Belly Dance Teaching Craft - Teacher Mind

How to Cultivate the Thinking, Mental Agility and Structural Tools Needed for Teaching by Shemiran Ibrahim

The Mind of a Teacher

It goes without saying that great teachers have a mental genius for teaching. A mind that naturally knows how to negotiate through the jungles of structure, language and simplification of the complex, while keeping a keen eye on inspiring their students at the same time. Great teachers have a mathematical mind, whatever their subject may be – a sharp mind capable of focusing on a subject and developing it beyond their own studies of it; great teachers add to the subject matter. Here are some tips to help you think like a teacher:

Learn with the best :

Something in – something out. This adage is especially true for when you start teaching, as your initial product will only be as good as your training. With time of course you will build up your style and teaching technique, but never underestimate the importance of your learning pedigree. Find the best teachers that are accessible to you and learn from them.

Become insatiably curious :

Curious about both Belly Dance and your inner self. In terms of Belly Dance, don’t stop learning. Buy DVD’s, read books, study the subject and craft of teaching, do Belly Dance workshops until the cows come home. The more you learn the more goodness you add to your students’ experience. In terms of yourself; take this opportunity of starting to teach as a door opening into your inner being. Become curious about what makes you tick, what brings up emotion in class, what you find challenging. Start a journal for your teaching, and use it to write down what comes up for you; fear of becoming an authority figure; challenges with certain types of students; judgemental thoughts; frustrations with certain subject matters. Teaching opens a door into both your subject matter and yourself – seize the opportunity to learn and grow.

As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge – and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.

Parker J. Palmer; The Courage to Teach

Know your technique inside out:

How solid is your technique? Did your trainers break things down for you to the enth degree, or is your knowledge of technique lacking and you find yourself fudging your way through explanations or leaving gaping holes in your delivery of how to do a movement?

As a basic technical rule when explaining movement:

  1. Feet first! Like the base of a pyramid, feet hold up the entire movement. Explain feet first – ALWAYS. When explaining feet cover where to place them and how to weight shift from one to the other, from ball of foot to heel of foot, from front foot to back foot etc. Weight shift is absolutely important to the quality of the movement.
  2. Then move up to knees and thighs.
  3. Then the hips and pelvic area.
  4. Then layer upper body on top.
  5. Include breath awareness.
  6. Add energy and emotion.

Simplify and break it down, break it down, break it down:

Make “Simplify” your motto. Whenever putting together a teaching topic, say you’re creating a new term subject matter, use this principle. Students NEED you to break things down. Don’t just stand in front of the class and do the movement and expect people to get it. The human mind and body don’t work that way. Students will mostly not ask questions for feeling self-conscious, but when what is being delivered is not broken down to its absolute smallest pieces, students can leave the class quietly scratching their heads. Cut the subject up into bite-size pieces that are readily digested and absorbed. It is your job to do that, not their job to decipher their way through the jungle that is the subject matter.

For example, say you are teaching a new movement, attack it from the point of view of the Beginner student; which muscle do they need to pull, which bone needs to move, where should their weight shift to, what is their breathing doing? Sometimes the “Break it down” principle will layer onto other things such as a concept or even the entire term. Say you are planning the term in advance; you need to think about how you will break down everything you want to teach to make the subject palpable to your students and the level they are at.

To arrive at the simple is difficult.

Rashid Elisha

Note: "How to Teach Belly Dance" Teacher Training Course has already broken down a complete curriculum and teaching method for Beginner/Continuing Beginner levels, that works as a successful foundation level learning curriculum. For more information go to How to Teach Belly Dance.

Stagger & Systemise - arrange the pieces in a methodical way:

Once you’ve broken things down to bite-size pieces, ask what is the best sequence to deliver them in time i.e. what comes first, what follows it and what follows that……all the way to the end result. Delivering something too soon can be confusing to students, and waiting too long to deliver it can be a wasted opportunity as they may have forgotten the back-up material they needed to understand the new material. Find the correct chronology for what you are teaching. Create a logical system.

Terminology and use of language:

Great teachers have a logic that binds the words they use, to aid their students’ memory of the subject matter. This Teacher Training Pack will give you a simple terminology for the movements and principles of Belly Dance, again suitable for the Beginners/Continuing Beginners level. As you progress through the levels keep in mind how to simplify language. For instance make the name of a movement or step as relevant and as descriptive as possible to what is happening in the movement, instead of plucking some obscure name out of the ether. Always think about its memorability for the students. E.g. it is much easier to remember arm poses that are named “Breast level pose” and “Hip level pose” than it is to remember “Position 1” and “Position 2” for instance. Also, once you name something, stick with it. Students like consistency and simplicity, so streamline your terminology.

The ways we learn:

There are three predominant ways people assimilate information, and each of us will have our preferred way, so you will need to cater for all three as much as possible when explaining things;

  • Listening learners; will listen to the words and music you use, and try to translate them to movement
  • Seeing learners; will benefit from visualisation so draw images in their imagination
  • Touch/experience learners; will respond to the sensual experience of the movement

So, try to cater to the different types of learning processes of different people. For instance in the example of explaining a Hip Circle on the Basic Pose (feet under hips pose);

“Listening learners” will respond to the actual words you use so be very specific and break things down using simple words and terminology. They will also be more sensitive to expressing the music, so use music interpretation explanations. “Seeing learners” will really appreciate a visualisation such as standing inside a cylinder that reaches up to the hips and trying to wipe the inside of it with their hip scarf. And “Touch/experience learners” will like to imagine how it would feel to brush the insides of the cylinder with their hip scarf, and will tune in more to the sensations in their feet as their weight shifts from one foot to the other.

Bait the hook to suit the fish .


Study facilitation skills:

I highly recommend you do a workshop facilitation course to learn public speaking skills, how to deliver subject matter and how to teach adult learners. Here is an overview of a working facilitation model to help you think about presenting subject matter in your Belly Dance class:

  • Present technical break down, include which muscle to pull, which bone to move, which joint to bend, how to physically generate the movement – firstly without music.
  • Explain its energetic/emotional aspects.
  • Include cultural understanding when possible.
  • Then allow students time to drill what they have just learned with music.
  • After using the above to convey a few points, allow students time to put everything together in exercises designed to help them assimilate the subject matter.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat:

In each class, always keep including short phrases that bring the students’ attention onto important basic principles while explaining and drilling movements e.g. always pepper what you are saying with reminders of how to hold their posture etc. As in a yoga class, the trainer always explains the movement, and then while everyone gets into pose they keep directing your attention to the various parts of your technique/pose that you need to remember. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself, students love it.

Also, repeat what you have covered in the beginning of the term through to the end; if you just cover something once you can guarantee it will be forgotten. Find ways to recap through the term.

Keep all the plates spinning at once:

Keep your mind alert, stay sharp. Cover technique, think about your delivering style and use of language, stay energetically connected to your class, watch out for what they need and feed it back to them. Stay in the moment, stay with your students mentally and energetically. Be fully present.

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This article is an extract from award winning teacher Shemiran Ibrahim's "Teacher  Handbook; The A-B-C of Teaching Belly Dance" which covers:

  • A-Awaken the Teacher in You
  • B-Business End of Running a Successful Belly Dance School and
  • C-Curriculum & Teaching Method for foundation level classes

The Teacher Handbook is part of "How to Teach Belly Dance", an affordable learn-from-home 4 disk Belly Dance Teacher Training Course. Go to How to Teach Belly Dance for more info.

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