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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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The weekend before last saw me down in Brighton with my friend Tamsyn, studying under the very talented Olivia Kissel (pictured below)of Zafira Dance Company (my love of whom I have declared previously…). Tamsyn has blogged beautifully about the workshops already, so I shan’t say much except to say that Olivia had me, right from the very start of the first workshop, when she talked about dancing with soul.

The dancers I enjoy the most are the ones that evoke an emotional reaction in me, that touch me somehow. I believe that I feel touched because the performer is in touch with their emotional core and that is what’s being communicated to me through movement; that my reaction is an empathic one, empathic in the same way that I can shed a tear when witnessing another’s tears even though I myself am fine. What I aim for when planning a performance is that my dancing can communicate what I wish it to, that it can communicate from my heart, that it be soulful. Studying under another performer who thinks likewise, who spoke about it, encouraged us to speak about it and incorporated it into her teaching was incredibly inspiring. Thank you Olivia.

The below dances both move and inspire me, I hope you enjoy them too.

[An aside: of course it’s not enough for the dancer to simply feel and ’emote’, there must be technique behind and backing this up otherwise the communication of the emotion is stifled. Olivia used the term ‘mumbling’ when  referencing the communication divide where technique is lacking.]

I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to the Shimmy by the Shore event this Sunday… and I’ve got some wonderful old school music to perform to that’s getting me excited! I love the spontaneity of Elspeth’s plans for this event – turn up with your music, and dance if you want to. Fantastic!

Stripped down, vintage and just a little bit silly, that’s my new and improved website!

To complement it I’ve now also created a companion Facebook page, “The Exotic and Soulful Shelley

 

I’ve come across a model of learning in the last year that I’ve found quite useful when thinking about the different things I’ve been learning of late – more bellydance, yoga and counselling skills. It’s been buzzing around my head of late so I thought it’d be interesting to share.

It is commonly known as the Four Stages of Learning or Conscious Competence model. It’s origins are unclear – some claim is was Maslow (better known for his Hierarchy of Needs model) other have suggested it was a training company, Gordon Training International, that coined it. The first stage in the model sees the student in a state of unconscious incompetence – they don’t know that they don’t know. This moves to conscious incompetence as they start to think about their need to learn – they now know that they don’t know (and how disheartening is that moment when you realise how vast the gap in your knowledge/skill is?!?). Over the course of their training/learning they achieve conscious competence – they know that they know and consciously think through what they’re doing. Eventually, by this model, they move to unconscious competence; they don’t know what they know, their knowledge/skills become second nature to them.

Here’s a handy diagram borrowed from another blog (click to visit):

I think this is a fairly useful, straightforward model that describes a learning cycle applicable to many fields (and certainly applicable to what I’ve been learning lately). Where I think it reaches is limits is when thinking about when you reach a level of competency where you are able to teach what you know. What I mean by this is the competency that differentiates an English as an Additional Language (EAL) teacher from a native English speaker. Both are unconsciously competent with the use of the English language but the latter may struggle to explain and teach the skill. In fact, having to think through and explain something you know well can be quite disruptive to your ability to do that thing – I have a few memories of standing in front of students of both Physics and bellydancing and getting myself all muddled up trying to explain something I hadn’t thought through well enough in advance (happily the more teaching experience I’ve had the less this has happened!). Dave Mearns, a leading figure within person-centred counselling, describes the interaction between his knowledge and his ability to pass this on: "…I believe I am much poorer as a facilitator now than 15 years ago. Paradoxically one of the factors which has contributed to this has been the growth in my understanding of person-centred counselling…" (Page 59, Person-Centred Counselling Training by Dave Mearns, 1997).

It’s a complex relationship between subject knowledge and the ability to teach. I think describing it is not a straightforward task as it varies between different people and within different subject areas. Dave Mearns has found increased subject knowledge a hindrance for him in his field, I have found it inspirational, that it can drive my desire to teach – and I believe the more energy you have for teaching, the more passion you have for your subject, the more inspirational you are as a teacher.

If you’re interested in learning more about this model, and it’s disputed origins, this article is quite interesting (even if the webpage is a little unattractive to read). And if you have thoughts to share on any of this please feel free to add them below.

I had the distinct privilege to attend and perform at the Mussleburgh Hafla last week. Elspeth SwishandHips organised and compared most of the night, as well as dancing twice – what a woman!

There was a huge variety of performances – from professional dancers to beginners, in groups, duets and solos with styles ranging from modern Egyptian through to tribal fusion with much in-between. Props used on the night included sagats (also called zills or finger cymbals), stick/cane (two different dancers used this, and did so quite differently), veil and fan veils (courtesy of yours truly).

A fan veil, if you’ve never seen one before, is pretty much what it says on the tin – a fan (usually wooden, sometimes plastic) with a silk veil attached. They come in all sorts of different lengths (I believe the “standard” length is 1.5 yards) and a variety of colours. They are fun to work with – similar to veils as they share that beautiful, floating quality, though are different in the sorts of things you can do with them. Here’s a shot of me using mine with the fan closed taken my Douglas Cutt (and there are loads more of the hafla on his website)

In as much as the fan veils are a lot of fun, just like any other prop I find it can be quite hard when dancing with said prop to not let it take over the show and I worked quite hard to make sure my performance was a fan veil bellydance performance. From my perspective I succeeded and I’m really quite pleased with what I put together; hopefully you guys will be too!

