ATS® General Skills

I wanted to write about ATS® General Skills intensive not just to record my experience, but because I’ve been asked a few times afterwards what to expect and what it covers. But I also wanted to leave some time in between finishing it, and writing, to let the effects settle and see whether/how it had influenced my dancing and practice.

What it says in the box: this is a 4-day intensive course where you cover all the steps from FCBD® ATS® DVDs vols 1, 4 and 7. You also cover vol 3 (zills), history of the styles, and formations. Basically, after finishing, in theory, you should be familiar with all the steps from ATS® Classic and Modern. No vol 9 moves, dialect, or advanced formations like duelling duets are covered. General Skills is a pre-requisite for ATS® Teacher Training

I said “in theory”, because truly, there isn’t much time to cover each step in extreme detail, not the way you would in a regular class where you can devote weeks to work with one step and its variations, not with all the nuances. So to get the best out of it, I’d *strongly* recommend that you arrive with a good foundation, in a physical state were you are capable of dancing five hours a day, and aware of your limitations and pitfalls. If, for instance, you’re still struggling to understand what the arms positions for fast vocabulary are, or you have trouble with the zilling, it might not be the right time for you to do General Skills yet.

How it works: Prior to arrival, you will get a list of the moves to cover for Classic and Modern ATS®. You don’t need to memorise the list, but it helps to be aware of it. You will be expected to do a short warm-up on your own before starting. You should be mindful of proper warm-up and stretching techniques, and of your own body. I know for instance that I need a slow deepening movement practice and not a big cardio to begin with, so every morning, I arrived early and did a short section off one of Datura’s yoga practices to start moving the body and articulating my spine. After roll call, you will have a quick song or two for cardio warm-up led by one of the teachers, using the moves you will cover that day, and from day 2 onwards, any you might have covered in previous days. You will get an explanation of a couple of moves from different families. You will then get a guided drill, and after that, you will go in groups of four people and start the exercises. There will be a tiny bit of time after each exercise for a post-mortem (quick talk of what went on) and then there will be another two movements. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The first day felt like the longest for me because there was a lot of foundation work for taxeems, shimmies and formations, and a lot of walking in a circle and stationary drilling. The following three days were much more dynamic.

You should keep in mind that, aside from the long time spent on the foundations (undulations, taxeems, shimmies), the pace is BRISK. There is time for question and answers, but at the same time you are taking notes, everybody else is also asking questions, so if you are trying to take note of everything said, it is likely that you will miss something. This isn’t a bad thing, not in my book. GS should be, at least to me, to learn directly from the source; to gain polish, refine some areas, or figure out something that has eluded you, or to understand the underlying aesthetic driving the style. Learning the steps requires practice, repetition and study; you might have some repetition and practice during the work, but not enough to “nail” each step; that requires hours and hours that you are expected to work on at home: there’s a reason the “ideal” is to take GS and only a year or two afterwards, do Teacher Training.

How has it affected my practice? When learning ATS, it’s very tempted to chase after the latest step or dialect, in an attempt to keep the vocabulary fresh. For me, doing GS gave me a new found love for “classics”, and helped me realise things I needed to work on and why; getting the information directly from the horse’s mouth allow me to develop a better idea of the general of the underlying principles behind the aesthetic as opposed to just learning steps and combos. It deepened my understanding of the format, and gave me lots of tiny nuances to work on.

Would I do it again? Absolutely, although probably in a few years.

How was it? I personally found the experience exhilarating. I’d already been attending ATS classes for nearly 5 years before doing it, but I don’t often get the chance to dance with new people. As I worked with the same group for the whole of the intensive, I could see how we went from having trouble reading each other’s body language, to pretty much be able to read the smallest movements before even the actual cues to drive the movement, and you could see over the daily videos how we were getting more and more in sync with each other. I personally think that this connection you forge with your fellow dancers is the greatest strength in holding GS in the way it’s held: as the days progress and you figure out where you are (and often, how much you need to work on x, y or z), you also develop very strong bonds with those with whom you are dancing. Which is, ultimately, what dancing ATS should be about.

2018 Calendar

January is almost over, we’ve all shaken off the last of the Christmas drowsiness, and if you’re anything like me, you are itching to get back to dancing. This year promises to have a lot of interesting events in the UK and Europe. Some events might be already sold out, but it’s always worth registering interest with the organisers, as quite often people drop off last minute.

