Connecting the Dots in Belly Dance

Connecting the Dots - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance Blog This past weekend I was able to do a workshop with my students and at the same time showcase  the curriculum that I have been  working on for a better part of a year.  What is so exciting about  this new curriculum is that it is the end result of students understanding choreography in a way that makes sense to them.

What I mean by this is students are learning  to understand their own choreography. The curriculum shows them how to connect the dots.

The one thing that I have noticed especially with the emails Daniel and I have received through out this last year is that many dancers don’t understand how to interpret movement to music or they don’t even know why they move a certain way to the music, they just follow their teacher. Some dancers have said that they learn the same moves over and over again but  the reason behind the move is not talked about.

I think as teachers we have to take a good look at our own curriculum and than stand back so we can take a good look at what we are teaching. Read more

Cures, Disorders and Syndromes!!

Cures, Disorders and Syndromes!! - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogJust yesterday I was talking to a friend of mine regarding the solo student dancer syndrome of “who are you, I don’t know you”. This is a very old disorder that I have been dealing with for many years. Only thing is I didn’t realize how contagious it was until just recently. I’m no Einstein but it finally sunk in that there is something going on here. I had always looked at students as women of great possibilities and potential. And for a while I had a naive idea that my students would carry on my grand illusions of what I thought belly dance was. OK……so I’m a few quarts low in that regard but I am finally cured! Read more

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You……

What You Dont know Can Hurt You - Leyla Najma's Belly Dance BlogWithin this last year I learned many things and I realized that teaching our students is a never ending job. In saying this I also realized that with all of the opportunities out there for dancers to perform that there a fundamental values that are being forgotten. Dance etiquette can’t be put on the way side because than we have a bunch of dancers who think only of themselves. This I experienced in co-producing our show this year and when the light bulb went off, I was surprised to see that what you don’t know can hurt you!

Solo performing is not easy and as I say to most of my students getting out on stage after a troupe has done a wonderful job takes invisible huevos. Most of my solo performers are very independent and they all have the self confidence to pull through any show with ease. But one thing was continually coming to my attention and to tell you the truth it was like being hit over the head time and time again. My solo performers were not the best team members when it came to participating in group events. I mean getting oneself together to go out an perform isn’t too hard but when you work in a production and have to wait for your turn and you have to return phone calls and you have to go to rehearsals…….well these solo performers balked, whined and made up “poor” excuses as to why they couldn’t do something when the rest of the crew could. I was in total shock with their egos and self important attitudes.

So this made me think of what happened to these dancers and why they felt they were separate in responsibility from the rest of the performers. As a matter of fact the more I tried to figure this out…..well the more I got to scratching my head. First of all there is a self absorption going on that only allowed my solo performers to see what they were doing and to not even see what anyone else was doing. They were blinded by their own ritualistic habits of preparing themselves and expecting everyone else to do the same. But what didn’t occur to these students is that in a production there are schedules with other people who have to work in different areas to make it all come together. Solo performers are use to the work being done for them except if they are producers themselves. Than I have to tell you that you will see some of the most well rounded dancers on the planet. Because anyone who produces shows and directs understands the process and they respect the efforts of everyone involved. A good group of people working together can move mountains. One solo performer who doesn’t understand this only gets in the way.

I found I had to call my solo performers more, ask over and over again why something wasn’t being done on time and why they didn’t call to find out the schedule. The answer back was always the same,” they weren’t the only ones with phones!!” This got to me because towards the end of working on our production I found that it was easier working with actors or troupe performers. And I got taught a very good lesson on what I had failed to teach my students. To assume that our students understand appropriate etiquette after they leave us is a bit naive on our part. I had to unfortunately fire one of my students from the show and this was definitely a low point for me. I was totally in constant amazement with her condescending attitude and finger pointing. So from now on in my beginner classes we will have theater 101 along with etiquette and the art of working as a team.

Now I’m not saying all solo performers are this way. My co-producer Rozana Al Jinan and myself came from old school learning. The best way we learned was to participate and watch the professional and seasoned dancers work their magic. And let me tell you……when you have talented dancers working together there is nothing more beautiful to watch.

