Katayoun's Raqs Mosaique

Northern Virginia Belly Dance Instruction, Performance & Inspiration!

Happy New Year 2018

Happy New Year 2018

I wanted to take a moment to thank you, my students, friends, family and colleagues around the world, for making 2017 bearable and hopeful. It was tumultuous year for humanity and for me personally. Professionally, there were many joys and successes, and for that I am grateful!

I’ve had my moments of feeling despair for my country and the world, but I have resolved to remain optimistic, and am looking forward to 2018 with renewed hope and excitement. Even when some humans will be crappy to each other, others will be extraordinarily compassionate and caring. I choose to support the latter with my energy, money and talents. I haven’t been in the classroom for nearly a decade, but I never left the education profession. I will continue to do my part in promoting joy, love and shared humanity through the education of cultural dance and music.

And while I am still on this journey toward the self-caring and self-aware human (and will be for a while), three pieces of advice, while difficult to practice at times, are proving to be invaluable:

  1. Always show your humanity and recognize the humanity in others, especially when their viewpoints differ from yours.
  2. Approach conflict with compassion and curiosity.
  3. Recognize your impact on the world outside of yourself.

Thank you for your friendship, love and support, and the privilege to teach you and to learn from you. May love, light and fabulous shimmies guide you in 2018. Happy New Year!

 


How Dancers Can Prevent Injury, Recover and Enjoy Better Health as We Age

Focus on Fundamentals

In my last post, I talked about the importance of consistently drilling the fundamentals of dance movement, alignment and muscle engagement, no matter how long you’ve been dancing, to continue to make progress in your skills and abilities. If you missed it, check out “The Biggest Mistake Experienced Dancers Make.”

In this post, I address the why and how of dance fundamentals to help prevent injury, aid in recovery from injuries and maintain physical fitness and wellness as we age.

Now that you know the fundamentals are crucial in your dance advancement, consistent and intentional practice of fundamentals also helps prevent injuries and can aid in your recovery if you do get injured. The key is to develop strong and flexible core muscles, engage them correctly, and align the joints with the spine properly. Then, you can get creative with layering, dynamic body positions and weight changes.

Being competent and accomplished in cultural dance doesn’t mean you have to break your body to excel. Belly dance in its pure and authentic form is derived from folk and social dances of everyday people. While there are performance elements that require stronger skills, the essence of the dance is that it is designed for the everyday body. The biggest difference is that those who learned it in culture were born into it, and those who didn’t have to learn the language of the dance, which is referred to as the fundamental movement vocabulary.

The fundamental movement vocabulary of belly dance, and in particular the Egyptian-style belly dance that I am drawn to, is very unique, in that it is largely core-based in the body, even while every part of the body is used to express ideas and emotions. I find this fundamental principle so powerful and useful, that I have applied it to my practice of Persian dance, which is often thought of as having only an upper body focus, specifically the arms and hands. I have found that fundamental core-based muscle-focused movement is key to not only preventing injury, it is a powerful and concise strategy for understanding technique as well as cultural aesthetics.

When any of my students reports an injury, it is always associated with something that happened outside of dance class…a fall, yard-work, or an accident, are some examples. While they have been advised to take-it easy, they are almost always prescribed physical therapy. They report that many of the physical therapy exercises resemble the basic dance movements they know. It is extremely important to return to dance with a focus on fundamentals to rebuild and recondition your body. After an injury or any kind of absence from dance, your body is going to move differently. Not only do you need to retrain your muscles, you need to rebuild your skills. And it needs to be a gentle, intentional and gradual process to avoid re-injury.

Bodies are made to move. I hurt when I don’t move. But it’s not just any movement that is therapeutic. Correct muscle engagement and conditioning from the inside out is the key. Conditioning and training the bigger and more internal muscles first, takes pressure off the knees, hips and shoulders. Joints with smaller surrounding muscles are more susceptible to injury. Similarly, weak muscles around the joints also make them more susceptible to injuries. Keeping the body conditioned and maintained becomes even more important to health and well-being as we age.

Here are my tips for preventing injury, dancing after an injury, and maintaining body conditioning for health and wellness:

  1. Screen Shot 2017-08-23 at 12.36.47 AMBuild core strength and flexibility. I recommend plank and push-up exercises for strength. You can do them on the floor or against a wall. There are a variety of positions to suite all levels. Find the right one for you and you will enjoy the benefits of these exercises right away. For core flexibility, I recommend big chest lifts by engaging the abdominals. Hip slides, chest slides, belly expansion, abdominal contraction (lengthening the back), and torso bends stretch all the core muscles in a variety of directions.
  1. Develop your glutes and legs for strength, endurance and control. I recommend glute contractions in the standing straddle (public toilet position) for strength and endurance. Make sure you are holding your weight in your heels and your knees stay behind the toes. For control and technique, the sitting straddle position is best to concentration on muscle engagement and musical timing, and builds flexibility as well.
  1. Avoid overuse injuries by drilling the basic movements and concepts of dance in a variety of ways. For example, practice a basic hip circle in both directions (clockwise and anti-clockwise) with weight only on the right, then only on the left. Next change the position of the feet. I use five positions: basic (feet under hip bones, weight evenly distributed), Arabesque (weight shifted to one side, leg extend to side), extend one leg forward, extend leg to rear. This is just one of the ways you can vary your practice of basic dance movements.
  1. Practice shimmies for technique and endurance. Build your shimmy practice to up to 20 or 30 minutes. Start slow to perfect your form and technique. As you build speed, work your way up to maintaining a non-stop shimmy. Practice in a variety of positions, dynamics and intensity of different musical forms.
  1. Work on one set of moves, or a concept, such as snaky arms, for at least 30 minutes. To advance your skills, improve your technique, develop strength and endurance, you need to put in the time that it takes to deepen body knowledge, build muscle memory, and sharpen the mental focus that sparks creativity so that you can get into the flow of the next level of your development. Anything less than 30 minutes is just a warm-up.

