The Belly Dance Trainer (BDT) certification program is based on the idea of continuous improvement. It uses the following formula:
- Continue cycle ad infinitum
“Plan” comes from your lesson plan. It tells what your end goal is and how you plan to reach it. Your work is not random. You plan your work and work your plan. In the beginning there is no room for innovation because you won’t be able to measure your results unless your work and results are reproducible.
“Do” means that you execute your plans. You can’t just be a person of ideas. You have to put your ideas into action. Do them as you envisioned it. Action is what brings ideas to life.
“Check” means that you use your assessment to see both how well you students are reaching the learning goals and to evaluate how well your lesson plan is doing at helping you reach your teaching goals. You are evaluating whether or not you executed the plan as written. Did your tools help? Did you need additional tools? Did you have the skills to do the job properly? How was your time management? How is the plan itself? Did you accomplish what you set out to accomplish? Did your students need more basic skills in order to effectively do what you wanted them to do? Was the work too easy? How many of the students “got it”? Of those that did not get it, did they have something in common or were their problems more random? Was the lesson plan appropriate to the level of students that attended? Was it complete?
This is a very important step in continuous improvement. If you skip this, your progress may be slower, inconsistent, or non-existent. We have all seen dancers who look exactly the same year after year. This is why. They don’t “check” and “act” (the next step).
“Act” means taking corrective action to correct for the things you found during the Check stage. If you feel that you had too much material in the time given, you cut back. If you feel that some students didn’t have the appropriate prerequisite skills to succeed, you may want to create a pre-entry assessment or create a lower level class. If you realize that acquiring a tool would make things go more smoothly, get it.
“Continue” means that you keep doing this cycle over and over. Each time you do it, you should find ways of improving it. Even if there is only a 1% improvement from one cycle to the next, by the time you have done it ten times, you now have a 10% improvement. If you have a ten percent improvement one time, a five percent improvement the next time, and a two percent improvement the third time, you have a 17% improvement over three cycles. I can guarantee that a person who doesn’t have a plan and doesn’t do all of these steps each time doesn’t get that type of momentum and growth. Why not put this formula to work for you and boost your studio productivity?
When you have an open house, you want to create a good impression. Make people feel welcome so that they will come in. If you want them to stay a while, you have to make it easy to find things and pleasant to be there.
Your website is just the same. It is your unique space that reflects who you are. It sends an impression of what you do, how you do it, and what it is like to work with you. It’s your one shot to make a connection.
When a prospective customer pulls up to an open house, the first thing they take in is the overall appeal of the outside. What’s the neighborhood like, the yard, the overall appearance of the outside of the house. This is what we call “curb appeal.” If it looks appealing from the outside, it increases your chance that they will come in.
This is your main page of your website. You want it to be neat, trim, color coordinated, and have a single overall theme. Pictures are like your landscaping. They pretty the place up. Too much, too flashy, or too unkempt a look is NOT appealing. Keep it simple. Your navigation buttons are like your walkways. They lead your prospects to where they want to go. If it isn’t clear what your site contains or how to get there, your prospects may just drive on by without stopping.
Once the prospect is inside, you want to give them a feel for who you are and what you offer. After all, they are considering buying YOU! So, show them pictures that put you in your best light. Don’t use photos with poor lighting, ill-fitting costume, weird facial expressions, or things that appeal to a small sector of the population. I am not saying you can’t use your favorite snake shot. If you decide to do that, just confine it to one small shot and use more generic ones for the rest of the site.
Content is still king. People want their questions answered quickly. If they don’t find what they are looking for quickly on your website, they will move on. Content also gives people a reason to stay and browse. If they see an interesting article headline, they may read it. And the next one. And the next one. The longer they stay, the better your chances of forming a relationship. Give them what they are looking for.
What you don’t want ANYWHERE are messy graphics that are hard to read, tons of fonts and colors in your text (think “tacky Christmas lights”), irrelevant content, rants, or too much on one page (think “sensory overload”). Keep it clean and simple. You want them to be able to have a sense of who you are and what you do and then plop that into their vision of what they want. If you create too rigid/clear a picture of yourself, they may not be able to imagine you at their event. Leave room for the imagination.
Booker T. Washington said, “Most leaders spend time trying to get others to think highly of them, when instead they should try to get their people to think more highly of themselves. It’s wonderful when the people believe in their leader. It’s more wonderful when the leader believes in their people! You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.” What kind of leader are you?
Whether you are a belly dance teacher, troupe leader, or solo professional, you ARE a leader. You lead students, a group of belly dancers or stand out as the representative for what belly dance is in your community. When people see you, you are belly dance! You may not have asked for this responsibility, but it comes with the territory. So once again, I ask you, “What kind of leader are you?”
If you are not sure, ask yourself:
Do I Provide Clear Instruction on How to Succeed?
Without clear guidelines it’s difficult to gauge progress. Students may struggle with the same problems over and over never improving. Students may not know what is wrong or how to fix it. Belly dance students may not know what “good” or “bad” looks like.