On the other side of this coin is the experienced dancer who has performed for years who doesn’t feel they have to do much of anything except to show up. These are the dancers who know better but feel their reputations precede them. As experienced dancers we have to remember our humility or we can get heads so big they don’t fit through the door and they can wear thin on everyone else holding up their end. Who wants to hold up a big head, especially if it isn’t yours?

The false flatterer in a production can also get on your nerves. Usually my radar goes up with these people and I found that in co-producing this show that there was one person who was so ready to compliment us only to be the first to talk behind our backs. This particular actor was about as sincere as a heart attack. He complimented us on a Tuesday on what a fantastic show we were putting on and two days later on a Thursday he pulled out saying he couldn’t be apart of our show. Moral of the story…….always have a plan B and we did!

The list could go on but than I would rather put it all in a book for you that I will be getting out in the next year or two. Remember there are always lessons to be learned no matter how long you have been dancing and the best part of all……..is that there is always something to learn!

What Do You Want From A Belly Dance Class

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave you ever gone to a belly dance class and felt the teacher didn’t explain things in a manner in which you could fully understand?
How about repetition in class and learning the same moves over and over again? I remember when I first started belly dancing I took a class and we learned a specific choreography. No explanation was given as to what inspired the choreography or how it fit with the music. I remember dancing and thinking to myself, this is not me and I would not dance to this song this way. So what do you do when you learn from someone that doesn’t fit you and your style of dance?

When we all first start out dancing we are sponges and we take it all in. After a few years we than realize what specifically we want out of dance and than we go forth to find those teachers who will help us achieve our goals. Once this happens it becomes apparent that we really do dance from a place of preferred choice. We constantly choose our way in dance and our path shows the world how we have become who we are.

All this being said how do you tell a teacher, “Look, I’m not learning from you what I feel I need for my dancing. What can we do about this?” Is it really as easy as just saying it? Most women will just leave without saying what she feels yet she will tell others and the message my trickle down to the original teacher. So what good does it do if we feel we can’t tell the one who needs to hear the message the most? I didn’t tell that teacher years ago that I didn’t like her choreography; I just left and never went back. But I have to say it has haunted me all these years because I am sure she wondered why I left. Being a teacher for years now and looking back I now understand that feeling of wondering what happened. So here are some solutions I came up for teachers and students. Because after all we are both student and teacher until we no longer say we are a dancers.
For the Student……..

Remember you are paying for class and for the information and experience of your teacher. If you aren’t getting what you pay for let your teacher know that there is a problem. I mean if a product didn’t work right most of us, we would take it back and either get our money back or we would want it fixed. At least you are bringing something to your teachers’ attention that she needs to hear whether she wants to or not. But putting yourself out there as a teacher means this is a part of business especially if you charge for classes. After all, satisfaction should be guaranteed.

Don’t settle for less because there may not be other teachers around. Look for a teacher that is qualified to teach or someone who wants to share the dance. Either way if you relate well to each other, class time will be fun and that in itself makes it all worth while. Always strive to find the teachers that fit you best. Put it out to the Universe what you want and be ready to dance!

For the Teacher……

Ask your students from time to time what they think of class. This doesn’t take away from you as the teacher; it helps you understand what your students think of your class from their view point and their eyes. Our students can help us become wonderful teachers because sometimes as I have said before we can get lost in our own lesson.

There is no amount of experience that can compare to the satisfaction of happy and content students. I have witnessed teachers so full of themselves that they could never see beyond their own needs, wants and desires. And even though we are the ones that make our own dreams come true, we must be aware of others and their dreams, wants and desires. Those lost in themselves usually are left alone in the end with no one around and when they finally wake up, it is too late.

