Wednesday, 25 January 2017

It's More Than Just A Dance Class

Another term, another manic round of  finding and reminding dancers to register, liaising with the Adult Ed department to try to determine whether there are enough for the class to go ahead (a floating number depending on how many pay which level of fees, which no-one seems able to estimate until at least 10 are registered) and preparing classes.

Then, revising the plans a little due to a change in location (industrial carpeting is horrible to turn on! The ceiling height looks okay - would we hit it if we used canes or Isis wings?) Then ensuring our Facebook group and my website have all the up-to-date information. From an organiser's point of view, whether that's an Adult Education organisation or the teacher themselves, trying to get a class going, chasing up enquiries, booking and checking the venue, marketing, advertising and planning the class, it's all necessary work, but is also unpaid expenses until the class successfully goes ahead.

And then, the day before the class is due to start, I hear that two have failed to pay. So now those who did pay for the term have no class, and no prospect of a class at least before half term, and want their money back (a pain and further sunk costs for the community education centre, although I would probably have gone ahead if it were one of my independent classes). Why the drop-outs? One I now know about; flu' over the holiday season left a harsh cough and such strained intercostals (never mind gasping for breath) that her doctor instructed her to rest for at least the next few weeks. About the other, whom I don't know but who was apparently eager to join the class, I have no idea, and neither does her friend who already comes to class.

We've been here before. A few years ago, a dancer was asked and repeatedly reminded by one of her friends to let her know about the class. She gave her all of the information, each time her friend asked her about it. Eventually, her friend stopped nagging 'let me know' and it turned into a sort of accusatory 'you were supposed to let me know'. Exasperated, the dancer reminded her friend that she had let her know, she had given her all of the information, every time she asked. She'd encouraged her friend to come, reassured her; in fact, done everything short of dragging her friend out of the house, driving her to class and back, and paying for her. All her friend had to do was show up (and pay), but she never did. And although 'but I didn't know about it' was evidently not an excuse, we never knew the real reason why she didn't come.

Nor have I had any sign-ups, or even enquiries, for my independent class. It's 15 miles away, which means no-one from the other class wants to move to that one. I've decided that I'm going to keep that room booking and use the space-time to work on my own technique and choreographies, or perhaps the odd private lesson if anyone wants one.

There has been some interest, but no real commitment, for the collaborative piece I proposed last summer. It seems impossible to get all half-dozen dancers together even for an initial meeting.

WI and other talks/demos bring forth regular comments of 'I would love to' or 'perhaps next term/year', but what stops the wish from being fulfilled is anyone's guess. I chat to the ladies over tea and biscuits at the end of these sessions to try to get to the bottom of that. It's evident from the feedback that belly dance is not what they thought it was, so much so that I now include a 'myth-busting' section in my talk (it's not the preserve of slender, leggy young women, you don't have to bare any flesh/tummies/legs, you don't have to be fit, coordinated or be any good at it to start, it's never too late, ... and so on).

I deplore the idea, which I've heard repeated in adult education circles, that adult 'leisure' courses are mainly for the idle rich, but there may be some truth in it. Belly dancing can be a problematic topic in terms of engaging adults, who can find any number of reasons why not to do something. As always, it probably comes down to personal priorities and more intangible reasons for not wanting a dance class, although belly dance classes are not the only classes which are failing to run through insufficient interest. It seems many really just don't want to learn (or feel they're being taught). I can understand this for those who aren't academic and have just finished full-time education, and there are some who have been put off lifelong learning by their experience of school.

Whatever the reasons for not coming to class (and I've posted an example of this before), there are good reasons for getting out there and continuing learning.

If belly dance itself is more than just jiggling your bottom, then learning to dance is about much more than just dance. That's just the vehicle for learning - it can be a very broad topic, from working on rhythms using finger cymbals to exploring the music, history and culture, or political and feminist issues, to building self-esteem and confidence.

Everyone needs physical activities, even the less able-bodied and it doesn't have to be sport. Just walking a bit more is free and contributes to the recommended minimum of 150 minutes of moderately-paced (that is, it gets you warm and a bit sweaty without leaving you unable to speak!) activity per week. However, dance offers the full package, improving balance, posture, range of body and joint movement, muscle strength and cardiovascular capacity. Belly dance is particularly good for core muscle strength and its benefits for balance, posture and digestion, and is low impact, so kind to ageing joints.

Furthermore, learning involves brain activity, promoting thinking skills, improving concentration and attention span, widening interests and generating ideas. For some, the main enjoyment comes from social interaction,making new friends and reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

I often worry about the future of public sector Adult Education services, not to mention my own work as an independent teacher. When classes close, it can be difficult to get them restarted and the resulting lack of funds can start a vicious circle, reducing the availability of classes. Yes, there is a lot of free information available via the internet, but it's not always a good substitute for being taught in a class with others. So don't wait for things (life, weight, whatever!) to be perfect before you start doing things you might enjoy, because one day when you decide you want a class, it may not be there. Use it or lose it!

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