Saturday, January 29, 2011

Communication is the Key

Do we live in a world now where because it is so easy to communicate often we don’t?

When I started belly dance teaching much of my communication was done by email. It was what I was used to (I worked as a software engineer and the directive was to email – even the guy in the next office – never interrupt by phone or dropping in). As more and more people got connected and everyone (in New Zealand) seemed to have at least one email address, I dreamed of the time when I could organize classes and shows totally electronically.

Sure I email out information. But does anyone get it? Does my vital email about rehearsal get lost in the spam box? Or does the student’s partner clear her email and “lose” mine? Or, is the PC down? Or does the student never actually check her email? Or is it seen and then there are no capabilities to follow up on time?

I rarely know. People often disable read receipts (I do it myself often enough – but I also respond to the text of the email instead). People often fail to say they are unable to make a practice – even rarer that they received my message and are all go.

Since November I’ve been tracking responses – less than 30% with my current students – 0% for students who asked to be informed when the next term starts. Does that mean on 8 February I’ll have no beginner students (unlikely) or 30 (far too many for my little studio)?

And it isn’t just classes. People book Hen’s Nights but never stump up with the deposit. Does that mean they have changed their minds or still expect me to turn up? An email inquiry very often gets no response at all – not even a “no thank you” or “we’re still thinking about it”. If there are people out there who are wondering why your belly dancer never showed – have you checked your email?

Even the EQC seems to have the disease. I paid for repairs myself (sorry, I really need my hot water to shower after a gig). They said they’d pay by beginning of December (well, three months isn’t too long to wait). They finally responded to an email and said it’d be by Christmas. Now, they won’t respond at all. Maybe I’ll try the phone and push all the silly digits and wait for 20 minutes. Email is such a much better means of communication – but you have to read it and respond to it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Choreography vs Improvisation

I love improvisation. Most of my own performance is improvisation. I believe that improvisation is at the heart of belly dance. I introduce it in the second week of my beginner course. But I teach mostly choreography. Why?

First, there is the huge resistance I have found from most of my students to improvisation. And, no, I don't start with expecting them to do a whole song. Choreography feels safe to them - even if it is harder.

Second, most of my students perform as a group so they need a structure to look good. I have a couple of numbers where pairs "improvise" for a few bars but in practice what they do is create their own small choreography.

Third, with good choreography you do learn. This year at the Winter Warmup I added six more from Aida Nour. There was something to learn in every one. Several things in some - from musicality, to combinations, to weight transfer, to gestures, to arms and hands, to folkloric knowledge, even facial expressions.

Yes, you can learn this using the follow-the-bouncing-butt method – but these days I have difficulty in remembering much of 20 hours of improvised dance – but a choreography – where you go over and over the same moves - will stick better; even if the actual dance doesn’t have the range of nuance of several interpretations to the same music.

Finally, choreography is a way to reinforce what is belly dance. Some times when I have had enthusiastic students improvising I need to pull them back when they step over the belly dance line. (I generally let the beginners go initially) You can learn the lines through watching lots of good performances - but learning choreographies from a range of sources is another way to learn what is and is not "belly dance".

That said, to get past being a beginner I think you do need to be able to improvise. Not necessarily to completely unknown live music but you have to be able to let the music flow through you. Then, I think, your choreographed performances will also be better. And as a bonus you won’t get thrown when a waiter or small child wanders through your dance space.