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Feb. 7th, 2005

I am seriously on the verge of quitting hula.

I've been doing hula for about, hmm, 2 years now. Prior to starting it, I had never really done any dance before. Learning-wise, when it comes to physical things, I'm a physical learner -- I'm not the kind of person who can read something, or be told it, and then do it. I have to see it done, and then, I have to break it down for myself, figure out how to make my body do it. Certainly, I benefit from lots of practice and getting things into muscle-memory. But I always feel a little slow and clumsy.

One of the things I really liked about hula, early on, was that it's *all* rote learning; not a bit of improvisation at all. Yeah, the dances got progressively longer, and more complicated, with many different things to be doing with the feet and a whole other set of things to be doing with the hands. But with repetition, I was getting it. The same was mostly true of the Tahitian stuff we were learning -- the class I found was split between hula and Tahitian, and gradually it becomes apparent that Tahitian is *really* the teacher's specialty. Which is a pity, as I am not that fond of it.

When I started hula, I started it with one of my best friends, sazabhadri, only we knew at the time that she was leaving in a few months, to move to New Zealand. It was a good start, though. It got me motivated.

About a year ago, I started hitting a wall with the class. Turnover of students was pretty large. In some ways that was good. But it was about a year ago that our teacher decided, for various reasons, to combine our beginner class with the more intermediate girls. She started increasing the rate of teaching us dances, trying to get us up to speed with the other class. Our class switched nights, and was lengthened, too.

When I started the class, we would work on, maybe, 4 dances at a time -- two hula, two Tahitian. We'd do them and do them and do them, until we learned them, and then we added a couple more of each, and worked on those. For all of the dances we've done, mind you, I feel like I know the last couple of verses much less well than the first couple -- because every time we would run through the dance, we'd run through from the beginning. Which means that by the time we got to the 4th verse or the 6th verse, we had run through the beginning verses a billion skillion times and had them down really well. But it felt like we would finally learn the end of the dance, and then, after dancing the full dance not all that many times, we'd start a new one and leave that one.

Anyway, when the teacher decided to combine the classes, she started teaching us a bunch of dances. I stopped and counted at one point. We were, on any given week, learning about 12 dances. Simultaneously. So, you know, do the math -- even if we only tried to do half those on any given week, it meant that instead of learning one dance and doing it over and over and over, to get it into muscle-memory, we were running through each dance only once or twice, then moving on to the next.

I felt like I was going insane. I felt really stressed about it. But nobody else was really complaining. And the teacher... well, right around the same time, she started getting really stressed herself. Problems with her mother's health. People who *did* bring up things in class were sort of getting snapped at, and that sort of hasn't changed. I never really talked to her about the problems it was causing for me. I couldn't practice that well outside of class, because I hadn't had the dances drilled into me enough to even *remember* them, and all I knew was, it's *worse* to practice it outside class if you're getting it *wrong*. You don't want to get the wrong stuff drilled into your muscles.

The pace hasn't really slacked off, either. Recently, we began learning implement dances -- pu'ili (split-bamboo sticks), uli uli (feather rattles), and ipu (gourds, used for percussion). AT THE SAME TIME. We freakin' *started* with a double-pu'ili dance that is practically in cut-time, and in the first two verses alone involves doing 5 different things with your feet, and about 8 different things with the two sticks (which you use both to hit each other, and hit your own shoulders); plus we're doing a couple of uli uli dances, and just started this ipu dance (which of all of them is less complex). And I think my brain might break.

Complicating this slightly -- the teacher has not been very good at communicating goals to us. About a year ago, she made this push about getting us to get fabric to make costumes for theoretical performances, but that's been dropped -- doubtless because we've had an influx of more beginners. And in a sense, that's fine -- I know that personally, I feel like I'm nowhere near at the stage where I could perform publically. But... it would be nice to have some sense of what we're doing, what we're working towards. If she said, "you have to learn for about 3 years before you're ready to perform in public", that'd be fine. As it is, a lot of us just feel like we're in limbo. And it's kind of like... what's with this accelerated pace? What's the reason for trying to make us learn, shallowly, as many dances as possible, instead of slowing teaching us a few at a time and making sure we *have* those?