We all have the right to ask the very simple question, “What do I want out of class?” As your students this question and be open and willing to receive the answers. I just recently asked one of my students this question and what she said made me smile. She said, “I want everything, that’s why you’re my teacher.”
Another student said, “But you’re the teacher, you’re suppose to know what I want.”
The latter made me smile because I remember being like that until I came into my own as a dancer. But never the less I let all my students know they can tell me what they need to. This frees us both and makes our paths easier to travel especially when you’re going in the same direction.

The Mystique of the Student Rival

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One night I was sitting outside looking up at the stars after a very hectic day at my studio. Many thoughts crossed my mind that night but there was one that was most prominent. And I must admit this thought was uncomfortable because it became apparent that some of the students that I was working hard on coaching and teaching had ideas of fame and fortune way before they were ready to handle it. Why was it uncomfortable you may ask, it was uncomfortable because it was obvious I was teaching students who wanted to leap instead of walk towards their dance goals.

Of course it’s only natural for students to want to speed things up but it’s also important as a teacher to help students understand that dance must be learned in its own time. I think this is where negative experiences come from; dancers performing before they are ready. With dance there are many venues and there are certain protocols with each venue that must be learned, “first.” As teachers we share our own personal experiences from our journeys in dance and we shape and mold our curriculum accordingly. This also means teaching etiquette along with instruction. This being said, what do we do when we have an occasional student who wants fame more than she wants training or etiquette?
What became apparent in class was an individual drive by a specific few to get ahead at all costs. It’s not always easy to see this as a teacher and sometimes a dancer can hide it quite well. I can remember an instance when a student wanted me to perform with her but she wanted me to be a back up dancer for her. What I was being asked to do was watch her teach a class up on a stage and follow her instruction. I told her I supported her a hundred percent but that she should do the venue on her own. It’s tough knowing how to word your opinion and not hurt a students feelings. If I would have been her back up dancer, the teacher-student relationship would have been lost forever because than she would have seen herself in my shoes. My shoes fit only me and my size and besides that my shoes took years to wear in and get comfy.

Years of training students has blessed me with seeing a few dancers that were exceptional in our dance. Some of them have gone on and are dancing and gracing our stages with their amazing talent even today. Than there are those students that are exceptional but who go off thinking the world owes them. The impatience of these dancers can be so costly. One student in particular had great potential but she was impatient and wanted to dance everywhere immediately. I was dancing at a restaurant at the time and would occasionally get calls for parties on the nights I was dancing. So I sent her out in my stead to a few parties and requested that she give my card out if anyone asked for one since I was the contact person. I found out that she gave out her cards and told the people to call her if they ever needed another dancer. To some of you who are not acquainted with our dance etiquette, it is protocol to give out the card of the person who sent you to a job, especially if it is your teacher. I don’t ask for a percentage, I just ask my dancers to perform professionally and do a good job. My student than became my competition after a few more gigs and I realized that not only was she taking money away from me but she was doing it right under my nose. So I did what any decent teacher would do, I tried to kick myself in the pants and move on.

Dancing at restaurants can really give a dancer a chance to work on her form and technique. Years ago I had a student night at a restaurant that allowed my girls to perform on Wednesdays. It gave them a chance to experience dance in a public setting that was safe and welcoming. I had a few students that really enjoyed dancing and danced most of the Wednesdays. After awhile I noticed that some of these students started to come to class less and less yet they still insisted on dancing at the restaurant. So I had to let them know that while I was proud of them, they had to continue with class so they could get in more training. To my surprise one student told me that she was told by a customer that she was as good as the weekend dancers and why wasn’t she dancing on the weekends? Come to find out this customer was her husband and he said this infront of their friends who all thought the same thing. Yet not one of the friends or husband had come to a show on the weekends so they could actually see the difference between professional dancing and student dancing. She insisted on auditioning for the weekend shows and wanted to be paid for her Wednesday performances. What I had worked out for the girls was dinner and they kept their tips. So I told her the decision for the weekends would be up to the owner not me but that I felt she wasn’t ready for an audition. She got angry and left my studio and didn’t return but decided to go to the restaurant owner herself to get an audition. I was informed by the owner that she came in and that he told her she was not ready for an audition because she needed more training. She told him about what a “customer” had said and unfortunately this peaked his interest. So he gave her an audition and I was asked to be there to give him my opinion of her performance. Well as you can imagine I had plenty to say but I kept my cool and I went the night she was to audition. Like I thought, she bombed and she was mortified. It was a hard lesson for her to learn and for me to witness. She left and I never saw her again and I found out through the grapevine that she stopped dancing. There is not one teacher out there that ever wishes for this type of lesson on any student. But sometimes the Universe has no choice but to show the harsh realities of what can happen when you lose your humility. And as her teacher there was nothing more to be said.

