Beginner class chronicle

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Beginner class chronicle

Post  denismurf on Mon Oct 06, 2008 6:24 pm

What the heck. It might be instructive to write down the progress of the beginner class that started on October 1 offered through North Seattle Community College. It will also give me an opportunity to learn if I can easily drop stuff into these posts. Hearing no objections, here we go.

There are 16 women formally enrolled. Two had big trouble keeping up physically and told me they will probably not return. The oldest of the ones who will probably return are in their 50's; the youngest are in their 20's. I've come to expect that no males will enroll, and that's what happened. As an aside, I did get one guy - Rama from India - in one of the beginner classes I ran in St. Louis. He stuck it out for the entire 8-week series, but didn't return.

The building is a surplus elementary school that's obviously slated for demolition. We dance on the stage of an auditorium. Pretty grungy.

Here's the blurb I drafted for the catalog, slightly changed by the college administrator:

"Ethnic Dances for Fun and Fitness New!
Nonpartner line and circle dances from Ireland in the west to Romania in the north to Armenia in the East to Egypt in the south and many places in between. Includes many fast and crazy and slow and pretty dances that ordinary people do at weddings with an ethnic flavor. Wear light, loose clothing and shoes that won't stick to the floor."

The absence of the word "folk" and the prominence of the word "nonpartner" are intentional.

My wife and co-teacher, Judy, created a flyer that I'll try to post. The centerpiece is a photo of a painting of a village dance scene from a gallery in Greece. If you don't see it here, it didn't work, and I'll try again later.

The dances we did, not in this order, with repeats, were: a dabke, a hasaposerviko, an accelerating horo, a lesnoto, Savila Se Bela Loza, Stara Vlainja, and Misirlou.

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Beginner class week 2

Post  denismurf on Thu Oct 09, 2008 12:40 pm

12 attending, which is great news for a second class with official enrollment up to 17. I expect 4 to drop because they physically can't keep up on the faster dances.

That must mean that I think fast dances are too important to eliminate or slow down. Yep, that's right. I myself don't enjoy a steady diet of slow dances, so I don't do that. I can't teach dances that I don't like, and there aren't that many slow dances that I like. Therefore...

But, I did start out with a slow hora done to an Itzhak Perlman recording. I just did it, with no teaching, and everybody picked it up. Retaught Misirlou; everybody pretty much got it this time. Taught Zemer Atik and the first 2 steps of Pot of Gold.

The importance of flexibility was brought home again. Last week's space was a furnace last night - about 90 degrees. So we just moved to an old former gym down the hall that was much cooler. The group liked it a lot better, so I got us officially moved there.

Also, my ipod froze up about 15 minutes before quitting time. No problem because I also brought along a boombox and CD's containing all the dance music. Next week I might try running the music on my laptop through the boombox instead. It's too bad my minidisk rig started going bad in St Louis. Those were the greatest.

Finally, a few more words on "accessible." Ten of my students clearly have no experience doing this kind of dance. So I stress to them how it's much more important to keep going than to do precisely the legwork and footwork I'm doing. I say that most of them will probably end up doing pretty much what I'm teaching and doing on each dance by the end of the class, but even if they don't, so what? Just don't crash into your neighbors in the line or break their fingers.

That's the same attitude I carried into the weekly party I ran in St. Louis, which included several dances that might be called advanced. If the group decides they'd rather do something in a line instead of the circle that "the book" prescribes, or hands up instead of down, so be it. If individuals feel they'd rather do a little lift than the hop "the book" prescribes, or the other way around, go for it. Who cares? Everybody eventually notices that what I do on the weightless foot on beats 4 and 6 of those standard 3 and 1 dances (bar, horo, hora, dabke, hasaposerviko, etc.) depends on what music we're doing it to and what mood I'm in. Much like what you see ethnics do at their functions. That's the attitude we've decided to call accessible.

Comments welcome.

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Re: Beginner class chronicle

Post  Sonia on Thu Oct 16, 2008 11:20 am

I'm enjoying your chronicle of the class, and I'm looking forward to the next update.

I agree about including fast dances even in a beginner class. I taught an impromptu beginner Balkan dance series at a singing camp this summer, and chose slow dances to start (Lesnoto Oro, Pravo, Mari Marijko). The class members liked it that I started at a very accessible level, but it was also instructive to notice how they lit up when I added some faster dances (Thracian Racenica, Pajdusko).

It was also amazing how fast these singers picked up the dances, despite most of them saying they didn't have dance experience. Maybe we should try recruiting for dance classes among singers!

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Beginner class week 3

Post  denismurf on Thu Oct 16, 2008 11:23 pm

Despite the conflict with the debate, 11 attended. Two of the absentees had said earlier that they'd miss last night but be back. Two who were there last week who we originally expected to be among the 4 dropouts were absent this week, probably for good. So final count should be 13, maybe 12.

There is just nothing like the thrill of watching the lights come on in beginning dancers. With one possible exception, they're starting to believe that they really can detect those beats, move their feet that fast, and go from one pattern right into a totally different one a second after the first one ends. They've also learned that when I say "step on the right foot" while stepping on my left foot, it's OK and kinda fun to holler out a correction.

