Be a Smart Workshop Shopper

by Qamar (Heather Emerson)

The belly dance community of New England is very, very fortunate in its wealth of workshop opportunities. Don't believe me? Just ask dancers who have moved out of the area, or chat with a dancer from out of town. We have an increasing variety of workshop opportunities in a myriad of styles offered every weekend. We also have limited funds and limited time. Unless you have perfected being in two or three places at once, what is a dancer to do?

First, think carefully about the teacher or teachers presenting. This is, to me, the most important element in this whole list and it has two aspects:

Availability of the teacher(s)

How rare is this teacher? Is it someone local that you could study with at another time or who might be teaching again soon? Is it someone from away but who is making the rounds regularly and may be available at another nearby location in the next year or two? Is this someone who rarely ever or has never come to the area and isn’t likely to again? Is this someone who may be retiring soon? If this is a rare opportunity or one that may not came your way again, move it up your list!

Value of the instruction to you

Of course your event organizer is sponsoring this workshop because she feels this teacher has something to offer her the community. If you are going to invest, however, you want to be sure that you are getting the most for your money. Research workshop presenters - look at websites and videos, look into background, qualifications, and experience. Check in with other dancers either in person or on-line - have they studied with this teacher? What was the teaching style - or was it lacking? Just because someone won the “Best Wiggle in Wiggleburg” contest or has an amazing performance skill doesn't mean she or he is going to be a great teacher. There is no “Consumer Reports” for belly dance, and everyone has different styles of learning, so you need to do your own due diligence to know if this is the right workshop for you.

Then, you need to get organized:

Plan in advance

Any workshop planner knows that dates have to be reserved far in advance - teachers scheduled, studios or theaters reserved, and dates declared so other planners can schedule around them. Your time and money are valuable, too. When a workshop notice goes up that you think might interest you (you can look far in advance on Belly Dance New England's calendar!) pencil in a note on your calendar. If you aren't ready to commit immediately, at least you've given yourself the option. Be sure to note time, cost, and deadlines!

Set your learning goals for the year

What skills do you want to work on? Are you working on basic technique? Looking to expand your knowledge of a particular type of dance - Turkish? Tunisian? Tribal? Do you want to add a prop to your skill set? Do you like working on choreography or are you looking for combos or moves to add? If you set a few goals for each year, you can focus your workshop selections on meeting those goals and feel great about your accomplishment. Be aware of your level of dance, but unless it is specified, don't be afraid to challenge yourself - you are going to learn for yourself, not compete with the other students!

Set a time and monetary budget

You may not know exactly what you can spend in the upcoming year, but you can try to think about time and money you are willing to invest. How many multi-day events can you realistically commit to? How much travel are you willing to do? When are you performing or rehearsing? Don't overbook yourself - this is supposed to be rewarding, not overwhelming. Also, when you overbook yourself you often end up having to cancel going to an event. This means you could lose your deposit or full cost for the workshop. Note that, while you can often get a refund, this can really hurt an event organizer.

Regardless of your time and financial budget, do take workshops! You have invested in classes, you have invested in costumes - dance is who you are! Be you a seasoned professional or a wide-eyed beginner, workshops will help keep your dance mind expanding by adding to your dance vocabulary and background knowledge. Just as importantly, workshops with new teachers tune up your technique and keep your dance fresh and rewarding for you and your audience. Dance is a journey of life-long learning - don’t get stalled!