Monday, February 28, 2011

February recap and goals for March

Hey, guess what? That's what! It's walk of shame time.

Here were my goals for February.

-Choreograph a solo for the Bozenka show. ALL OF IT.
Well, I tried. I got a minute and a half of a new choreo done, then decided I totally hated it. And now I will be doing improv. Abort/Retry/Fail.

-Write an epilogue for my book.
I did this. And I actually liked it.

-Write a plot summary. No, really. Actually write it this time.
Okay, so I'm 2/3 of the way done with a synopsis. Partial success achieved.

-Go to some more writers' meetups.
I did this. In fact, in a particularly unhinged moment, I agreed to read an excerpt from a short story I'm working on at a writing group tomorrow. Why did I do this? I probably won't be able to sleep tonight. Oh God. I shouldn't think about it.

-Stop freaking out about anything and everything that has to do with book submission.
I think that's going to require some pretty heavy medication. Otherwise, it's most likely unachievable.

-Come up with an action plan for preparing my novel for submission over the next three months.
I'm working on a fourth draft instead. Is it necessary or am I just avoiding the things I fear? It's a column A / column B kind of thing.

-Try to eat like a sane person, not a third grader.
Let's not talk about it.

All right, well, as shameful as that was, I have reasons to be happy with myself. Well, one reason: I'm working on a short story that I really like after months and months of false starts and ideas that were pretty much dead on arrival. So I've got that going for me. Which is nice.

Here are my goals for March:

- Do my taxes. A perennial source of fun!
- Finish and revise the short story I'm working on.
- Finish rewriting the even chapters of the book.
- Make a choreography for my solo at the Asheville Bellydance Festival gala. COME ON SARA. YOU CAN DO IT.
- Finish the synopsis of the novel and clean it up.
- Write a first draft of a query letter to send to agents.
- Promote my upcoming workshops and events.
- Start getting ready to move by cleaning and getting rid of stuff I don't use or need.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Teaching bellydance, part 2

Resources for New and Aspiring Teachers
If you want to teach, but you're unsure about how to lead a safe warm-up, how to help students avoid injury, how to explain safe alignment, and other such concerns, these resources can help.
If you are a teacher, and you know of a helpful book, website or DVD I haven't included in this list, please let me know in the comments!

Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Calais-Germain
List Price: $29.99
If you are only going to buy one book about exercise science, consider this one. Its companion, Anatomy of Movement: Exercises, includes concrete ways to integrate the concepts into your classes.
This is a clear guide to human anatomy written in layman's terms and heavily illustrated. It's the most helpful book on anatomy I've ever read.

ACE Group Fitness Instructor Manual
NOTE: If you buy this book from the Amazon affiliates I've linked to, it will be much cheaper than buying it from ACE themselves.
This is a comprehensive guide to leading group fitness classes. Were you planning to teach an aerobics class, everything in this book would apply to your goals one hundred percent. Of course, you're not; you're planning to teach a dance class. It's still extremely helpful, but not everything in the book will really apply to your needs. (You probably don't need to know how to lead a class in freezing temperatures, for example.)
It's a large book, and not particularly fun or interesting to read, but it has a lot of very important information that you might not get anywhere else. Topics covered include the biology of exercise, how to lead a warm-up and cool-down, safe stretches for different kinds of exercise, and how to accommodate students with different health issues including pregnancy.

Belly Dancing for Fitness by Tamalyn Dallal
List Price: $14.95
This book is written and marketed as a self-instruction manual for students who want to learn bellydance at home. However, it would still be helpful for anyone who wants to teach beginner classes and is unsure where to start vis a vis lesson planning.

Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young Again with Undulation by Anita Boser
List Price: $24.95
This book is more than what it looks like. The first two chapters provide a fairly comprehensive framework for working with students who are out of shape or in chronic pain. Moreover, it includes a lot of wisdom about spinal alignment, learning to relax, and overcoming stiffness and mobility issues. The rest of the book is dedicated to a series of exercises that work well as light, enjoyable conditioning to help students increase their range of motion and warm up their bodies for class. It's easy to read and many of the exercises are illustrated.

Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery by Eric Franklin
List Price: $30.95
This book is almost the opposite of the ACE manual; it's a treasure trove of information about teaching dance, but not all of it applies to teaching bellydance. However, it's still extremely helpful, especially as a resource for teaching intermediate and advanced students. It's heavily illustrated and includes a ton of exercises to help students increase their body awareness and make their movements clearer and stronger through visualization techniques.

Together with lots of dance experience, these five books would provide a comprehensive basis for any new (or experienced) bellydance instructor.

While you're in research mode, don't neglect to learn about the history and culture of the dance form you're teaching. These two books are a great place to start:
Belly Dance: Orientalism, Transnationalism and Harem Fantasy by Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young
A Trade Like Any Other: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt by Karin van Nieuwkerk

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Teaching bellydance, part 1

I've been getting my thoughts together for some private lessons on teaching. I thought I'd post about it, since I'm trying to organize my mind over it anyway and the easiest way for me to do that is to write.
I've been teaching since 2004, which is not that long. I'm not the final authority on anything. Everything in this article is just my opinion, nothing more.

That being said, let's start at the beginning: making the decision to start teaching bellydance.

Good Reasons to Start Teaching
While there are a million other great reasons to teach, I think if you don't fit into at least two or three of the statements on this list, you might want to reconsider the idea of teaching, at least for now. Continue your training and continue growing as a dancer, then come back to the idea further on down the line.
Some good reasons to start teaching include:
- You have something unique to teach in your local market.
- You have the blessing of your own teacher.
- You have a good amount of experience being a teacher's assistant.
- You have a background in exercise science and/or you have experience teaching other forms of movement.
- You are genuinely excited about the idea of helping other people learn how to dance, even if that means they might take what you've taught them and do it better than you.

Bad Reasons to Start Teaching
There are just as many bad reasons to start teaching. Here are a few.

#1: To make money. Unless you are already well-known in your area and have a fan club of people that are dying to study under you, or you are in an area with no bellydance instructors where people are dying to study under anyone, you will most likely not make money off your classes at first. If you rent space for your classes, you'll probably start off making a loss. If you teach at a fitness center, you'll get paid, but most likely not much. $25/hour sounds pretty good until you realize as a new teacher you should be doing at least 2 hours of prep work outside of class for every class you teach. And you have to pay for gas. And fliers to promote your new classes. And a website. And et cetera. During lean months (August and December come to mind), even established teachers with a solid student base have trouble making money.

#2: To increase your cache in your community. If you have a dance community in your area, you will be competing against established teachers for students. If people don't already respect you as a dancer and a human being, this will not make them feel any better about you. It will not make them take you seriously. In fact, it may make them respect you less. ("Did you hear so-and-so started teaching? But she's only been taking classes for six months!")

#3: To bolster your sense of self-worth as a dancer. What happens when one of your students decides to switch over to someone else's classes (and they will)? Do you want to become one of those psycho bitches who gets all possessive? No. You don't. But if you don't have a strong sense of your own worth that isn't predicated on the number of students you have in any given session, you just might.

#4: Because you've learned all you can from your current teacher. Yeah, that seems like it should be reason enough, but it's really not. In fact, I believe that people who have only studied with one teacher have no business teaching, except to teach as that dancer's assistant. Why? Because without multiple points of reference, when you start teaching, you will be parroting what your teacher taught you. In essence, you'll be putting yourself on the market as a watered-down knockoff of your teacher.
If you've learned all you can from your current teacher, go take lessons with someone else. If there's no one in the area, look up your favorite workshop instructor (you have taken some workshops, haven't you?) and see if they'll do lessons over Skype.

What You Need to Start Teaching
It's a long list.

