Cover Story: Teaching Online with Aziza!
Fanoos Magazine caught up with Aziza of Canada to talk about technology, teaching online, and what the future holds. You've been teaching online live classes for quite some time. When did you begin and what made you transition to teaching online?
The origin of the idea to offer online classes started in 2016. I was touring heavily and wanted to find a way to continue connecting with the dancers I was meeting around the world. I was aware of other dancers that were taking their classes online and started to do some research on how it could work. I am very lucky that my husband Eric has worked in video production and was eager to help. Eric had connections in the movie industry in Quebec, so we had access to amazing sound engineers. I am not tech savvy at all. The early days were a very big learning curve. It might sound corny, but taking on a daunting project and sticking with it when it seemed overwhelming is something I am very proud of. For the first two years I was only teaching online when I was not touring. It felt like I had to relearn the process after every tour!
I was very lucky to have this time to stumble through learning. When the lockdown happened and many of my colleagues had to pivot fast to online classes. It felt good to be able to share what I had learned and refer them to resources.
What kinds of technology upgrades have you made over the years to enhance your teaching experience? What do you think was the most helpful?
The first hurdle was sound quality. It was a lot of trial and error and frustration. I hired two
sound engineers to come to my studio and trouble check. Upgrading to a sound mixer made a big difference. I also had valuable guidance from Heather Wyman of Bellydance Geek
Clubhouse and Lisa Zahiya . Heather helped me navigate Zoom settings. Lisa continues to help me with online marketing and hustle support! I also had two equipment upgrades that have made a huge difference. I have a 46” big screen on a rolling stand just behind my webcam. So now I can see my students better while I am teaching. Another is an Ipad stand for my music. No more bending over or disappearing to change music!
How do you keep the emotional and personable connection teaching online? Do you
experience a disconnect with your students?
Teaching through a camera and screen was certainly awkward at first. However, the excitement of the opportunity to teach remotely balanced the weirdness. As I became more comfortable with the technology, I embraced the…how do I say it? Blessing? Miracle? I was teaching students from across the globe from my home studio in Montreal! It has gotten easier, and honestly there is something intimate about seeing people’s living spaces. Seeing their cats and kids. For me it can feel more connected than a big workshop in a hotel ballroom. One perk is every square on zoom has their name. I can give direct feedback, comment on their training outfit, or say hi to their peering partners.
When are in-person classes/workshops better than online ones?
For myself, when I am teaching in person I can read the energy of the room and calculate what the group needs from me in the moment. This is not accessible when teaching online. But, I can say that with developing relationships with my regular online students, I can tune in to what they need. To flip your question…For the student, you have an uninterrupted view of the teacher without having to change lines. You can type in questions in the chat and (in my classes) unmute yourself to ask for breakdowns. Feeling shy? Turn off your camera. Have a baby human to attend to? No problem. One of my favourite services I offer online is video feedback. The dancer sends ahead a video…it can be a recent performance, a choreography project, or even video of your personal practice. I watch the video on my own to take notes.
Then we meet live online and watch the video together. I can pause and rewind to give
feedback and suggestions. I get so excited during the live sessions I sometimes spit while I am talking. I have found this exercise to be very effective! For me, there are benefits for both in person and online teaching and I suspect that we will go forward with a hybrid of both in the future.
Tell us about Dream Camp! Any plans to move it online?
Aw, Dreamcamp...This summer would have been our 30th camp! Dreamcamp was another realization of a dream. My idea was to bring together dance enthusiasts for a weeklong event that combines dance, good food, relaxation, connection, and good fun. It is an opportunity for me to bring other instructors that I admire to be able to be a student myself and get an overall deeper experience with an intimate group. Our event space is pretty spectacular, it`s a converted convent on a lake in Northern Quebec. With the pandemic we had to postpone this year`s events, but we are looking forward to next year! I don`t have plans to offer Dreamcamp online. But we have been having online socials for
Dreamcampers and future Dreamcampers. Be sure to like and follow the Aziza Dreamcamp Facebook page if you are interested in these events. The next one is a Virtual Dreamcamp Movie Night to screen excerpts of Amaya`s American Bellydance Icons documentary. We will have some icons present for questions and stories and a pyjama pageant!
Do you feel that some teaching and performance material does not translate well to the online sphere?
I think we are witnessing the early days of an online revolution for both performance and dance. Just like we look back on early music videos or VHS instructional videos and chuckle at the low tech effects. The first online Bellydance shows were not perfect, but even in a few months the quality has gone up dramatically. I have tools to help with the weirdness of performing to a camera. I like to place stuffed animals under and around my camera to remind myself of the souls behind the lens. Also, I am a big fan of watching online shows. Especially the live shows. The ability to chat during shows is something we have never had before. The ability to curate an amazing line up is easier virtually. I also like “running into” my students and friends in the chats. It is a needed bit of connection in these times.
We are learning a new way to present our dance. The quality of our online classes will get also get better. The online market has exploded during the lockdown. Going forward it is my hope that students will return to support their local teachers and studios with the precious experience of in person learning. I also think the world has opened up for many students online. These online students will become more discerning on what content they will spend their time and money on.
You're used to traveling all over the world to teach and perform and now you're doing both at home. Has the current situation made things easier or harder for you?
I think I am not alone with the roller coaster of stress and anxiety of the times. It is a major shift to be home after 17 years of touring year round. I love spending time with my husband. I love being able to do my laundry whenever I want. I love having more control over my diet and consistency of a time schedule with no jet lag. I miss travelling. I miss in person performing. I worry about my fellow artists, studio owners, and promoters. But, I am also hopeful and eternally grateful for the connections I can
What would you recommend to teachers that are having to transition to online teaching for the first time?
There are many resources for guidance in transitioning to online classes. I recommend Lisa Zahiya and Heather Wyman. My advice is to invest your money in good sound quality and lighting. Take many classes for research. What works? What would you do different?
Many teachers say they have to rethink how they present the material online- in terms of positioning and lesson structure. Any tips?
I don`t feel there is much of a difference for me in terms of structure for in person and online. I like to structure my classes with a specific outcome and build the content to that completion. I like to state the expectations of the class at the beginning so the students know what to expect. Have your playlist structured and ready (with spontaneous options) so you are not searching for music and taking valuable class time. Take classes to remind yourself that repetition is GOOD and not boring.
Finally, What do you think might be next for you in this digital era?
So glad you asked! In the immediate future I am a contributor to the 2020 Bellydance Bundle. This is a curated offering of amazing online instructors in the Bellydance industry. Purchasing the Bundle allows you to try out online classes and lectures for a fraction of the price it would be to seek them out separately. With so many awesome instructors embracing online classes this year’s Bundle line up is amazing.
I am continuing my monthly pop up workshops. These are specialty classes and choreography workshops in a longer class format. I donate a portion of the proceeds of every workshop to benefit organizations that uplift POC. My next workshop will benefit Asmara Bellydance Initiative.
Most exciting is with some of the time I have had at home I have been working on a new platform for my online classes and offering pre-recorded streaming videos. I anticipate that I will return to touring once the world has opened up and I want to go forward with continuing ongoing online content as well. Live classes, workshops, and focused group projects. Another daunting endeavour that I am challenging myself with! We plan to launch in 2021!
Aziza Online Facebook Page:
2020 Bellydance Bundle:
Asmara Bellydance Initiative: