Monday, 17 August 2015

Beautiful Beginners

The very best dancers know that they are never too good for beginners' class. 

I could actually leave this blog right here, with just that one sentence (and maybe a pretty picture of course!). It really does say it all. Some of the most powerful moments in my dance life have been when I have taken a workshop with a fab teacher at a dance festival and then gone into my next - beginner level - workshop, to find that very same teacher dancing and learning right alongside me. Yes, it's about humility, but it's also because those teachers recognise you can never have too much of the basics. You never stop learning, and adding and improving. And it's that realisation that makes them so darn good!

Conversely, it's often those students who really NEED more work on those basics that think they're above mere beginner classes. They think they have been there, done that and are ready for something new. I really hope that isn't you, dear reader (Jane Austen moment there!) but just in case .......

Five reasons why you're never too good for beginners : 

1. Beginner classes are the foundations of your dance. Shaky foundations mean wobbly buildings, folks. And guess what - that basic Arabic that looks a bit dodgy because it needs more work is STILL going to look dodgy when you throw it into that more advanced combo that you've been racing to learn! Beautiful basics impress more than poorly executed fancy stuff, every time. 

2. Learning doesn't happen in a simple straight line, where you learn one new thing after another. It's far more complex than that and involves lots of layering, adding new stuff, adapting, adjusting ..... The first time you are introduced to a new move you'll focus in on the main, visible aspects. The big picture. Unless you are an extremely talented, multi-faceted dancer, you will at first tune out the finer points. It's only when you revisit the move that you will become more aware of the small details; once your body is confident in the basic move then you'll be free to become aware of the nuances that make it special. Let's have an example ....

Let's take the Ghawazee #1 - a GC move. Essentially a ghawazee with a level change - down down up up. OK - so you've got the level change and reckon you've 'got' the move? Well - how is your ghawazee doing in there then? Is it still going or has it faltered? Are you remembering to keep your rib cage and hips separated for better definition? What about your knees? Are you keeping them bent, even on the up up? And your feet? They are staying parallel aren't they? Not too far apart? You're not stepping out too much either? Are your shoulders down? What about your arms- hands at shoulder height, elbows slightly down (this is GC!)? Have you managed to keep power and intention through to your hands? And your head - not hanging down/sticking forward is it? Oh - and have you found the '1' in the music? Are you dancing on the beat? AND ARE YOU REMEMBERING TO SMILE?!!!!!!!

Phew!!!! So much to think about in one simple BEGINNER level move ...... And we haven't even tried to turn it! Yes, some of those points are generic, will apply across lots of different moves and can be practised in many different contexts BUT by revisiting such beginner moves in class you are getting the ideal chance to reinforce and build on them! 

3. Old habits die hard, and bad habits are all too easily picked up. Revisiting the basics will help you to become aware of these and to correct them. Do you seriously think you haven't picked up any such bad habits on your dance journey? If so, you're way above us mere mortals! 

4. Skills on their own aren't a lot of good. What's important is being able to APPLY them. A decent beginner class will not only give you the opportunity to work on the moves, but also the chance to drill them in different sequences, put them into short sequences as you travel across the floor, work on leading them clearly and confidently and following them quickly and faithfully. If you're a reflective learner - and to be truly effective and get better you do NEED to be - then you'll be thinking about transitions, how to make them flow, what works and what doesn't, how things fit into the music ..... It's what makes a good dancer. Working in a beginners' class with more familiar moves frees up your mind and body to concentrate on that stuff. It's a different challenge to being in a more advanced class where you're taking in more complex moves - but make no mistake about it, it's still a challenge!

5. Taking a beginners' class means you are learning alongside, yes, you guessed it - BEGINNERS! And if you think that you have nothing to learn from dancers less experienced than yourself then I just wasted a whole blog post. There is ALWAYS something new to learn; I learn from my students every single class! Where do I start? Well, you'll have to put into practice one of the basic aspects of tribal improv; you're all in it together! When you're in the lead you will have to THINK extra hard about what moves your followers know. There's nothing clever about throwing in that tricky move you learned in last week's intermediate class, because this is about everyone being able to follow and look good. Oh, and are your moves and cues clear enough for everyone, including less experienced dancers, to follow? If you're following, then you may well be taking your lead from someone who's far less confident than you are. Their execution of moves make not be clear, maybe they're off the beat .... But you need to be right there with them. Yes, it can be tricky, but it really is great practice and will impact positively on your development as a whole. And don't switch off in those drills either! LISTEN to the points and corrections your teacher makes. Just because you've been learning longer it doesn't mean you've got it all right! Practice makes perfect. 

Still think you have nothing to gain from beginners' classes? Then you are obviously a dancer at the top of your game with nothing to learn from anyone! 

All I can do is finish as I started : 

The very best dancers know that they are never too good for beginners' class.

Until next time, happy dancing! 

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