A lesson plan helps, but it's only a start.
You also need to be able to cultivate a warm, inviting, and respectful classroom atmosphere.
You need to know how to lead a safe warm-up and cool-down.
You need to know how to accommodate students with a history of chronic pain and/or injury.
You need to know how to explain safe posture AND how to recognize when students are in unsafe postures.
You need to be able to recognize when students are executing movements in a potentially harmful way.
You need to feel comfortable giving corrections to students regarding their posture or technique.
You need to be able to explain each movement you plan to teach at least two ways-- the way that makes the most sense to you, and an alternate way in case your students don't understand the first way. (Not everyone learns the same way, so the descriptions and metaphors that worked for you might not work for other people.)
You need to be able to gracefully acknowledge questions you can't answer. ("Well, I'm not sure, but let me get back to you about that next week.") In other words, don't make shit up just to look smart.
Similarly, you need to have the humility to acknowledge the things you aren't ready to teach. For example, I don't teach backbends, because I'm not sure that the way I execute my backbends is entirely safe.

Note how a lot of those requirements have to do with safety. Well, I'm obsessed with safety, partially because I've injured myself doing things that my teachers told me were safe. I never want that to be the experience my students have in my classes.
You may not really care whether or not your students get injured, but remember... people can sue.

It's Not All About You
Your classes should be about your students and your students' experience. Sounds great, right? Well, it is, mostly. The vast majority of bellydance students, just like the vast majority of people in general, are awesome.
And then there are some that are not.
Be prepared to handle the following:
-Occasional psychotic episodes from students; students who are inappropriately confrontational, either with their peers or with you.
-Students who ask questions constantly and, in essence, demand private lesson levels of attention during group classes.
-Students who are vastly more experienced than you showing up to your classes for reasons you can't surmise.
-Students who think they are vastly more experienced than you and attempt to correct or augment your instruction during class.
-Painfully shy students; students who seem totally disinterested; groups of friends who chatter with each other while you're trying to talk to the class.
-Students who take six weeks of classes with you and then try to teach. (Thankfully, this has yet to happen to me, but it's happened to some of my teachers!)
-Students who ask questions such as "How many classes do I need to take before I'll be a professional bellydancer?"
-Students who will do anything not to pay you; students who always have some excuse as to why they can't pay you today; students who steal class supplies such as hip scarves, either accidentally or on purpose.
-Students who talk shit about other students in the middle of class.

As much as it might seem lame and stupid, it helps to have print-outs of class rules and policies on hand at all times. Decide what you think acceptable behavior is for your classes and write it down, then give it to each new student as they arrive. It's much easier to say "you're in violation of the rules so I need to ask you to leave" than "you're acting like a psycho bitch so please go away".

The bottom line is, being a good teacher is hard. You can't ever be prepared for every eventuality, but you should do your best to prepare for things you know will happen.

Students will be self-conscious; you need to be friendly and draw them out of their shell.
Students will do things incorrectly; you need to be able to correct them without making them feel bad.
Students will ask questions you can't answer; when that happens, you need to be able to be humble and tell them "I don't know".

It might sound from what I've said that teaching is just a huge pain in the ass, but if you put the right kind of energy into it, it's extremely rewarding. Seeing your students grow into confident, body-aware, self-possessed dancers is magical. I always tear up when I see my students perform!

I will leave you on that happy note.

In Part 2 of this article, I plan to talk about resources for new teachers, and how to integrate what you're learning into what you're teaching.
In Part 3 of this article, I plan to talk about creating a niche for yourself, understanding the teacher you want to be, and identifying the kinds of students who will mesh with you as a teacher.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New session of classes!

Early Spring Session 2011

This will be a six-week session of classes with no breaks. Classes start on February 26 and run until April 2.
Both classes will take place at World in Motion Dance, Movement and Music Center. Find out more about the studio, class policies, and registration at !

These classes are likely to sell out, so be sure to register as soon as possible!

Fusion CORE (1:00-2:15PM) Fast Moves, Shimmies and Traveling
This session in CORE, we'll be working on a high-energy mix of fast moves from the American Tribal Style vocabulary, fast fusion moves, traveling moves and all different kinds of shimmies! We'll combine these moves into original combinations that would be right at home in your choreographies or group improv.
Students of all experience levels are welcome. You don't need to have previous bellydance experience to join this class.
Expect to see some core and leg conditioning exercises and to receive specific individual feedback.
Drop-ins are welcome, space permitting. The enrollment cap for this class is fourteen students.