If we *were* to perform, I have to assume, we would pick a dance or two that we were going to do, and then we would drill the *hell* out of them until we could, just possibly, do them in public and not embarass ourselves. But this current strategy of having an open curriculum of some 15 dances or more, none of which we learn really well? Doesn't prepare us for performance, that I can see; and only leads, in me anyway, to feeling like I'm more and more incompetent (because every class, every dance, feels like something I'm not getting).

Without really knowing what the teacher things of our performance readiness, it's also hard not to feel incompetent. As I say, if she'd said at the outset, "you can't even think about performing in public until you've been doing this for about three years", that would have given us a goal to shoot for. Or, there's always the old, "we're going to have a semi-private recital for family and friends, so that you can get a taste of what preparing for a performance would be like" gambit -- but no.

So here we are, close to my 2-year anniversary. Due to a couple of different things, I've missed a bunch of classes (holiday parties; holiday travelling; and the weather, lately). I've gotten together on weekends with a couple of girls from the class, to drill a few dances, so I'm not totally behind, but still -- it's really oppressing me. One of the girls remarked to me that she thinks the teacher's kind of written me off -- and that doesn't surprise me. Since *I* started, I've noticed a lot of people who used to be regulars just kind of disappearing, and one never knows *why*, but still, it's not like it doesn't happen.

Which is why I'm now sitting here, wondering what to do.

The "it's oppressing" me thing is just a crystallization of all of the above-described frustrations I've had with the class over the past year. But what I'm realizing is -- hula is fun, or, hula *WAS* fun, but right now, there's a lot about it that isn't fun, for me. On the one hand, of course, I feel like I'm just a lazy slob, or a clumsy idiot, and that if I was a Good Person I would regard this as a challenge and I would step up and meet it. But -- I've felt like I've been in a hole for the past year, and I haven't been able to figure out how to climb out of it.

I *could* talk to the teacher about it; it *does* feel like the excuses of avoiding that because nobody else is complaining (and I can't, therefore, demand that the class be tailored just to my slower needs), and avoiding it because I can see that she's been in a "very stressed and unreceptive of anything she takes as criticism mood" (another girl, who'd been around nearly as long as me, quit last summer after an in-class incident with the teacher over a similar teaching issue) are also, of course, just excuses. Excuses for what, I'm not *really* sure; desire to avoid confrontation, partly. Shame at feeling as if the problems are as much about my own inadequacies as about the class having actual teaching problems (everyone else *seems* to be managing?).

Over and above and around this, there's the knowledge that... 2 years is a known barrier, for me. I am a dabbler. Self-described as an "intellectual magpie". I have done a *lot* of things over the years, that I've been able to keep up doing on a serious, regular basis for about 2 years, tops. Why? I have *no* idea. (Again, I feel deep down that it's some inadequacy in me, that I'm therefore reluctant and afraid to examine too deeply.) I mean -- ask me about fencing. Or better yet, DON'T.

Something else kind of complicating the issue for me is -- I like some of the people from the hula class. I haven't been able to connect with them *deeply* (I seem to be able to do that with almost nobody *new* -- I wasn't able to in the SCA, I wasn't able to with fencing, etc.), but still, it's a different social circle. Social stuff happens occasionally. It's nice to see different people. Inevitably, if I admit that I'm dropping hula, I'll drift away from them. I'm lightly anchored to them in the first place, but I feel like that's a failure, too.

I'm wondering, though, if what I really want to do, if what would make me happiest, would be to try to keep in contact with those girls I've become closest to, and see if they'd be interested in getting together once in a while to review dances we already know. Knowing them, they wouldn't mind the drill. And me -- I'd kind of like to at least consolidate some of the dances I was supposed to have learned. (That's another reason for reluctance about going back to the class -- I know that's not going to happen. We've been lucky if, on the odd month, the teacher suddenly says, "Let's do Mauna Kea!" and then we run through it, like, twice -- once to desperately remember this dance we haven't done in 6 months, and once a little better, having remembered it.) Maybe that's a strategy that would make me less unhappy.

It's a hard step to take, though.

