July 29, 2010

Not bad for a white girl

So what would you do if someone asked you to come teach a class that was an Arabic folkloric class to a group of students in an Arabic language/culture program with the possibility of an Arabic professor either watching or participating in the class? For someone like myself who is uber-Caucasian, I had to take a deep breath and say, 'sure, I can do that'. Although I have taken my share of folkloric dance classes and have studied with some really amazing teachers, I really was worried that I would not be able to represent the culture and dance in an appropriate manner. I got the gig from another dancer who had all the confidence in the world in me…but apparently I didn't get that memo. I've taught debke to my students, have done debke in public settings…but I was still a bit worried. So I did what most people would do in this situation. I crammed!

I went on a three day Google/YouTube rampage and downloaded about twenty new songs. Each night I sat at the computer trying to really immerse myself in the dance steps and movements in a short time. The funny thing is, I wasn't learning anything particularly new. There were some nuances I had not considered, some great combinations, some really amazing dancers, but nothing really new. And somewhere in the midst of my self-imposed panic I realized that I did, indeed, know enough to teach this class. Once I allowed myself to recognize my own skills and ability I was able to think about structuring the class like any other class I teach, which is pretty simple. Start with an overview, breakdown basic movements, teach a short combination or two and then practice. *whew* HUGE sigh of relief when that clicked in.

So why all the angst? Not sure…perhaps it had more to do with my perception of my own skills in relationship to this dance style. A couple of years ago, I took a workshop from Michelle Joyce. Not only is she a great dancer, but a really wonderful teacher. Her style and teaching philosophy really resonate with me. At one point she talks about the four stages of learning. The first one she calls, unconsciously incompetent, where we basically think we're hot shit but have no clue how little we know. Then, we move into the consciously incompetent phase where that self-awareness slips in and suddenly we realize that there are a lot of people much better and more skilled than we are. With any luck we move to the unconsciously competent phase where we're hitting our stride but don't quite realize it. And then, it's off to the consciously competent phase where we understand and can appreciate our abilities.

My angst was due to living in that unconscious incompetence stage. Luckily, I realized that a couple days before I taught the class which helped me feel much more relaxed and excited. As it turns out, the class was a group of students who had very little exposure to debke and several of them were, shall we say, rhythmically challenged. What they lacked in one area, they made up for in enthusiasm and exuberance so I had a blast! My favorite part was dancing to the music and feeling completely at home with the movements and music. Score one for the white girl!

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