Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Hold that pencil...

Well, it's been quite a while since I last posted here. The reason? I've been shooting my first-ever instructional DVDs. It's something I've wanted to do for years but I've always put it off for two reasons. Both entirely foolish.

Firstly I was worried about my weight, and blogged about it here. But the main reason had to do with my pencil technique...

All my students will know what I mean. When women first come to my beginners class, one of the first things I say to them is that I need them to imagine they have a pencil "where they don't think I could possibly mean I want them to have a pencil!" They have to grip that pencil and lift it. In other words, I want them to lift up in the pelvic floor. We then go on to draw circles and figure 8s with our imaginary pencil.

I don't do it to be smutty. There are solid reasons behind the concept. It helps them imagine the shapes that form some of bellydance's core moves and it keeps the pelvis level which makes those moves better. It also strengthens the all-important pelvic floor and helps keep the lower back safe.

I've probably said it to thousands of women over the years. And it's always been a great ice breaker in class and a really useful teaching tool. But oh how I stressed about saying it to camera!

Every time I thought about it I broke out in a cold sweat.

It wasn't so much the thought of all the people who don't know me watching me say those words in the comfort of their living rooms. After all, I say it every week of my working life. No, it was the fear of the disapproval of other bellydance teachers.

I sometimes think bellydance teachers form two distinct groups. Those who rejoice in the ability to use words like 'bum' in the course of earning their living and those who would never allow such a word to pass their lips. One group is surprisingly prim and proper, the other... not!

I remember a row breaking out on a bellydance forum over whether students should allow the breasts to move at all in the execution of a shoulder shimmy. Many insisted they should stay absolutely still. Excuse me people, try shaking your shoulders without the 'girls' moving! What are you going to do, tie them down?

On that same forum many years ago, when I was very new to the business, some teachers were talking about how difficult it was to teach the figure eight - a foundation move in bellydance. I piped up about the pencil technique, assuming that people would either use it themselves or be interested in how well it worked.

Oh the shock and horror that was expressed by everyone on the forum. From California to Australia and back again people protested that what I was suggesting was disgusting. It was like listening to a group of blue-rinsed matrons from the 1970s! I fought my corner for a while and was really grateful for a lone voice from the north of England who confessed that she used the image, although she never let on to other teachers for fear of ridicule. But I finally slunk off with my tail between my legs and resolved never to talk about it in bellydance circles again.

Even worse, someone on the forum came up with the concept of the 'excremental video party' where dancers would bring their worst bellydance videos to laugh over together. Suggestions were made for videos to bring and yes, the top vote was for an instructional video by a teacher who taught the pencil technique.

So, dear reader, that's why I've put off filming my instructional DVD for the last five years. Fear and shame. Remember I'm English and public embarrassment is one of our very worst fears. Shame is what keeps us awake at night, bathed in a cold sweat.

Of course I could have found some other way of teaching those moves on the DVD, but I know it works. I've taught it for years. And I'm nothing if not brave. So, dear reader, I looked straight into that camera and I said those words. I didn't blush, I didn't stammer. I said them out, I said them proud.

A week later, the video cameraman contacted me to say the film had inexplicably juddered over that section and my words had been lost. I'd have to do it all over again.

It must have been the revenge of the bellydance matrons!