ATS® Technique for Teachers Intensive

Sitting at home with my laptop the day after the 2017 Technique for Teachers intensive, I’m struggling to find the words to describe the past four days. Gobs of smiles and sweat, a few tears, and a tiny bit of blood.

Event Description

“Are your elbows lifted? ATS® has grown into a global phenomenon with an impressive expansion of the number of certified ATS® teachers. The Technique for Teachers Certification Course is a NEW opportunity to ensure that we are all sharing the same high-quality instruction at our Sister Studio locations. In this course for ATS® Teacher Training graduates, Carolena and Megha will assess each teacher’s technique, provide feedback and offer corrections to ensure that all of our students, worldwide, are receiving consistent instruction.

Each day will consist of a detailed breakdown of two core moves from the ATS® vocabulary followed by chorus drills. Each participant will have an opportunity to lead a two-song drill and receive feedback on their movement technique. We’ll have plenty of time for questions and answers, and bonus drills as well.” Moves by day:

  1. Shimmy Family & Taxeem
  2. Egyptian Family, Spins, & Turns
  3. Arabic Family & Body Waves
  4. Pivot Bump Family, Circle Step, & Torso Twist

20 hours total, certificate of completion, SSCE eligible. This course is for dancers who have completed General Skills (Classic and Modern) and Teacher Training. It is recommended that dancers take this and Perfecting Performance before applying to Advanced Teacher Training (ATT). ATT graduates are required to participate in this course annually as continuing education.

My Experience

I had the immense privilege of spending five hours per day for four days learning from and dancing with ATS® master teachers Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman and Megha Gavin and 17 advanced ATS® dancers representing Ontario (Canada), Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Hungary, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and Washington. It was challenging, enriching, and a whole lot of fun!

The daily schedule:

  • 8-9AM: Breakfast
  • 9-10AM: Free Time
  • 10AM-12:30PM: Class (instruction, drills, Q&A)
  • 12:30-1:30PM: Lunch
  • 1:30-4:30PM: Class (individual demos with critiques, chorus & follower practice)
  • 4:30-6PM: Free Time
  • 6-7PM: Dinner
  • 7-11:30PM: Free Time
  • 11:30PM: Quiet Hour Begins

I looooved having so much free time, especially since everyone was staying at the same place. I got to spend a lot of time talking with the other participants about belly dance, science, cooking, air travel, sex education, living in Ukraine, middle and last names in Spain and beyond, where to get good dance pants, baths for muscle relaxation, makeup tips, finding time for socializing at events, and much more. I’d love to tell you more, but a good majority of my favorite memories fall into the “What happens at dance camp, stays at dance camp” category 😉

Morning class time began with a warmup, followed by a detailed breakdown of each move and drills with instructor feedback. There was time at the end of each morning for students to ask additional questions about the moves covered and related moves. I took lots of notes and had many “lightbulb moments.” Weight distribution in Taxeem, amount of heel lift and hip release in Arabic, foot placement and chest location in Camel Walk, stopping slow turns with right foot, location of floreos in Sahra Turn, arm engagement in Body Wave, ASWAAT arms during turn, fully releasing hip in bumps, Single Bump Half Turn feet, latissimus dorsi.

Perfecting our chorus shape and body angles.

In afternoon class, each student was assigned two numbers. The first was your number for roll call as well as the order in which you would be critiqued. The second number determined which group you were in. I was #17 and was in group 5, so I was supposed to be the 17th person to receive critique (I switched with Sam so that I could dance a day earlier because my shoulder injury was acting up) and I danced in a group with Suzy and Marie (chorus and featured) every afternoon. Each person leads one fast song and one slow song, one after the other, before receiving critiques and compliments from Carolena, Megha, and the members of their group.

Marie receiving feedback from Carolena and Megha.
Smiles everywhere on the last day!

Suzy was #3, so she led and received critique on the first day and Marie and I completed her trio. It would have been nice to get the critiques out of the way earlier in my week in order to get the nerve-wracking part over, but it was really nice to get to see how things worked before it was my turn. When my group was not in the featured dancer or chorus positions, we got to be the audience, encouraging the dancer that was being watched and taking notes on their critiques, many of which apply to us as well. The distance between the arms in the Egyptian Basic, body angle in Arc Arms, head and shoulder position in Torso Twist, swinging the Barrel Turn, LATISSIMUS DORSI!!!

View from classroom.

Because I switched to #13 (thank you so much, Sam!), I got to lead on day 3. I am dealing with shoulder impingement syndrome at the moment, and after a 2-day intensive at Tribal Revolution and 2.5 days at Technique for Teachers, my arm was not happy but I danced strongly until the very end of the last song, at which point I lost strength in the arm. My peers were incredibly encouraging while I danced (special shout out to my group members Suzy and Marie for reassuring me every time we made eye contact and to everyone in the audience and chorus, especially Diana, Lisa, and Heather, whose smiles I can still picture in my head). My shoulder was very painful in the end and I’m told that I my eyes looked like they were ready to burst into tears at any moment but I maintained my technique throughout. Carolena smiled and told me that my Ghawazee arms were perfect, which is a pretty big deal for me because that is something that is commonly done incorrectly across the globe. Megha described my Rainbow arms as lovely. I received compliments from my followers on the clarity of my cues. I need to work on my Turkish Shimmy arms (don’t let them go left of the chest), hip bounce in shimmies, Arabic Step chest lift, Body Wave arms (less movement in shoulder socket), and I need to smile more. I also completed a private lesson with Carolena in between classes and learned that I tend to lean into my toes and that I need to modify my upper body posture (for the time being at least) because of my shoulder injury. I am to work on bringing my weight back into my heels and on my Arabic Hip Twist arm positioning. Challenges accepted!

I’m not going to share everything that I learned because that would take forever. I’ll simply say that this intensive was worth every penny of the $750 tuition + room, board & travel and I will do it again when I have the chance. There were three students present that had taken the intensive before and two that are Advanced Teacher Training graduates, which shows you that this class is valuable to advanced dancers no matter how many times they have taken it. I highly recommend this course.

Shopping Carolena’s goodies!

A shout of to Grace for having the conversation with me regarding what we were trying to get out of the intensive. Both of us were thinking about it as teachers, pondering how we will bring this information to our students. Grace put it well when she said that this intensive is for us as individuals. Technique for Teachers. Personalized, individual technique feedback. Yaaaaas! We will share what we have learned by example, not necessarily with words because some of this info blew our (advanced level) minds and would likely be overwhelming to less experienced dancers. Thanks for working through that with me, Grace <3

Hostesses

Grace Tucker and Paula Ngo collaborated as Wild Oats Cartel to host this fantastic event and I can’t think of a single thing that they could have done better. Paula and Grace were exceptional hostesses, making sure that everyone was comfortable and having a good time. I had a crazy week before this event, spending 4 days at Tribal Revolution in Chicago and then driving home to Michigan for my first day at my new job and then waking up at 3:30 am to drive for 4ish hours to TforT in Woodstock, IL. I arrived around 7:30am and most of the others had arrived the day before and were not up yet but the Wild Oats Cartel ladies had left clear directions for check-in as well as printouts telling me how to access the WiFi and a campus map. I was able to find my room, unpack my bags, text the husbeast that I had arrived safely, and relax for a moment before joining everyone at breakfast. I am dealing with a shoulder injury at the moment and they made sure to check on me and they coordinated an evening campfire for everyone and shared tasty snacks (OMG, those dark chocolate covered salted caramels!!). Thank you Paula and Grace for being such great hostesses! I look forward to attending more Wild Oats Cartel events in the future.

Paula and Grace

Location

The instructors and students all stayed on-site, tribal village style,  at an all-inclusive retreat center about 50 miles northwest of Chicago. “Encompassed by 98 acres of prairies, savannas, woodlands, wetlands, and ponds, Loyola University’s Retreat and Ecology Campus provides a peaceful setting that serves as place for spiritual and intellectual growth and allows guests to connect through the mind, body, and spirit.”

We were given the option of single or double occupancy hotel style rooms and we shared three hearty buffet meals per day. It was great not having to worry about getting to class on time or trying to figure out where/what to eat. No transportation necessary from my lodging to the event site. My room (I splurged for single occupancy in order to nurture my introvert needs) was very comfortable, with two twin beds, a desk, private bathroom with shower, alarm clock, heat/fan/air conditioning, and a large window that I could open for fresh air with a nice view of the woods. Plus, it was only 50 feet from the classroom and maybe 3 minutes from the cafeteria.

I was recuperating from Tribal Revolution, so I didn’t have the energy to explore the grounds other than spending some time around the fire pit, but several fellow dancers tell me that there are some very nice trails that go into the woods and near the pond. There is also a lovely labyrinth.

Meals

Did I mention that there is a year-round farm on location? Loyola Farm staff and student employees tend the organic fruit and vegetable gardens, a greenhouse, compost area, and bee hives and they operate a farm stand that is open to the public. They are working towards becoming a sustainable operation and the campus stresses conservation and reducing, reusing, and recycling. There was no need to bring money for food or drinks because everything was included. There were vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options at each meal and the hostesses coordinated our individual dietary concerns with the chefs, who were nice enough to share several secret ingredients for recipes when asked. I could tell that they were proud of his work, and rightfully so. They make all meals from scratch, using only locally sourced, fresh and preserved-on-site ingredients with an emphasis on seasonality. I really enjoyed the breakfast sausage, salad bar, baked cod, vegan imitation teriyaki chicken, veggie burgers, baby potatoes, sweet potato french fries, and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies and I’m looking forward to trying to replicate their delicious herbed summer squash, spicy cauliflower, and brown butter gnocchi recipes!

Gratitude and ALL THE EMOS

I don’t usually get emotional after events, but I got teary eyed as I wheeled my bag down the hallway, past the classroom, out the heavy wooden doors with stained glass windows, into the beautifully landscaped entry and to my car as I began my journey home. Students that didn’t have to leave immediately stayed for one final Facebook Live performance and I blew kisses and tried my best to take it all in. The dancing, smiles, teachers, friends, laughter, music, zilling, scenery, atmosphere, food, shenanigans… my heart is full and my passion for pure ATS® burns bright.

Scurrying to the building after abruptly putting our fire out when the storm sirens sounded.

Thank you Grace and Paula for making all of this possible, for making me feel like one of the gang, and for being such fun folks to be around. Time spent with you is always great. Thank you Carolena and Megha for traveling to the midwest and devoting so much time to teaching us how to be the best American Tribal Style® dancers that we can be. Thank you for your tips, corrections, critiques, and praises, for being so approachable and warm, and for sharing your personal stories and latest moves with us! Thank you Carolena for spending one-on-one time with me addressing my issues and offering advice. Thank you Deenya, Diana, Fruzsi, Grace, Heather, Jeana, Lisa, Lulu, Marie, Omy, Paula N., Paula P., Sam, Suzy, Tammy, Tracy and Virginia for all the laughs, love, knowledge, time, and dancing that you shared. Special thanks to Suzy for the Biofreeze and the extra love. Omy, you’re a hero for sharing your delicious Puerto Rican coffee (thx for supplying the coffee pot, Grace!). And those guava cookies, Omy! I’m salivating just thinking about them. Thank you Suzy and Tammy for the beverages that shall go unnamed. Okay, I’ll stop with the food & drinks already. But not before I mention Jeana’s chocolate covered espresso beans and the toffee! Mmm. Heather is an angel for offering Reiki sessions. Mine was great and I was told that I looked “glowing” and “blissed out” afterwards. Win. Thank you Tracy and Leo for making an awesome fire and to Paula and Grace for hooking us up with the fixin’s to make s’mores. My god, this is a lot of thanks but I am filled with gratitude and I’m going to put it all down, damn it! Thanks to everyone that participated in zil-robics with me. Letting go like that, getting silly, and jamming out felt really good. Kudos to the photographers, models, and fluffers from the Wednesday night photo shoot. Marie and Paula P., I’ll never see you the same way! Thanks Tim for holding down the fort, taking care of the animals, and encouraging me all the way! Okay, enough. I’m thankful for everything and everyone that was in my life this week. For realz. Much love!

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