Speaking of warm-up…it is essential that you begin any dance class or practice with a proper and complete warm-up.

And finally,

  1. Cross-train the same way. If you choose another activity or dance form to cross-train, remember the same principles of muscle engagement and body alignment still apply. While styling and movement vocabulary may differ, safe movement principles are universal. Remember that your dance training is great background for a variety of sports and activities.

I hope you have found this post helpful and that you are inspired to apply these principles in your own practice and teaching.

For a deeper understanding of my format, join my classes online at my virtual studio.


The Biggest Mistake Experienced Dancers Make

…..and Tips to Avoid and Recover from it

IMG_0007Do you remember when you first fell in love with dance? Do you remember the feeling of excitement every time you mastered a new skill or “got” a move? Do you still experience those feelings after two years, five years? How about ten years after starting your dance journey?

If you are like me, that honeymoon phase when everything was new and fresh has long passed. That’s because in the beginning phases of learning a new skill, you will make the most progress.

There are several reasons for this. First, everything is new and exciting in the beginning, so it’s more fun. Because everything is new, you are paying attention more. You are more alert in class and you are more conscientious about doing it right. Second, you expect to receive correction and are more open to improving because your confidence and competence have not yet emerged. Finally, in the beginning of the learning journey, instruction is fundamental and the basic building blocks are constantly reinforced in class. At least we hope so.

What happens after the initial training years that causes some dancers to plateau in their progress? Based on my experience as a teacher in the classroom and the dance studio, I’ve observed my current and former students. I will share my thoughts on why some dancers stop making progress, even though they dance regularly and had previously made great progress.

In the beginning of the learning journey, as your basic skills improve, so does your confidence. After a few performances, you start to grow into your style, and perhaps you focus more on performance skills, such as musicality, costumes and staging. Choreography, improvisation, and complex skills and concepts such as layering and transitions are finally accessible and much more exciting and urgent to practice than foundational concepts.

The post-honeymoon phase of dance training, which can begin anywhere from 2-5 years approximately depending on your level of seriousness, is often the phase where many dancers could begin to plateau in their progress…unless they have consistently done this one simple thing, which many of us stop doing when we begin to focus on performance skills. It is the biggest mistake we make as experienced and professional dancers.

I’m talking about fundamentals. The basics of dance technique, alignment and dynamic muscle engagement. It’s the first thing we learn as baby dancers. But as we gain experience, accolades and confidence, we abandon the foundations, the very thing that empowered our spirit and strengthened our bodies.

One of the gifts of teaching that I discovered early in my career is to always lay down a strong foundation with the building blocks of dance movement and muscle engagement for all my students, no matter their age, experience or ability. Not only has it helped me in imparting complex concepts and choreography, but I have benefitted immensely from practicing the fundamentals with them as my body ages and changes.

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 10.46.54 PMEvery accomplished dancer knows the secret to advancing your craft is mastery of the fundamentals. From there, creativity and expression flow freely. Without that foundation, the body is stifled and expression is stymied. Dancers at all points in their dance journey need consistent and focused practice of the fundamentals. Strong foundational concepts and muscle engagement are necessary to maintain dance conditioning and to advance.

Our bodies are always in flux, making it essential to move and dance every day, especially as we age. Practicing the fundamentals of dance movement is key to maintaining and gaining strength, grace and improving your confidence. Some dancers stop practicing the fundamentals after a few years, thinking they are above the basics, or feel it’s boring. In fact, if the basics seem boring, you haven’t explored them deeply. Focused and structured practice that explores variations and dynamics of the basics is how dancers often make breakthroughs.

Whatever point you see yourself on the learning journey, think about what you can do now to empower your future dancing self.

Go back to your basics.

Go back to your basics.

Go back to your basics.

If you are dancer who regularly drills the basics, or if you are a teacher who brings this gift to all levels of your students, no matter how advanced or experienced, Bravo! You get it!

Here’s a secret: There are no advanced moves.

Everything is basic. So-called “advanced” moves are simply basic components combined in a specific sequence and energy. But those basic components must be mastered separately before combining them to create a dynamic movement.

Here’s another secret: The goal of practicing technique is not perfection. The goal of practice is to free the body so that the spirit can flow through it to express and release emotions and ideas.

As I tell my students, “I want you to dance forever. That’s my plan.” Let’s do it together, with just three simple tips:

  1. Go to your basics often, deeply and intentionally. You cannot advance your dance without the fundamentals of dance and movement. Not only do we have to practice them often, but deeply with variations and intentionally with awareness of the process. There is also a specific anatomical order that facilitates skill-building. Start with body awareness and conditioning from the very internal pelvic floor, expand to external muscle engagement, then build up from the feet toward dynamic movement in space.
  1. Learn about the music. When your body is conditioned to respond the music, your mind is now free to pursue essential knowledge that accompanies dance skills. Learn about the songs, rhythms, instruments and geographic or cultural background. Not all Middle Eastern music is appropriate for belly dance.
  1. Embrace your place and enjoy the journey. We need to keep moving and dancing, especially as we age. It’s not a competition, so don’t compare yourself with others. Everyone is on a different journey. If you are an experienced or advanced dancer, think about what direction you want to go next with your dance. When asking for coaching or advice from your teachers and mentors, start with expressing your goals so that they can better assess how to help you.

