I promise

If you take my class, I promise not to videotape said class and put it on the internet to advertise. If I ever need some sort of video of me teaching, I will ask/notify you ahead of time and even more likely I will set up and offer folks who take class with me a free class in exchange. If we ever need to video in preparation for a performance, I won’t share it outside our circle.

If you take my class I promise not to act like I own your time outside of the set parameters of class. If we choose to do other things outside of class—student shows, performances, community outings—there may be additional parameters and behavior and other things we agree to, of course. But—always—you are free to take class with anyone else you want to, and to stop coming to my class if it no longer serves your needs. You don’t owe me an explanation.

If you take my class I promise to teach you what I know. I promise to tell you if I don’t know something, and I’ll either find out for you or get you resources to find out for yourself. I promise to be honest based on my experiences and I promise not to make shit up if I don’t know the answer in order to look good or save face. I promise not to teach you what I am still in the process of learning (and I promise to be always still learning). If I am excited about something new to me maybe I’ll tell you about it (probably outside of class), but I won’t pretend to be able to teach it to you.

I promise to be honest in my offerings.

Oh, dear readers, the things I have heard and the things I have seen. It makes me vow to do better by my own peeps.

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Sign of the times

I remember as a ‘baby dancer’* my first belly dance teacher, Leea, would have student nights about 4 times per year for her dancers to perform. She had beginners, working pros, and everything in between, and quarterly we would all come together to support one another and be inspired by one another. This was still a time, albeit the tail end though we did not realize it, when live music was the norm for dancers, and from the beginning I was out there with musicians that I did not realize at the time were incredibly accomplished and experienced in the field (as I grew and developed as a dancer, I would later have opportunities to work with many of them professionally as well and realized how lucky I had been right at the start of my experience as a teenage wannabe…whoa!).

Once a year our studio would also have what Leea called ‘alternative music night’, an evening of in-studio performances where we could dance for one another to non-Arab/Egyptian/Turkish/Greek/MiddleEastern/Mediterranean/Belly Dance music. It was a hoot. People would pull out random stuff that they listened to in their daily life to perform to, from metal to bluegrass, or sometimes people would choose things like rai music—-music from the regions our dances were inspired by, but that normally would not fly for belly dance performances. It was a night to be silly and have fun and let loose and show another side of ourselves. It was understood that it was indeed alternative and not the norm for our normal style of dance.

How things change! Within our subculture of global belly dance, fusion styles and folks utilizing belly dance movement separated from the music and cultural expression have exploded in popularity in the last 10 to 15 years. Today there are communities and studios where having an occasional traditional music night is the alternative to the norm!

The wheel of fortune idea reminds us to think in cycles.
The wheel of fortune idea reminds us to think in cycles, not necessarily linearly.

The problem is that movement separated from music and cultural knowledge or expression can often look like (bad) jazz dancing or poorly trained contemporary dance, or look like some sort of burlesque (I use the term here to mean a caricature of sorts). This is certainly not to paint fusion dancers with the same brush—-there are dancers working under the umbrella of belly dance fusion who are doing interesting work of which I am a fan. It is meant to be a general observation and shared memory of how things have changed, and perhaps a small reminder not to assume that because something is newer or developed in a certain place that it is somehow better.

Sign of the times, eh?

*affectionate term for new dancers common in the 80s and 90s

P.S. I chose a photo of Samia Gamal playing a genie named Kahramana in the 1949 film Afrita Hanem, as in the film she portrays various characters, often through dance and costume, as she playfully manipulates the character played by Farid Atrache. An original concept of alternative for modern “belly dancers”, perhaps?

Practice Between Classes

A student recently emailed me asking for advice about how to practice. She was chatting with a dance classmate on the post-class train ride home, and realized neither of them were sure how to practice between classes. I wrote her back, she seemed please with my response, and I thought others who attend weekly in-person dance classes might be interested as well. Here is what I wrote:

Hi!

I understand about not knowing what, or how, to practice. Here are some initial thoughts/advice that has worked for me over the years, as well as many of my students:

Bring a notebook with you to class, ideally a dedicated dance/movement notebook, and write down what you remember immediately after class (on the way home, when you get home, whatever works). It can be movement, combinations, feelings, one-liners, impressions…whatever is sticking with you. Get it down while it is still fresh.

Within a couple of days be sure to look at those notes again to ‘decipher’ them, and rework or rewrite them as needed so they make sense as time goes by.

(Note: I am a pen and paper person, but this could be done on a tablet or phone as well, I am sure!)

Related idea that takes a bit more time/resources: Video tape yourself when you get home from class doing what you remember. Invaluable.

Listen to Arabic music. Lots of it, not just when you are in practice or dance mode, but for fun when you are puttering around the house, doing what you do. Let it ‘normalize for you as a genre.

If you hear a song you like in class, ask me about it!

Go between focused practice and free practice. In other words, once you get your own notes started you can be methodical about making a plan for what you want to work on. But I also hope on days you want to dance but aren’t sure what to do you will get comfortable just putting on a song and dancing to it without a plan (though sometimes a practice plan forms from there as you go, and that is great, too).

Watch dancing. See what you like and see what you don’t like, and then try to decide why. Is it charisma or costuming? Get past that and try to look at the movement, the reaction to music. Live is great, but video is fine, too. You tube is amazing for this!

Hope that helps with a bit of a start.

Monica