Friday, June 21, 2013

Always Learning, Always Flexible

Last night I had my first *new* class as a dance student, and it reminded me that I'm never NOT a student. I believe that it is worth it to always be a student, to always be learning and taking in new information. I'd forgotten how much I love those opportunities, and was very grateful last night.

A friend of mine is also doing her first class as a teacher, and her excitement last night was extremely palpable and infectious. It was fantastic to be there, and I hope I was a supportive student. I think what I find most difficult is that balance between a student who just listens and doesn't respond verbally and those times when student input is good for both the teacher and the other students. There have been times when I've observed some classes in which student feedback is not necessarily encouraged but a sense that the teacher is the only one who talks and describes what is going on. In other classes, I've seen teachers encouraging students to offer their observations, their ideas, and to make those leaps of understanding and share them with everyone there. A cooperative learning environment doesn't always work but sometimes it is exactly how everyone can benefit. Sometimes some of my spinning students will observe something I've never thought of, and when they contribute it is really fantastic. Other times, students might make a leap in thinking, but they've landed on a solution that will cause them trouble later. Then I have to gently show them another option and we can all see why some options are better than others.

When I'm an instructor, it seems easier to guide everyone's discussions so that we can all learn from one another. It's harder to know, especially in the beginning, when it is okay to volunteer an idea, an experience, a story, an observation, or even to ask a question to see if I'm headed down the right path when I'm a student. I can only hope that I'm gaining the wisdom to read the room better, each time. I can say that I had a blast last night, and I'm enjoying this class. I hope I can dance with these folks more often. Our instructor has some fantastic dance training, and I can already see the excellent ways in which she's bringing that to her new instruction style.

Today, I also had an opportunity to share some flexibility with some students that really encouraged them. Sometimes we get sick and have to heal, sometimes we have family obiligations, sometimes we have appointments come up that we couldn't foresee. One friend and I want to be dancing regularly together, and we still haven't had the opportunity. Another couple of friends and I were supposed to dance tonight, but things came up. In all these cases, I love that I have the chance to soothe their worries and assure them that my flexibility is specifically why I am teaching the way I do. I'm not a standard "classroom and schedule" kind of instructor. For some reason, I've been called to be a "mobile strike-unit" type of teacher. I'm reaching the students who cannot go to a weekly class in a classroom after a commute. I'm reaching students who cannot leave their homes because of small children. I'm reaching students who already have other obligations but would love to dance informally in a park, dreaming of doing more and other types of dance later.

And if you couldn't tell, I *love* being this type of teacher. I couldn't be happier.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Getting Good Feedback

Week two of my guest-lecture series in the park was last night. This is an SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) fighter practice for a local barony, and they've been doing informal (free) bellydancing for years. They've been kind enough to allow me to be their guest instructor for an 8-week series to demonstate ATS instruction. It gives me an excellent chance to refine my teaching and to work with a larger number of dancers at one time. My other teaching engagements right now are limited to a 1- or 2-student lessons, so I love the variety in the park.

Also, I never know who might show up at the park. Even though the material builds on foundations introduced in earlier lessons, this series is specifically open to *any* student to drop in on *any* week. So I also need to refine the lessons to allow for both the review material that makes new drop-ins feel welcome and still challenge returning students with new material.

A friend I haven't seen in many years dropped in last night and complimented me on the experience.
You rocked it! You are an amazing bellydance teacher! Amazingly funny and yet detailed and calm. Great class. See you next week!
Of course the straight-up compliments are very encouraging. But best of all, I never thought about how my instruction style often includes humor. She's right, I do crack small jokes throughout the instruction, trying to get everyone to relax and laugh and smile while they are working so hard. It's even easier in the SCA-context because there are so many silly references I can make to help them visualize the posture we're working on. Want their arms to be wide and strong frames? Envision trying to hug a very sweaty fighter or a kitchen cook covered in flour. Want to have them angle their faces towards the audience? Describe how the fighter who is standing there watching our practice is actually an invited guest at our dance performance, and she's taking photos. We want to present pretty formations so she gets the best photos of us! (Said fighter played along with my narrative and immediately mimed taking pictures of us.)

