Updated: Sep 27, 2018
An overview of my experience at Ashley López's Teacher Training program
Greetings! It's been 12 days since I completed part 1 of Integrated Dance with Ashley López at the lovely Studio Datura in Portland, OR. Since then I've re-written this blog entry numerous times, not only because it's my first entry but because I'm still processing my enriching experience.
A Modern, Balanced Approach to Teaching
Instructed by Ashley López
Belly dance certification programs are everywhere nowadays, we've never had more options available to us which is both fantastic and mind boggling (to me anyways)! The question this all begs is where do I start! From the Salimpour Formats and ATS ® General Skills and Teacher Training days of old to the popular ITS, 8 Elements™ and DanceCraft® to the newly minted Krysalis, Bellydance Cohesion, and Alchemy... it's enough to make a dancer's head spin! Keep in mind that in order to keep this list short I only listed the Tribal/Fusion certification programs I'm familiar with. There are a lot of other wonderful programs of the Orientale/Raqs Sharqi and ethnic/folkloric dance varieties plus stand alone intensives by amazing teachers covering a wide range of topics out there so we can all choose our favorite flavor.
So why Integrated Dance? Honestly, it was happenstance. I was looking at the training programs on Datura Online where Ashley has an Integrated Dance (ID) Prep. My two cents, don't let this prep program put you off. It is intense for sure but a fantastic introduction to Ashley's teaching style and a preamble of the exercises we'll be studying in ID. Know that she gives regressions and variations during the intensive and does not expect you to hurt yourself in order to achieve any pose or stretch your body isn't currently ready to move into. I was definitely on the weaker side of our group's spectrum and knew that going into the program. I completed the Prep program but there was more stuff that I couldn't do than I could, and that's perfectly fine. I have new goals set and knowledge on how to safely guide a student if they're interested.
The ID Prep page on Datura Online lead me to the ID website and once I started reading I got really excited. I felt an immediate connection to what I read. I'm a full time dance teacher and a large portion of my class prep time is spent reading and researching about pedagogy, the benefits of cross training and teaching tips in general. Integrated Dance is a teacher training program that (in my opinion) sets you on a path to realize your full teacher potential. Once I saw the scholarship application for ID I jumped right in without a second thought. I also love geeking out about dance and movement in general and I enjoyed answering the questions asked. It ended up being a two step application, the initial one on the ID site and a follow up questionnaire that made me think about why I dance and what I want to contribute to my dance communities as I continue on this dance path.
To my great delight and surprise I won the first full scholarship to Integrated Dance Part 1. The timing was perfect, early enough into fall session so that my student's progress wouldn't be interrupted and it doesn't interfere with end of year showcase/recital madness, I quickly accepted! Then I sat down to look at what my expenses would look like, oh my! Then I reminded myself that it's an investment in my future, a tax write off and most importantly something I felt passionate about. I pushed forward and told myself "I'm going!" period. I was fortunate enough to have a friend to stay with and I caught my flight at just the right time and saved some money that way too. That is why I say it was happenstance.
The program itself is broken up into 2 week-long intensives, emphasis on the word intensive. In Part 1 the morning sessions consist of a mindfulness practice, strength & conditioning and belly dance drills. The afternoons focus on videos, lectures based on the exercises done in the morning session, our anatomy section of the day and the previous night's reading assignment from our manual. There is no pre-intensive homework, you receive your manual and can buy the muscle flashcards from Ashley on the first day. I suggest that you do it that way, I tried to buy my flashcards ahead of time and they hadn't arrived by the time I got back from the intensive and apparently that's a common occurrence with that company.
Ashley is wonderfully knowledgeable about the function of different muscle groups and how to use Pilates exercises and Yoga asanas to help strengthen a specific muscle or muscle group to facilitate movement. She gives you all the tools you'll need to design a basic sequence that students/clients of any physical condition and skill level will be able to work through. Ashley was more than happy to answer any questions asked and did a great job making sure to keep us on topic. She's big on explaining the why we are doing things and helping you see the bigger picture. Simply observing her in instructor mode is a valuable lesson. Her classes are meticulously planned (without being too rigid) and make the most of the allotted class time. #danceinstructorgoals
Another high point for me was discussing the importance of balance in our lives. We start each day with a different mindfulness practice which I really enjoyed. In the end I kept the one I usually do for my mornings but adopted one to add to my nightly ritual. I went through a severe bout of burn out earlier this year, and I never want to feel that way again. I struggled daily with balancing between how much I gave and having enough time to recover from all of that giving. I love my job and know what a wonderful position I find myself in but that doesn't mean that it doesn't have it's downside and there are areas that can definitely use improvement. Hearing and seeing how Ashley manages her schedule was priceless and awe inspiring. She openly shares so much with you and provides you with the resources you'll need to continue on your journey to evolve into the person, not just the dancer instructor, you wish to become.
On the flip side while I really do love to drill (seriously I do) I don't love Ashley's layercake drills approach. That has more to do with my preference in dance style, it's completely lost on me. My body is more at home moving like they did in the early days of Tribal. That old school 1970's "ethnic style" with an added personal flair is where my heart lives. However I was there to experience new things and grow so I did everything that was asked of me with a whole lot of struggle and humor. I did enjoy her combos, they were challenging and it was dancing not going through a sequence of movements, again that's a personal dance style preference thing.
While we do drill the dance portion of the intensives in Ashley's style, she's using that time to show you how it all ties in. You aren't tied to her style and can adapt the program to any style of dance you'd like. (I'm already slowly implementing what I learned into my multi-genre weekly dance classes.) The conditioning section, the drills, and our combo were all related to one another and help you build the stamina and strength necessary to dance strong and safely. As the Integrated Dance slogan says: Dance... Thrive... Repeat. That's exactly what this program guides you to do.
I absolutely love that this program exists and wholeheartedly agree with Ashley that is fills a gap in the belly dance certification market. Being a great dancer doesn't automatically make you a great teacher and vice versa. I learned a lot about my teaching style and how it can be improved upon and have a whole source of new information to continue researching and growing in other directions.
If you want to become a better dance teacher, intend on becoming a teacher in the future or are interested in conditioning, strength and flexibility training to add to your daily practice I highly recommend this program. I've got some more studying to do and a few quizzes and an exam to pass before Part 2 but I'm already looking forward to it!
Shout out to the magnificent DeAnna who shared her Integrated Dance Part 1 and 2 experiences with me and guided me along this process. She is one of the first Certified Integrated Dance Teachers, a FatChanceBellyDance® Sister Studio, FCBD® Advanced Instructor, SSCE Continuing Education Instructor and a constant source of inspiration. I am forever grateful to her for being so generous with her time and patient with me and all my questions.
Until next time, keep dancing!
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