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 …