(In case you've read this far -- no, I don't really know what I'm looking for, here. I didn't post this with any ulterior motive either to have people convince me to keep going with hula, or else, to validate the idea of quitting. I'm just... externalizing. Getting all of this out of my head.)



( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 7th, 2005 08:47 am (UTC)
Everyone else isn't managing. You say turnover is significant and some old timers have drifted away and one or two folks have left after confrontations with the teacher.

Frankly, the teacher sounds kind of poopy. In that she doesn't seem to be setting recognizable goals, and she's prickly about being questioned. What is all this grindy training heading towards?

But I'm not good with imperious sensei type teachers, so maybe that's a personal bias.
Feb. 7th, 2005 09:01 am (UTC)
Well, *I* kind of think so. That the teacher is kind of poopy that is. She does get very prickly about being questioned. She's always been lousy about communicating goals.

Plus? Almost no feedback, especially not individually, except occasionally, when you mess up. (Meaning, sometimes there's overall-group feedback, good or bad; individual feedback is usually pointing out bits you're not getting.)

In some ways -- believe me -- that's kind of good. I mean, non-judgemental, by and large. There are women in the class who've been there for as long as I have or longer, who quite honestly are a little bit hopeless. But god love them, they stick with it, and even if, to be brutal, they can't really do hula, the teacher makes room for them, and never really criticizes them for what they don't get. She makes good allowances for their level and their apparent enthusiasm just to *be* there.

At the same time, though -- it gives *me* no sense of my own progress or accomplishment. Competitively, I know that I'm better than they are (when I've *gotten* a dance, that is). I know I can *be* better. But I have no good sense of improving, or doing well.

And yeah -- I've been asking for a year now, what *is* this grinding (to me) training schedule heading for? If there were a goal on the horizon, that would make more sense. But, as I also said -- of the possible goals (like performance), this method seems counter-productive (to me) to achieving those goals.

The thing is, though -- yeah, some folks have dropped out. But that may be because... they had a baby, or they moved, or whatever... I don't know. Only one or two have dropped because of conflict with the teacher. And there are a *lot* of long-timers still there. The class does appear to work for more people than it doesn't work for.
Feb. 7th, 2005 09:22 am (UTC)
Even with imperious sensei type teachers, though, there's usually some observable goal (however unrealistic) that the class is striving towards. With this, it's hard to tell if the teacher is thinking about the students at *all*.

This is pretty high up there on the "do as I say, not as I'd do" list, but do you still have the e-mail addresses of the other old timers who've left? Contacting them with your feelings, asking if they felt roughly the same and if this is why they left, and asking them to collaborate on a letter to your teacher that would gently express the frustrations and concerns that you all have had would solve several problems. It'd lay the groundwork for continued ties with this social group, and the letter would provide y'all with a sense of closure, and might just help the students who're still stuck in the class.
Feb. 7th, 2005 09:53 am (UTC)
See below: I feel really really wretched about it, but I'm not that kind of person, and never have been. (And no, I don't think I actually have their emails, either.)

Actually, my biggest problem right this second is: if I *am* going to quit, do I even want to go as far as writing to her to say "I'm quitting", or do I want to just... fade? Which I've been doing.

Okay, honestly: what I *want* to do is fade. What I *should* do is drop her a note to say, "let's be honest, I'm dropping out". *sigh* Me = wretched.
Feb. 7th, 2005 09:56 am (UTC)
It also sounds to me like the teacher is bored with doing drills, and is throwing lots of dances at people to entertain herself, instead of to teach the students properly. And, unfortunately, she's using the power dynamic in a really horrible way, to make people feel like they CAN'T speak up.

I agree that you need to say something - if not for yourself, for the other students.
Feb. 7th, 2005 10:39 am (UTC)
To be fair, I don't think she's using the power dynamic deliberately. Yeah -- I do kind of think that she may be overloaded herself (stuff happening in her personal life, etc.), and stress is maybe making *her* get a little lazy about things, or doing things in a way that's easier or better for her. I don't know.

I think some of it may just be that there's a core of people in the intermediate class with whom we've been blended, who've been around lots longer than I have, and they appear to be in tune with her. And therefore it would be hard for her to perceive that what she's doing isn't good for some of the class, or that it has to do with her rather than with the student.

