hypermobility, and have found her to be an exceptionally anatomically knowledgeable teacher, as well as an excellent and clear instructor.

My back pain hasn’t gone completely, and some days it flares back up again, but it has definitely reduced. And I also now have exercises I can do at home or work that help alleviate the pain, so things are looking up.

Prior to all this happening I was looking forward to learning ATS with Susan Tonner at Drummond High School. I managed most of her fantastic classes in the Sept-Dec term (with my osteo’s blessing I might add), and had planned to go back in January, but with my very limited time I had to choose between that class and attending Pilates. Pain made the decision for me.

It’s frustrating to not be able to make my choices based on desire rather than necessity, particularly when it comes to what exercise I choose (a realm I’m used to having choice in). Trying to get used to not being fully able-bodied (hopefully temporarily) is difficult and frustrating. Still, I’m hoping I will emerge from the other side of this with a pain-free back and a strong core, which will hopefully positively impact on my dancing too.

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