Written by: Amara Sayid
In the dance room, there are several ways to rock it. Here are just a few pointers to be a great student not only for your mentor, but also for your peers!
1. Arrive on Time. In Miami, this is almost a laughable concept, as we are all guilty of running on Latin time, but please do your best to walk in before the class starts. We all have to brave the traffic, so plan ahead and pack your clothes in your dance bag the night or morning before. It is a disruption to the dance environment to hear the door swing open and see someone walking in. If you can't help it, however, please let your instructor know ahead of time so things can run as smoothly as possible.
And please, if you walk in late, save the joyous greeting for when you're on a water break. Walk in quietly. When I was late I would give my friends a silent wave and save the big hug and kiss for when we got a breather.
2. Listen. I am the first one to admit that when I am taking class or a workshop, I like to joke around and have fun. But when the teacher is speaking, my ears perk up. Your instructor has accumulated years of experience and knowledge and wants to share that with you. If your goal is to harness your potential as much as possible, listen to what they're telling you. Apply it to yourself even if it isn't directed right at you. Dance teachers give tips to the room when they see that a majority of the group needs to work on something. If the dance shoe fits, wear it!
3. Don't take corrections personally. If your teacher is taking the time to give you one-on-one feedback (which is very hard in a room full of dancers), keep an open heart and take it for what it is: they are trying to help you. To be a dancer you need thick skin. You'll hear things that make you want to cringe, but at the end of the day, your mentor is trying to push you to reach the potential that you don't see in yourself yet. We get no pleasure by singling someone out, so please keep in mind that if that happens, we're only doing it because we know you can do it, and we care.
4. Give each other space. Some students like to stand front and center during class. Personally, I prefer the sides. Here I can see the teacher's full movements and expressions without obstruction. If you do prefer the center, please don't stand there with your arms crossed before the class has even started. There's no need to be territorial, the dance room has enough space for all. There is enough of your teacher for everyone!
If you get really into a movement, be mindful of the girls around you. You are dancing together. There's nothing like slapping your wrist against another dancer full force while mid-turn to remind you about spacing. It happens. But next time, be aware.
5. Ask Questions. Oh-em-gee, do I love questions! They keep the class interactive and chances are that there's another dancer that has the same question but is too shy to speak up. When a group is quiet and doesn't even respond to a "How are you doing?", the teacher starts to feel a little awkward. When you are enthusiastic, smile and respond to questions, or ask questions, then the class is more fun for all. As a teacher, I don't like dictating information to students, I like to have a conversation.
Now, this doesn't mean that you should be interrupting the teacher mid-sentence constantly during class. You wouldn't do that to your boss at work or in an academic school setting (at least I hope not!). The same goes in the dance room. Raise your hand if you have a burning question. If you have several questions, wait until the teacher pauses for questions and take advantage of that time to ask as much as you want. Please don't wait until the class is over to approach the teacher about a movement, use the class time so everyone can benefit from the breakdown.
6. Respect Your Instructor. This sounds like common sense, right? Rolling your eyes during a correction, yawning, chewing gum, answering your cell phone in class, telling a teacher you can't do that, giving up, walking out, bringing guests to class, talking back after a correction, demanding a spot in a choreography/troupe/teaching program or telling a teacher that they HAVE to give you special attention is incredibly disrespectful.
If you trust your dance teacher, you should trust that opportunities will be presented to you when you are ready. If something happens in class that you are unhappy about, please talk to them privately about it after class.
Your dance teacher is your mentor, not your friend. Can friendships emerge? Of course. But if they don't blossom into what you wanted them to, that doesn't mean your teacher hates you and you should scorn them, the school, their dog, and their whole existence. Mentors deserve respect, and boundaries are set for the benefit of the school and all of its participants. Getting too chummy can lead to people losing sight of this and crossing lines that one should NEVER cross with anyone. My mom has a great phrase in Spanish that says, "Once you've lost respect, you've lost everything." Treating your dance mentor with the same reverance you'd treat your boss at work is a wonderful way to keep your relationship as happy and healthy as possible.
7. Applaud for Demonstrators. Sometimes you're feeling yourself in class and the teacher asks you to come to the front to demonstrate the movement you've just done. Enjoy it! Do what you did before. You're doing great and your mentor has noticed. If you're watching someone demonstrate, please applaud when they're done. Your chance to demonstrate relies solely on you.
8. Give Your All During Class. Even if you feel shy, or aren't comfortable with a combination or choreography yet, smile. Emote. Express. You're having fun, aren't you? Let the teacher know by flashing that beautiful smile. The dance room is a safe haven, allow yourself to let go. The class and your technique will be better for it.
9. Don't Leave Early/Walk Out. If you have an emergency or a reason to go, please tell your instructor before class begins that you'll be stepping out. And please: never storm out in a fury if something upsets you. The stormed exit is very rude and it hurts the morale of the rest of the group. Your teacher never walks out on you. You owe it to your group to stick it out, and to your mentor to tell them what's going on. Most of the time it's a simple misunderstanding.
10. Respect Your Peers. Come into class ready to absorb information like a sponge. There's a lot of things that you will go over in one class. And remember, you are a student. It is not your place to correct another dancer in the room or tell them to move over for whatever reason. If your fellow dancer asks you to clarify something, direct them to the teacher or ask the teacher yourself. Don't have a mini class right there. No one will know the combination better than the person who created it. Your peer may not know the movement correctly and can teach you it in the wrong way.
And please remember, you are not in competition with your teacher or your dance peers. You are only in competition with the dancer you were when you first started. Have patience with the learning process. It takes many years to hone technique and develop your signature style. Once you lose sight of the educational aspect and focus on "being the best" or comparing yourself to others, you've lost the essence of this dance. We are all students, we are all learning, and we are in this together.
These 10 tips are just the tip of the iceberg but if all points are followed, you are sure to have a fun and rewarding time in whatever class you take. My goal as a Middle Eastern dance teacher is to make sure you all feel as beautiful as you look, have fun, and grow as performers. Let's smile and shimmy our hearts out, yallah!