Teaching Zills in a Multi-Level Belly Dance Class

April 26, 2012 0 Comments

Multi-level classes have a lot of advantages for students, and present a few challenges for instructors, but personally, I   love teaching  this way!  For the student at any level, it allows them to move forward with new material on the skills they have mastered and take their time to improve those they are still working on. As we move from one movement or combo to the next, there are always options – provided the instructor is prepared.

A good multi-level class instructor will have 2 ( I prefer 3) variations ready for each class exercise they’ll be presenting. There’s a lot more class prep, but that’s not all. The instructor has to be able to keep an eye on each individual student as she moves through the room to see how everyone is doing. When I see that a movement is going well,  it’s time to add the next thing. If a student is struggling, I drop it back to where it’s a manageable challenge.

The key is to keep every student working in their personal “challenge zone” That means that they are not bored because it’s too easy and not frustrated because it’s too hard. I have heard from many students that their prior instructors taught by demonstrating at the front of the room and never came around to look at any individual or problem solve their movement issues. This is a shame. This is not teaching in my book – it’s demonstrating. I don’t even instruct this way when I travel and teach a workshop for 30. If a dancer invests their time and money to come to my class,  they deserve to be paid attention to and helped.

Hey, Mahin… I thought this was about teaching zills?

It is. Zills are one of those skills that a class can have a particularly wide skill range on. Some dancers come to class with pretty good foundation skills and no experience with zills. Others are musically inclined from outside of dance and take to them easily even as a beginner with basic movements. So here are a few suggestions for having a whole class drill zills at the same time, with different challenge levels.

Easiest: Have your students walk, stepping on the down beat of the music and just play a single “dum” with each step. I have them use their dominant hand

Step 2: Have them play a single “dum” on the down beat while doing one repeating basic movement, such as a drop kick.

Step 3: Have students walk on the down beat while playing a full rhythm pattern.

Step 4: Have students play a full rhythm pattern while doing a repeating basic or intermediate movement.

Step 5: Have students play a full rhythm while dancing a combination.

This is  just an example of how I build skill progressions, you could easily modify them to fit your own material or teaching style. They are also not a hard and fast linear presentation either. A good, experienced teacher has strong instincts and observation skills. Really LOOK at your student and decide whether to suggest moving a notch up or down in either the movement or the playing. The more you exercise the instinct as an instructor, the better you get at it.

As the instructor, if you take some time to think through these options in advance, you’ll be able to pull them out for each student as needed when you go around the room and lead zill drills.  At first it does feel like you’re running a 3-ring circus (to you, not the students) , but once you’ve got the hang of it, it feels like a fun juggling act. The great part is that is serves your students with exactly what they need when they need it  to become better dancers.


Mahin (121 Posts)

Professional instructor and performer of Middle Eastern belly dance, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and author or the “Daily Bellydance Quickies”. Belly Dance Artrepreneur, Workshop instructor, performer, event producer, and bellydance writer.

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