A good leader travels the same path that she would have her students travel. She is a living example. The path is clear so that everyone knows when they are on it. If one should fall off, it’s easy to return to it. The path has enough detail that students can reasonably fill in the blanks, but not so much detail that it becomes inflexible. This path provides a foundation upon which all learning occurs. It makes sense. It goes from A to B and is a reflection of the leader’s vision.
Do I Motivate My Students to Stay on Track?
It’s not enough to have a plan and clear instruction. A good leader also motivates belly dance students to do well. The easiest way to do this is to praise success. I have seen many teachers who praise everything. This isn’t effective because it isn’t praise that creates excellence, but praise for doing well. Once that goal is reached, give praise when they hit the next one. It’s a delicate balance. If you praise too rarely, students may not have the motivation to continue on. If you praise too much, students may not grow. If you praise for things that are not accomplishments, students will stagnate. With the right praise, progress is swift and continuous.
Red flags are negative reinforcement or deliberately avoiding praise when it is due. If either of these things occur, it could be a sign that the desire is to have students who believe in the leader not themselves.
Do I Demonstrate Consistency and Integrity?
The standards that we have for ourselves and others should be the same. Empowering leaders live the example they want others to follow. If you say that you believe in fair pricing, how do you demonstrate that? By what standards do you advance your students? What criteria do you use to assign solos? Do you treat people the way you want to be treated?
Do I Encourage Creativity?
It’s easier to follow a tried and true path than to blaze your own trail, but at some point students with a sound foundation will want to incorporate what they know with what they love. This should be encouraged. Growth requires expansion. Not all efforts will be good, but the confidence that comes from trying irreplaceable.
Do I Welcome Questions, Criticism and Self-Reflection?
It’s easy to get comfortable in a position of leadership. It’s probably natural to want to protect that image, but if you don’t allow questions, criticisms and self-examination, you will likely find yourself stagnating. Just as your followers need creativity and growth, so do you. Questions and criticism are tools for growth. If you find something wrong or not as good as it could be, address it! Even if it turns out that there is nothing wrong, the questions may lead you to see things in another way or open up a new direction. When you aren’t afraid of questions, you show your students that they shouldn’t be either. This creates an attitude of lifelong learning.
Do I Have a “We” vs. “Me” Attitude?
When you think in terms of the team, it’s easier to encourage, guide, and improve because the wins and losses are more personal. When one does well, everyone is lifted. When one has a disappointment, you have the strength of the team to help you bounce back.
Being in a position of power or having an audience does not make one a leader. Demonstrating leadership does. You can always use your position to build up yourself, but the only true way to make a difference is to share yourself with others. Nobody gets to the top by themselves. When you help others to reach their dreams, when you smooth the path for others to follow, the rewards extend much deeper than any trophy, pay check, thank-you note.
Are you frustrated with your dance progress? Is your creativity on the down swing? Do you have big goals that never seem to get any closer to reality no matter how much work you put in? Maybe you are like I was. Maybe you are limited by techniques that can only get you so far.
Like most of you, I was hooked on belly dance from the first class. I didn’t know it yet, but there was something unique about belly dance that kept me coming back week after week. Every class we’d do a warm-up, then moves. I got to watch some of the next class of more experienced dancers also learn choreographies. With my second teacher, it was the same thing. We’d do a warm up, then basic movements, and then learn some choreography. In addition, I danced almost every day on my own. It was all very fun, but once I had mastered the basic steps, I felt I was ready to teach because I knew I wasn’t really learning anything new. What a fool I was!
So, I started teaching and went on a self-study track. I went to every workshop within a reasonable driving distance for the next few years and sponsored over 30 events myself. While I learned stylistic nuances, costuming differences, and increased the width of my dance and cultural knowledge, I hit a glass ceiling I could not get beyond because my foundational skills were lacking. When I say, “foundational skills” I am not talking about moves, combinations and choreography. Those are the basic building blocks of dance and of teaching dance, but if that’s all you have, you will always be a beginner. No, you need something more.
Don’t be held back by ignorance like I was
What you need to get ahead is the when, how, and why. Moves and combinations do not make a dance. You definitely need more than that to dance well. With choreography, you do something because the choreographer said so. You might learn a bit about dance from doing things this way, but that technique is very hit and miss. For example, I saw a professional level dancer free styling at a hafla who could barely string two moves together. How could it be that someone who had danced so wonderfully earlier that day was now struggling to keep a beat while transitioning between a few moves? I’d guess that she never learned the when, how and why.
Oh, you might think, “I can choreograph just fine and I never dance without it.” That’s what I used to think. Unfortunately, I didn’t know enough to know that my choreography was crap. I didn’t know the when, how and why, so I just put together some cool moves and was careful to not be too repetitive and called it a day. My students even performed those choreographies in public! ACK!
Yep, when we don’t know what we don’t know, it’s easy to make mistakes like that
You might say, “I am an improvisational artist. Choreography doesn’t interest me.” I am primarily an improvisational artist too, but there is good improv and bad improv. If you know the when, how and why, you will not only be able to be more successful at giving your audience a satisfying performance every time, you will know why you got the results you got and what you can do to improve poor performances an repeat good ones. Success never again has to be random.
