A Bellydance Teacher's Challenge: Big Classes, Different Abilities

I received the following email asking advice:

Dear Despina,

My name is Chris and I have been teaching for 2 years. I read and enjoyed your advice to teachers. I’m happy to say that mainly I seem to be doing the right things, and I picked up a few good tips. Thanks.

I have a problem you don’t mention, and I’d really appreciate your ideas (I’ve run out).

I teach at several cultural centers where the rates are pretty cheap, so that I always have big groups to teach (anything between 20-30 women). I have no say in dividing students by level, or accepting new people in an old class every 2 or 3 months, so that I end up with really mixed classes.

I usually make up easy choreographies that most of them can learn, and give variations so that the more advanced or harder-working students don’t feel like they are wasting their time. I DO NOT go back to the beginning each time I get a few new people, although I try to stand near them and encourage them to follow while I explain things a bit more slowly. I also divide the class into smaller groups each led by a more advanced student and ask them to improvise moves to the music we’re using. I do a lot of big-group choreographies where they can follow each other and not get lost (it also helps them make friends with EVERYBODY and not just stick to the people they signed up with). They mostly seem reasonably happy.

What do you think? Do you have any suggestions? I really look forward to hearing what you have to say, because sometimes I feel really stressed with trying to manage such huge mixed classes and feel that I’m not doing enough.

Thanks a lot.




My answer to Chris was the following:

Hi there Chris,

Thanks for your email.

Glad you've enjoyed my articles and have picked up some good tips to use. There is actually an article about the problem you're facing on my site which might be helpful for you to read. It's called Mixed Level Classes: A Big Challenge For Any Bellydance Teacher.

Meanwhile, in terms of the strategies you’re using, I think what you're doing sounds really good. One piece of advice I can give you is via a question: are you yourself constantly learning new things that you can teach to your students? Because if you continue to challenge yourself as a student of dance, you'll always be able to challenge your own students by teaching whatever you learn.

Two more things that might be of help with such a big class. First, teach from different parts of the room as much as you can - sometimes teach from the front of the room, sometimes from the middle, other times from the right or the left. Second, when you want to travel around the room doing some one-on-one teaching, position some of the experienced students in the front of the room so that the newer students have someone to follow while you're busy flitting about the room.

Best of luck and I do hope that helps.


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Adopt a homeless animal instead - they all deserve a second chance

It's estimated that 130,000 dogs and 60,000 cats are killed every year in Australia because there are not enough homes for them all. And the global numbers amount to millions upon millions every single year.

Puppy mills are a major contributor to the terrible problem of overpopulation. Puppy mills are essentially 'dog factories' where dogs are forced to churn out litter after litter, with no thought for the welfare of the dogs and all thought for profit. The dogs live in appallingly dirty, cramped conditions all their lives, and when they no longer serve their purpose they're killed, dumped or sold to vivisection laboratories.

Petshops fit into the picture because puppy mills are generally where petshops get their animals from. Furthermore, having animals in shop windows encourages impulse purchases, and adding an animal to your family should be a conscious, careful decision - NOT one to be made while shoe shopping.

Breeders contribute enormously to the tragic statistics above too. And it doesn't matter whether they're professional breeders or backyard breeders, and whether they breed for profit or not, because while there are homeless animals sitting on death row in shelters, any and all animal breeding is utterly irresponsible.

Now, here's where you come in. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. You can either buy animals from puppy mills, petshops or breeders and be part of the problem. Or you can adopt from a shelter or rescue organisation and be part of the solution.

If I haven't convinced you, visit your local shelter to see the homeless animals. Let their innocent faces convince you that adopting is the only responsible choice to make.

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