Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Art School for Bellydancers

At the end of July, I taught the first "Museum Quality: Art School for Bellydancers" intensive in Indianapolis.  It was 3 days-long with approximately 24 hours of instruction total, and I am extremely happy with the very clear results that I saw - they literally transformed in front of my eyes over those 3 days. 

Despite repeated praise from students and peers alike that I seem to exude confidence on the stage and in the classroom, I must confess that every time before I teach, there's a sense of anxiety involved.  Even after leading hundreds of workshops and classes, over half a decade of teaching dance (and much longer for art and metaphysics) - there's still a little trepidation of "will I give them what they need/want/expect?"  Museum Quality was no exception, not only considering the length of the intensive and the intimacy of group, but also presenting visual arts-based concepts to dancers. 

A lot of people nowadays seem to be talking about art and artistry in dance (new bandwagon?), but few of them come from a fine arts background.  I'm seeing a lot of concept being thrown around without much connection to real and helpful execution that makes for truly better dance, and especially bellydance.  Quotes are nice, but the ideas need to be able to truly flow down and exist in the body in order to take hold. You can't dance just in your head.  Not in my studio.  My regular workshops often incorporate artistry on different levels (especially "Dancing on the Right Side of the Brain", "Journey to the Underworld," and "Strange Presence"), but I wanted to go deeper, farther, more comprehensive - really making the concrete connection with fine art, so I created Museum Quality.

So I incorporated visual arts exercises (from critique technique to hands-on drawing), drawn from my 30+ years of fine art experience/education, and used them as tools to get the students to not only be more creative in their dancing, but to be more present in their dance and look not only at the details, but the whole picture, and bring their musicality to the next level. I carefully balanced the visual arts exercises with dance time application, lecture, and discussion, striving for the right mix. I know the processes worked for me personally, but the question was - would they work for other people?  Especially those from a variety of styles, levels of experience, and not necessarily familiar with the visual arts?

The resounding answer across the board was YES.  One of the things I pride myself on as a teacher is being able to adapt to what the students present need, versus trying to cram a static syllabus down their throats.  I believe you can maintain structure while being versatile without losing focus and form.  I also believe you can implement change without ripping apart everything a dancer is.  That's not how you nurture style or self-worth. So as we moved along through my intended points, we were able to work on what they needed most, while building on their inherent skills, and it really paid off.  Everyone was on board for the challenges I presented and even when they were uncomfortable, they were still willing to try what I threw at them, and it showed amazingly well in the results.

I am so proud of these women and what they accomplished, and look forward to watching them to continue to grow as dancers.

Learn more about what Museum Quality is here.


  1. "A lot of people nowadays seem to be talking about art and artistry in dance (new bandwagon?), but few of them come from a fine arts background."

    How are you defining artistry? Because it seems to me that art and artistry have always gone hand in hand making it impossible for them to become a bandwagon trend. They simply coexist. And why would you NEED a fine arts background in order to understand art/artistry as it pertains to dance? A marked number of slip-ups/poor execution from non-fine arts people doesn't necessarily mean a fine arts education is the solution. Perhaps we should be focusing our attention on laziness instead?

  2. The difference between fully exploring artistry and a bandwagon standpoint, is that the bandwagon uses buzz words, quotes, and phrases to sound like they're exploring it, while never really delving into it truly - as is the nature of bandwagons - people hop from trend from trend without ever taking the time to truly grow, explore, learn, and let something take root. Artistry is a full-bodied experience, from the mental standpoint, to creativity, musicality, costuming, physical technique, stage presence, etc. It takes more than reading a popular trend book or art history novel to really understand the concept. So yes, it's part-laziness possibly...but it depends on the intent behind it. Quick success? Quick money/popularity? Or career longevity and substantial personal growth?

  3. Furthermore (as my brain continued on) - while I don't believe that everyone HAS to have a degree in fine arts to teach artistry on that level (heck, I don't believe you integrally need an MFA to do it on a regular educational level, let alone cross-platform), it does take dedication and sincerity to understand it and bring it to the dance in a tangible, understandable level. Talking about art and living/making art are really two different life experiences.