I never thought about it consciously but yes, I joke through my instruction and I hope it continues to resonate with students who want to study with me. It won't work for everyone, but it does seem to draw the kind of students I adore to want to spend time in my classes

Teaching spinning this past weekend:
Laughing and Encouraging my students

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"I Teach Bellydance"

Our workplace has tandem parking spots in the parking structure, where you can park directly behind someone and block them in (or be blocked in) and then you log your parking into a database. Then when someone needs to leave, they can find you and ask you to move your car for them. I was walking out to the structure with one of the guys who was leaving at 2:45 pm, and as we walked up to our cars he saw my bumper sticker.

Sticker from

He asked me, "So, what are Zills?" I explained that zills are Finger Cymbals. And I almost did a double-take on myself as I continued, "I teach bellydance."

Whoa. That's the first time I said that naturally in conversation to someone who never knew I studied bellydance, never knew I had been trying to get to a place of teaching since my very first hour of ATS, and never knew how I'd only just recently started to make that transition from full-time student to part-time instructor.

But yes, I teach bellydance.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Integrated Musical Inspiration

My background is stronger in music than in dance, if by shear number of years of experience over any other metric. I can remember singing and making up songs just walking around the neighborhood before I was in kindergarten (so I must have been 4 or so). I started piano in 2nd grade, flute in 5th, piccolo in 7th, mallets (xylophone, marimba, vibraphone) in 9th grade, additional percussion in early college (especially timpani), guitar around my 3rd year of college, doubek and other middle eastern drums near the end of my college years, and continued singing throughout. Music is very nearly how I think (with Color running a close second).

But I never really consciously thought about how integrated music is within dance until today. One of my students wrote the following (quoted with permission).
I've avoided proper "workouts" for a while because my mind isn't engaged, even when I have my headphones in. I find myself thinking about the music, and the movements are things that distract me from that mental stimulation. But in dancing, the movements and the music are integral to one another, so all of me is being involved at the same time. WAY better, IMO.
What a fantastic way to look at it. I think being steeped in music in my very being for most of my life, I hadn't noticed how connected the music and movement can really be. Of course, I'm reminded that nearly every ATS instructor has mentioned that the movements are inspired and, possibly even dictated, by the inspiration from the music. Many of the instructors talk about the Musicality of our inprovisational dance form.

This is an excellent reminder for me to consider how to share this integration with my students. Dancing is more than just a series of steps, performed with technique skill and grace, in shared group formations with my fellow dancers. It is the visual representation of the way in which Music moves my very Heart and Soul, shared with my fellow dancers and then shared together with our audience.

And this satisfies me in a way that few things do.

Image from wikipedia,
Musicians of Amun, Tomb of Nakht, 18th Dynasty, Western Thebes.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Now I'm Dreaming It

I've started participating in an informal bellydance practice within the SCA context as a "guest lecturer series" introducing my SCA friends to ATS® in pure FCBD style. The SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) has a long history of artistic classes in a "you research, you teach your friends" style for decades. This gives me a fantastic opportunity to "practice how to teach" with close friends of mine in a safe setting. They've been meeting weekly for years to share various bellydance styles with one another, and a couple of them have always been interested in my studies over the past several years. It's been a great opportunity for me to offer something to my friends, give me a reason to develop my own handouts, and give me the hands-on chance to put into practice all my studies for the past three years.

As a result, now I'm dreaming about teaching classes. Hours and hours of my morning brain were swirling with classes in the park and an amazing set of women, all having fun together dancing. I couldn't be happier.

Putting my General Skills (GS) certification into practice

Friday, June 7, 2013

Back to Training and Running

Last year in the spring, a friend of mine ran her first marathon. I was really moved by the effort and vowed I would do the same. A year went by and she ran her second marathon and I was fairly stunned that a year had gone by. In the first year (of my non-training) I'd managed to start making better records of all the walking miles I'd been doing daily. This spring I double-downed and decided that I would start actually running this year.

I've written about this somewhere else, but my main idea was to break down a year of preparation into bite-sized pieces. If a marathon course might take me six hours of running, and I could take twelve months to prepare, then in six months I would need to be capable of running for three hours, in three months I'd need to be up to 90 minutes of running, in only one month I should be up to running for thirty minutes. This all averages out that I should be able to run one more minute today than the day before.