And then there's the, as I was saying to someone else, factor that from the outset, she has been very committed to having varying skill levels in the class. To making it possible for some students who are pretty hopeless and, even after 5 years, don't get it, to participate and get out of it... whatever they're getting out of it. She's not teaching to their level. She kind of lets them sink or swim, and she just forges ahead, and doesn't call attention to them. And for them, that must be good.

But it also must kind of skew the way she approaches the class. Because, I don't know -- if we were a serious performance group, either she would concentrate on those people, to address what they weren't getting and get them up to speed, or she'd turf them out, or something. Instead, what she does is just teach, perhaps to the level of those students who *will* become performers or who already are, and allows the rest of the class to fall where they may.

And who's to say that this approach doesn't, overall, work for more of the class than not?

I agree that you need to say something - if not for yourself, for the other students.

I'm kind of wrestling with this, too. Because, I feel like this is true. On the other hand, looked at another way -- why do I *need* to say something *for* the rest of the class? Aren't they all in the same position that I am? That is -- I've had a problem, and I *could* have spoken up but I didn't, and I have to acknowledge the extent to which the situation I'm now in is of my own making, right? So why do I have an obligation to speak out (when it makes me *so* hideously uncomfortable) for *their* sakes? Can't they speak up themselves, too? Or, like me, take responsibility for where failure to speak up gets them?
Feb. 7th, 2005 09:03 am (UTC)
I agree, your teacher sounds like a poopyhead. Combining skill levels, covering too many dances at once, getting you confused and frustrated--she doesn't sound like she's doing a good job at all. I can understand your frustration.

I can relate. In my three years of belly dance lessons, I've gotten frustrated, felt plateaued, felt clumsy and inadequate and wondered what the hell I was doing there. But in between it's been fun, and I have actually come pretty far. But I have a good teacher, and my best girlfriend ever takes classes with me. So there's the difference right there.

Even though I understand your reluctance, you might want to communicate some of your frustrations with the teacher. She may blow you off, or she may appreciate it, not realizing that her teaching style (or change in teaching style) is causing problems. She really may not know.
Feb. 7th, 2005 09:49 am (UTC)
One of the additional things I feel badly about: the teacher isn't a horrible person or anything. I kind of like her, as a person. This makes it all much harder. Plus, you know -- yeah, she's making money running the classes. But if you want to do hula and you're in this part of the country, it's not like opportunities are thick on the ground. So her offering the class at all is kind of a big deal, right there.

I know that absolutely, positively, I *should* try to talk to her about it in some way. Even though I don't expect it would do any "good" (as defined as -- I don't expect it would put the class back to the way it was when I started it). But yes, I've had that thought -- maybe she just doesn't know. Because it's quite clear that nobody ever says anything to her about it.

But, apart from my own personal issues with things I perceive as confrontation (which is a serious, paralyzing thing for me), I'm reluctant to do it for a couple of reasons.

1. I don't like the idea of coming across as "the disgruntled malcontent" (even as I suspect that's what I *am*) -- using the opportunity of leaving to blast her with a whole bunch of complaints, when...

2. I don't want to get mired in a whole thing where it looks like I am trying to force her to tailor the class to me, in order to keep me happy, so that I'll stay (if most people are happy, or at least, not complaining, then what incentive does she have?); plus...

3. I'm tired and stressed right now (end of winter, low energy ebb), and I also don't want to get mired in a whole thing where I wind up guilting myself into staying (i.e. if I talk to her about it, and she responds at all positively, then I'd have to put on a burst of effort in the near future to continue attending classes to see if there *was* improvement). I'm reluctant therefore to complain if, in the final analysis, I'm unwilling right now to take advantage of the possibility of improvement.

Mostly, just... if I was the kind of person who could easily step up and have a frank discussion with a teacher (of whom I'm intimidated) about my problems with her class... then I would have done that 9 months ago when I first got a handle on the class-change, and I'd be in a very different situation right now. One way or the other.
Feb. 7th, 2005 09:57 am (UTC)
Is it possible to structure the confrontation in a more constructive way - a "I have concerns, I feel like I'm not keeping up, can we work together to resolve this problem" kind of thing?
Feb. 7th, 2005 10:30 am (UTC)
Well, yeah, that's always *possible*. Ask rather, is it probable?