If you have ever felt in a rut or uninspired in your dance or teaching journey, consider refreshing your perspective with a healthy dose of fundamentals and some creative flair. Take a class below your “level” or explore on your own. You will be amazed how your brain and body improve when you dig deep, focus on the details, and allow yourself to embrace and enjoy the journey all over again.

 

Need help with fundamentals and getting a different perspective? Try my online courses at my Virtual Studio.


My Response to Scammers

Have you ever received an email, and more recently texts, like the following?

“Hello, This is Christopher M, i will like to know if you are available for Dance Training then do you accept all major credit card for payment….Thanks i waits your response back asap.”

The typos and weird grammar are the first clue, same as the old Nigerian email scam, that something is not right. The second clue is lack of details whatsoever.

“Hello….My name is Susana i will like to know if you are available for dance class then do you accept all major credit card for payment, Thanks I waits your response back asap.”

Starting to see a pattern?

“Hello how are you doing today? This is David Rick i will like to know if you are the owner or manager and are you available for Cuban dance lesson? and do you accept credit card for payment? kindly get back to me as soon as possible.”

Congratulations! You have arrived!

“Hello,this is Mr Mathew.I got your information online for dance classes.I’m organizing a surprise dance (likeflashmob) for my daughter’s wedding,so i want you to teach the Bridesmaids choreography.let me know if you do this”

Okay, getting more creative.

“Hi am mark johnson, i will like to know if you are available for Dancing Classes and do you accept credit card?”

Not even trying here. It’s like, “I know you know I’m scamming, but my boss is watching.”

“Hello this is Mr Barry.i like to know if you available for dance classes?Thanks.”

Obviously bored. With himself.

“Hi, Pamela Jones. I got your information online for dance classes. I’m organizing a surprise dance (lik flash mob) for my daughter’s wedding, So i want you to teach the Bridesmaids choreography. Let me know if you can do this?”

Good effort. Cleaned up the grammar, capitalization and punctuation. I almost believed you were real. And I’m not Pamela Jones. Oh wait, is that you? Very confused right now.

“Hello this Charles Edward I’ll like to know if you are available for dance lesson”

And what if I am? You’ll pay me lots of extra money in a cashier’s check due to weird excuses, that will later bounce, AFTER I have reimbursed you with real funds? Not today, buddy. Not today.

“You are eligible to receive a cashier check of $765,500.00 from UN-Habitat. contact, parcel47@outlook.com

There you go. That’s all there is to it! Just contact parcel47 right now!  Now I can’t get username ladiesman217 out of my head.

“Hello,this Mr James.I got your information online for dance classes.I’m organizing a surprise dance (like flashbob) for my daughter’s wedding,So i want you to teach the Bridesmaids choreography. Let me know if you can do this.”

THE Bridesmaids choreography?!? Yes, of course I can do this!

I have never actually responded to any of these scammers.  Today, for first time I decided to respond. I wanted to express my disapproval and let them know I am on to them without engaging them further. I felt no creative effort on my part was necessary or even deserved. Why bother, right? So I just started tapping the letters on my phone and let autocorrect do the rest.

Though I am certain no one noticed or cared, it was quite satisfying and hilarious.

 

 I hope this catches on. Have fun.

Check out the previous post:

Belly Dance Teachers as Activists and Cultural Ambassadors


Belly Dancers & Teachers as Activists & Cultural Ambassadors

Are you embracing and honoring your role as a teacher and cultural ambassador?
Or are you turning your back on a wonderful opportunity?

I must admit, I feel disappointment when I encounter a fellow belly dancer or student, who expresses support for ideas and policies which are in direct conflict with the very essence of what we do as cultural artists and ambassadors. After all, the dance does not belong to us. We cannot just do with it as we please, or take out the cultural contexts we don’t like or understand. It doesn’t work that way.

While not a new phenomenon, in recent weeks I have struggled to understand it. I am an immigrant from Iran. Unfortunately, I’ve been through this song and dance before, through several waves. It was many years, and through the lessons of dance, before I was no longer ashamed of my heritage. The optimist in me wants to believe that everyone is on a different journey and this is all part that journey, for everyone. The activist in me wants to speak up.

But first, a little story.

When I was a school teacher, I often approached my cultural lessons of French-speaking countries, with the notion that I was also educating the parents of my students. One of the first fundamental points of view I had to impart in order to open minds and hearts, was to make a distinction between the government/politics, religion and culture of a county. While these things are highly interwoven in any society, if they could make those distinctions with their own country, then they would be able to apply it to others. The goal was to show that we are not all that different from them. Whether it was in regard to religion, customs or form of government, we could discuss the elements of the culture and language without judgement, toward a common goal of understanding and appreciation.

