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 …

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8 thoughts on “The need for 101 hip drops!

  1. brilliant! ‘Some of you may scoff’…. that whole paragraph made we want to stand up and cheer! Honesty and knowing your limits is soooo important, if you are grounded in that reality you can’t ‘sell someone a bill of goods’ and you cannot, simply cannot, pretend to be something you are not. As teachers we have to do the best we can for our students, but also we have to do the best we can for ourselves and so very often that is indeed NOT following lemming-like over the cliff of standards and other people’s expectations.

    Oh, I know others will carp and say ‘oh she’s bound to say that when she can’t make the standard’ (well they say eavesdroppers never hear good of themselves!) and there’s truth in that – I can’t make the standard. But I have come to terms with that and don’t pretend otherwise now, and when my dance becomes all uptight, or hard and just plain wrong, a stern look at myself tells me it’s because I’ve been trying to dance to those outside expectations, been crippled by the fear and limits it sets. A deep breath and I rediscover ‘my center’ (which is not the same as your center, or anyone elses) and remind myself of who I am and once I stop trying to be like someone else , or how someone else wants me to be, I can dance again. Moreover I can teach confidently again.

    Standards ARE required or we could be teaching hopscotch and calling it Middle Eastern dance, but rating only those who have the certificate, or damning those who don’t is wrong. Even worse is judging those who don’t have the right sort of certificate, therein lies madness….

    • Hi I want to add these pertinent comments to my blog from fb-

      strong>Kath Falina> Webb Hi Jude – you always write such interesting blogs ! Funny you should say what you have in this one as I was asking Sue (Safeena) the other day – who actually sets themselves up as belly dance police? who says what is right or wrong? and who charges the earth to teach you the ‘proper’ way? I am 63 now and can’t move the way the younger people can but I love what I can do, and the small group of people who come to me to learn beginner’s b.d. also enjoy what I can teach them. I have encouraged them to look for other classes so they can have a wider experience but unfortunately there is very little local to us, so for the time being we are an island, developing in our own little way – a bit like Madagascar! p.s. hope all is well with you and yours x
      2 hours ago · Like · 2

      Pauline Qu Badges, awards, certificates, being members of an exclusive club, cloning etc mean that on a certain day you paid your money and pleased an individual/board. In some cases simply paying your money is enough to buy “credibility”. For me, integrity is everything. I’ll gladly admire your badge/award/certificate if you can dance and express and interpret what your ears tell your body to do. If you throw in some great technique, some background knowledge and some individuality then I’ll applaud it to. On top of that if you show me honesty, experience, humility and a touch of insane genius, I’ll want one myself
      AND MY COMMENTS TO YOU ALL:
      You are all wise women in my eyes and I am glad I am not just having ” I am not being funny but” moment alone. Reading your comments have touched me emotionally as I realise that I am not the only one who lost herself in Standards. Goodness we need badges to wink and smile be happy and dance! I agree Rita we do need some sense of standards but these are developed through debate discussion and indeed diversity not by cloning and buying badges. Kath and Julia I too have been taught by some amazing teachers many who do and many who do not have qualifications, badges or certificates. I wonder in our desperation to become a “legitimate” dance form we have all participated a little bit in being ” belly dance police”? Rita your wise words about being in your own sense of self and finding your centre is so true. At a WI talk the other week I opened my talk with just that – I am a British woman who belly dances in Shropshire. I have had many lessons and workshops and can share knowledge that I know. I dance like a British woman with British life experience although I love Egyptian dance I am not Egyptian and cannot therefore be “authentic”!

  2. glad to hear this Jude – dancing should make us feel happy and not be a measure of how “good” we are. I have found that some teachers even with a qualification can’t teach very well, are boring and don’t encourage any individuality or expression. And I’ve been to other workshops that have left me enthused and exhilarated, even if it’s not been my preferred style of dancing – all thanks to the inspirational teacher. And yet other workshops have been taught by an amazing diva,but one who has left me feeling rather inadequate. I applaud your idea of watching dancers follow their own journey. It’s OK not to know everything and I’d put happiness over technique every time! Wise words from you Jude xx