This is what I meant elsewhere, when I said that, if I was the kind of person for whom that was easy to do, I would have done it a year ago, or 9 months ago, or 6 months ago.

Now: I'm so tired and so dejected, that, as I was saying to the Grrrl above -- I'm not sure that I *can* have that conversation with her, because I'm not sure I can put that up from my end, at the moment. I don't know that I have the reserves right now to put in the burst of effort it would take in the near future, to resolve the problem. I think I may have already reached the point where it would be too little, too late. *That* isn't the teacher's fault, I know that it's mine.

Most of what I was saying in my original post was kind of just explaining how I got to the headspace that I'm in right now, rather than an expression of "here's the situation, can any of you suggest how to fix it?" Because honestly, I have *known* for all this time what I should do in order to fix it. Exactly what you and others have said here. It's not that I didn't know that. And I know that I didn't do it, when I could have.

Thus, the feeling guilty and inadequate and stuff.
Feb. 7th, 2005 10:39 am (UTC)
Well, there's always:

"Sometimes...when you give us lots of new songs to drill on before we finish the old ones...it makes me feel like...
Feb. 7th, 2005 10:49 am (UTC)
Uh-huh. Have you *absorbed* the "if it were easy for me to do that, I would already have..." part?

Also, I haven't really gone into the number of times seemingly innocuous questions or pleas for her to go over things again have resulted in snappishness that have, I swear to god, [a] driven at least one of the girls to tears; [b] almost brought *me* to tears on a couple of occasions; and [c] as mentioned in the post, caused one girl that I know of to drop out.

There was one point semi-recently, while doing the Horrible Pu'ili Dance, when I was having serious trouble figuring out a couple of footwork changes. So I screwed up my courage and I raised my hand, and I said, look, can you run through this verse again, break it down, without the music? (Because, see post -- I'm a physical learner and if I haven't *seen* it, and I can't seem to get it from just watching people dance it at full speed, I'm not *going* to magically get it without throttling back and breaking it down.) And the response I got was, well, okay, this once -- but you know, we can't keep going back over things we've already learned, or we'll never move forward.

So I made her do it. It helped a teeny bit. But I was so dejected that I didn't even have the gumption to address the, "what the HELL is so important about this whole MOVING FORWARD thing, anyway?" And: tears.
Feb. 7th, 2005 10:53 am (UTC)
Aw. :(

I was just joking, bringing up the old hyper-non-agressive non-confrontation line.

But you know, every little tidbit you bring up about this teacher...maybe she's a decent person, but her teaching style? Meh.
Feb. 7th, 2005 09:09 am (UTC)
2 years is my usual "activity barrier," too. I don't know if it's just because I get bored, or because I just want to sample a little of everything the world has to offer, or because I really *haven't* found something I really love to do yet, or, or, or.

And I understand the social aspect. I lost most of my casual friends when I dropped kendo, and it feels like I lost all of them when I moved. I'm dying to get out to do something so I can be around other people again.

I do know this: if I had major issues with my teacher's teaching that were unlikely to be resolved by talking to her - as seems to be the case here - I'd pack up and leave. Why not contact the other girls and see if there's an interest? I bet many of them feel the same way.
Feb. 7th, 2005 10:43 am (UTC)
In conversations with at least some of the other girls on various occasions, it does seem as if a number of them have the same concerns as I do (especially -- too many dances, learned too shallowly; and, lack of goals). But clearly, each one of us has elected not to speak up for our own reasons. And the others keep going, too; some have been doing it a lot longer than I have.

I did originally bring these things up with some of them, in order to gauge whether it would be possible to get a *group* of us together to talk to her about those concerns -- safety in numbers, partly, but also, so it wouldn't seem like just one person who had a problem. I wanted to see, if I spoke out, whether I'd get back-up.

To be honest? I didn't get a lot of sense that I would. I didn't get a sense from the others that they'd want to get together to talk to her; or even necessarily, if I raised my hand in class and said something, they'd chime in.