  • February 16th to 18th: Kalash Tribal is sponsoring a twelve-hour intensive with Sandi & Wendy, from FCBD, in Devon. It’s sold out but might still have a place opening last minute.
  • April 6th-8th: Gabriele Keiner is hosting SuperBeth for a Tamarind Tribal Transformations Weekend, exclusively to learn Tamarind dialect. Details can be found in the facebook event. It might already be sold out but again, if you’re interested, contact the organiser.
  • April 21st-22nd: Nairiam Tribal Dance is hosting Kelley Beeston in Osnabrück, for a weekend ellegible for your Sister Studio Continuing Education Program. Also organised via Facebook event.
  • May 25th-28th: Tribal Remix, organised by Hilde Canoodt, bringing Jill Parker, Tjarda Van Straten, Lamia Barbara, Alexis Southall, and a few others. Individual workshops go on sale on January 31st
  • June 8th-21st: Integrated Dance levels 1 and 2 hosted by Alexis Southall; for any style of dancing, particularly if you are already or considering teaching
  • July 20th-22nd: Gothla UK, this year hosting Sharon Kihara with a Butoh intensive, and yours truly giving two costuming workshops on the Sunday; Sharon Kihara’s intensive can be booked now, individual workshops will go on sale in February
  • August31st-September2nd: Hilde Canoodt is hosting Michelle Sorensen in Brighton, workshops and show; bookings are already open
  • October 12th-15th: Kelley Beeston in Warsaw, hosted by Szkoła Tańca Orientmania; three days of ATS, also elegible for the SSCE Program. More details in the Facebook event page.
  • October 26th-28th: Infusion Emporium 8, in Wolverhampton; teachers include Amy Sigil, Aziza, and Olga Meos; registration hasn’t opened yet, but you can find more details in the Facebook event page

Achievement Unlocked: Teacher Training

With Mama Carolena

With Mama Carolena

Just a little post to note that at the end of August, 2017, I did both my ATS® General Skills and Teacher Training, and therefore I am a qualified ATS® teacher, although I won’t be teaching for a while yet, and I want to get more experience on other areas before I do so.

I want to write about both GS and TT in more detail, but for the time being, this should be enough as a reminder of the hard work and the five years that went into achieving this.

TeacherTraining Rochford Class of 2017

TeacherTraining Rochford Class of 2017

Inspiration: Michelle Sorensen at The Massive Spectacular 2017

I saw this earlier and I just had to share. It is *so fricking good*. The musicality is just spot on, the stage presence, the whole thing is just amazing.

Enjoy!

Learning Choreography Fast Without Pulling Your Hair

You’ve created a choreography for a hafla. Or you’ve chosen to take part in a choreography project like The Juniper Project, or Masmoudi Students, or like the Olivia Kissel Hybrid intensive. Or someone from your troupe has broken a leg and they need a replacement for their part. Either way, it doesn’t matter, you’ve got a limited amount of time and you need to learn a choreography.

The way a lot of people seem to tackle this is the usual: repeat until it sinks. Problem is, that takes a long time. Also, by merely repeating a choreography that you are learning, you are reinforcing the mistakes, wrong steps, wrong weight shifts… If you are not clear and clean on what one move is doing, you keep repeating it muddied. Basically, you are reinforcing all the bad patterns which you will then need to work even harder to remove.

Another typical way that people learn a new choreo is by learning a new bit and tucking it to the rest. So they learn the first 16 counts, repeat that a few times. Learn another 16 counts, do all 32 counts a few times. Lather, rinse, repeat. The issue with this approach is that you are repeating the first part far more than anything else, and the final far less. So you’ll have a strong beginning, and a weak ending, because if you’ve repeated each part 20 times before adding another, and you’ve got 5 parts, then you’ll have done the start 100 times, next part 80 times, until the final just had 20. Nobody wants that.

Other typical way is to start, wait to see where you are stumbling or making a mistake, stop at the mistake, and restart again from the beginning… lather, rinse repeat. So again you are reinforcing the first section, hoping that somehow you will clear up that stumbling block before moving on, and you are wasting time with sections that have no issue. Not ideal.

So, how do I do it? I use a combination of methods taught to me by my piano teacher at the National Conservatory back in my home country, and extra bits I gathered from Daniel Coyle’s The Little Book of Talent (which, btw, is a fantastic book, go get it!).

