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Q&A: I’m not progressing like I thought I would…

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Q.”I took ATS from another local teacher for 6 months, and have been taking cabaret for about 2.5 years from Teacher X and Teacher Y, and also had workshops with Zoe, Rachel Brice, Ariellah, Suhaila Salimpour, and Caroleena (sic) in San Francisco. Though you would not believe it from watching me. I took a hiatus since feeling that I wasn’t where I should be after 3 years. But I love bellydance, so I have turned to you because I have always been wowed by your troupes performances and thought it would be so great to be a part of that.”

A. With regard to your frustrations with where you think you should be at any given time in your dance, we all hit plateaus in our dance life, and maybe you have been stuck at one for a time. Shaking things up can help push us through those barriers. If I may offer some perspective from my experiences? Truthfully, focusing on one style that really resonates with you can be a big help in seeing marked improvement over time. 

I love Teacher X, and hear great things about Teacher Y, and you are blessed to be taking from them surely! But their styles are very very different approaches to movement and musical interpretation than you get with group improvisation. It can be difficult to expect our bodies to build the muscle memory necessary to push things to the next level when we are constantly switching gears back and forth between different skill-sets. (I address this in my FAQ Here ) I know my students who split their studies between multiple styles are often the ones who get stuck the most often and for the longest time, unable to really ramp up their skills in group improvisation as they should or could if they were 100% focused on one style.

Now I am not saying that dancers should isolate themselves and limit their studies to only one single style for all time, forever and ever amen. But I do run across the “Jack of all trades, master of none” syndrome quite a lot in the bellydance world, particularly in fusion and tribal circles. Where we are just taking in too much at once, hopping from style to style, concept to concept, and we never really let our minds and our muscle memory latch onto and develop a solid set of cohesive skills over time. Imagine if you were studying history, for instance. And you had chapters on each decade of even just American history. And you were constantly skipping around, reading a paragraph about the 1930’s, then reading a paragraph about the 90’s, then jumped back to the 20’s, then into the 60’s, and so on. How well do you think you would really retain useful information and a true understanding of any given period of history, and how much of it would just end up being trivial facts useful only for the 200-level Jeopardy questions?

Something to think about as you move forward: What style really resonates with you? What do you see yourself performing in the years ahead, if performing is your goal? Think not only of costuming and music, but of what movement really gets your creative juices flowing and gets you excited about coming to class every week (or multiple times a week!). One of my favorite all-time dance quotes is the following:

“The most essential thing in dance discipline is devotion, the steadfast and willing devotion to the labor that makes the classwork not a gymnastic hour and a half, or at the lowest level, a daily drudgery, but a devotion that allows the classroom discipline to become moments of dancing too…” *Merce Cunningham*

To what dance, what style, what teacher, what classroom, what discipline can you really see yourself devoted to? Chew on that for a little bit and see what solution percolates to the top.

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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

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