If there is no other reason for learning the when, how and why, I’d say that is it. Nothing will help you improve faster than that.
So what is the when, how and why?
When tells you when you do a thing. Sometimes you get an idea or see something somewhere and you just want to use it, but it’s not always a good idea. For instance, how many of us have seen a dancer use a zeffa for a drum solo? Or what about the old random Khaleegi hair toss for no reason? Generally speaking those things are not good choices because they are stylistically wrong, but dancers make choices that are musically wrong and artistically wrong as well. (I am not saying that these are hard and fast rules because a highly skilled dancer can break rules effectively if she understands the when, how and why – just look at famed choreographer Bob Fosse!)
How is not about technique although technique is very important. It’s about the quality of movement that you use in any given time. Haven’t you seen dancers dance with the same intensity all the way through a song? Listen to a song, any song. Music generally doesn’t move at the same pace or same volume from start to finish, not even pop, which is about as structurally simple as it comes. It dives and jumps. It quivers and whispers. It rolls and yells. If your dance isn’t following the structure of the music, it’s not as effective as it could be.
Why is about understanding the reasoning behind the choices. If you have a good understanding of why, you will tend to make sound choices most of the time. When you experiment, you will be able to identify what works and what doesn’t. When you bomb, you will have a good idea of what went wrong and how to fix it. You will also know when to leave something out which can be as important as when to put it in.
The BDT Dancer/Teacher has the holistic edge
Most dancers are drawn to either technique (body) or improv (heart), so they teach primarily technique or improv. This creates students who are well developed in one sphere. A handful of dancers can do both well. Doing both well doesn’t make you slightly better. It exponentially increases your ability. Learning the BDT way adds the head piece which, when combined with application, will catapult you to the stars!
It wasn’t until I got involved in competition that I really started to look at what made one dancer and one routine better than another. Before that I cared, but I didn’t have the same skin in the game as I did when my students were being judged. I found out that it doesn’t have to do with beauty, make-up, costuming, or the fame of the choreographer or teacher. It has to do with the dancer’s knowledge and artistic application of that knowledge. It has to do with when to do a thing, how to do it, and why. The skillful application of those things can make a basic performance bring a tear to your eye. It can mean the difference between the flat delivery of a flawless choreography and a standing ovation. It can mean the difference between getting the same feedback year after year in competition and coming home with a win.
If you want to give yourself the edge, study with me. If you can’t do that, get Beyond Moves, Combos and Choreographies
The concepts in Beyond Moves, Combos and Choreographies are the glitter that makes the steps shine.
I know it’s a bold claim, but it worked for me and can work for you. I can say this because fourteen of my student won 46 awards between 2002 and 2007 using these techniques. (I stopped teaching weekly classes in 2007). Every single one of them improved tremendously. The best part about it is that it’s not something that relies on you going to class week after week, month after month, year after year. Once you have the knowledge, it’s yours forever to use to reach whatever heights that you desire.
Not sure if this will benefit you?
The more times you said “yes,” the more you can benefit from this book.
Still not convinced? Here is what some Amazon reviewers had to say:
“I purchased this book because I wanted new ideas on teaching concepts — beyond just how to move — in my bellydance classes. What I received was an absolute treasure trove of ideas, games, exercises, things to look out for, new ways to describe concepts, and even coverage of concepts that I had never thought to include in my classes. I am so pleased with this book!” ~A. Niehaus
“I highly recommend this book for bellydance instructors. It would probably also provide some interesting exercises for a dancer working on her own…” ~Annya
“I highly recommend this book… It Raq’s!” ~Corinna
” Seriously, the best book I’ve ever bought for lesson plans. Love it.” ~Marguerite Abaddonais
Would you let $30 and a little effort stand between you and belly dance success? No? Then click here to order now.
* For best results, work with a buddy so that you can do the team exercises and ALWAYS utilize the assessments. Doing the exercises without the assessments significantly reduces the benefit. If you want more help, I am available for mentoring via skype or email to give you feedback on how you are doing.
Katharine Hepburn was right on the money when she said, “What makes you a star is horsepower.” She should know. Her career lasted 60 years and earned her twelve Academy Award nominations and four Oscars for Best Actress. I’d say that Katharine Hepburn had horsepower.
It’s too late to ask her just what she meant by that, but my experience tells me that it means you need consistent effort. Little gains in basic skills, technique, artistry, musicality, stage presence, make-up, power, fitness, and subtlety can make you into the Little Engine That Could.
Think about it. How many dancers do you know who have come and gone? If you’ve been around a while, you will know quite a few. Life happens. I am not saying that that is a bad thing, but if you don’t stick with it, you can’t get very far.
Lack of horsepower also shows up in dancers who don’t evolve or grow. Despite having years invested in the dance, they are just okay. Not everyone wants to be or is meant to be a star. Again, this is not a criticism of anyone. Love of dance is a huge reason to be in it, after all. However, love alone won’t get you to the top. You need diligent effort that is focused on forward movement. We can all learn a lot from people who have achieved greatness in their field, whatever field that may be.
Take it from Katharine Hepburn. Start your engines, keep ‘em running, and move a little further each day. You will soon have horsepower too.