Fusion FLOW (2:30-3:45PM) Veil Choreography
In FLOW, we'll learn a fun, fast-paced fusion veil choreography appropriate for anyone who has a little bit of experience under their hip belt. We'll start with the basics of veil technique; you don't have to know how to use a veil in order to join us. I'll have lots of veils available to borrow, so don't worry if you don't have one to bring to class.
Because many veil movements take up a lot of space, the enrollment cap for this class will be eight students.
Expect to receive a lot of individual feedback. Drop-ins are welcome, space permitting, but because this is a choreography class it is recommended that students attend as many classes in the session as possible.

Register online at .
Find more information about class prices and policies at .
Get directions to the studio at .

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Used Bookstore Digs

An attempt at a sort of column.

Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I love cast-offs. My ideal shopping experience involves digging through heaps of crap to find hidden gems. I'd rather have a $30 shopping spree at Goodwill than a $200 spree at the mall, even though Goodwill smells funny and there are no benches in most of the dressing rooms.

The reasons for this are many and varied. Here are a few:
1. I feel much more excited when I find something awesome at a thrift store than when I find something awesome at Target.
2. I do not like being bothered by retail staff.
3. I imagine it's better for the environment to buy things used.
4. I am cheap. I work only part-time and I don't have much money.
5. I am full of latent anti-corporate (not anti-capitalist, mind you) sentiment, so I hate the mall and I hate big box stores.
6. For the very most part, the stuff they sell at the mall bores me to tears.
7. I don't like having the same stuff as everyone else.
8. I live in a relatively affluent area where people like to get rid of new or good-as-new stuff, so I can shop used and still not look like a hobo (unless that's the look I'm going for).
9. I wear a size 8/10, so there's always plenty of stuff for me to choose from. I realize that people of other sizes may not actually have the option of successful thrifting.

The only things I won't buy used are underwear and makeup. However, there are a million blogs about thrifting for clothes, and no one cares what I'm wearing, so I probably won't post about my cheap-ass fashions unless I find something really exciting.

Instead, I bring you USED BOOKSTORE DIGS.

These are the chronicles of my used book purchasing experiences. So gripping. So intense. Possibly of interest if you also live in the area and want to buy books for cheap.

Let's begin!

First Expedition

Location: Mr. Mike's Used Books, Cary NC location
I found this store completely by accident between outings to Chipotle and Trader Joes. (It's in the same plaza as the Cary Trader Joes. FYI.) I can't recommend it enough to anyone who reads SF, horror or fantasy. They have a wonderful speculative section. Everything is well-organized, well-lit, and in good condition. The person on staff was friendly. From what I could tell, all the paperbacks are $4. (Next time you go to Starbucks, think about the fact that you could probably buy a great book from a local business for the same price as your grande whatever.)

What I bought: Threshold by Caitlin R. Kiernan

Why I bought it: It had a picture of a trilobite and an endorsement from Neil Gaiman on the cover. I also like the word "threshold". I can pretty much guarantee that if I had seen a more recent edition of the book, with its updated cover, I wouldn't have bought it. I guess trilobites appeal to me as a reader more than goth girls do, or maybe I'm just tired of emo looking teenagers gracing the cover of like every single book in the genre.

Genre: Horror, I guess?

Spoiler-free reaction: I enjoyed the author's style. It was quirky enough to be unique without veering into the annoying or incomprehensible.
I liked the mix of hard science (geology and archaeology) details and mythological or religious motifs.
I found the characters to be relatable, realistic and compelling.
The setting really sucked me in. It's clear that the author has spent a good deal of time in the South, which is always a plus if you're trying to write about it.
This was not an easy book to read. It's unclear if several scenes actually occurred, if they were psychic visions, if they were just insane hallucinations or some mix of the three. That being said, the level of obtuseness was fine with me. I like ambiguity (to a point). However, I would not recommend this book to anyone who doesn't want to deal with nonlinearity, stories told out of chronological order, or passages that blur the line between reality and dreams.
It didn't give me nightmares, but as I've already mentioned, it was fairly creepy, so don't pick it up if you don't like dark themes or horror.
I liked the ending but kind of hated the epilogue.

