Friday, 29 January 2016

Learning Curve

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you want to progress your dance then you need to commit seriously to some focused learning. And if it isn't universally acknowledged then it jolly well should be. Want to teach dance? Perform it? Then you need to think long and hard about the tuition you need to support you in doing that. 

And nowadays there really is no excuse for anyone who has the tiniest smidgen of dedication not to access lessons in one form or another. There are just so many options out there .....

Regular Classes

Structure, progression, continuity, consistency - you can get all of these from good weekly (sometimes fortnightly) classes. You can make friendships, become part of a community. And of course - you can get feedback on how you are doing, pointers to make sure you are moving your body safely, guidance on what you need to do next. A good regular class with a great teacher is a veritable goldmine of opportunity. However, dependent on where you live and the style you want to pursue you may have to be prepared to travel to get it!  And of course you will only ever get back what you put in to classes. Irregular attendance equals irregular progress! 
If you are new to dance or to a particular style, weekly classes really are your 'go to' method of tuition. But of course, sometimes they just aren't possible or even there ...


There are many reasons to go to workshops. Maybe there just aren't regular classes in your chosen style within travelling distance. Maybe you want to supplement your weekly classes. Maybe you're after something more specialised. Maybe you want to learn from an awesome teacher who isn't local to you. Whatever the reason, workshops are an ideal way to get in some more in- person tuition. Usually longer than weekly classes and often held at weekends they make travelling long distances more feasible and economical, even more so if a number of workshops are being held on the same day at the same location! There are lots of either workshop days or whole weekend festivals to select from now, even residential weekends with different teachers and styles. What you choose will depend on what you want from your dance, whether it's to get deeper into a topic, to draw all the knowledge and goodness you can from one of your teaching idols or simply to get more breadth into your learning. You'll meet other dancers, have the chance to be corrected and ask questions ........
Health Warning : Going to a couple of workshops does NOT mean you are 'trained' or proficient in a style. It takes about more commitment than that for most of us mere mortals to claim proficiency. Seriously, it does. If you do one or two workshops in, for instance, tribal, and like it then please commit to a series of workshops and/or classes - or even look at ....


By no means for everyone, this is where you start to venture really deeply - into a style, concept or teacher's work. You'll be extremely lucky if you find one just down the road from you; intensives usually involve travel (I've been to Glasgow, Bournemouth, Sunderland, Milan, Portland and Adelaide!) and are by no means cheap - but are well worth it if you're committed to really studying - well, intensively!!! The main tribal formats - ATS(R), GCTB(R), BSBD and Unmata style ITS all offer intensive training, often in both technique and teaching and sometimes with assessment to ensure you reach benchmarks before being certified. Teachers such as Rachel Brice, Zoe Jakes and Suhaila Salimpour have intensives in their own styles, and Alexis Southall has recently run her first Tribal Fusion Edication Programme over several months here in the UK. Also in the UK JWAAD run weekends of training in aspects of bellydance such as health and safety, musicality and performance. I've just returned from a fabulous three day intensive in Adelaide, BellyLab, led by Devi Mamak and Acushla Mkrtschjan which centred on finding your own voice in dance. I've also completed several GCTB intensives which were amazing and have really supported my development as a dancer. Whatever your love, there is an intensive for you .... Even now online options such as those offered by Paulette Rees-Denis of Gypsy Caravan (requiring self-discipline, but cutting out travel and accommodation costs). Yes, it takes dedication and commitment of time, money and energy, but it is really worth all the effort and sacrifices you may have to make along the way, particularly if you are serious about dancing a set format or style properly, maybe even teaching it with accuracy and respect. You may have to cut back on other workshops or residentials to fund it but it WILL pay dividends. You are often learning from the creator or originator of a style, receiving their personal feedback, Make that choice!

Online Classes

Now this is where the motivation and self-discipline really kick in! There is a huge range of online classes available now - Gypsy Caravan, FatChance BellyDance, Acushla of Body Temple Dance and various teachers via Datura to name just a few. However, if all you do is buy these and watch them whilst drinking coffee and eating Mars bars they ain't gonna do much for your dance development! You have to rota in time to work through them regularly and be prepared to really self-evaluate; you've no direct teacher feedback so this is super-important. For these reasons, unless you absolutely CANNOT get to classes or workshops, I wouldn't recommend these as a sole method of instruction for dancers just starting out. Yes, do them alongside regular classes - they make a great supplement! - or use them if you are a more experienced dancer who needs more challenge and doesn't have classes to go to. That's great! But try not to use them as a substitute for regular classes if you're a beginner. 


From instruction in specific formats or types of bellydance to work with props such as swords or veils, there is once again a huge range of DVDs available - often now downloadable so you don't have to wait for a hard copy to arrive from overseas! In some cases these are more dated than online classes, but that doesn't mean that they aren't valuable. Just be clear about what you want and do some research before you buy ( sadly there are a few questionable ones out there!). However, as with online classes you don't get the benefit of teacher correction and feedback. You have to take responsibility for your own safety, be disciplined about warming up and really be prepared to be self-critical if you're going to get the most out of them. The same cautions as for online classes apply; if you're a beginner these are best done alongside regular classes ( and you can then of course ask your teacher for advice on what to buy. Bonus!)

Skype or Private Classes

For some reason Skype seems to instigate serious cases of the jitters in even pretty experienced dancers! And yet it is an ideal way to get yourself some one-to-one instruction and feedback from some of the top teachers who may be thousands of miles away from you! To get the most from it you need to be really clear and focused about what you want, and it probably isn't the best use of time or money for beginners ... But once you are on your road and have specifics to focus on then it's a great developmental tool. If you want to study one-to-one with a teacher more local to you, and again have specific aspects of development to work on, then an in-person private lesson (or series) are something to think about. But again, if you're a beginner you'll probably be focusing on pretty much everything to start with - get some regular classes under your belt first and then, as you start to go deeper and want more specific instruction or feedback start to think about one-to-ones. 

You Tube

Oh boy, did I think long and hard about whether or not to include this one! There really is a lot of dross out there and it's very, very hard to get anything like quality, structured and sequential instruction from something like You Tube where basically anyone can post a video and claim it's a bellydance class. APPROACH THIS RESOURCE  WITH EXTREME CAUTION!!!!! Having said that, there are a few gems out there. Seba from WildCard Bellydance has some great instructional videos there in her style of tribal for example, and after much searching I found a great Lotus Hands video. The great ones are few and far between though. This is definitely NOT the way to teach yourself to dance! It's strictly a supplement, and you need to be well informed before using it. If you're not an experienced dancer then you do need to ask your teacher for recommendations for any good videos that fit with the style you are learning. And yes, be prepared too for the fact that there might not BE any out there and you will probably be directed to DVDs or online classes instead. The phrase 'You don't get owt for nowt' is never truer than when applied to You Tube!!!

So there you have it. No excuses. There are so many ways now in which you can really focus upon your dance development - and yes, upon how to teach dance too (as that's a completely separate skill in itself) that there really are NO EXCUSES for not taking advantage of some of them. If you want to perform, even just at local haflas or if you want to share your knowledge and passion via teaching, then you have to be prepared for some commitment. Study the style you want to perform - really study it, not just the odd class - and give it, and its creators and teachers, the respect it deserves. If you can't do something well (yet!) then don't do it; search out instruction until you CAN do it well! That way you can be proud of your achievements and know you have done your best. Nowadays it is easier than ever before to get good tuition, thanks to technology; let's use it to honour our teachers and do credit to this beautiful dance of ours! 

Until next time, happy dancing - and learning! 


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