In the first part of discussions, I had one rule. Students were not allowed to use judging words in reaction to beliefs and traditions which were different from their own. They had to state facts. They could also draw comparisons to their own beliefs and traditions. For example, they could not say “That’s weird,” or “That’s gross.” But they could ask questions, often “Why?” to which I would try to draw a comparison to American traditions. While this was also a great opportunity to learn new vocabulary, the point was to immediately take away judgement, and embrace knowledge through facts. We discussed how the facts of geography, history and art impacted our different customs, clothing and food. Later, the students could share their feelings, after they had sufficient knowledge to formulate an informed opinion. If the brains of elementary school students can do that, why not fully developed adult brains?

I know, for the most part, I am preaching to the choir, so I appreciate you reading this far.

If you are a belly dance student, teacher or performer, no matter what style, this is your time to shine. You have a wonderful opportunity to represent through the dance. It is the least you can do. No matter what style of belly dance you study or teach, thanks to the people’s traditions from cultures of origin, you found an art form that speaks to your heart and soul. Through the freedoms you enjoy, you are able to share your passion with others. You have likely had opportunities (even if you did not take them) to learn from native instructors coming to the U.S. from all points in the Middle East and North Africa. By association and dedication to their traditional arts, you are one of them.  If you are committed to your dance involvement, accept and embrace that we are in it together, with them, and with the same goal; to promote our shared humanity through the beauty of dance and music.

Altruistic motives aside, you may even gain new students and performance opportunities. A quote from one of my early influencers, Morocco” a.k.a. Carolina Varga Dinicu, affectionately known as Aunty Rocky, says it all: “The truth is much more fascinating than the fantasy.”

As an artist and teacher of Middle Eastern dance, in everything I do, I must ask myself,

“Am I honoring and showing respect and appreciation for the cultures and people to whom these dances belong?”

“Am I fulfilling my responsibility as a teacher to impart truth, knowledge and insight to the best of my ability?”

I hope that I am, not only in my teachings, also in my daily interactions. Fellow dancers, are you?

 

Is your dance community hungry for cultural dance understanding and confidence? Consider hosting me for a special event.
Check out my Specialty Topics for weekend workshops and intensives!

Why Every Belly Dance Teacher Should Study Folklore

When I was a new dancer, like most new dancers, I had no idea that belly dance was so rich in variety and history of cultural flavors. It wasn’t until I was exposed to folklore, that the dance and the music began to make sense, and I began to enjoy, appreciate and benefit from the dance on a whole new level.

New students often ask, “What is folkloric dance and what does it have to do with belly dance?” Some dancers wonder, “Why should I learn folkloric dance?” The answer is simple.  Folkloric Middle Eastern dances are the various regional and ethnic traditions, and they are the roots of modern belly dance. It behooves every belly dancer, especially teachers, regardless of style, to have a good understanding of these origins.

What is Folkloric Dance?
Eshveh posed

For simplicity sake, I sometimes refer to baladi or folkloric dances as styles of belly dance, but this is not really accurate. Folkloric dances are not actually styles of belly dance. They are social and folk dances from specific regions. Each country and region has its own distinct style of movement and musical traditions. The movements can vary greatly from region to region – even regions within the same country.

Do you know the difference?

Aside from the more covered look of folkloric costumes, many dancers have a difficult time articulating what makes Raks Baladi, a.k.a folkloric dance, unique and different from Raks Sharqi/Oriental, a.k.a. belly dance. They might describe the movements as earthy vs. flowing. Or they might attribute certain movements as inherently balady or sharqi. While those descriptions certainly come to mind, there is more to it than that.

I have spent many hours studying folkloric dance (by many, I mean hundreds) and characterizing the differences from belly dance. They all seem to have some common elements, which I suspect is true of folk and social dances all over the world. There are three distinct characteristics of folkloric dances that I have identified throughout my years of studying various folk and social dances:

1. Community

Folkloric dances are social by definition, and they always have an element of community or group dynamic associated with its ritual and performance. This adds a very dynamic element and enhances the enjoyment of dance. In this context, movements are kept simple while interaction and group formations take a more prominent role in dance presentation. As a soloist, the community or social element is inherent in the way the dancer interacts with her audience by involving them in a number of ways.

Khaleejy8wow2. Spirited

Folkloric dances and music are highly expressive, joyous, and energetic, even when the movements are small and subtle. Folkloric dance has it all. Depending on the style, movements can be bouncy, flirty and mischievous, and they can also be snaky, ooey and gooey. The serpentine movements, dynamic hip articulations and shimmies we love so much, all originate in folk and social traditions.


3. Clothing and Everyday Props

Folkloric dances display the pride and riches of the people they represent, and a people’s distinct clothing and textiles are as much a part of that identity as the music and dance. Often an everyday item from that culture is used to perform a specific dance. These object have a story in the culture and when you take time learn about them, they are so fascinating!

I’ll share a secret with you….

When I first started dancing, I detested the sound of folkloric music and had no interest in the dances. Now I specialize in it. It was only after I started learning about them through belly dance workshops that I became fascinated. The music also grew on me. All of a sudden, I found belly dance was not so much about the moves, but what those moves mean in the context of the dance. The dance experience is so much richer with that context.

DSC_0325Why should you learn about different folkloric dances?

As a teacher, having knowledge and understanding of the roots of modern belly dance not only gives you credibility as an expert instructor, study of folkloric dance enhances the experience for you and your students. Here’s how.

1. Deepen your understanding

When you learn about folkloric dance and music, many of the movements, musical elements, gestures, nuances, costuming, and etiquette of modern belly dance will make a lot more sense. For example, do you wonder why we use certain props, such as sticks, veils, swords, trays and candelebras? It’s because they are everyday objects from a specific culture used by real people. Folkloric dance in essence, is the story of the people.

