Tips and tricks to guarantee a positive experience for your students
As an instructor and mentor to students who are new to belly dance, it’s important to provide your students with a positive experience. Even more challenging, is providing new dancers with a great first theater show. So what are the tips and tricks to deliver that positive “first time” and get them eager to come back for more?
First, choose a song for the performance that is accessible to someone new to Arabic music. For example, a pop piece in 4/4 will be a good introduction to music that can sound quite foreign to Western ears. What’s more, a pop song is engaging for an audience who may be unfamiliar with Arabic music—and chances are that they’ll want to clap along, which provides positive aural feedback for the performers. Since pop songs often repeat musical themes, it allows a chance for your beginner dancers to repeat combinations—a relief to people who are new to learning choreography!
Choose movement that is at your dancers’ level, but do add in some "stretch" moves. You want your students to feel successful in their execution of the moves, but also challenged at times. Stick to movement that is at the appropriate curriculum level of your performers, and give them a chance to repeat combinations. Simply change the blocking and stage directions—repeating movement like this gives dancers confidence but looks different yet familiar (and therefore pleasing) to the audience.
Your attitude during the process of teaching choreography definitely can make or break the experience for students. Always be positive and patient when teaching movement. Give the dancers a sense of ownership over the moves—I do this by encouraging them to name the combos, or come up with a story that they are telling through the dance. Remember that your students are taking time out of their busy lives to have this one hour for themselves, so you want them to enjoy it. They should always look forward to coming to class with you; after all, they’re paying for this experience, so as a teacher you want to deliver a “product” that they’ll want again in the future!
Finally, allow at least four weeks’ time prior to the show to clean the piece. Do not give the students any new movement or choreography during this time. Keep blocking changes to a minimum. Use these final classes to prepare your new dancers for the stage, the bright lights, the audience, and their nerves. For example, make sure they know stage directions, tell them where to look when the blinding spotlights are shining in their eyes, and more. Share your own experiences and tricks for being stage-ready, and they’ll have less anxiety the day of the show.
You want your beginners to have an overall positive show experience, and knowing the choreography is just one piece of the performing puzzle. Hopefully the Show Bug will bite them before the final curtain call, and they'll be back next semester for more!