Making Workshops Meaningful

October 5, 2017 at 5:05 am

Workshops are a time to focus on your training needs

In a recent discussion about workshops, I got to thinking about the purpose of workshops, how they are attended and who attends them and what the usual results often can be. The truth is, I meet a lot of students and dancers rushing around trying to catch every trendy workshop, or be seen taking from the latest fad teacher, but they don’t bring much out of the workshop, because it wasn’t what they REALLY needed.

Students and dancers are often so busy rushing around trying to add to their movement repertoire alone, or wanting to be seen, that they don’t realize that workshops can actually be more useful if deliberately and carefully selected as tools for working on strengths and weaknesses and for targeting specific developmental areas if chosen well and wisely.

Then, of course, the hard part: to take the materials you have learned and work on them for a period of time until they are mastered. I’ve seen too many students and dancers attend a workshop, grab a handful of movements and then try to toss them into their next routine before they have carefully worked out how to fit the movement to their own body, how to show it to its best advantage, whether it fits the routine they are presenting, and even whether they are executing it correctly or not.

The point of a workshop is to expand on what you already know, improve a specific movement set or improve your technique, target an area of weakness or enhance a strength, or occasionally, to introduce yourself to, or acquaint yourself with, a new movement set or style. You can also attend workshops to observe and experience working with another instructor, discover some of your weak areas you didn’t know you had, or enjoy a day that refreshes or reinvigorates or inspires you again.

But I find that too many dancers and students attend workshops due to emotional excitement rather than focused improvement. Often, they feel pressured to attend because everyone else is, or because they want to “keep up” with the latest fad or trend of dance instruction. There is a singular reason for this: too many alternative dance students and dancers fail to recognize that dance is as much craft as it is “passion”.

Alternative dance forms are seldom put under the microscope of adjudication. Most students, indeed too many instructors, don’t understand dance standards and don’t apply them in their classrooms or performances. Most alternative dancers don’t seem to feel that dance standards apply to all forms of dance, including their own.

This failure of understanding is what keeps alternative dance outside the mainstream forms of movement disciplines, limits opportunities and allows poor dancing to be presented to the public. The demand that “passion” count more than technique does more harm than good.

Yes, passion is important. But in order to bring your passion to its best level, you must discipline and train the body.

But the issue goes further than this. Too many of those in alternative dance don’t see the need to perform at their best level- they are satisfied with just putting on a costume and “dancing”. I have heard alternative dance students and even performers say they don’t practice, they don’t work on weak areas and they don’t pay attention to their teachers words because “I don’t want to”, or “I don’t have time”, or “It’s too much work”..

If this is your attitude or perception, do the real dancers and the dedicated students a favor: put on that costume and dance in your living room, NOT on a public stage to a public audience. Or dance at your class recital. Or go dance at a hafla in which the audience is primarily friends, family and fellow students. But do not dance in a public venue, whether that is a festival, fair, carnival, street fair, or what have you. And certainly not in a paid, professional event or show.

Students and dancers are not the only ones at fault. Teachers have to make more effort to train students to understand that public performance is about showing an art in its finest form. They need to stress continual improvement to their students. Teachers need to help their students to learn to be more selective in the workshops they attend, and to know WHY they are attending a specific workshop.

Questions to ask before attending a workshop:

  • What do I need to improve on?
  • What do I need to focus on at this time as a dancer?
  • What will help me concentrate my time and money on specific skill development?
  • What is this workshop actually offering me personally?
  • What do I hope to get out of attending this workshop in terms of my own dance skills?
  • What style is being taught at this workshop?
  • Is the workshop at a level matching my skills or is it too advanced? (Note: Advanced dancers and performers often attend “simple” workshops or “beginning” level workshops because they have learned there is still often something to be learned from the easier materials when presented differently or with new variations, and they already have the skills to focus on the details of refinement)
  • Have I talked with my teacher about what I could focus on in this workshop? (A good teacher knows your areas of strength and weakness and is always willing and able to advise her students individually about workshops that would enhance, expand or improve their skills)
  • Do I need this workshop at this time, or is there a better way to work on my skills? (ex: a private lesson with your current instructor or another teacher, attending more classes, attending a class with another teacher, and so on)
  • Why do I want to attend this workshop? (Often, examining your own motives can help you decide if you actually need a workshop or not. If you just want the experience, or the social opportunity, that’s fine, so long as you recognize this.)

Once you have answered these questions, you can approach a workshop with intent and know your funds, time and energy will be well-spent, or saved for another workshop more suitable to your needs or focus at a later date.

Addendum: When you are assessing your skills, it is helpful to ask yourself (and your teacher at times) the following questions:

  • What areas of movement am I having problems with?
  • What areas of performance am I having problems with?
  • What areas of movement am I strong in?
  • What are my performance strengths?
  • What would I like to know more about?
  • What would I like to improve on?
  • I need more help with ______________________________
  • What do I need to work on to move to the next level of skill?
  • What could I do to make my performance better?
  • I could probably use more work on Flexibility ___ Musicality ___ Arms ___
    Shimmies ____ Veils ____ Torso movements ____ Pelvic movements ___
    Articulations ____  Entries and Exits ___ Traveling Steps ___ Slow Work ___
    Zils ___ Understanding Rhythms ___ Stagecraft ___  Choreography Concepts ___
    Improv Techniques ___ Costuming ___ Other ____________________________
  • What is my single most challenging movements set or technical weakness?
  • If I could pick one area to focus on for improvement, what would it be?
  • What can I add to my practice to improve on specific areas?
  • What kind of workshop would help me the most?
  • What classes available to me would help me improve the most?
  • What do I want to achieve with my dance?
  • What are my short term goals? Long term goals?
  • What prop dances am I interested in learning? (cane, pot, basket, multi-veil, and so on)
  • Am I interested in folkloric dance, (such as kaligi, ghawazi, Guedra, Ouled Nail, and so on) and where can I learn these?
  • Other thoughts: _______________________________________




© 2017 Prima Beladi