2. Empower yourself

One of the things I love about teaching and dancing folklore is the opportunity to promote cultural understanding and exchange. Sometimes, people are afraid or have misconceptions of foreign people and cultures they do not understand or know little about. When they learn more about people and cultures that are foreign to them, they become more enlightened and less afraid.

When you learn about dance through its cultural roots, you not only enrich and expand your movement repertoire, you gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world and your place in it. In the study and performance of cultural dance forms, the music, movements and cultural context cannot be separated. Even in the study and performance of fusion dance forms, just as all the great fusion dancers, the artist must have training and knowledge of the dance and cultural elements that are being fused together. Unless your intention is confusion, folkloric dance training is for every belly dance student, teacher and enthusiast.

3. Feel the joy

Folkloric dances are immensely joyous and fun! There is no question the music and movements are inherently spirited and full of life. And they are for everyBODY, all ages, abilities and backgrounds.

So, get out there and expand your horizons, deepen your understanding and empower yourself through folkloric dance. Like many of us did, you might just fall in love with folklore!

Want to learn even more? Check out this link: About Belly Dance Styles: Raks al Baladi a.k.a. Folkloric. An except from “The Beginner’s Guide to Belly Dance.”


Essential Elements of a Beginner Belly Dance Class

[wpsr_socialbts]

Happy dancerIt’s Not the Moves.

As a belly dance professional, you know that your training and dedication to the art is serious business.  We have spent many hours and dollars on our dance training, and will likely continue to do so for as long as we are in the business.  Thinking back on your journey from student to teacher, did you imagine then, the dancer you have become today? Did you know you would aspire to become a belly dance teacher? Me neither.

When you open your door to teach a beginner belly dance class, you are in a unique position to shape and influence the future generation of belly dancers.  Their experience in your class can potentially determine their perception of belly dance as an industry and a cultural art form.  Imagine that this one experience, in your class, can cause them to become completely obsessed, or be completely turned off by the art and industry as a whole.  While most beginner experiences are likely to be somewhere in the middle, it is important to remember what it felt like as a beginner belly dance student.

I have two priorities when it comes to student experience and curriculum. First, that students have a safe and enjoyable experience. Second, to instill a love of dance and motivation to continue learning.

Here are six essential elements of a beginner belly dance class that I believe will help you connect with more diverse student base and keep them coming back for more.

 

  1. Help students feel successful.
    Give them a simple fun combination or a move they can show off to the partner and friends, because they will ask, “Honey, what did you learn at belly dance class? Show me something.” I have learned after teaching many types of students from all walks of life, that a good balance of successes and a healthy dose of future potential that they must earn, is a great way to motivate and inspire students. The professional belly dancer knows the time, money and hard work it takes to achieve a high level. We know that, and we should impart that to our students in manageable doses appropriate for their interests. If students experience little successes in the beginning of their dance journey, they are more likely to be motivated to continue.  They may or may not want to go pro or perform publicly. That’s not the point. Give them a chance to discover that for themselves.  Give them the means to succeed at every level to the best of your ability.

 

  1. Help students understand their bodies.
    Belly dance is known for improving body image and instilling confidence. Understanding body awareness should be a key component of beginner classes. Show students how to use their muscles.  And remember belly dance is not just for women.  I strongly believe the language we use to communicate about body movement and anatomy should be gender neutral.  There is a wide-spread trend of belly dance as a feminine art, but that is far from the truth when you consider the origins of belly dance from folkloric traditions and the industry as a whole. Teach students how muscles work to create isolations and movements. Use descriptive language that is not specific to female anatomy or traits. I define fluidity as controlled sequential muscle engagement. When I am teaching a movement, I will always begin by addressing which muscles to use and how to find them. I try to first focus on student’s body awareness internally, then the desired movement outcome. I have found that descriptive language and the dynamics of muscle engagement is a much more efficient way to develop strong foundational movements.

 

  1. Help students avoid injury…physically and mentally.
    This goes hand-in-hand with teaching students about their bodies and how to use their muscles. Tell them to listen to their bodies. Establish a strong class structure that includes a proper warm-up, and cool-down or stretching. As you teach good alignment and proper muscle engagement, share self-correcting techniques. Be sure to include only movements that are safe for a general population. There are specific movements that I would not consider appropriate for a general beginner class without proper conditioning and skill-building first. These include: jumps, standing or traveling in relevé, fast turns, back bends, hair tossing, and level changes that involve kneeling or similar dynamics.  Also be sure to practice a variety of movements that involve both upper and lower body, including the feet and hands. Establish a pattern of class progression from the basic foundation in every class, then build it up to a new movement or combination.  Teach students to engage their whole body, one part at a time and with lots of practice, reinforcement and encouragement. In addition, avoid prolonged practice of a specific movement, especially if some students are not getting it. This can cause students to become frustrated and has potential for injury.  Some movements take more time to develop and some student need more time to learn them, but it doesn’t all have to be now. Move on after ten minutes if some students are still not getting it. They will in time, but not if they become injured, frustrated or embarrassed.