Hoard, Resell or Recycle? Hoard. I'll just pretend the epilogue didn't happen.

NEXT TIME: Another book from a different store! Or maybe the same store since I have store credit at this store!

Fourth draft blues

I just realized I haven't posted in over a week, so here's to rectifying that.

The book has me in a funk. I have always oscillated through periods of liking it and hating it, and right now I am in a hater phase.

I am attempting to edit half of the chapters to make the voices of my two narrators more distinct. This means bringing these newly-reworked chapters back to a much less polished phase of production. Although I imagine that this process is necessary or at least beneficial, it's frustrating and discouraging.

I'm not just lazy. It's not that I don't want to work on the manuscript any more. I just have gotten to the point where I can't seem to tell if the changes I'm making are helping or hurting. Sometimes I wonder if I will even be able to resolve the issues I am trying to fix, or if the work has critical flaws that can't be undone.

I've been working on this novel since last April, which doesn't sound like too long (10 months, whatever), but it's been an intense 10 months. I normally work on it for at least 2-3 hours a day, more if I can scrape together the time, and I normally enjoy the work, but it's difficult not to get discouraged sometimes.

In an effort to avoid burnout I'm going to force myself to take a break from it for a few days. I'd like to say I will leave it alone for a week but we all know that isn't going to happen.

In the meantime I am working on a short story. Why am I writing on my break from writing? I don't know. In my free time, I also read and work on dance stuff, but I don't watch television or play video games in my free time any more, and I try to limit the time I waste on the Internet. Mostly I write, think about writing, and bother my loved ones with my writing-related drama. In any case, writing this story feels like a break, so it's a break. So there.

Right now I am happy just to have an idea for a story. I've been searching for one for months, but I kept coming up with stuff that was too complicated to condense into short fiction. I'm hoping this idea is just complicated enough. It's going to be interesting to see how the project turns out.

But back to the book. Here's the thing-- I believe in the story and I believe in the characters. It's everything else I'm not so sure about. But whether or not the writing itself is hackneyed crap, I've gleaned a tremendous amount of knowledge from writing it. Even if there are problems with the manuscript that I will never be able to fix, I will keep writing other things and I will keep trying.

It would make me sad to let this project go, because I am so fond of the characters and the plot. But I'm nowhere near the point of no return, not yet. I'm not ready to give up. I just need a break.

It does feel weird to live in this space, where this project dominates so much of my mental energy, knowing I'm the only one who cares even ten percent this much about it. Even for me, an introvert with a hyperactive imagination and a tenuous grasp on reality-- even for me it's weird.

But I'm used to weird, so whatever.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Cool stuff my friends are up to

I'm hoping to make this a regular blog installment-- hopefully I'll figure out a better name than the above. But yeah, my friends are up to some pretty cool stuff. Check it.

The fabulous Lisa Zahiya started a new blog, A Year of Practice, which chronicles her own resolution to practice every day in 2011 and encourages others to do the same. Practice what? Well, in her case she means bellydance, but the project isn't specific to that alone-- you can follow along in the field of your choice. What would happen if you dedicated thirty minutes a day for the next year to cultivating a skill or working towards a creative goal? We're trying to find out. I'm following along by trying to write or edit at least 1 hour a day, and practice dance for at least 30 minutes every day. WOO!

My friend, student, and MVTest Reader Ginny has also started a very different kind of blog-- one that delivers some pretty fantastic serialized fiction. Follow her writing project at Maybe, Possibly, Perhapsody. Anyone with a penchant for fantasy can pretty much count on getting sucked in immediately-- I know I did!

My friend and mentor Hannan Sultan just released a performance DVD! Having never seen the DVD, I can still tell you it's completely amazing because I was there when she filmed it. Hannan is really a dancer's dancer, and the routines on this DVD show off her amazing technique to great effect. You can buy the show on DVD or on digital rental-- see her website for more details.

And last but not least, my old friend William just wrote a fascinating article about video games for The Escapist that explores the following question: is it a glitch or a value add?