Dancing with Myself: Part 2: The Cons of Self-Study

 

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David of Scandinavia Workshop 2017

While I have primarily done self-study throughout my dance “career” and have found it beneficial, there are a number of drawbacks to only engaging in independent learning. I only get snippets through the occasional workshops I do throughout the year and the couple of class sessions I’ve taken in the last couple of years, but I notice them.

No Feedback

One the downsides of independent study is you don’t get any teacher feedback. If your form is off, or if you’re doing something weird, you have to figure it out on your own, because there’s no one there to correct you. A way to mitigate this is to film yourself dancing a lot and comb over the footage and correct yourself accordingly, but it’s still not the same as immediate feedback from a more experienced dancer.

Lack of Guidance

When you study on your own, you’re…well…on your own. You have to decide how to develop your own program, which can be difficult if you don’t know what you’re looking for. You don’t have the guidance of a teacher to steer you in the right direction. When I started, it was a bit of a struggle to find what fit, because I didn’t know the vocabulary. I didn’t know what words to look for. I gravitated towards Baladi and Shaabi early on, but it took a few years for me to learn the words to be able to seek those things out. For a long time, I confused the two because I found the word Shaabi first, and the dancer was wearing a baladi-style costume.

No Accountability

When you study on your own, you are the only one who can make you practice. There are no classes to ensure you practice on a regular basis. This is why when I do find classes to take, I pay for the entire session in advance. This obligates me to attend. No excuses for not going. I find myself often going through long periods where I don’t practice at all. If I had people to dance with, I feel I would dance more often.

Slower Progress

I feel like I have done well for learning on my own, but I also understand that my progress as a dancer has been slowed because of it. Having been acquainted with the Aalim Bellydance Academy for the last few years, I notice their students progress a lot faster due to the regularity of their practice, access to teachers, and regular performance opportunities. With lack of guidance, accountability, and feedback, you will move slower.

No Community

Ultimately, all of these issues come back to the ultimate drawback to self-study, the lack of involvement with the dance community. That support network isn’t there. All of the aforementioned issues come from this single most important point. Being a baby dancer all alone is really difficult. When you finally do stumble your way into the community, you feel like an uneducated dolt because you don’t know all the words. You don’t know the big name dancers, your dance ancestors, the famous composers. It can be intimidating.

I am grateful that managed to find the community via the workshop circuit. It has improved my dancing a lot even with just the few events I go to each year. I have met countless new friends through these experiences and even found a few classes as a result. While I am pleased with the results of my independent study, if I had had the opportunity to learn with others in the beginning, I would have. If you don’t have the opportunity to learn from a live teacher, or take a class, then independent learning is a great way to get started with exploring this beautiful dance. If you do have the opportunity to take a class, do it. Seriously, you won’t regret it.

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Folklore Cocktail Workshop with Vanessa of Cairo 2016
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Dancing With Myself: Part 1: The Pros of Self-Study

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As I have mentioned before, I am a self-taught dancer. I didn’t exactly choose to learn that way. Lack of access to in person classes when I developed an interest in the dance drove me in that direction. However, I think it’s fair to discuss the pros and cons of self-teaching, as there are positives and negatives, and it’s a style of learning that works well for me. In making my list, I came up with a number of points for both sides, so I’m going to address them in separate posts. For this go round, I’m going to discuss the positives of self-teaching.

It’s Often Less Expensive

Unless you are like me, who buys nearly every DVD I can get my hands on, self-study is going to be less expensive than regular lessons. DVDs and online programs range in price, but generally fall within the $10-$30 (USD) range. You can get hours of study out of a good DVD for that one price, whereas regular classes can range $5-$20 a class depending on the teacher, the size of the class, the venue, and the city. There are also free online options for self-study if one wants to try learning without the investment.

You Move At Your Own Pace

With classes, you are locked into a certain pace, either dictated by the teacher, or often by the less experienced learners in the class. A lot of classes in smaller areas tend to be exclusively beginner level, which can be frustrating for more experienced dancers, or dancers who learn more quickly, as the pace of a class can be slowed by students who take longer to grasp some concepts. Self-study allows a dancer to move at whatever pace suits them. I like to be able to work on a concept as long as I want without feeling like I’m holding up a class, or move on from something I’ve figured out more quickly.

You Make Your Own Schedule

When you’re learning on your own, your learning schedule is whatever you make it. You aren’t bound to specific class times and locations. I have found this aspect especially useful for me, as I work overnights and have a bizarre sleep schedule. I can be studying at 06:00, 15:00, or 02:00 depending on the day and whenever I get a whim to dance.

You Aren’t Confined to One Style

With classes, you are limited to the style that the teacher dances. If there aren’t many PicsArt_08-17-01.48.43teachers in your area, then there may be only one, or possibly two styles to choose from. With self-study you can try out a number of different styles to find what suits you. I went through a number of styles before I settled on Egyptian. I just looked through lists of DVDs and bought the ones that looked appealing and eventually the one that felt most natural for my body finally emerged. I also enjoy the freedom of being able to pick up new styles whenever I want, such as Saidi, or Shaabi, because there are so many programs out there by wonderful dancers.

You Get to Choose the Style of Learning that Works Best for You

Everyone learns differently, and self-study allows you to choose the way that works best for you. I’m a visual learner. I’m more suited to the “monkey see, monkey do” style of learning, so I like to see a movement at full speed rather than a slow breakdown. My brain processes the complete movement more easily than the individual components. I also prefer technique programs over learning through choreography (mostly because I’m terrible at remembering choreography) and prerecorded programs allow me to work that way. Sometimes, I just need to watch a movement or a combination over and over again and then let it percolate in my brain before I try it.

Improvisational Skills

Perhaps I’m biased simply because this is how I dance, but I think self-study can lead to developing improvisational skills earlier in the learning process. Most classes I’m familiar with tend to teach through choreography. Improvisation tends to come later, particularly with studios that do troupe numbers most of the time. Since I was never taught through choreography, I have always improvised. This is a double-edged sword, however, but we’ll get to that in the next post.

These are some of the benefits of self-study that I have noticed over the years for myself. Granted, my experiences with learning via classes and workshops are minimal and only based in the U.S. I’m sure other countries teach differently, particularly in countries of origin. This is not a slam on classroom learning. These are simply positives of the type of learning I have chosen for myself. Next time, we’ll get into the cons of self-study, and subsequently the pros of group learning as a result.

Ma’as salaamah!