Monday, September 6, 2010

May you forever thirst......for knowledge.

In the land between emerging dancer and professional dancer, the question often comes up, when does one stop take classes? Ideally, never.

There seems to be this myth in some communities that if you're still regularly attending classes or workshops, then you're not a professional dancer.  There are many things that define a professional dancer, and this myth is NOT one of them. (In that same realm of thought, teaching classes or performing at a restaurant doesn't make you a professional dancer either, but we'll save that for another post.)

We'll tackle this topic by common statements:
"But I've gotten as far as my teacher can teach me."
That may be true, but one teacher does not hold all that there is about bellydance, as wise as she (or he) may seem to be.  Every teacher has their own style and preferences, as well as strengths and weaknesses.  For example, I had one fabulous teacher who just didn't care for reverse undulations, so we never did them in class or performances.  It wasn't until I took classes with another instructor that I really understood them and got them down.  Different teachers will unlock different doors, so if you've gone as far as you think you can with one, and there's more teachers in your area, keep going, even if that means starting off in their beginning class.  This is a common and sensible practice, because there are so many approaches, styles, and vocabularies, that it's important to get a feeling for what that teacher does.  Even if you feel you're "beyond" taking a beginner class, it make for excellent practice as well as being great for jogging the memory - as we often get obsessed with complicated moves, and forget the beauty simplicity of the basic core moves. 

Also, have a solid idea of where your teacher is coming from.  Who did she/he study with? How long have they've been dancing? Look into their dance family tree and take a critical eye.  If your teacher has only been dancing for several years and studied with X who's only been dancing for a few years prior to teaching, you could be missing out on a lot of important information.  It's like the telephone game with bellydance.  Sure, "X" studied with the great "Z", but if she only studied with her for 1-2 years, and then started teaching to your teacher, who also only took classes for a few sessions, then a lot of vital information could have been lost. 

"But there's no one else in my area..."
Really? Not everyone is on facebook, tribe, or bhuz - have you done your research? Could there be old school teachers in your neck of the woods who just don't do much online? How about the next town over? 1/2 hour away?  How far are you willing to go for a good teacher? (I have students who commute up to an hour each way to take my classes, my hat's off to them!)

If there really is no one else local to you or your schedule/budget doesn't allow for weekly travel, then there are other options:
1. Workshops - if you can't get to a weekly class, then you should budget for a workshop regularly.  Workshops are great for learning new material, skills, styles, and giving yourself something to think about outside of your familiar range.  Bellydance has blossomed in such a way that there tends to be something going on in most big cities at least once a month, if not every weekend.  (Here where I am in New England, I can get to most places Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hamphire in under 2-3 hours. And there is ALWAYS something going on.)
2. Private Lessons - private lessons are a great way to really fine tune yourself.  It's definitely worth the travel and money, because often just one hour of a private lesson will yield weeks (if not months) of serious focus on things to perfect in your dance.  So maybe if you're not getting enough from a weekly class, ask your teacher about private lessons, or talk to teachers further away that you admire.  It's worth it. Some teachers now offer private lessons via the internet.
3. DVDs & Online Classes- I list these last, because while the material can be great, you're not going to get personal instruction and most importantly CORRECTION if you're doing it wrong.  But DVDs and online classes are a great and often affordable way to learn new materials and styles.

"Why do I need to learn more? My teacher never corrected me and always told me how great I am! I am fabulous!"
Don't laugh - if I put it here, I've heard it and seen it. First off, if your weekly class has more than a handful of people, your teacher is far less likely to be able to offer individual corrections.  Especially on basic things like posture and footwork, if the focus is getting a choreography down - or there's 30 people in the room, it's very hard to see that your posture goes out of whack when you start moving or that your transitions aren't smooth.  Next up, a lot of teachers are fearful of giving critique.  They don't want to hurt your feelings/don't want to chance losing your business/don't believe in it/don't know how to give it. Yes, it's a beautiful dance, and everyone should do it, but when students start moving into professional arenas, teachers need to be realistic with them.  Just because you got some praise doesn't mean you know it all.

"But MS SUPERSTAH DANCER said I was the best thing she's ever seen since sliced bread!"
Get out more and don't get a big head.  I've seen some "big name" dancers deliver the same line to numerous dancers of varying caliber.  Which means they either have a goldfish memory "oh look a castle!" (swim, swim) "oh look a castle!" or they know how to milk sycophants because it's good business for them.  Trust the people who have seen you develop, ask for real feedback, what can you improve on - because there's always something to work on.

"I just don't have the time."
If you say this, AND you're teaching AND you can't make room for one thing a month to improve your dancing, then maybe you shouldn't be doing it.  It's hard to hear, but some folks should be taking classes instead of teaching them.  If you have the time to teach every week, then you have the time to learn more.

"But if I'm still taking classes, won't other professional dancers look down on me?"
If they do, they're not much in the way of professional. Every single dancer that I have studied with in the past and continue to work with now, still works to expand their knowledge, regardless of whether they've been doing this for 10, 20, 30, or 50 years.  And they always have something new and interesting to share - and sometimes they discover it conflicts with something else they had learned, and it makes them think/grow.

So, what does it all mean?  If you're serious about bellydancing - whether you want to perform it or teach it (or both), never stop learning, never stop being a student.  And you will continue to grow and improve in your dance - which is really the best way to be the dancer you want to be.

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