I filmed Elspeth’s first dance – quite badly I must admit, I kept being distracted by her performance as I looked at it over the camera, and as such wasn’t concentrating on keeping the camera tracked properly on her! Here it is for your viewing pleasure:

There are loads more videos of the hafla performances on Elspeth’s YouTube channel at: http://www.youtube.com/user/shimmyology

I’ve also set up a new YouTube channel for my bellydancing videos – both the ones taken of me and the ones I take of other people. You can find me at: http://www.youtube.com/user/ShelleyDancing

This Thursday sees the return of the Musselburgh Hafla organised by the lovely Elspeth SwishandHips (photographed here by Kaleidoscope Studios)

The tickets are £5 on the door with all the proceeds going to Children 1st (who were previously known as the RSSPCC). It’s happening at the Musselburgh Rugby Club on Stoneyhill Farm Road (accessed from Eskview Crescent off Eskview Terrace). Doors are at 7.30pm for 8pm start.

From the sneaky peek I’ve had at the performers list it looks like it’s going to be a really diverse cracker of a show! I’ll be on, doing something different (ahhhhh! Why do I do this to myself?!?!). As Elspeth mentions on her blog, there will be a raffle and a bellydance bring-and-buy sale, where you can sell your bellydance bits and pieces (costumes, coin belts, accessories, etc).

Hafla, hafla! July 1st, 7.30pm at the Musselburgh Rugby Club – see you there!

After a little bit of stress about where we would perform (NOT the cobbles!) and worry about whether or not the weather would hold, things turned out marvellously! Nice paving stones for the dancers to perform on and nice sunny weather (though there was a bit of wind). I wasn’t ‘together’ enough to remember to bring my camera, but Susanna of Habiba Dance has very kindly allowed me to use her (beautiful) pictures from the event.

There were some technical difficulties right at the start of the event, which plagued the beginning of the youth choir, but got ironed out and the kids sung their hearts out. It was very cute. Following them were Susan Tonner’s ‘Twisted Tails’ tribal group:

(Picture courtesy of Susanne, Habiba Dance)

There were loads of them, all beautifully and lushly dressed, all co-ordinated. What I love about tribal is its strength and dignity and this performance had that in spades. Well done ladies!

Next up was a band described as “Samba Fusion” – it comprised of bagpipes, electric guitarists, singers and young people playing drums. Really interesting sounds, and I was particularly happy when they put out a version of a Proclaimers song (I have a soft spot for the Proclaimers, what can I say?). Following them were another band, fronted by the cousin of one of my students (such a small world!). They were raising money for LGBT Youth Scotland, and man that singer could wail! He had a brilliant voice and the rest of the band were equally talented. My attention started to dwindle however, not because of any lack of talent from these guys, but because my girls were up next…

They performed beautifully – I was so proud; their first public performance! Susanna captured them below just after they’d finished all together with Elspeth’s class – you can see some of the performers still in their final pose. Although the theme colours of the event were red, I had my girls in blue to differentiate them from Elspeth’s dancers. They made their tassel/fringe belts themselves and either made or customised their own tops too. What talented ladies they are, in many fields!

(Picture courtesy of Susanne, Habiba Dance)

Next up were Hilary Thacker’s students, performing a veil dance. The wind had picked up by this point, but they managed admirably, veils held for much of the time in a ‘backwards butterfly’ position which coped well with the wind. The tie-dye silk looks really nice fluttering in the breeze. Following on their heels were local troupe Zahirah, who’d managed to put a choreography together despite not actually being able to practice together (the wonders of modern technology!) and despite injury. Last on were the Helwa Hurdies, dancing their lovely flamenco-inspired piece. It’s one I’ve seen before but I was happy to see it again, it was beautiful and strong and a great note to end the bellydancing on. And here’s some footage Elspeth took of the dancing:

After the Hurdies performed the balloons were released. Check out the expression on the kids faces:

(Picture courtesy of Susanne, Habiba Dance)

It was a great night, lots of community spirit (in spite of one bothersome/attention seeking kid) and lots of local talent!

…and you know, I think the next time I’ll be seeing live bellydance performances will be at the Mussleburgh Hafla, July 1st. Hope you can make it too!

…and what a treat you have in store for you – not one bellydance performance, not two bellydance performances but a whole heap of them!

After a local choir kicks things off at the “Red Leith” event at 7.30pm you will be entertained by the ‘Twisted Tails’ tribal bellydance group. THEN after some upbeat Samba fusion and more music some of the other Leith Bellydancers will be up to entertain you around about 9pm. Students from Elsepth’s and my own class will be performing together, students of Hilary Thacker will be dancing as will local group Zahirah, and of course veteran performers, the Helwa Hurdies!

So come along and make some noise for the Leith Bellydancers! Friday, 7.30pm, Malmaison at the Shore – be there or be square 😉

To brighten up this rainy summer day, allow me to introduce you to Tamsyn:

I first met Tamsyn at a tribal fusion workshop where I couldn’t help but notice that she had a scar that was almost identical to my own. We were scar buddies! So we got talking. Over time I’ve learned that, as well as being an enthusiastic bellydance aficionado and a great dancer she’s a very knowledgeable (and thoughtful) teacher. We share a love of tribal fusion, but also both have broad tastes in bellydance and appreciate lots of different styles. I feel lucky to have her as my dance buddy and friend.

Which is all lovely, but why am I telling you about Tamsyn? Well… she’ll be taking over my classes at The Yoga Room from September onwards! She’ll be coming along to a class or two in my next term so if you’re thinking about continuing you’ll get the opportunity to meet her then.

And to finish off this post, here’s another gorgeous picture of her from a recent performance in her newest outfit (made by her own fair hand – where do her talents end? 🙂 ).

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