 

  1. Give students only the information they need that interests them at that moment.
    There is no need to lecture beginner students on the history of belly dance in the first class. A few background notes are fine and that is all they need on the first night.  As the session progresses you can educate them with new tidbits each week, in about two to three minute chunks. We know there is a lot to learn about this dance, and in time they will…hopefully, by sticking around.  For now, in the category of belly dance history, culture, ethics, etc., select three pieces of relevant information (or no more than 5 minutes per class – 2 minutes is ideal) that you feel is important for beginner students to know as they embark on this wonderful journey. Give them more information when they’re hooked and hungry for more.  When I first started teaching, we did not have the internet. We made hard-copy handouts for students.  My students admitted they didn’t always read them until much later, sometimes years later.  Nowadays we can share much more electronically, and we have technology to moderate how much and with whom to share resources.  Prepare some links to share that are relevant to your class topics. Send them by email or create a Facebook group for your students.  Sometimes you have a student who is especially enthusiastic.  She may ask for information about a topic that isn’t the focus of your instruction. Have something prepared to instantly gratify her curiosity, even if it’s not about the thing she asked.  try not to overwhelm them with information that is not immediately useful to them, but when they ask for something more or different, point them in the right direction.

 

  1. Give them lots of positive feedback and encouragement.
    Beginner students need mostly positive encouragement.  My belief is that a beginner class is less about mastering movements and more about the mastering our perception of ourselves.  It is important for teachers to consider students needs at this juncture. Many students discover belly dance as adults, perhaps with injuries and years of poor posture or lack of physical activity. In addition, it will be take a few weeks before they are used to your teaching style and your class format.  Some students are self-conscious. They might not have much body confidence or awareness. People also have different learning styles and preferences. Be patient and respect these differences.  Some students are extremely sensitive about being corrected, while others may constantly ask, “Am I doing it right?” Any corrections that you suggest should consider these factors, and that means you will need to get to know them a little before implementing a disciplined approach to corrections.  When students do something right, make a really big deal, no matter how little.  For a beginner, just standing in correct alignment is a huge foundational accomplishment.  People feel good when you notice them and their effort.  While it’s important to provide correction, it is equally, and perhaps more important, to encourage students with positive feedback.

 

  1. Don’t set the expectation they have to practice at home.
    They are beginners, give them a break. There are good reasons for beginners to refrain from outside practice. Beginner dancers have not yet learned enough to practice on their own. And there are other reasons beginner dancers should not be expected to practice outside of class. For one, they don’t have the benefit of instructor feedback and correction. They could be practicing the movements incorrectly, forming bad habits, which can potentially lead to injury. If they are reinforcing incorrect technique in their muscle memory, that will definitely make your job much harder. I made a 40-minute video for my students to practice only the very basic muscle isolations and movements with reminders about posture and alignment. I don’t require my beginner students to practice outside of class, but the video is an option if they want to practice with my guidance in the same style and format as my live classes. Another really good reason not to expect beginner students to practice outside of class is this: If they are expected to practice at home, this may actually be a huge turn-off for many students.  Most belly dance students are there to have fun and de-stress. If they have homework, well that just defeats the purpose. Let them enjoy your class when they are there. If they want to practice at home, give them something. Rather than leaving them on their own, or worse finding with a source that may contradict your teachings, suggest an approved resource that reinforces your teachings.

What elements do you consider essential to a beginner belly dance class? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Are you ready for more?

Check out my book: “Oriental Dance Curriculum, Beginner to Multilevel: A Complete Guide for the Belly Dance Teacher”

Get the free e-Book: “How to Teach Belly Dance for Fun & Fitness”


New Year Goal-Setting for Belly Dance Teachers

[wpsr_socialbts]

Listen to the audio version:

Right about now you are probably busy with Holiday preparations. You might be thinking about your New Year goals or they may be taking a backseat to the more pressing matters of the holiday season. Take a moment today or tomorrow, soon, to think about and write down your goals for the New Year. As a belly dance teacher, you are in a unique position to help others with their New Year goals while you plan your own.

I know it can sometimes be a daunting task. It is also exciting! For me, goal-setting is a process. It starts with a big idea and ends with a list of measurable tasks. It begins with a lofty idea, a dream, if you will. Starting with the end in mind and working backwards really helps to clarify desires and strategize planning. Then I begin to define my desires and this step begins to look more like a goal. Then I set measurable factors to it. This usually involves setting a time frame for each goal or part of the goal. Being able to measure your progress is paramount to staying motivated.

About this time every year, I start to put my goals into more concrete terms, reflecting on the challenges of the past year. I usually have three sets of goals: dance goals, professional goals, and personal goals. Dance goals are things that I want to achieve as a dancer and artist. Professional goals are things that I want to achieve in my business or as a teacher. Personal goals are things that have nothing to do with my dance or business. They are for me and my family. Sometimes the goals intersect; sometimes they don’t. It’s great when they do!

In past years, I have had to narrow down my focus.  I tend to dream big. I have a lot of fun fantasizing about things I’d like to do. I’m always coming up with new and exciting projects. Some of my big dreams have included:

Open a dance studio: In 2009 I started my current business, Mosaique, and in 2012 I acquired a dedicated studio space.

Publish a book: Oriental Dance Curriculum was released June 2015.

Teach at a major belly dance festival: I was selected to teach at the 2015 Las Vegas Belly Dance Intensive.

My “Dream Big” process helps me get to the heart of my life’s purpose. Too many interests and an over-active imagination are not bad things, but it makes it really difficult to focus and take action. This is my strength and it is also my weakness. I have learned that in goal-setting for any purpose, focus is the key. Narrow down your goals to a few key measurable tasks, and you could be on your way to achieving your dreams.