So I did that. I started running just a minute at a time, or a minute more than the day before, or each running portion of the day should be slightly longer than the longest running portion of the day before. Here's what happened.
Day 1: 2 minutes; day 2 - 3.5 minutes; day 3 - 5.5 min; day 5 - 9 min; day 7 - 12.75 min; day 8 - 16 min; day 9 - 29 min; day 12 - 40 min; day 13 - 54 min.
Well that went faster than I'd expected. I ran no more than 3-days in a row, and those last two days included no walking at all. I had switched from intervals of jogging / walking and tried my local route with no walking. And on that last day, I'd completely stopped paying attention to the clock or my mileage and just ran until I was ready to stop.

I'm still stunned by that. In two weeks of training, I went from 2 minutes of running and interspersing running with walking intervals to running for 54 minutes without stopping. Apparently I was in better shape than I thought.

But because I had two major dance weeks ahead of me in April and May (General Skills certification training in ATS® and then Tribal Fest), I put running training on hold. I didn't want to risk either injury or being too exhausted to do my very best in class or performance. But now I've been home for two weeks and, having finally caught up on my fitness records, noticed a distinct lack of training on my spreadsheet. So today I went out for just a small jog, light hills, just a quick 9 minute trip outside. It felt wonderful.

I may have to break up my training into bite-sized pieces to fit into my daily schedule (10 minutes here, 20 minutes there), but to be back on track I should be up to 79-minutes of running today. I last left off two months ago at the 54 minute mark. I should be on track in two weeks.

I love these pursuits. First marathon: Here I come. There are 275 days left until the LA Marathon.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

More Preparedness

Making the transition from full-time student to part-time teacher is requiring more preparation time. Last night, I spent some time re-sorting all my workout clothing, my performance clothing, my performance jewelry, my dance shoes, and my workout bags. I've rounded up all my notebooks from various classes for the past three years, and poised them next to me on my desk with all the intention to start digitizing my notes. I use a cross-platform system called Evernote so that I can make notes on my phone, laptop, or tablet at anytime. I also tend to format my notes in Word or Excel when I need a printed version on occasion.

I've been collecting various teaching syllabus notes from different websites and teachers over the years. Now I'm in the place where I can start creating my favorite teaching syllabus, just those small tweaks for how to fit the material to my various students, teaching environments, and calendar constraints.

I always knew teachers worked hard. And I've always put efforts into my training materials for various textile classes I've presented over the years. But some days I can hardly believe I'm in this place already: Implementing my ideas and notes over the years.

I've often pictured in my head having a teacher log book that keeps track of which elements various students have learned so far. I now have a draft for my student records, and only by using it will I be able to figure out whether it has all the features I need. I also have been dreaming of a workbook / handouts for various courses and individual classes. I need to start working on those, based on the various personal study aids I created for myself over the past three years. And then I've been thinking about how to present this material as an *option* that isn't mandatory. I don't want students who are *not* paperwork-oriented in their learning style to be intimidated by my study guides.

What a joyful stage this is for me, chewing on my ideas and implementing my solutions. I'm entirely in my element right now.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Post-first-class Success

I think that the post made mere minutes after I left my student's house sums up the awesome that was last night.
Brilliant, flashing movements. Bells and drums. Cats fascinated by human-sized cat toys. Isolations of body parts, while coming together in unity. Meditation of the body, exercise of the mind. #BellyDancing with Cat Ellen was a revelation. Thank you, my sister.
I could not be more pleased at my first run at a first lesson. I felt prepared (with the exception of having not packed my iPod speakers). I felt strong in my technique and my articulation skills. And I felt so much gratitude that my approach to dance was met with so much enthusiasm.

I'm on the right path. This brings me so much relief.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Making the Transition

Tonight is a major transition for me. It's the first night that I am officially going to someone's home to teach them ATS®. Since the first hour of the first class of the first level, I knew I wanted to teach this dance form. But now I'm just a few minutes from getting into my car and driving to the appointment. I'm not ashamed to say that I'm nervous. But then again, I've been working non-stop for three years to get here. Just a month or two ago, my regularly weekly schedule included class or rehearsal four nights per week, 10.5 hours of dance per week. In April, I spent 20-hours over four days in an intensive workshop earning my General Skills (GS) certification from Carolena Nericcio. In May, I went to Tribal Fest for the third time, spending 16 hours in another 8 classes.

But it's here. My first day preparing to teach. I can only hope that I do all my teachers proud, to arrive prepared, to teach with care and compassion and skill and good technique, and share this passion and love I have for this dance and this community.

Here we go.
One of my favorite drawings, a gift given to me by Lynn (@cavalaxis) from