Teaching Beginners; the Responsibility & the Challenge by Shemiran Ibrahim
Belly Dancing is a world unto its own and beginner students of Belly Dance, especially Western students, have a lot to absorb in a short period of time. You have a small window of opportunity with a Beginner Belly Dance student. They will give you their attention for a glimpse, a moment in time, and they are asking a lot of you in that moment; they want to be shown that they can do something with their bodies, minds and spirits that is actually quite hard to learn. Belly Dancing looks deceptively easy when danced by a pro and women flock to classes underestimating how hard it can be to learn technique as an adult.
The average Beginners’ Belly Dance course will run for 7-8 weeks. That is nothing. It really is a short period of time for adult learning! Here are some of the issues that face the teacher of Beginner students;
The responsibility inherent in teaching Beginners:
As I stated earlier, being a teacher of Belly Dance in my opinion is a special honour. Women come to class seeking a physical practice; they want to learn to move “like Shakira”. But that is not the whole story; their spirit is also looking for something, their Feminine nature wants to be awakened. As a teacher you are the guardian of their initiation into Belly Dance, and it is the initiation they have to survive to start reaping some of the pleasures this dance can offer. In the hands of an inept teacher, the Beginner student may run a mile after only a few classes. I have had students enrol and tell me that the first class they did was years ago but the teacher delivered such an unsatisfying experience that they left, and it took them X number of years to come back to Belly Dance. I am always saddened when I hear this, for all the women who leave but never pick the phone up again to book into another course; the ones who fall off and never return because they were so discouraged.
Beginners by nature are sensitive, and need to be handled with care, intelligence and an appreciation of their raw needs during the embryonic stages of learning. Once over the line into Continuing Beginners/Intermediate levels the job is, in a sense, much easier. They are hooked already, and the magic of the dance will carry you through to a degree. But not hitting the mark for Basic Beginners is a problem for both the student, and the teacher/school.
When dealing with people, remember that you are not dealing with creatures of logic but with creatures of emotion.
The fine line between overwhelm and boredom:
The biggest challenge is to deliver the body of knowledge which makes up the movements of Belly Dance in a way that works with, not against, the learning curve of your students. Overwhelming students with too much information too soon is an epidemic in Belly Dance classes in general. There is a fine balance between giving them what they need, and boring them. You need to stay in tune with your students 100% of the time.
When it comes to breaking a body of knowledge down for the Beginner student, the challenge of the teacher of any subject is threefold:
Simplify : To break-down the complex.
Stagger : Working with the learning process not against it; neither overwhelming the student nor boring them.
Systemise : To marry the simplified information with the staggered time-line of delivery is to create a system using methodology, logic and structure for the effective learning of individual learning paces.
If a teacher believes in a system, is well versed in it, and teaches it in a thorough and professional way, any well organised system will work”.
For a complete and comprehensive Beginner Level Curriculum & Teaching Method, go to "How to Teach Belly Dance".
Some business analysts maintain that there is a universal percentage break-down in business – the 80/20 rule. In the case of Beginner students coming back for a second term, you can bet your bottom dollar on the fact that it would be 80% who do not come back, 20% who re-enrol. Across the board this is quite usual for the average Belly Dance school. So the question remains; how do you make more of them come back for more of you?
99% of adult Beginner students who go to their local Belly Dance school do so to dip their toes into something new and exotic for fun – they do not want to become performers. Unless you run a long-standing school with a name and a reputation for producing professional grade performers, the average enrolling student in your Beginners Belly Dance course will be what I call “the every-day woman”. She comes to class for a break from her routine, to learn something new and exotic, or to do some soft exercise. She is the mother of a toddler, the hard-working career woman, the university student, the adult daughter and her elderly mother…….. Depending on the location of your school/classes your student demographic will of course differ. But over the years of teaching in different areas and for different schools, on average the class looks the same, with enrolments varying from young primary school aged girls and their mums, to middle aged women.
As in all adult learning, most women will not have the burning passion it takes to come back term after term after term to really learn to Belly Dance proficiently. So your challenge is this; to enthuse her from day one, to touch her imagination and give her solid technique at the same time, building on her knowledge week-by-week to give her something to come back to. A Chinese herbalist once told me “To learn something well you have to enjoy doing it, but to enjoy doing it you have to know how to do it well. So the best learning experience happens when we are enjoying ourselves”.
Loosing Beginner students is a serious issue as they cost you time, money and energy to attract them to your school in the first place. Whatever you are spending on marketing, and even the currency in your word-of-mouth, has been spent on attracting these students. It is your challenge to turn enough of
your Beginner students into ongoing enrolments for your school. If you don’t, you will quite simply not have a school that keeps growing at a healthy rate, which could ultimately lead to your disheartenment.
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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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Further reading recommendations:
- Part 1 "Belly Dance Teaching Craft - Teacher Spirit".
- Part 2 "Belly Dance Teaching Craft - Teacher Mind".
- Part 3 "Belly Dance Teaching Craft - True Teaching Power".
- "The Courage to Teach; Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life" by Parker J. Palmer. Publisher Jossey-Bass.