I’ve been teaching belly dance since 2005, and I’ve been a student of movement my entire life. I’ve been on both sides of the teacher-student relationship for quite a while now, and believe me: I feel like sometimes I learn even more as a teacher than I do when I’m a student!
After every class, I reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and I’m constantly evaluating how to help my adult students dance to their full potential. I reflect on my values as a teacher—integrity, kindness, discipline, personalization, mindfulness, context, and more—and how I can better integrate all these moving parts in the next class with the explicit intention of helping my students be their best.
I try to apply my own corrections and observations right away.
So, when I’m a student, and the teacher gives me a correction in class, I also make a concerted, intentional effort to apply it right away.
You’re Either Doing the Thing… Or You Aren’t
One of the things I love about dance is that you either do the thing or you don’t. As a relatively academically-gifted child, I was able to cram for exams and slack a bit in my school classes and still be at the top of the class. But as a figure skater? I either landed a jump or I didn’t. I got my leg up or I didn’t. I did two rotations in a double toe loop or I didn’t.
I couldn’t cram for my competitions or my figure skating tests. The only way to “cram” for dance is to practice and thoughtfully apply the guidance, feedback, and corrections from your instructors. And that takes time, intention, and practice.
Did I Get Your Attention?
Speaking of my skating days, when I was about 9 years old, one of my figure skating coaches caught me zoning out during a lesson and told me, “You have the kind of face that looks like you’re paying attention… even when you’re not.” Busted. You best believe that I made every effort to pay attention after that!
Which brings me to another thing I love about dance: it requires my full attention. I’m easily distracted, and probably even a little ADHD. But because my body holds me accountable, I can’t let my attention wander when I’m dancing. I must be completely present. Not only will my instructors notice (which borders on disrespectful to them and the other students), but I won’t get the most out of that class.
So, when you are in class, you must make every effort to leave your outside world outside. This is why we instructors ask you to be on time (early), turn off your phones, and be present for the entire duration of class. Because that’s the only time we teachers get with you, and that’s the only time you’ll get feedback to become a better dancer and get more out of dancing.
Do the Thing… Immediately
Your job as a student is to stay present, mindful, and give your full attention to the act of being in class. Part of that responsibility is constantly checking yourself and making sure that you are doing the things that the teacher is asking of you.*
If a teacher tells you to point straighten your leg all the way in a tendu, or push all the way up into demi-point, you need to try it out immediately. Explore and notice that that feels like. Look in the mirror. Are you implementing the feedback? If not, how can you get your body to do it?
But if you just stand there and say, “OK, thanks,” “I’m trying,” or you counter with an excuse, it’s just not going to happen. Doing it is the only way that movement will become an embodied habit.
Yes, I Mean You
As a teacher, it’s my job to give instruction helps my students become better dancers. Sometimes this means giving general feedback to the entire class, and other times it means giving personal corrections to a single student.
So, when a teacher gives corrections, they mean you. Even when they’re talking to the whole class. Even when they’re addressing another student. Especially when they’re addressing another student.
And when you hear instruction, feedback, and corrections, you need to do it. Dance is about doing. And like I said above, you either do the thing or you don’t.
Remember Feedback Better
Adult brains have a more difficult time assimilating new information than those of children. Not only are children’s brains more primed to learn information quickly, but also they are not burdened with jobs, responsibilities, or the myriad things that occupy (and annoy) us adults.
So, adults need information presented to them in smaller chunks. We need to put extra effort into making the new feedback “stick.” And, yes, sometimes dance instructors give a lot of feedback in a class. (Remember that often we only get an hour and a half with you a week!)
If you’re having a hard time remembering feedback, or how to apply it, try these tips:
- This is probably the most important: Do the feedback.
- Repeat the feedback to yourself in your head so that you can recall it when you need it.
- Write down corrections you received/heard in a notebook after class.
- Focus on one correction you received/heard in class when you practice at home (and you are practicing at home).
- Reflect on what you felt was the most difficult part of class and how you can problem solve to make it less difficult next time.
- 10 minutes before your next class, recall one correction you received/heard in the previous class and commit to applying that correction in that class.
- Video yourself doing a drill, combination, or exercise from class. Watch the video and write down what worked, what didn’t, and how you might be able to improve it.
- Be patient, yet diligent. Small changes matter, as long as you’re making a consistent effort.
If you’re with a good instructor, they have your best interests in mind. Trust their eye, words, and intentions.
You can do the thing!