Friday, 10 April 2015

Evolution of a dance workshop student.

Beginning bellydance

My first "proper" bellydance lesson was a workshop.

This is quite unusual, most student dancers find a teacher first, then learn the basics in class for a few terms before they venture out into the world of workshops and dance events. It turned out however that the local teacher I wanted to learn with was nearing the end of a term, and taught her beginners in a 10 week course. I would have to wait until the next term, so in the meantime, I tried out some moves with a good beginner DVD, then went to a fundamentals workshop with Yasmin Asar.

I was a fair bit out of my depth, but it was the perfect workshop for me at the time, being technically based it gave me a better understanding of the basic moves, because while DVDs have their place, the best way to learn will always be in a class with a real life teacher.

It was only a couple of weeks after that, when I was finally able to enroll in a regular class, and my journey in dance could begin in earnest.

Attending workshops as a baby dancer

I'd been attending classes, and doggedly practicing inbetween, for about 3 months when I got to go to my first dance festival. Gothla was a gentle introduction to dance events, because I had friends who would be there, and because the booking system allowed me to book in for just a few workshops. I booked in for more when I got there too!

I practiced extra hard in the weeks before, because the prospect of dancing for 10 or more hours over a weekend was far more extreme than I had ever attempted, I wanted to make sure I didn't flake out and waste my opportunity.

My workshop choices were fairly random. Some technical, some presentation based, some choreography, some arty. I did the stuff that sounded coolest. I booked for fun.

I kept this pattern up over my next few festivals, Celebrating Dance, my first Majma - I tried out new styles, so that I could decide which folkloric dances I liked best. I trained with teachers I liked, I took workshops with titles that sounded good. I learned a lot, sometimes I learned that I should probably have chosen something else, but that's all part of the process. I was getting out and feeling like a dancer, wearing out dance shoes and making friends.

This decimated dance paw is Emma Pyke's fault.

The bellydance upstart

Then came the phase where I decided I wanted to "get good" at bellydance. To do that, I needed to be challenged. So I became quite discerning at choosing workshops that were aimed at dancers above beginner level (many workshops are "open level" which means they are attainable for newer dancers, but usually have benefits for more experienced dancers as well).

I also started looking at skills I particularly wanted to develop, prop refinement, finger cymbals etc, but I rarely took a workshop just to have a go at something new. I was narrowing my focus with the aim of improving my performance skills, rather than simply having a dance. I also stopped doing choreography workshops so much.

The purist.

I went through a year when I decided I was going to work on my improvisation to live music. In that time I only took workshops on musicality, improvisation or dancing to live bands; with the only exceptions being when I was hosting a guest teacher for a workshop in Glastonbury.

This wasn't just a workshop thing, I had a choreography ban and worked on, and performed, only improvised dances. It was a good break, I learned a lot and developed skills that serve me well as an entertainer.

It was also during this time that I became a notebook devotee. For years I had watched other dancers take notes in workshops and convinced myself that I didn't need to, what I needed to take away was in my body. Now I take loads of notes, immediately after class so I get to participate in all the dancing, but get down all the information while it is still fresh. I use my notes a lot in my personal practice, it means I can take material away from a workshop to keep working on it, thoroughly. I take notes on DVDs too. It's easier to refer back to my notebook than to dig out the DVD to find one small section; if I rent a class from RaqsTV, then it means that I have the information, long after my rental expires.

Back to basics

Now I have almost come full circle. I'm going back to the open level classes, looking at basics, because I know that really working hard on the minutiae in my basic technique can have an enormous knock on effect on my dance as a whole. I'm also going back to those arty workshops and looking harder at expression, musicality and storytelling. All those things are accessible to beginners, but as an experienced dancer, they are still fresh and vital performance skills.

Very recently I have started learning other dancer's choreography again. After a long stretch of concentrating on technique, creating my own choreography and improvisation, I feel ready to learn from choreography again. It helps me break out of my habits and forces me to dance  in ways I might not have thought of, or might find more challenging. In a way I am broadening my horizons again, but instead of learning a load of dances just for fun, I am finding elements in those dances to bring back to my, now firmly established, personal dance base.

The last thing I have noticed as my dance experience has grown, is that a 2 hour workshop is never enough. I am far more interested now in dancing in longer workshops, or intensives. At this year's Majma I deliberately booked all my sessions with the same teacher - 3 of the workshops were a series anyhow. I want to really get down to the nitty gritty of things, and that takes long, intensive study. I'm really pleased to have some fabulous intensives coming up this year. 

I wonder what the next phase of my dance learning will look like.

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