Sometimes when you work well with your students it can be easy to forget the teacher-student relationship. Let’s face it our students are some of the coolest people on the planet and shows and venues can be a lot of work. Having good help can make a huge difference in the outcome of a show. The important thing is to make sure you don’t bring in a student as an equal into a show before she has paid her dues with experience. I learned this the hard way almost two years ago with a show that a dance friend and I collaborated on. I brought in my student because she had a theatrical background. She became the third producer of the show and that is when the problems began.
Once she became a producer our relationship changed and I noticed that the respect that she once had for me was slowly slipping away. At the end of the production our relationship had taken a nose dive. Unfortunately there was no going back to what I had established with her. The one thing that I did was create my nemesis because I gave her a taste of what took me years to learn and understand. Weeks later after the show premiered she wanted to take the show on the road and I had to say no. I didn’t do this to be mean, I did this because I felt she needed to do things on her own as I did so she could appreciate what it takes to earn her place in her community. Without knowing it I gave her a false sense of authority that eventually was used on some of the other dancers to their chagrin. Lessons like this one can take months to evaluate and reflect on. Sometimes when I look back I feel like I lost something that can never be replaced but than life teaches us that we must continue on our path. Looking back keeps us from seeing what is infront of us.

What can any teacher do when she has worked with a student and has shared with her all her hard earned knowledge and the student runs with her curriculum? This includes; choreography, style, and verbiage. A wonderful mentor of mine, Romana Frasson taught me a lesson in teaching that I will never forget. She said that I had to teach from experience and the heart in order for my students to believe in me. Sometimes this can be a double edged sword. Because when we put so much of our passion into our classes, we can lose ourselves in the lesson. Once a student learns her teachers curriculum and has success with understanding the lessons and methodology, she than becomes the end result of a joint effort. We hope that students take what they learn and carry on the message and training. But sometimes what we thought we taught our students can get lost in agendas and issues. This is a phenomenon that baffles me to no end. I have dance friends who have taught students for years and all of a sudden I’ll notice that the student is gone and there is no mention of ever studying with their former teacher. It’s almost as if the years of mentoring became lost and ended up on the way side of obscurity. What these dancers don’t understand is that they take away with them the years of experience their teacher gave to them. At the same time do any of these students feel any loyalty after they leave? Looking back at some of the students who left my studio, I haven’t heard a peep from them and I occasionally see them. Sometimes we just have to let it be and know everybody is where they need to be.

This is one of those topics that can create a lot of emotional upheaval in many dancers. I know it does with me. And let’s face it there are two sides to every point of view. Only after I became a teacher did I finally understand what my teachers went through. It took me sitting outside that one starry night thinking about my students to finally appreciate the role my former teachers played in my dance career. Maybe once we appreciate what we have learned in our dance can we stand on our own two feet and say “Thank you” to all those teachers who helped make us what we are. Than I thought to myself is it really this easy? What is the real problem when we teach students and the relationship goes sour? How can anybody know the true story of each dancer that walks into her studio or learns her choreography? If a student is willing to take a curriculum from a teacher and claim it as hers, than we have to look at what we are really dealing with. What creates this phenomenon starts with principals and values kept aside at a young age. If the home place is dysfunctional to start with for any student, than we end up dealing with the side effects that tickle down and materialize into various problems. The signs aren’t always easy to see until problems emerge. But if we could understand better the characteristics of a student rival than we could prepare ourselves to cope with this dilemma