It’s time for another guest post from Piper–this one offers some tips for creating a healthy, supportive learning environment in the belly dance classroom–
The one thing I’ve noticed the most about teaching belly dance is that confidence is the best side effect to come out of it. I always get girls/women who start off in baggy clothes. They want to learn belly dance, yet they won’t show off the belly. And this is common throughout all body types and ages, (yes – even the skinny young girl is shy about what they have). The women start off by being a bit shy, uncomfortable; thus they hide.
Slowly and surely, the more they learn in the classroom, the more their confidence starts to peek out. As it begins to peek, the clothes start to get a little more fitted. And this is achieved in part by the encouragement of the instructor. In all dance forms the instructor’s feedback is key in motivating the students. Especially In today’s world, where we still see eating disorders, and overall lack of confidence in women because they don’t look like the hottest celebrity (who may even have “bought” their body).
Because belly dancing really does expose women’s bodies a bit more than other forms of dance, it’s very key for the instructor to make sure the students don’t feel vulnerable. My first goal in class with my students is to get them to relax. More than anything, I want them to enjoy themselves. Learning dance should be fun!
In my classes, what seems to work is that I try to make jokes of what not to look like first, and then what is acceptable before we begin moving, (usually by demonstrating both the bad and the good), so that the positive image is the freshest in their mind. When I’m teaching new moves, I always try to create a visual in their mind as to what I’m hoping for them to achieve. I encourage anything positive I see in them; from them keeping their chins up to a perfectly placed elbow. I believe firmly that they need to walk out of a class knowing they got ‘something’.
I also tell them that it’s perfectly acceptable to mess up; that the rest of the class is the ‘support group’ and if you’re going to mess up, then mess up big. It’s ok if we laugh at ourselves. I often share my stories of messing up on stage so they know that it happens to everyone at some point. If you can learn how to recover from a mistake, then you’ve just stepped up your game.
I also feel a good friend of the instructor these days is a small camera–to video the class from time to time and play back to the students so they can see their progress. It’s one thing for someone to ‘look ‘ in the mirror, but it’s completely different to actually see on ‘film’ what one looks like. When women look in the mirror, they don’t often see themselves – but the camera allows them almost an unbiased eye. This has been one of the keys in my students gaining more and more confidence within them. I hear things like ‘wow – I don’t look so bad’ or ‘ooh – my arm looked nice there’.
It’s wonderful to see a new door opening for my students.