Celebrating some wonderful inspirational and generous teachers!

Seems to me that “who does she think she is” also impacts on how we support and celebrate others. If we are to publicly speak up and support other dancers then we may well be seen to be “up ourselves” in passing opinion or sharing experience. We are able to talk about ourselves, our own dance, and I am aware that I am also more comfortable with discussion about concepts and ideas as opposed to people. However behind every dancer there is always a whole set of individuals who contribute to his /her dance performance and telling of the story of dance.

We seem to live in a dance world that places little emphasis on experience, and knowledge and skill achieved from longevity and time in the dance world.  I am taking my own time for some positive dance reflection as I approach teaching dance for ten years. In the last decade I have seen new dancers and teachers come and go and indeed some have stayed and continue to share their knowledge and skills.

I am thinking about how to mark the moment and celebrate. I have just returned from JoY dance festival this weekend which I have attended for many years. In this time I have watched different dancers come and go. I caught up with old friends and indeed some of the wonderful women who have taught, inspired and mentored me over this decade. So this post is going to be a reflective pause re last ten years and a celebration of some key women who have inspired and taught me in this decade.

First proper teacher

Lindsey Salomon

When I initially started dancing the world was pretty limited. With no internet the only cultural input to Shropshire belly dance was a tape of music passed around to teach other on the tape to tape machine! When I met Lindsey Salomon I quickly realised that we both had a need to seek more than just good jingly hip belt! Lindsey was my first teacher who went beyond more than just the sparkle and the hip drop. She was very generous as she would go out into the big world and return with oodles of new moves and creative choreography.  Through her wonderful choreographies she would challenge me to learn new moves and indeed significantly improved my knowledge of music and the beginnings of developing my musicality. In these days of the nineties and noughties Lindsey would organise and direct wonderful dance shows given us all the opportunity to perform. She also changed my dance profoundly by taking me on my first visit to Cairo to experience the culture sights and sounds of where the dance is from.  Years later we still meet up for a coffee and spend hours talking dance and sharing ideas for teaching!

Moving into a Professional framework

Kay Taylor

Meeting Kay Taylor was a major turning point in my dance life. I went to my first JoY just after becoming a single parent ten years ago. No longer having the “what do you want to do that for?” voice of ex hubby meant as long as I had child care I could do what I wanted! So I found myself in Kay’s spins and turns class I do believe at JoY! Come from a background of dance I really wanted to challenge and develop my technique and I also wanted to know the context of the dance and moves. So here I was madly wiggling, spinning and whirling with Ms Taylor correcting and challenging my every wiggle and turn! I loved it! At last I was being taught!

I knew I wanted more so I picked up a leaflet, grabbed a friend and travelled up north to Kay’s Ford dance weekend in order to have more workshops with Kay. This was ten years ago! Taking my first few workshops with Kay she was able to give me basic blocks of technique for my dance. Until I had met Kay my dance was based on “show and tell “approach. Kay’s teaching was and always is “hands on” with tangible advice for how to improve my dancing.

In the last decade I have had countless workshops with Kay but also she also opened the door from workshops for ideas into dance teaching and personal dance development.  I have over the years had private lessons with Kay and also attended the JWAAD safety course and many workshops and dance weekends with her. Throughout this Kay has always given me tangible advice and guidance.

As someone who is not taught weekly Kay’s structured approach to supporting my dance enabled me to work alone in order to set goals and objectives for change.  This also meant that I could take the “ideas aspect” from workshops to a private lesson with Kay who would then focus on technique to make that change happen.

Seeing Kay at JoY last weekend and engaging in our on-going belly dance discussions made me realise how much I appreciate my long term belly friendship with Kay. Both passionate about dance and dance learning and development we have now continued this passionate discussion for ten years!

Technique and the telling of the story

Sara Farouk

When I went to Ford nearly ten years ago I met Sara.  Her straightforward approach to dance and performing I loved right from the word go. It is funny when you try to reflect on past experiences of being taught by folk you now know so well. I can remember reading words to a song – An Oum Khalsoum song but so long ago I cannot remember which one. I remember dancing and weeping at its beauty. The simplicity (yet highly skilled) of Sara’s approach to technique and emotional connection makes Sara an inspiration to me both as performer and teacher.   As time goes on I have also had the most wonderful passionate conversations with Sara about dance and she has generously explained and translated songs, given me nuggets of information, and indeed a marvellous lesson in her flat in Cairo in the early hours of the morning!

Attending her TEDC teaching course enabled me to scoop up several years of teaching experience and dance knowledge, and place it all in order and in right place. She then filled in the gaps and gave me self-belief in my ability and experience as a teacher. Sara has and continues to fill in those gaps of knowledge for me and to give me tools to expand my dance and teaching.  As usual I have already snapped up a workshop place when she returns to UK next month and she has promised my bi annual fix of Cairo music!

 Soul sister and mentor

Pauline Qu

I kept bumping into Pauline Qu everywhere I went! Initially I loved watching her dance with Asif drumming and I can remember thanking her for a dance where she gave her complete “all”. Although different in style to me I could relate to Pauline’s emotional connection in her dance and the need to tell the story and attending her workshops I like the way she focused on supporting and expanding technique for me.

I also really liked Pauline and she was geographically close enough for me to be able to go and have a private lesson. I remember my first lesson with Pauline and she had a list! I was so excited that she had thought about me to have developed a personal list and she gave me tangible areas to work on.  In private lessons we worked on both technique and more and the discovery of the more developed into friendship and beyond.

With another dancer I participated in a mentorship dance programme with Pauline and Asif Qu. The opportunity to go beyond just a quick hour on technique has unlocked another door into a whole new dance world. Pauline has set challenges and posed tricky and complex goals to meet. Supported by Asif including learning how to drum I have learnt so much about musicality, rhythms and phrasing in music and dance. Pauline has taken my raw technique and enabled me to develop my performance skills and fine tune my ability to tell my own story in dance. She also continues to support me with banishing “the who does she think she is” voice and get out there grab the moment and dance.

On a personal level Pauline and I have really connected as creative souls who enjoy exploring and developing dance and mad creative projects. Being able to have mad creative conversations is so important for me. She is indeed my mad soul sister in mad creativity!

 Shining stars of inspiration

I am sat here thinking of lovely women I know who have supported and inspired me with their teaching and dance friendships so here is a few:

Anne Kingston

A wobbly moment at Joy I needed support and quietly changed workshops and snuck into Anne’s. Her ability to share the “be yourself” school of dance and dance with an open heart on that day and continues to be a tonic to my dance soul

Tracey Gibbs  

I cannot count how many workshops I have had with Tracey. Over the years she has generously taught and given me so many tools to develop in my dance. My shimmies now shine and shimmer because of her as does my sense of self and an ability to express emotion through movement. She naturally brought out my inner sha’abi girl  too!

Nawarra 

We all talk about Nawarra’s energy as a performer. Here I want to acknowledge her generosity as a teacher. Nawarra  has taught me lots about the context and culture of dancing. Also in discussion she always happy to share nuggets of information and as a teacher she makes you feel good about dancing.

Sandra Thomson

This woman keeps me belly dance sane. Her own achievements in dance inspire me to take risks and stretch my own persona boundaries in dance. Her performing is  always beautiful and inspiring and her  teaching style and skill always offers me nuggets of fantastic technique and indeed skills in “how to teach”.

Anne Ashcroft

When Anne moved to Shropshire I quietly went to have some private lessons with her. She gently guided me in the right direction when I needed it including I remember clearly breaking through the barrier of how to Egyptian walk! Her workshops on baladi were insightful and inspiring as I started to put pieces of belly dancing puzzle together.

Candi Bell

I have only recently discovered the wonders of Candi’s teaching and am cross with myself that I did not have more lessons with her before. Thank goodness that she has come to her senses and is carrying on sharing her knowledge and skills in dance!  Candi has filled in so many pieces of the belly jigsaw for me both in person and through her amazing website. She also through her workshops and through conversation supports and encourages me to just get on with it and dance!

Anne White

I kept bumping into Anne White and quietly she began to influence my dancing. A workshop at JoY where she started with walking to dance expression enjoying the wonder  of Tatil Shibak made me seek more from her which ended with her coming here to Shropshire. Anne challenges my very being in terms of dance always pushing me to go beyond expectations. Anne supports and helps to critique, reflect  and consider my dance performances. These days she seems a constant source of support and always ready and there with wise words, advice, support and indeed this week a song and a tune!

Fiona Jackson

This lovely woman has been around in my dancing as long as I can remember. Always there supporting and offering wise words of wisdom and constant support. To be honest I am unsure if I would still be dancing and teaching of it was not for her. When she was part of the dance world she would always critique, give constructive feedback and support me with a plan for change. These days she happily participated in my discussions to try and make sense of the dance world and helps me banish “who does she think she is”.

So as you reach the end of reading this may I suggest:

–          You take a moment or two to celebrate your key teachers, mentors and friends on your dance journey

–          Respect the value of time and longevity in dance and teaching. I have learnt so much in ten years from very wise and knowledgeable women. This and experience of dancing and teaching in last decade with wonderful women I am celebrating!

Now having written this list I am thinking who have I forgotten? So many women ebb and flow in my dance world. I am now sitting here anxious as I may have forgotten someone! Believe me every dance teacher I have ever had needs to be celebrated for sharing their dance and I am not sure if I can name you all! I also could celebrate some wonderful inspiring belly dance friends all who too need to be celebrated but I cannot name you all either! And of course what about all your students in the last ten years I hear you say? In ten years I have taught hundreds of women so perhaps I need a blog about this on another day.

Happy dancing

Anah x

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The need for 101 hip drops!

Okay I am going to say it. I no longer feel passionately about belly dance teaching standards. There I have said it. Goodness knows whether I shall post it and seek the wrath of the belly community!

Standards are different from quality in dance and different to knowledge and skills and passion for dancing.  All these I still aspire to.

It was the rule breaking in belly dance that made me like it. Years of regulated ballet and structured contemporary I loved the way belly dance gave you opportunity to explore your own creativity in dance. Okay so I need to wind back ten years. I have actually been dancing for about fifteen years but I started teaching ten years ago and it is this decade I wish to reflect on.  Having been dancing for five years I had little belly dance experience but had indeed been dancing all my life. I was asked to teach as folk had seen me dance. Unlike others I did not leap at the chance. I was aware how little experience I had and knew there was more to learn beyond Shropshire. In the end I agreed to start a small class as I knew if I didn’t someone else would and felt at least my baseline was honesty and sense of knowing what I didn’t know!

 Some of you may scoff at this starting point but I must say having a sense of “knowing what you don’t know” has held me in good stead over the years and I believe holds my integrity tight. I have never and do not do “fusion” without understanding of what I am “fusing”. I have never professed to be “authentic” and I only ever teach what I believe I know or have a reasonable grasp of. This philosophy has also supported by responsible attitude to teaching folk safely and going to seek information and indeed help when needed.

 Numbers in my class have fluctuated but my classes remain steady and I have reasonably large class these days compared to some. I also have dancers with me who joined that first year. So few years in and I had classes three nights a week with beginners, improvers classes and all sorts. If you remember this period mid noughties when everyone wanted to be Shakira! By then I was whizzing about UK taking workshops with many folks and decided to undertake a safety dance course.

 Although challenging bizarrely in an emotional sense looking back this course reaffirmed what I knew as a teacher in a different field; lesson planning etc. and enabled me to order and apply my skills to give my classes support and structure. All well and good but looking back it was all so over emotional for a couple of weekends about basic dance safety. On reflection I think folk confused the quality and standards with the personal. Individuals became so obsessed and indeed distressed by a tick list in half an hour assessment to see if they could go on to undertake the full dance course. Not enough ticks and you were a bad dancer? A bad dancer because you couldn’t join the gang and become a friend? All very odd and not ever what the course organisers ever intended.  The dance assessment gave me a big reality check regarding some of my physical barriers to developing my dance and for me changed the direction I needed to go on to seek more knowledge.