First, you will need to define what it is you want to accomplish in different areas of your life: dance/art, professional and personal. I feel when all of these things align (or at least do not conflict), you are most likely to achieve success in all areas. Feel free to modify your definition of these categories.

Once you have figured out what you want to do, write it down. Say it aloud to yourself and to others. Defining it and talking it out accomplishes two very important things. First, it helps you articulate your goal so that it is measurable and achievable. Second, it sends a message to your brain and to the universe that this is not just an idea in your head. It is a real achievable thing. Even if you’re dreaming bigger than what you end up actually doing, you are reaching for your highest potential. Isn’t this ultimately what we want to accomplish?

As I write this for you, I am thinking about my own goals for 2016. This year, I am motived in different ways than I was a year ago. My 2016 goals are centered around things I struggled with this past year. I have realized that as I get older, my body and my mind don’t function the way they used to. I feel like I was hit really hard with symptoms of aging. This has manifested in ways I have never experienced before.

I would like to share my 2016 goals with you. This is my way of putting it in writing and sending out to the Universe.

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 8.40.17 PM

I try to organize my goals in a way that I can measure, and with a high level of control. This way I am accountable. I am responsible, not any other individual or outside factors. After I have defined my goals in the three areas of my life, I will go back and set additional measures and very specific actionable items that I will do for each goal. In essence, for each big goal, I will list several mini-goals that will lead to the big one. Notice in my “Dance Goal” I am keeping my expectation small. This small increase in my dance activity just for myself, is in addition to the hours I usually spend creating lessons, drills and choreography for my students. By making this tiny change, I am less likely to become overwhelmed or feel like I failed. This way, it’s not so daunting.

If you haven’t started defining and clarifying your 2016 goals, now is the perfect time to jot down some ideas. In the next few weeks you can start to narrow down your focus. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Reflect on what you struggled with in the past year and what you would like to improve.
  2. Start with the end in mind.
  3. Think Big. Act small.
  4. Break down your big goals into several small tasks.
  5. Create measures and set time frames.

Remember to focus. If you’re like me (and most dancers I know), you’re always working on yourself. You have a lot of different interests. Try to choose a few things to work on for now. Next year, you’ll do it all over again, but with new wisdom, experience and perspective.

I wish you much success and happiness in your dance and teaching endeavors. Here’s to a fantastic 2016! Cheers!


Secrets of Successful Belly Dance Teachers, Part 2

[wpsr_socialbts]

In part 1 of Secrets of Successful Belly Dance Teachers, I outlined good traits of any successful person.  In part 2, I highlight the secrets of successful belly dance teachers that are more (or less) specific to the belly dance industry and art form.The look

  1. Knowledge of the cultural roots of belly dance. All belly dance styles originate in traditional, folkloric and social dances. This is not an opinion. Belly dance did not fall from the sky. Our movements come from a colorful array of cultural dances. The more you know about the cultural origins of the movements and music, the more inspiration and enjoyment you will derive and also give in your teaching. Your classes will be more interesting with more variety.
  2. Continually learn, evolve and grow. A successful belly dance teacher dedicates time, effort and yes, money, to her continuing education. Education can be further study in belly dance or it could mean taking up a whole new dance form or activity. While most of us will focus our energies on belly dance-related studies, don’t underestimate the benefits of learning any new creative endeavor where you are a student, experiencing the learning process.
  3. Participate in the local belly dance community. We know that networking is important and it builds bridges. If you make it a point to attend at least a few community events each year, you’re doing great.  Be sure also attend events where you are not dancing and show your support. It’s quite nice to sit back and enjoy the show without being in it.
  4. Encourage and support other teachers and dancers. When we build others up, everyone benefits. When we discourage or criticize others, it hurts everyone, most of all, ourselves. If you can’t think of anything nice to say, think harder. There are many ways to be diplomatic and positive. Try to find the potential in everything and everyone for mutual benefit. And if you can’t find it, let it go and focus on the wonderful things you envision. Many situations can become win-win even if it appears they are not. But you will never know if you don’t explore the possibilities. No one will ever take your piece of the pie if you believe there is infinite pie.
  5. Adapt. It’s natural to blame outside factors when our plans fail. I’ve experienced them all. “Zumba is threatening my class enrollment.” “The teacher from the other side of town is poaching on my students.” “I can’t get anyone in my class because people around here think belly dance is sleazy,”“My students don’t take the class seriously or are not reliable.” While these reasons may be totally legitimate, blaming others doesn’t make your life any easier and you won’t become any more successful. Times change, trends change, people change…you need to change too. Evolve and go with the flow, try again. Ask why? Be open to the answers you discover and remember number #2. Learn, evolve grow. You are worth the effort and the world deserves your talents. So don’t give up if you love what you do. Ask questions, explore new things and learn ways to adapt to the changing world.

These are just some of the traits and habits of successful belly dance teachers. Next time, I’ll share things I wish I had known as a new teacher.

[wpsr_sharethis]


Secrets of a Successful Belly Dance Teacher

[wpsr_socialbts]

Welcome to my blog! My goal is to help you learn the tools of the belly dance teaching trade, and get the training and support you need to be the best teacher you can be.

For the first post, I’ve chosen a topic that will help both new and experienced teachers. Let’s talk about what makes a successful belly dance teacher.

