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Gilded Serpent presents...
Belly Dance Workshops:
Realistic Expectations
by Eleyda Negrón

Like Christmas is for kids, workshops are for the Belly dancer, and there are plenty of them coming up.  Teachers and students make their little lists on what they would like to receive from them and we will do whatever it takes to get the best.

The difference between a Christmas gift and a workshop though, is that in the worse case scenario, you can always return your gift and change it for something else, but… What do you do with a workshop that didn’t suit you?  It can become a waste of time and money for both ends.

Here are recommendations for teachers and students on workshops: how to approach them and what to expect.

For teachers:

  • Be accurate with your workshop topic and description - When eager students get their hands on the festival schedule or log in for the first time on the festival website, sometimes all they have is the instructor’s picture, a title, and a description.  Nothing else. Even if a title like “Dancing like a Goddess” sounds excellent, it gives no idea what the workshop is about. If this is a workshop about stage presence, say it. Sometimes the student will not have a chance to talk to the instructor before hand; so they will welcome all the information they can get.
  • Be aware of the level you are teaching to - If you said your workshop is “all levels welcome” you have to be balanced.  Offer a workshop that is challenging to both ends and everybody can learn something.  If you prefer a workshop just for more advanced students, then be sure to say “Intermediate to advanced students only”. Bogus descriptions like “Dancers with a bit of experience” are not very useful. What is a “bit” anyway?
  • Cover all the material you offered - For many of us, a specific workshop with a particular teacher is a “once in a lifetime” experience so we will be very excited about it. If the teacher’s description said that will be covering “X” amount of topics, cover them, as much as you can. It is understandable things can change last minute or some changes have to be done considering your students needs but at least, if changes are needed, be sure the main topic is always covered. When planning your workshop consider how much time you use at your class. Are you always struggling to cover all of what you wanted to coverin class? Then you should consider fewer topics. Do you always have too much spare time? Maybe adding some drills or a longer choreography might help. It is very disappointing to go to a “crunched” workshop or a “diluted” one.
  • It is a workshop, not a class - Workshops should cover a specific topic so you can cover all the major concerns people have on that topic, specific techniques to approach it, and a hands-on-experience time so you can practice those new concepts. Be sure you have these elements. Also, most of the students never had a class with you, so even they might know your dancing style they don’t know your teaching style. Your regular weekly class knows what you mean but your workshop attendants might just be there, staring blankly at you, trying to figure you out.
  • Be welcoming - Workshops are an excellent opportunity for dancers to explore other styles.  It is very normal for a “Tribal” dancer to take an “Egyptian” workshop because they want to go back to the original roots of this art, or a “Turkish” who wants some new edge and takes a “Gothic” workshop.  As a teacher, if you are deeply into the style you embraced, do not talk trash about other styles.  First of all this is not professional, and it is highly disrespectful.  If your comments can be taken the wrong way, just do not share them. "One drop of honey attracts more bees than a barrel of vinegar."

For students:

  • Do a little research - If you can, try to do a little research about the workshop you will be attending or you are interested about. If the instructor is local, or not very popular you might have a good chance to ask the instructor herself/himself about what to expect from their workshop. If they are popular or just plain busy, join bulletin boards, the instructor’s mailing lists or websites with forums about these topics.
  • Be realistic - If you have being Belly dancing for 6 months do not expect that a three hour workshop can lead you to be on the same level as your instructor. A dancer needs to practice, even if you are a “natural”.
  • Participate - It is very disappointing for a teacher to see students standing there, making no effort to learn.  Maybe you made a bad choice, maybe they are not the greatest teacher on Earth, but the truth is that you are there, with them, on the same room. So well… Have fun with it!  If it turned out to be too basic for you, you can always drill.  If it is too advanced, just try a little and in a nice way let your instructor know. They might be able to modify things “on the spot” and you will always learn something. If you are not willing to learn, might be a good idea to just go shopping around the festival then.
  • It is a workshop, not a class – No, I am not repeating the point; even if it has the same description.  As described previously, workshops are supposed to cover specific topics. Most of them are topics that you never have time in class because they are too specific.  Belly dancing classes are about dancing steps, but workshops are about other things that might include specific steps or techniques in dancing or topics as veils, cymbals, costume, even stretch! Set your mind on the topic that the workshop is about.  If it is a veil class, bring your veil and work around it.  Don’t try to squeeze in an off the subject question such as: “how do you do a backbend”.
  • Be thankful – From a simple “Thank you” to a nice review in a magazine or a bulletin board, appreciation is always welcome.  Even if the workshop was not what you expected, it might have had things you learned, so let the instructor know.  Be kind when criticizing, (so your instructors can improve) and ask questions if needed. Above all things, thank them for their time and patience.

There is no season like festival season. Hopefully, teachers and students will learn from each other and by the end everybody will leave with loads of knowledge gained from each other, and many will be eager to take more workshops in the future.

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