Monday, June 11, 2012

Being a better Teacher and Student......

This Blog is meant as advice for dance students, but it is also a great bit of advice for those students out there who have ambitions to become a teacher.

I have not taken classes in HOW to teach, or taken teacher training, but I have spent many, many years as a student and have formed opinions of how I like to learn. I have taken classes from teachers who were very poor teachers and amazing dancers, and teachers who were very poor dancers and amazing teachers. One thing I have always thought is important, is that the teachers pay attention to their students needs, and every student is different, especially when it comes to belly dance students. Belly Dance tends to be an adult dance, not that it is inappropriate for children, but most parents (at least where I am from here in the USA) don't understand what and where belly dance comes from, and therefore believe it is only for adults. Because of these beliefs, most students who walk into my classroom are college students, housewives and career women (or men), all adults who have never before stepped foot into a dance studio, anywhere, ever! That puts these women and men at a severe disadvantage. Even a Belly Dance Basics Class doesn't usually cover simple dance basics that I as a lifetime dancer learned at the age of 3 or 4 years old. If you've ever watched a children's class in session at a dance studio, then I am sure you have seen all the little ones lined up and waiting their turn to travel one by one or two by two across the classroom, repeating the same step or movement over and over again. This method, for me feels so boring and slow, and well, that IS the point. That is what a beginner dance student needs. Repetition and a chance to learn to walk before they run (or dance). I think many belly dance students move too fast through their education, because they want to hurry up and learn a choreography and get to perform. They skip or speed through all the basics and their technique truly suffers for it. Then there are those students who hover in the basics class almost indefinitely; some because they never take their lessons home with them and practice, and others because they don't speak up and ask for help or clarification when they don't understand how to do something. Of course there are also teachers out there, who really just don't know how to teach, or are just trying to hurry their students through one choreography after another without ever breaking down the movements.

One thing that I have learned, is that my students make me a better teacher. I have been a teacher of one sort or another for more than 20 years. My first experience with teaching was as a riding instructor for small children. I love to teach. I love it when one of my students works hard, practices and then finally GETS something they have been trying to do. I really really love when my teaching has helped them to do so. My favorite students are those who truly engage themselves in their lessons, ask questions, and take their lessons home to practice. I can see their progress almost on a weekly basis and it is very fulfilling!

So, by now you must be asking, HOW do my students make me a better teacher!? I have found, that since I have such a long and varied dance history there are many things that I do with my body that have become second nature to me. I don't have to think about how I stand or how I breath, or what I do with my feet, hands and arms for balance and poise, or even the small tilt of my chin or drop of a shoulder to express certain emotions. These things are as normal to me as breathing or walking. As a teacher though, I NEED to know how to do these things, how to break them down and explain them. I am truly blessed to have students who WANT to really learn how to do things correctly, they ask questions and discuss how their muscles and body feel when they dance, and together we are able to figure out how to teach their bodies to do the movements. Everyone has a unique way of learning, and as a teacher I have to figure out which method works best for each student. My students make me a better teacher because they are better students.

So, how can YOU be a better student? Here are some tips that should help both you, and through you, also help your teacher tremendously.

1) Be on time to class. Walking in late is disruptive to the class and disrespectful to your teacher. (Sure, this seems simple enough, but I think as adults we tend to forget that a teacher is a teacher and they deserve your respect. If you can't show them respect, then you shouldn't be in their classroom.)

2) Get clarification. Ask questions when you are confused or having trouble. (Most teachers will give you a chance to ask questions, take advantage of it!) One thing I have always said, "there is NO such thing as a stupid question", and it is very possible that the quiet girl at the back of the room has the same question as you. So you won't just be helping yourself, you will be helping her too.

3) Take Notes! Buy a spiral notebook, or a three ring binder and some loose leaf paper and take it with you to class EVERY TIME! Take notes even if you wait till after class to jot down a few things.

4) Pay attention in class. A little bit of joking and such is okay sometimes, but it is not social hour, it is time to learn. You are paying someone to teach you, so get your monies worth. Save the chatting and gossip for after class.

5) Practice at home everyday! Even if you only practice for 5 or 10 minutes, it will help. Repetition! If something feels awkward, doing it over and over again, slowly and correctly, WILL make it feel less awkward. Just give yourself time and keep practicing.

6) Take things in small steps. If your teacher shows you how to do a movement with several layers and you just can't get it in class, take it home and start with one layer and then add the next and then the next. For instance, practice the foot pattern, repeat it till it is comfortable, then add the next layer of a shimmy or undulation or whatever and practice that till it is comfortable, then add the arms and practice all the layers together. (oops, I guess #5 is just another version of #4)

7) Don't give up and don't say "I can't"! Give it time, be patient and try to have fun. It is okay to laugh at yourself and feel silly and it is okay to do things the wrong way. Making mistakes is just another way to learn.

If you do all these things you will find yourself improving and growing as a dancer. 

Best of luck to you on your journey. For me, it has become one of the most fulfilling and enlightening parts of my life.

Remember that life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain!

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