I *am* going to contact the two girls I'm closest to, and maybe float this idea of, "if you guys would like to get together on an irregular basis and go over dances we already know, I would love to be included". I think they might go for it.
Feb. 7th, 2005 11:02 am (UTC)
I know part of the problem is a lack of other hula options in the area. Dangit.
Feb. 7th, 2005 10:46 am (UTC)
:( That really sucks. Seriously. It's so sad when something fun stops being fun.
Feb. 7th, 2005 11:50 am (UTC)
I really think you just say something to the teacher and not just fade. I know you want to avoid confrontation and being perceived as a malcontent (and I can totally relate to that) and yes, saying something may not change anything. But on the other hand, it *might*. And you can't know that if you don't say anything. The core problems seem to be the lack of clear goals and the number of new dances per week. Those are concrete problems -- if the class were run by an institution that asked students for feedback every semester, wouldn't you want to let the folks in charge know about these problems? I certainly would.

To me, it sounds like you'd be happier leaving the class. I think the idea of getting an informal practice group together is excellent. If the group included women still taking the class, then you'd also know if things changed and if you'd want to return (assuming returning is an option).
Feb. 7th, 2005 01:13 pm (UTC)
i know you don't want to hear it, but i think you owe it to yourself to step up and at least talk to her. it doesn't have to be a confrontation. you're a grownup, she's a grownup. she might not realize what she's doing, or what the turnover means, or why you're fading out.

because if she hadn't started doing all this crazy stuff? you wouldn't be fading out.

i know what you mean. i don't like it either. my current dance teacher is a sweetheart but the class is awful for me. and sometime soon i'm going to have to suck it up and say "I need more repetition to remember any of this choreography. We've been doing the same choreography for three months and I don't remember any of it because we do it twice a week - and that's all we ever do. I need more movement, and more repetitions, and even to work on maybe one or two other choreographies at the same time. can we do them in individual lessons? because while i enjoy the ladies in the class, it's not doing it for me."

maybe that will cause her to rethink how she does that class. maybe she'll take me up on the individual lessons. but i'm not ready to give up dancing and there is stuff i want to learn from her. that doesn't make me evil or confrontational. it's just the way it is.

you know i always want you to stick up for yourself. i don't really think anyone will hate you for it.
Feb. 12th, 2005 08:28 pm (UTC)
Plan C ?
I don't know if this is feasible, but.... I've seen instances where Dancer A takes a class from somewhat-more-advanced Dancer B, and then goes and teaches a class of her own on another night of the week. It's one of the ways you get more teachers in the area (the other being, someone moves in).

Could you and your posse approach one of the advanced dancers and suggest she teach a Beginners (or even a slightly-less-intermediate-Intermediate) class ? Even just with a handful of women in a living room somewhere. After all, Ms. Poophead doesn't have the time (or, apparently, the patience) and had to shove the classes all together -- it's a niche she made the decision to abandon. Your advanced gal doesn't even have to think of herself as a "teacher"; she's just the one who actually knows the dances and can help you and the other ones who are struggling practice them without having to worry about remembering them wrong.
Feb. 17th, 2005 08:28 am (UTC)
Re: Plan C ?
Yeah, sort of. There are a couple of advanced dancers whom she regards as capable of taking beginners aside and drilling with them to help them "catch up" to the main class (or, to keep them from dragging the main class down, whichever). But there hasn't been any real move that I can see to considering forming a completely separate, official practice of that sort. Part of the problem there is some odd dynamics with the only two women who are "approved" in that regard.

(One of the girls who dropped out entirely got into "trouble" with the teacher mainly by wanting to hold a "practice" that wasn't being supervised by either of the approved, advanced students/dancers. And it became clear, then, that of course, you know, those two have lives, too. They couldn't expand their schedules infinitely to keep attending both classes per week that *they* were taking, and practicing, and also add on extra practices for the lower-level girls. etc.)

I *am* keeping in touch with two of the girls from the class, and will probably attend some of their private practices. I have a feeling that wouldn't be approved of by the teacher, but, what the heck.

Ehn. It's messy. I feel badly about it.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )