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How Belly Dance Transformed My Teaching

Discovering belly dance transformed my teaching.

I grew up a fairly bookish kids who did well with testing but stayed stuck in my head.

Through college, I had a narrow view of learning: intense study, lots of reading, aiming for perfection (or at least staying within 10 points of perfection).

I learned-a lot! But by the end of my MA, I was burnt-out on academia, severely depressed, and had an eating order to match the rest of my intensity.

Then I moved to Hawaii to teach and discovered a workshop I thought I'd give a try--a belly dance class. I found a movement that opened up my emotions (I cried after every class for weeks!) and my mind and taught me deeply and happily.

The art form brought me cultural understanding, music, food, history while giving me a sense of purpose through creating beauty and being part of a tradition that, though not my own, welcomed me.

I saw a new way of teaching (for me, anyway) and began to look at how the arts are taught outside of schools to see how I could better teach my students.


Because I've taught Western literature (American and British), I didn't see how I could specifically incorporate movement as thoroughly as what I was doing in belly dance until I discovered HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts).

This too came as part of a workshop I took, this time in Atlanta. During the multi-day A-Town Throw Down stage combat workshop, multiple instructors discussed the "martial purpose" behind stage combat moves, a phrase which intrigued me.

Upon returning to South Carolina, I discovered that Sword Carolina, SC's only HEMA school, was 45 minutes from my house, and I took a free lesson.

I explained my interest in connecting literature to sword fighting (initially stage combat, but now HEMA) to Aaron, and he spent an hour showing and explaining concepts I had come across in Beowulf or Spenser or Chaucer but now made so much more sense historically and literarily .

This marked a new turn in my learning-focus: one that has allowed me to incorporate the martial art into my literature classes AND involve my students in living, ongoing scholarship with current HEMAists.

Although belly dance and HEMA have no surface connections, for me, the two arts/disciplines represent the possibilities that active learning opens to all willing learners.

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