Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Renée's Teaching Diary: Page 1

I am about to start teaching a course of my own invention that I haven’t invented yet (Bellydance For The Rest of Us). Its not like I don’t know what I’m going to do in general terms. Altho I haven’t taught a weekly dance class in mumble mumble years, I do remember the basics. Plus those classes in modern and jazz were 90 minute classes, whereas most bellydance classes are only 60. But just to brush up, I thot I’d look around at other beginning bellydance syllabi.

I looked around online but it seems few dance instructors are willing to share their syllabus. It makes sense, really. Teachers work hard to develop their courses and want to have control over their intellectual property. In addition to that, bellydance doesn’t have a universal language or technique so even when I do find a document that lays out a course’s development, I don’t necessarily know what steps they are talking about. For instance, Sitamun’s raks sharki syllabus calls for “thigh circles” and distinguishes between three styles of camels: Arabic, Egyptian, and Turkish. I’ve never heard of thigh circles and only do one style of camel (I think).

Dance steps, especially folk and street styles, often don’t have names although they may acquire them in their transmission. It makes communication easier if you can tell a dancer to do three grapevines and a hip drop. Some bellydance steps have names that are commonly known—like the shimmy—but which in practice may have local variations. Even within as contemporary a form as American Tribal Style (ATS), basic steps are reinvented and renamed by independent groups. For example, my troupe—Mountain Tribal—has an Arabic variation we call the “Hairy Eyeball.”  Its an Arabic 5 (a traditional step described and named by Jamila Salimpour) with three position changes cued (an ATS characteristic) with direct eye contact (hence its nickname). No other ATS dancer would be able to do this step based only on its name, though its various parts would be familiar to them.

Still, the basics are the basics. You can’t shimmy until you can lift and drop your hips in isolation from your upper torso. And you can’t do a Basic Egyptian (aka Egyptian Twist, double Egyptian, twisty hip step, and who knows what else) before you learn to bump the hip forward and back. So I guess all I can do is make a beginning and see how things develop. I’ll keep you posted.

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