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Doing It My Way
by Bert Balladine
posted 3-20-2001

Recently I was complimented on the way I teach and was asked how I arrived at my method. Of course, I don't have a 'method'. Most of you who teach know how hard it is to arrive at your own style of teaching, since there are really no established rules and patterns in our dance form. When I started teaching, eons ago, the only way the dance was taught in the Middle East, I observed, was one teacher one student and I didn't have the opportunity to see any classes that might have existed in America. There were none in Europe to my knowledge. I started first with single students (the late Sabah [Jamie Miller) was one of them. When the demand grew, I began teaching small groups and patterned my classes consistent with my background - ballet, modern dance and Spanish and show dancing. I had to make a lot of adjustments since the students were adults of varying ages whose main purpose was recreation. Some, of course, hoped for a career in show business. In ballet classes we had always practiced single steps first and then combined them into patterns, varying in complexity. Progress was made through much repetition, which didn't appeal to some students, those who wanted to learn whole routines. But that, of course, would presuppose a knowledge of the technique.

So, in order to give my students something that would be useful right from the first movement, I decided to focus on expression and emotion and that is what I have become known for.

Now most of the teachers have developed their own distinctive styles. Different styles appeal to different students. Some like to have strict discipline and rules; some like a more relaxed atmosphere with a lot of freedom. The latter, I find, is desirable for me, as it fosters creativity and fulfillment.

Tastes and the availability of professional employment have changed over the years, requiring me to repeatedly reinvent myself. Today there is a great demand for group dancing, which really changes the emphasis from raks sharqi to folk dancing. The highest compliment a dancer can pay me is not to say how many new steps she has learned but that she felt joyful, beautiful and empowered.

When the music is hot and the energy of the group engulfs the room I feel a high and hope that every dancer in class shares it with me. For me, dance is not cerebral, but highly emotional. I hope my students find my classes to be an oasis in a world of stress, competition and struggle.

To quote an old hippy friend from the days when we started: "Get high on your dancing - it's both cheap and legal!"

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