 Having no teacher nearby to direct me I knew this would always be a challenge. I did for a while consider giving up. Good grief the shame of the tick list made me believe for a short while I was a fraud that I was offering students something I could not provide. So I took my self out of the dance scene and talked to wise friends.  This took me back to “knowing what you don’t know”. For me tick lists were not about joining the gang being given a shiny badge of dance club but about a “who does she think she is moment” which actually had nothing to do with teachers, standards but more about me.Once I stopped those internal thoughts and looked externally I realised that I had a circle of women who wanted to dance with me and I was more than capable of seeking the dance instruction I needed to develop my dance.

 My on-going dance journey has been a pick and mix affair of weekends, workshops and private lessons. I set personal goals and projects sometimes to develop knowledge and skill and other times to pursue an obsession.  I have developed as a dancer and as teacher. I teach differently to how I did ten years ago but still within the framework of “knowing what you don’t know”.   I am astonished when I look back how small “my what I do know” was when I first started teaching and how much more “I do know” in terms of sharing with students. The more I “do know” about the world of belly dance makes me realise that there is so much more that “I don’t know”. It is a dance filed as broad in its creativity as it is in terms of its geography.

 Right wind back to standards. My previous life is as a trainer, adult teacher, workshop leader and assessor.  I have worked with standards, competencies and assessed and marked work in another field. With the arts there is always debate.  So many factors involved in what makes something err good or indeed great. Often the person who has created the “great piece of art” has broken rules.   So here is the thing can you standardise something as organic and fluid as belly dance?  I am struggling here to express my thoughts so here is an example: Can you tell me what you believe is the definitive hip drop? I bet many of you reading this have completely different views and opinions  based on your dance experience. Indeed Randa’s view of a hip drop will be different to Rachel Brice’s both equally amazing but diverse and different.

Hmmm that doesn’t quite hit what I am trying to say. So everyone pays their money to learn the “one way hip drop” and we all hip drop together. So here you have a row of great hip drops. Still with me? But here is the thing? Where is the stunning slightly different and bit crazy but beautiful hip drop from the dancer who just pushes and breaks the rules?  The development of dance programmes that are accredited and structured will improve dance to a certain level. I for one do understand that standardisation in teaching as a need to develop quality and indeed safe teaching and  for some is a journey that they need to take. But it is not the only way and I  for one am getting a bit cross with folk telling me that unless I pay x amount of £s for this or that course I cannot have validation as a dancer. When it comes to competency driven courses it  will improve everyone to one level but also I think it reduces everyone to that level too. One hip drop. One way. The rules.

 With regard to teaching there are so many ways to teach a hip drop; some you may love, others you may consider wrong. Indeed some ways may hurt and we may consider not safe. There are many teachers that have come and gone in my area. I could indeed critique them all  and have had many a rant with fellow teachers over the years! Recently I have had a few students from a teacher I probably wouldn’t consider to be that great. To be honest I would probably suggest unsafe but definitely teaches differently  to me. I look at their faces and can tell they are astonished at my class and the dance style we have developed as a group. Some stay some go. But you know what ? This is their choice. There is no need for me to get hung up about her teaching. If grownups want to go to her class learn to dance in a frankly bizarre and painful way who I am to interfere? I am not the belly dance police to set teaching standards in this area. If they do weird hip drops so be it. Surely it is far better for me to spend the energy on developing my own skills knowledge in the dance and indeed learning 101 ways to do a hip drop to share with my students?

  My son tells me he loves the beauty of Mathematics as by exploring problems you find answers and there is little or no debate . In dance and the arts I love the debate. I want to debate and discuss 101 hip drops not  be told copy me or there is only one way. I, like other dancers and teachers need  the opportunity  to create. If the  dance world gets so  hung up on standards and competencies  it pushes out opportunities for  diversity and inspiration. What we seem to see these days is a lot of clones of other dancers all with the supposed competent hip drop but oh so dull.  I would rather be  watching and enjoying  dancers pursuing their own journey, a bit rough around the edges but unique, passionate and honest.  The best dance events are those haflas where folk do not know the best hip drop but actually love to dance have passion and want to share. You know what ? I sneakily feel envy. She dances with complete abandonment having not reached that point of “knowing what she does not know” hip dropping all the way  and breaking all the hip drop rules!  

 Ahhh lovely I am off to flick flack my skirt now …