  3. As someone who has been on both sides of the tick list I wanted to jump in here. It has not, and never has been, about the one correct way to do a movement. At the time I was assessed I didn’t know this, and had many of the same thoughts you express here. However, now I know how those people holding the tick sheet were actually assessing me and they weren’t looking for the perfect hip drop but rather isolation, movement quality, smoothness, how the rest of your body was working, musicality – things that make your style your own! These days people undergoing the assessment are given the criteria in advance which I think is a big improvement. This way of assessing and developing your dance – which won’t be for everyone and that’s fine – absolutely does allow for individuality. The same with the rest of the course, I can only speak for the time I did it but we spent hours and hours talking about how to teach each move, not to hone it down to the the one true way but to share all the different ways we had come up with to explain it, so hopefully in the future we would have a range of methods to help us reach all our students. I am always very wary of anyone who says their way is the only way or the best way and I would not be associated with any person or group who made that claim.

    I’m not denying there are teachers out there who produce clones of themselves but I am confident that I am not one of them 🙂

    • Hi Emma
      It is was not intended as a critique of any particular course but rather a personal account of an experience of many years ago. i have no intention of critisising any course as all have merits and believe we can all make our own choices about dance. What i am rather intending to see is that there is not just one way and I am struggling with the constant criticism about “standards” and not certificated/accredited that somehow makes some amazingly talented dancers lesser beings.
      Anne K – You were/ are lovely as a JWAAD tutor and I remember you making me smile in my assessment! and indeed you are still lovely and talented and creative now x
      Sara you are right I was struggling to put this into words as i walked into town. Ultimately any dancer’s performance will be based on an aesthetic. Perhaps courses and lessons give you vocabulary but indeed one must find one’s own accent?

  4. here are some more fb comments that are wise words I do not want to lose Anne Kingston :As a JWAAD teacher and ex JWAAD tutor I feel the same – phew felt quite good to let that out!! I feel much the same about competitions too to be honest.
    about an hour ago · Unlike · 3

    Sara Sherif Farouk Ahmed There is no right and wrong in Egyptian dance – it’s constant development is based on an aesthetic. Aesthetics – a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of art, beauty, and taste, with the creation and appreciation of beauty. These issues have been debated for thousands of years. They are mutable as there is no mention of a ‘norm’ or ‘standards’ – change is a prerequisite in aesthetics. I agree, Jude, that as we continue to develop [as human beings/dancers] we become aware of the ever increasing number of things we don’t know. Our struggles in the past should give us strength – we should build on them. The acceptance of not ever ‘knowing’ balanced with a thirst for information is what results in ‘artistic conscience’ – a desire to always be ‘better’ but not always ‘right’. People in Egypt vote with their feet – there is no normative body here – and I think that happens pretty much everywhere else in the end. There is nothing diminishing about Egyptian dance – it allows growth and has no room for failure. Terms like ‘authentic’ and ‘traditional’ create artificial lines on the map of a dance that refuses such boundaries.

  5. I just love to dance, being blissfully ignorant of the bd police, thankfully, think it may have put me off. Having being monitored scrutinised at work, dancing is fun, and has been a journey which has helped me in some dark times, the friendships made, and laughter shared have enabled me to express myself, I love it when I dance with others, and enjoy dancing just for me. Some people need a badge or to have been to the “best course, school or university” does it make them a better person, like interviews they just managed to tick all those boxes on the day. As expressed in many of the comments above, be yourself, keep your integrity and just dance and enjoy. Throw the rule book out of the window, by the way who wrote the rules? Perhaps it’s a translation and the meaning got lost along the way.

  6. Hi folks
    I’ve had some really interesting and thought provoking replies to this blog and want to add a little bit more :
    – firstly I now realise that this blog may have intended to be a direct criticism at specific courses or individuals who choose certificates courses. This was never my intent . We all have to find our own dance path to follow and was just offering an alternative. I suppose this was in response to feeling too much stuff was being posted about excluding dancers or criticising other teachers .
    – I would also like to clarify that indeed some of the courses on offer indeed offer high standards of teaching and dance and I did not intend to suggest that they did not . I was merely suggesting that there is a different creative approach to achieving ones personal best
    – finally it is never my intention to offend nor cause anyone distress with my blog . I personally enjoy a good debate and discussion about dance and think this is healthy x happy dancing x

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