  • write it all down: I use a combination of words, squiggles, and symbols borrowed from Laban’s notation; some people do diagrams, you might know choreography script; it doesn’t really matter HOW you write it down, but the act of carefully considering all the elements of each movement will help your brain realise all it needs to do for each part. If you are working from video, this also saves you having to wait for the whole slow explanation each time, or having to figure out where in the video they are; with the notes, you can go “maya maya omi omi roll up shoulder shimmy”
  • split into manageable sections: with Masmoudi Students, we have videos for “weeks”; if you don’t have that, you can use definite sections in the music, verses if there’s singing, or any other way that makes sense to you. Once you’ve done that, split into even smaller chunks. I do it down to 8-16 counts, and this happens concurrently with the previous point, so while I am writing, each line is ideally a set amount of counts within its’ own section
  • grab your tools: mine include a free metronome and The Amazing SlowDowner from Roni Music. There are other options, either for your music player, phone or computer, some free, some paid. I got a nice little app for free for my old iPod which is very basic but does the trick too. Audigy allows you to do this if you’re using your computer for music. Whatever works for you, really; the idea is to have *something* that allows you to work slowly. Like PAINFULLY slow.
  • practice each section separately: and I mean each SMALL section of either 8 or 16 counts. Practice it slow, and use your notes. I prefer working on these small sections without the music, as that saves me having to wait for the bits before and after the loop; I use the metronome for the counts, but if not possible for whatever reason, I use the slow downed version. I also start each section from the pose where I would have ended from the previous section, and end with the pose/step you would have gone into. This makes joining sections later on easier. If one section is complicated enough that is still causing issues, I slow it down even more until it becomes doable and it flows
  • start joining small sections two at a time: keep working at snail pace focusing on getting the technique and the steps correctly. the slow speed will allow you time to focus on everything, and the short sequences will make them easier to memorise. Remember to always end each sequence with the beginning move or pose from the next
  • counter game: once you’ve got all of your small sequences from your big section paired, it’s time to start playing a game against yourself. Grab some counting items (I use coffee pods, you can use coins, buttons or whatever). By now you should have repeated each sequence enough to have it memorised, and you should start feeling comfortable with the pairs; some people find they are adding some sing-songing in their heads while doing each part that helps, some just count… again, this is personal. Whatever works for you to remember what you’re supposed to be doing in each section. Join the pairs, so there are 4 mini sections, and add one counter for each repetition you do without checking your notes, and without mistakes. Play this to win: “five repetitions, I will take a break” or “five repetitions I will move onto the next” or “five repetitions I will have a chocolate raisin”. Whatever challenges you. You want to make it more challenging, make it so that those five reps need to be consecutive; if you mess it up restart the counting. Repeat with the rest of the mini-sections in your chunk, and until you have done your main section several times without messing up; I prefer to use the music only when I start working on the main sections, and use the loop function on the Amazing SlowDowner to do this automatically so I can just keep on dancing
  • STOP and go have a nap: seriously, have a nap. Some neurophysiology studies suggest that a quick nap after learning reinforces patterns, as they give the brain time to process what it has just worked on; if I am doing this in the morning or afternoon, I try to go over what I learnt during the day right before bed, either by doing a quick once-over, or repeating it in my head, or if I am learning from a video, watching that particular section.
  • start the process again with the next section, ignore previous, or do a quick once-over after you’re done with this new part
  • join all main sections, again, keep at ridiculously LOW speed; by now you should be familiar enough with the material because of the individual repetition that you shouldn’t need much extra aid, and make sure you are working slow enough to repeat it without mistakes, as you want to reinforce the correct technique, steps and weight shifts and not to fumble around
  • identify weak spots and address them by working on that really small bit; even if it’s just a wrong weight placement during 2 counts, include the bit before and after to make sure your body picks up the context of the moves; work as slow as you need to.
  • speed up: once you can repeat the whole thing at snail’s pace, start speeding up; the current piece I’m learning, I’m working at 75% speed; for one I learnt in class with a teacher I worked at 80%. When you are able to do the piece several times really slow, up it a notch, say 5%, and try again; this will make the speed increase incremental enough that your brain should keep the clean moves while getting faster at it; if you want, bring up the counter game again; when you are fully comfortable with the speed, up it another notch until you reach full speed

Congratulations, you haven’t just danced your piece beginning to end, but you should have also memorised it along the way as the careful, mindful repetition should have reinforced the correct steps. Now go and have fun.

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