Tips For Your First Workshop
Updated: Mar 20, 2022
Congratulations on signing up for your first workshop! Workshops are different from regular classes for a few reasons: there will likely be more people than your regular class, the lesson will last longer, the information will probably be more concentrated, and there's a different teacher- which means different expectations. Here are some tips to prevent you from being "that student".
1) First and foremost, wear something on your feet. Even if you dance barefoot in your regular class, remember that those are (usually) an hour long, while a workshop is going to involve much more time exfoliating your little piggies. I learned this the hard way at my first intensive and even something like foot undies will help, but depending on your feet, ankles, and knees you may want to invest in some jazz shoes/ballet flats/nike "wraps"/ghillies/or what ever suits your needs.
2) Wear a silent hip scarf! it can have as much fringe, beads, sequins, and bling as you want, so long as it doesn't make noise (or spray onto the floor and cut other student's feet). In workshops teachers are already trying very hard to find a balance between the music being loud enough for everyone to hear it, and quiet enough for everyone to hear their instruction, add a lot of coins or bells (which may or may not be on beat- see number 11) and it's just chaos.
Personally, I allow (and even loan out) hip scarves with coins in my beginner classes because they're fun and I also find them a great tool for learning shimmies and isolations, but workshops are not their place.
3) This should go without saying, but, silence your cell phone. I assume you already do this for class unless you have some sort of family/health emergency you are waiting on news about. Even in this case, please put your phone on vibrate and just tuck it into your outfit. If you are expecting important news situate yourself near the door and slip out in as ninja-like a fashion as you can. This is to show respect for your fellow workshop participants and their learning. Ideally you can silence or turn off your phone and leave it aside, and give yourself some unplugged time to enjoy dancing.
4) If you're going to take notes, which I do recommend, have them near by. (Check back sometime to see if I get around to patenting a note-holster for dancers ^_~) If you don't have a way to keep your note pad on you then find a spot near the back or side of the room, so you don't have to cross in front of people every time you want to write something down.
5) Leave extra time to find the venue. You might want to socialize before (not during), or you might want to shop before the workshop starts, either way you don't want to disrupt the workshop by being late. Since this is a new place you might not be able to find it right away, so give yourself some flexibility and avoid the stress.
If you are late, again, be as ninja-like as you can when you slip in. Find a spot in the back, and jump into the class. If you are late and your body needs a warm up it would be better to do it in the waiting area outside the workshop, again to not disrupt those already learning.
6) Speaking of vending at the workshop: budget realistically. Just being aware that there will be things for sale is helpful. I prefer to decide ahead of time if I really need to buy anything, or if I'll be open to what I find. At many workshops there might be everything from costumes for several hundred dollars to made-in-China hip scarves for a song. I personally always look for CDs that I can't find anywhere else, and prioritize those over any other purchases. Just remember that the temptation (or reasoning) to buy something will be stronger than if your home-studio has vending, because you'll know you can't just think on it and get it next week. That is why it's a good idea to have a budget in mind before arriving.
7) Plan for food. You'll be dancing and working up an appetite, most workshops are day/weekend/week-long events, so look at what your options are. A lunch pail with some hummus, yogurt, or cheese is my favorite for quick protein/energy boost, but I'm sure you know your body. Knowing if there will be food provided (rare), if you'll be bringing your own (does your hotel room have a fridge?), or if you'll be eating out might play into your budget for the event as well.
8) Speaking of taking care of your body during an active weekend, bring a water bottle. In most parts of Europe and the USA you should have a reusable bottle and refill from the tap. If you're going to be someplace where you're not sure if the water is potable, check. But for serious, if the infrastructure is there, do the planet a favor and get a reusable water bottle! (And then spend the money you saved on music ^_~)
9) The last point about taking care of your body is: see if you'll want to bring a seat. Some workshops have a lecture component, such as a lunch time panel, or even be 50+% lecture (such as the amazing Journey Through Egypt Series by Sahra Saeeda!) and in these cases you'll want to give your bum some cushion and/or your back some support. This isn't necessary for all workshops, so look at the description of what you're signing up for.
Bonus: For out of town workshops, you might also want to pack a foam roller or any other things you use for stretching.
10) It is a major pet peeve of mine when dancers assume they can film. You may well be able to, and it doesn't hurt to ask, but you MUST ASK BEFORE FILMING. Many teachers will let you film yourself doing the choreography, so that you can remember it and practice it later, some will let your film them. Never ever assume that you have the right to film another person, teacher or classmate, and absolutely never ever ever post something into the internet without the permission of those in the video.
Teachers have a variety of reasons for not wanting to be filmed. They might not feel they performed at their best that day, and they are managing their brand. They might want to keep the choreography under wraps- so that it remains marketable, in which case filming and posting would be violating their copyright, or they might just be feeling bloated and not want to be on film. Either way that wish should be respected.
In terms of filming the rest of the class doing the choreography, at the end you may ask to film only those dancers who want to be filmed, and share it with only those in the workshop. Don't film the entire class without giving those who don't want to be filmed the chance to step out of the frame. Especially if there are minors in the workshop.
11) Keep a balance between pushing yourself vs getting in over your head. Most importantly, don't expect to look fabulous, in fact, if you do you're probably not challenging yourself enough. I have been in workshops where dancers I greatly admired, who had over 20 years under their hip scarf, looked like beginners. Because they were challenging themselves, and continuing to grow. Maybe they were focusing on a new detail, or trying a style not their own. By all means give it your all and own it, but don't be upset with yourself if you don't look like a star. If you do, you're in the wrong class ^_~
12) Along the same lines of trying another style: do it the teacher's way, unless it hurts. What I mean is that, unless you have an injury or the teacher is legitimately asking you to do something that will injure you ("go ahead and throw your head back as hard as you can! you don't need those vertebrae anyway!") then you should follow their instructions as best you can even if it's not how you or your teacher would do things. It's fun to try on their style, and besides, that's what you paid for, right?
13) Ask questions, respectfully. Your weekly class might be more informal and it may, or may not, be ok to just ask questions whenever the teacher isn't speaking the same way you would in normal conversation (this is closely related to class size, the bigger the class the more formality is need to ensure everyone can learn). In most workshops you'll want to raise your hand to ask a question or the teacher may indicate that they will answer questions at specific intervals, but you absolutely should ask! There is a good chance others either have the same question, or haven't even thought of it but would love to know.
Questions to clarify weight placement, muscle use, cultural significance, lyric translations, appropriate costuming, how a style/song/choreo fits into a set; are all common. If you are confused because the teacher seems to be doing something "wrong", ask in a gentle and open minded way for a clarification or to help you understand the context. Remember that there is a wide range of "right" answers, and this range gets even wider when you expand to new-to-you styles. Also, some teachers might convey a concept as the "right way" to do it, when they are just using short hand to simplify things for a beginner class. (We can debate this approach elsewhere ^_~)
14) This may sound like it's contradicting #12 but: don't try to learn the choreography. This is my personal dance philosophy, your mileage may vary. Personally, when I perform I do not usually dance choreography, and on the rare occasions I do it's one that I made. I learned improvisation first. Picking up and remembering choreographies is as different a skill from your other dance abilities as riding a bike is from swimming. I know I'm not going to perform their choreography (it feels like plagiarism to me,but if the teacher gives you permission then you are of course able to do it, with credit) so I go into a workshop intending to learn something about their style and musicality, add new movements to my vocabulary, and perhaps some new transitions or combinations.
I, personally, feel I get more out of the workshop when I think of the choreography as a tool that they instructor is using to teach me something (that is how I use them in my weekly classes) and focus on what that is, than if I am stressing out about remembering a specific chain of steps. That said, not all workshops teach a choreography and you should still be following along with the instructor's steps, technique, and other instructions.
As a bonus for this point, especially when you have native instructors who speak the language the songs are in: look at and imitate their faces just as much as their bodies. This will help you to get "the feeling".
15) Some dancers expect a type of row ranking. This is a system in which the most experienced dancers, or those most skilled at picking up and remembering choreography, are up front. There are good reasons for it: mostly that in very large workshops it may not be possible for everyone to see the instructor and those in the back are relying on the front row to pass the information along. I don't necessarily agree with this method and when I teach I prefer to rotate the lines so everyone can see, but this is an expectation at some workshops. If you are going to follow the advice in number 14, for sure situate yourself to the side or back.