Do you ever wonder why some teachers are more successful than others? Do you look at your successful colleagues with envy? What is so special about their classes? Are they better dancers than you? Do they have more experience or are more popular? Maybe. Maybe not.  While good dancing, experience and being a positive force in the community are all relevant, there are likely other factors that contribute to one’s success (or not) as a respected belly dance teacher.

Some things come naturally to some people than others. Most of us, who enjoy any measure of success, have had to work very hard and intentionally, to overcome our obstacles and challenges. You can do it too!

After years of networking and working with many teachers in different fields, I have observed that the most successful teachers, regardless of caliber, experience or location, share the same qualities and high standards.

  1. Confidence – A successful teacher has confidence in himself or herself and believes in what her or she is doing. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re going to have a tough time convincing students that you are worth their time and money. We all have our insecurities. Don’t let your perceived or actual shortcomings hold you back from pursuing your dreams and aspirations. You are expected to learn along the way and fill your gaps of knowledge with continuing education. If you are teaching now or aspire to teach in the future, you likely feel you have something of value to offer. That is all you need to begin building your confidence. Everyone has to start somewhere.
  1. A Defining Dance Story – A successful dance teacher is able to define and articulate his or her dance in a way that clearly connects to her background and training. Your dance style and philosophy are shaped and influenced by your teachers and personal history. Defining your dance is a culmination of the journey you have taken as a student, then as an artist and finally, a teacher. Even if you experienced bumps on the road, be respectful and proud of your journey. It is yours and yours alone. Define your dance by making it the story of that unique journey. Everyone loves a good story, especially if they can relate to it.
  1. Good Clean Marketing Materials – I know what you’re thinking. It’s probably the same thing I’m thinking, “Aaaargh, I hate sales pitches!” or “I’m not good at promoting myself” or my favorite, “I don’t have the money for that.” I am not even going to address advertising or marketing strategies. I’m just talking about having a nice package that is attractive, organized and informational, and that doesn’t always mean expensive. A successful teacher has a website with nice pictures, complete information about classes, including city, state, specific location and a registration function.This might seem obvious, but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve visited a teacher’s website, and I can’t even find in what state she teaches. Or the pictures are fuzzy, irrelevant or not representative of the dancer or the dance. You don’t need a slick high-end website. A simple website is fine; information and visual appeal is essential.  Include your Dance Story, and a few good quality photos in costume (please, no porno faces or playboy lounge poses), and one or two in teaching attire. Unless you’ve reached the pinnacle of your teaching career, don’t have anything to share, or don’t have any future dance aspirations, you need a website.
  1. Organized – Successful teachers plan ahead, often with a class syllabus and lesson plans. They provide handouts or make them available online. They present teaching material in a logical manner and pay attention to the clock. They have policies and guidelines that they share with their students. They plan special events, they pay attention to details and they are always thinking two to four steps ahead. While improvisation and flexibility are needed too, organization is the glue that holds a program together and makes students feel like they are in good hands. If you’re naturally an organized person, this quality will really help you get far in your career. Capitalize on it every chance you get and demonstrate it in your marketing materials. If organization is challenging for you, it’s not the end of your career. But you should definitely try to improve in this area.
  1. Flexible – Successful teachers are flexible. No, not that way. They are able to adapt to special circumstances. This is especially important, because we work in a field that is supposed to bring joy and fun. While we need our rules and policies to stay in business and to create a safe and enjoyable experience for all of our students, it is important to distinguish the times when we need to be sensitive to their individual needs, especially in extenuating circumstances. I’m not going to tell you what these circumstances should be. You have to discover for yourself what those circumstances are in which you are OK bending the rules, and to what extent.  Be fair and consistent in your reasoning for allowing exceptions, but don’t make it habit to always bend the rules. Otherwise, what good are they?
  1. Cares About Students – A successfully belly dance teacher genuinely cares about her students. She wants her students to succeed. She shares her knowledge generously, encourages questions and offers praise. She is honest in her critique, but does so in a manner that is respectful, thoughtful and helpful. A successful teacher listens to her students and cares about their thoughts and opinions, even when she does not agree. If you only care about what teaching can do for you or your career, you will probably not be a happy teacher, and therefore, not very successful. Your students are not there to make you look good. Your job is to make THEM look good. Your students do not serve you. YOU serve your students. We don’t know that we care about our students until we begin working with them. But if you’re lucky, you will attract wonderful students who will inspire you as much as you inspire them.
  1. Punctual and Reliable – You may not think this is a big deal, especially if you are spot on perfect with everything above, but…it matters. Being punctual matters a great deal. Being reliable is even a bigger deal. Let’s face it, if you are spot on perfect with all the points mentioned above, you already know this. You don’t need me to tell you, that even before you begin teaching, being on time every time already gives the impression that you are organized, care about your students, and are confident in your teaching ability.When you are late or cancel class with short notice for personal reasons, other than a major illness, accident or death in the family, it gives the impression that you are disorganized or flaky, or worse, that you don’t have your life together.  But who does, right? That point is irrelevant when students have paid you to teach them. While you may get sympathy, it is not good for business. Of course, life happens. What is important to students is that these times are few and far between. While you may blame events that are totally out of your control, from a student perspective, it is all the same. They may stop coming, or they may not. But if they do drop out, you don’t want to be known as the teacher who is unreliable.

 

In Part 2, I will have many more secrets of successful belly dance teachers that you can apply and be successful, too.

 

[wpsr_sharethis]


Proudly powered by Wordpress