New this week: pravo, both 6 and 12 beat varieties; Hora Boiereasca; and steps 3 and 4 of Pot of Gold.

In last week's chronicle I used the term "accessible" when I meant "inclusive." Sorry. I'm having trouble keeping our own terminology straight.

If anybody reading this is running a beginner class too, I'd sure like to hear how you're doing.

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Beginner class 4

Post  denismurf on Thu Oct 23, 2008 7:04 pm

Wow, halfway through already. As expected, enrollment has settled in at 13, with a couple absent each time.

I introduced syrtos and Lo Brisa Pe and continued to work on pravo and Pot of Gold. They now have everything else under control and are having fun overall.

As in earlier classes, syrtos and the 12-beat pravo present difficulties to over half the learners. Judy and I speculate that my words are interfering with the process. If anybody has a consistently successful way to teach these to "everybody" quickly, I'm listening. I don't plan on introducing any more challenging dances until they master syrtos and pravo. At this point, by "challenging" I mean Mayim, done to the traditional recording and also to a cool modern version sent to me by Loui Tucker.

One of the students turns out to have danced this stuff 30 years ago in college. Last week, she hummed a melody to see if'd recognize it. It was Dospatsko. Last night, we did it with her before and after the class. I swear I thought I saw tears come to her eyes when she remembered it all the second time. Then she asked about Kopachka - arguably the best Balkan dance ever. BUT, I told her that even though I was in a troupe that performed it, that was 35 years ago, and I probably couldn't do it at full speed any more even if I could remember the steps. So much for Kopachka.

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Week 5

Post  denismurf on Fri Oct 31, 2008 11:06 am

Yikes. Theater season has started, and we were down to 9, with notice from a couple that they can't be there next week.

Good news, though, is that the ones who came are almost home with pravo and syrto. As with my previous classes, about a fourth just take a long time to pick these up. I suspect I'm doing something wrong, saying or doing something that makes them harder than they really are.

New this week were Karabiberim and Port Said, which are basically the same, but to radically different music. I've never seen these done anywhere except St. Louis. Anybody else heard of them?

Preliminary feedback confirms opinions from earlier classes that what the students like above all is my enthusiasm. Good thing, because that's mainly what I bring to the table. Oh, and wearing white shoes. Also, based on replies from about half, nobody heard about the class from our neat flyer.

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Weeks 6 and 7

Post  denismurf on Thu Nov 13, 2008 1:04 pm

We left town right after #6, so missed a week here.

The final count of people who will make it all the way to the end next week is 9. Along the way we lost the 4 oldest and the 3 youngest (age 20 something) enrollees. We know the older ones just couldn't keep up. Only 2 of the younger ones showed up for the 2d class. When only one came to the 3d, I suspected that would be her last too, and it was. I presume they didn't want to do a recreational activity primarily with women the same age as their mothers.

Once again, it's college-educated white women in their 40's and 50's who come to my classes and enjoy themselves and each other enough to stay. Sure, it would be nice to have a broader demographic range, but I'll happily take what reality gives me.

The last dance I formally taught was Mayim. All picked it up right away. There are still a couple who don't quite have syrtos or the 12-beat pravo, but we still have one more week to get that done. I did toss in Sta Dyo, Slow Hora, and Tsamiko with no formal teaching.

Judy has created a fantastic DVD that shows me teaching and the class doing our dances. Each is separated by a screen containing a map of the country the dance is from, the national flag, and a brief description of the dance.

The community college has now scheduled a followup class starting in January. Most of the current class say they'll sign up. Wouldn't that be nice?

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Class finished

Post  denismurf on Thu Nov 20, 2008 10:47 pm

We wrapped it up last night with 7 of the originally 16 enrolled. Two others lasted though 6 sessions. They got a CD with music for 15 dances officially taught and a DVD with shots of them doing all of them and a few brief clips of me teaching. Judy made the DVD as a Mac learning project, and it was a spectacular production that we'll adapt as a publicity tool later.

Even though there were plenty of smiles and high-fives, most of the ladies seemed to treat the event as the end of a big challenge they had overcome. They still looked so serious much of the time. I forget that it took me 3 or 4 months after my first kolo to get to the point where I actually smiled and relaxed most of the time while dancing.

All of them recognized the huge progress they had made since that first night, but I have no idea who, if any, will return for another series, which starts at the end of February, not the end of January as expected. That's a lot of time to maintain memories, even if they are fond. I think it will depend on whether they've forged some social bonds based on the class. That's the way it worked in St. Louis.

I'll post an update here in February and welcome your questions and comments in the meantime.

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Seriousness

Post  Sonia on Fri Nov 21, 2008 6:51 pm

Congratulations on what sounds like a great class, Denis!

When I was teaching my impromptu beginner class this summer, I told them that mistakes were part of learning, and we were all there to have fun, and that the worst consequence of a mistake was bumping into a neighbor. That seemed to help them relax.

It seems like, as adults, we forget that physical learning takes time, and we castigate ourselves for not achieving perfection on the first try. For my own learning, I adopted a policy of (silently) cheering when I get a new step right, rather than yelling at myself when I get it wrong again. I have a better time, and I think I learn faster, too. I've been known to cheer out loud, too...

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