I have a new 6-week fundamentals course starting in mid-June, and I’m starting to work on the details since I have time off of my other teaching work right now.
It’s funny, the idea of starting to work on something, as if it is going from 0 to 60 in 21 days or some such thing. What it really is is a culmination of years and years, decades in fact, edited and culled and put together in a hopefully cohesive manner to present in what will ultimately be 6 hours to a diverse group of random people (random in the sense that they are folks who know who I am and are interested in my classes, and are able and willing to pay a certain amount of money to be in a certain building in a certain city at a certain time over a six week period). But I begin by putting the goals of the course on paper, and working backwards to figure out how to get the group to the point I can say goodbye, and leave them feeling they learned something of value to their own dance work, and also leave them wanting more, knowing how much more there is to learn and having it feel accessible, exciting, and worth continuing with me, or with their other teachers present and future.
This is why I always have to smile a bit at the concept of an overnight sensation. The people who seemingly come out of nowhere have likely been at it for a long while, were prepared, and recognized (and took, or created) opportunities. Of course, in our modern technology driven world the concept of fame has to be redefined a bit, as one can become (virtually) known by many in a relatively short period of time.
In the US belly dance world there has long been a teeny element of ‘I am famous because I say I am’. Pre-internet days there were the names that got around, and luckily it was indeed mostly due to talent, but also it was due to the folks who put themselves out there–took the ads out in Habibi, went to the workshops (they used to be called seminars!) or the very few annual festivals that existed and taught, performed, or made the scene. There was a sense of really being able to check people out that brought us all to those annual events—-we had seen their ads in the zines, heard their name from our teachers, maybe even met them, or maybe they were one of the very few who put out VHS tapes of performances from Egypt, or their performances or classes—-but the proof was in the pudding when we got a chance to see them dance. Sometimes it was amazing and I was sure never to miss their show or a chance to study with them, and sometimes it was disappointing. We also had our local dancers who worked in the clubs—-when there were clubs that paid, and not a dancer on every corner willing to dance for their supper. (Note: I am not bitter, I promise, but I sure am glad I am out of the club scene!) They were sometimes better than the ‘famous’ dancers, but they were often busy working, and promoting yourself as a dancer was very different then…you worked, you got gigs from your other gigs and from word of mouth and from colleagues and club owners and bands, and you worked and worked and worked!
I remember when it went from using business cards supplied by the booking agents or your teacher when you went out on a gig to suddenly folks slowly starting to have their own business cards. It was a bit strange! Then we had the med-dance list (an early listserv that was amazing in connecting dancers). I remember one of my teachers asking me about it, “Wait, you sit at a…computer and read things other dancers wrote?! Why?!” Then bhuz.com came along, and there was a visual element to the online discussions rather than a textual one, and dancers started getting their own websites at a rapid pace (I got mine started in 1999 thanks to some geeky friends!). And then in what felt like an overnight shift, to be a dancer of value you had to have a slick website and an image, and to be hip and savvy to the whole scene!
And so it goes. We are lucky that there are lots of amazing dancers out there, as there probably always were, and we can see them immediately via you tube, websites, and social media. Hype still exists, of course, but it is much fancier, and a bit harder to get away with.
The teaching part of the work has not changed that much, though. I go through what I have learned from reliable sources, what I have seen with my own eyes, and what I have experienced, and then I parse out what I want to share and figure out why, and how it all fits together. I honor my teachers past, present, and future, and ultimately, I head into the studio to see who wants to try it all out with me, open to the experience and questions and energy they bring with them that day.
This zigzaggy little trip down memory lane is brought to you by three of my favorite things: Procrastination, Living in the Past, and Coffee!
P.S. I’ll be at Belly Dancer of the Year this coming weekend—-I’m a judge! Check it out if you are in the Bay Area!