Falling off the Wagon

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Sometimes I think I’m falling off the wagon…okay the belly dance wagon.  This phrase actually came from prohibition times when as a rule women would go from town to town on a wagon and preach against drinking. If they could get a drunk to ride around with them and get him sober they felt it helped their cause. Even though our wagon is different, sometimes an unexpected bump in the road causes me to fall off the wagon wondering how the heck to get back on or sometimes wondering if I even want to get back on. Read more

Surviving Your Belly Dance Students

 

Surviving Your Belly Dance Students

Belly Dance Students really make the world go round and for most teachers; they make class worthwhile and exciting. Surviving your belly dance students is more then a rite of passage, it’s like getting a free pass to evolve from mortal dancer to high priestess. Once you teach, your rank and stress levels change, some for the better and some worse for the wear.

The variety of women who came into my classes were very interesting. I had college students, women in their 60’s and mothers and wives wanting to feel sexy again. The reasons were as varied as the women but one thing they all had in common was the fact that belly dance intrigued them and they had to give it a try. I welcomed them all and found that my studio was a magnet for the black sheep and gypsies of society. Okay, I was really the black sheep and gypsy! I laughed, cried and basically freaked out through out the 3 years I had my studio. Being a studio director was more then I thought it would be and it made me who I am today.

Surviving your belly dance students is more about surviving life. Students just bring life into the studio. Women live life like they wear clothes. They wear emotions like earrings, and dress their spiritual beliefs in vibrant colors that encompass all that glitters and jingles. The mental aspects of who they are, are the over cloaks and covers they wear over their belly dance costumes. The uncovered parts of a woman’s skin is the physical self peeking out that showcases an inner feminine and womanly appeal to audiences. Because women bring so much with them it’s no wonder that drama loves hanging around.

Sometimes the drama was a little on the twilight zone side. I once had a student who wanted to be a vampire. Her yearning was so strong that she actually physically started to look like one. She turned pale, acted funny and swore allegiance to another vampire in Massachusetts. I have to say, there were a few occasions when I taught her private classes that I felt I should cover my neck. In one instance as we were taking a five minute break from class, we heard something scratching the big window by the front door.

It was the kind of scratching that made you want to scream because it was so annoying. The window was protected by a balcony and there were no tree branches of any sort around the window. When I went outside to investigate the window, the scratching stopped. As soon as I went inside and closed the door it started again. She gave me a really weird look that gave me the creeps and I did a mirror check just to make sure she still had a reflection. Weeks later when she told me she was moving back east; it was all I could do not to jump for joy. I was starting to feel like a character in one of Anne Rice’s novels.

Soloists are totally my cup of tea. I love teaching dancers who want to perform or go professional. It’s the greatest joy to see students up on stage, dancing. The exhilaration of helping a dancer prepare for a performance is why I teach. Teaching soloists can be like working around a double edged sword that can be precarious not to mention sharp.  The soloist can become totally self indulged to a point that she can only see her own creative efforts. As a teacher we have to roll back the blinders and help students see that belly dance is a community effort. We all participate in some form or manner either in the teaching, performing or production aspect of this dance form.

But the individual applause can turn some dancers deaf and they become fixated only on their own efforts. It’s just the luck of the draw because student’s can be like a Pandora’s Box. You just can’t see what’s beneath the surface.

I had a student that I asked to perform in a theatrical show I co-produced. In all honesty, I was apprehensive about bringing my student in because it wasn’t a regular belly dance show where we had multiple performers coming in, it was a dance play. Attitude, tantrums and unprofessional behavior came out of her from the moment I said, “Yes.” I thought about it for awhile and realized that once a dancer commits to performing in a show, all their fears and phobias come out in droves. The only way for some dancers to express their anxiety is to act out in uncharacteristic behavior. In this case, my student procrastinated choreographing an important part of our theatrical show. In the end she came through but getting to that point was a roller coaster ride that always seemed to be going down, upside down and backwards at speeds that left my nerves in a knot that couldn’t be untied. Did I mention I lost my sanity along the way too!

The students who are talented really make teaching easy and so enjoyable. Not only are they enthused but they are the best performers and representatives of your studio.  There is also another kind of student who is good but they have a competitive edge to them and an underlying agenda to maneuver their career along. I have had a few of these students walk through my door and I think just about every other teacher in town had them walk through their doors too. Learning from as many teachers as possible is a good thing. I did that in my past but with private lessons. But this kind of student does things a little differently. They insinuate that the other studios or teachers weren’t what they were looking for. You have to think about what you are hearing because they will ultimately tell another teacher at another studio the same thing about you. Once the cat is out of the bag, it’s easier to be on the look out for these kinds of students.

Years after a student left my studio, I saw her perform at a Hafla. She was friendly enough but distant at the same time. When it was her time to dance, I saw the same dance habits that she had at my studio. At this point I could say it was her dance style but there was something missing from her performance and I had felt that same way when she came to my classes. She wasn’t easy to teach because if she felt she had achieved a combination or move, she wanted to move on. Other students didn’t matter, only her own desire to keep learning. But sometimes the desire to learn can be a dancers Achilles heel. She accumulated so much information to the point in inundated her ability to move uninhibited. Today she is performing around town with another dancer that has very bad dance etiquette. Just recently there was a local show and the two of them showed bad manners and lack of etiquette while they were sitting in the audience. They made faces, crude comments and laughed during performances. These kinds of dancers are the thorns in the side of our dance community because they are living in a delusional world of self importance. Sometimes the ego doesn’t allow good, common sense to come through or as in this case, it obviously squashes any humility or community good will.

Dance is bigger than the physical body.

Think bigger than that.

When you extend your arm,

it doesn’t stop at the end of your fingers,

because you’re dancing bigger than that:

you’re dancing spirit.”

 Judith Jamison

 The students that are in a league all their own are the students that have unusual quirks that make class time interesting. Okay, so the vampire student did make class time interesting but I was more unnerved through out teaching her. I’m really talking about the students that, well, are very imaginative and eccentric. One student came in dressed like “I dream of Jeannie” every time she came to class. And when she did the combinations I always felt like I was watching a burlesque show. She was actually a class favorite because she made really funny facial expressions and exaggerated certain moves to perfect timing in the music. Come to find out she was a famous stripper from Las Vegas. Her dance demonstrations were great except she would occasionally fall to pieces in class while dramatically falling to the floor, telling everyone she couldn’t go on living. This was one of those experiences that inspired the title of this blog, “surviving your belly dance students” because once she dropped to the floor; it was 20 minutes before we could get her to want to live again. It never failed, she would get up, and dry her eyes, sit in the back telling us we were the reason she was still alive.

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But you know something after all is said and done, she was right. My title to this blog, surviving your belly dance students, is really more sarcastic in nature then how I really feel about my students. Every student I had whether they were a problem or not were worth the time and effort it took to teach them. My students became my teachers and for their lessons in life I am grateful. If it wasn’t for my students, I wouldn’t have funny stories to tell or have wonderful memories of their amazing dancing. Just being themselves was the greatest gift they gave me every time they walked into my studio.

“The next time you look into the mirror, just look at the way the ears rest next to the head; look at the way the hairline grows; think of all the little bones in your wrist. It is a miracle. And the dance is a celebration of that miracle.”
– Martha Graham

Check out my community membership site; www.bellydancevillage.com