This project calls for a participation and observation in an activity that we are new to. After we learned about the instructions, we were very excited, given our very hectic schedule we had an excuse to try something fun and new! So we discussed and listed down all the possible activities and in the end it came down to dance. Even before this project we wanted to be dancers or at least be able to dance feeling confident about ourselves. So last weekend we enrolled ourselves in one-day dance classes in Movement Dance Studio, which offered several types of dances catering to all age groups and nationalities.
Hip-hop is one the most famous types of dances that most teenagers want to learn because it brings about an aura of “coolness” and toughness. But even though this type of dance is very known that it is what we always see in the television and in movies, we were curious of what really happens before the show, what necessary preparations were required to be able to demonstrate this thing they call “swag”.
Belly dancing on the other hand, although it is a popular dance, people especially in the Philippines relate this type of dance and the dancers who practice it as something peculiar and usually done only in other cultures. And because of this we wanted to try it out for ourselves to see if it is as weird and different as people think.
Awkward and out of place, that was what we felt when we first entered the room. The room was filled with people who were already acquainted with each other and who were knowledgeable about the activity. A couple of minutes after we entered, the class began, no introduction of names and no insinuating of the basics. The class just began regardless of the presence of new faces and those ignorant of what was to happen. The first class was hip-hop and believe it or not, it was taught by a mom! The moment we saw the teacher, we felt intimidated and second-guessed our decision. Here we were in a roomful of people who have been doing this for quite some time. But we fought this feeling and went through with the class mainly because we had no other choice.
The first thing we did was a set of exercises that would prepare us for the stretching of muscles and rapid, coordinated movements to come. After the warm-ups, the teacher asked everyone to perform the dance she taught last time. And we were stunned! Not only did we feel intimidated but we felt clueless. Before entering the room we assumed that they would teach us the basics, so we were shocked to find out that in this class we would be dancing a choreographed dance to a fast-paced music. But the good thing about it was that we were not the only ones who were new to the class. So we watched those who knew the dance perform. After their performance and a review of the previous dance steps, she taught us the next set of steps. The pace was fast and we were having a hard time keeping up. Not only was the dance itself fast, but our teacher taught as if we were experts or at the same level with her. This time it was not only us who had a difficulty but also most of the class. But after a few repetitions, we were able to keep up.
Before the class ended, the teacher divided the class into two groups so that we could perform the dance in front of the other group. We were very nervous because we were terrible compared to our other classmates. But we participated otherwise and it didn’t turn out so bad. After the performances and before the official end of the class, we did another round of stretches and exercises to cool down.
The next class was belly dancing and at the beginning we already had a sense that this class would be very different. It is as if we enrolled in classes that were so different from each other that you could compare them to being to different ends of a pole. At a glance you could tell that the teacher was of a different nationality. Not only did she look different, but spoke with an accent and dressed differently. But maybe that’s also because we were “under dressed”. When the rest of our classmates went in, they were wearing this scarf that was decorated with sequins and beads that made noise when you moved. And later on we found out that they were called coin scarves.
The class began again with warm-ups but this time it was so different from what we did in the hip-hop class. Imagine aerobics and wushu combined! From that moment, we knew we were definitely going to experience something new and different. The teacher then moved on teaching us a dance she choreographed herself! Belly dancing is different from hip-hop because the movement was centered on a part of the body, from the neck to the hips. There were instances when we would turn or move our hands, but the shimmy, rapid movement of the hips was given more emphasis. It was definitely more difficult than it seemed! We had to learn how to isolate and move a section of our torso without affecting the other parts of our body. What made it more difficult was the fact that that was our first time and everybody else didn’t encounter the same difficulty. Unlike our hip-hop class, everybody in this class was more familiar with the type of dance. But it was also not as different as the hip-hop class, we followed the same routine — she would teach a set of steps and we would follow until, during the performance part of our class our teacher started shouting weird high-pitched sounds as if she was worshipping something and she called this nonsense noise zagareet.
Learning two very different and distinct dances made us realize not only the obvious difference in the cultural background of the dances but also the different personalities and types of people enrolling in both dances. In hip-hop, the class was composed of mostly teenage girls and a few moms, who believed that this was a good and fun alternative to exercise. Hip-hop was modern and fast-paced but also used popular music, in our generation it definitely wouldn’t be considered different. While belly dance is a dance more familiar in Egyptian and Arabic culture. The dance is sensual and portrays emotions differently from how you would do it in hip-hop. Most of our classmates were young moms and young professionals who had a lot of free time on their hands. Aside from the obvious health benefits of learning to belly dance they also chose this because in a way it boosts their self-esteem. And aside from that, it was also fun to experience being in a room that just suddenly switched auras, from the hip-hop class that constantly played Rihanna’s song to something so unfamiliar and new. Overall it was a great experience and definitely a day worth writing about.
1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
Both observation and participation require your full attention and focus on the the subject. But compared to observation, there are some insights that you gain from participation than from simple observation. Participation requires you to join and try the activity for yourself. In participation, not only do you see the activity, you also get to do it, which brings about a different attitude and perception towards the activity.
Like in this activity, if we were simply to observe, then we wouldn’t have experienced and felt all the intimidation and difficulty in learning the dance. In a way, we got to experience a gist of what the other dancers go through everyday. This experience greatly affected the outcome of this project because if we were to observe, we would only be talking about what we think we see, but because we were able to participate, we could actually, in a way, be like them for an hour or so.
We were able to understand that dancing is so much harder than it seems, whether it be hip-hop or belly dancing. From the warm-ups to the learning of the routine itself required much effort, and not just for us but also for those who have been dancing for quite a while. But aside from that, it was fulfilling and we understood why a lot of people dance despite the fact that it is time-consuming and exhausting.
2. What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Having a key informant prepared us for the event. Our informant told us to wear any clothes but jeans and any kind of flat shoes so that we can move more comfortably. She also assisted us in finding the venue in Ortigas and in making reservations for the event. We had to call and choose the kinds and number of class we wanted to participate in.
She helped us understand what we were doing during the class and why we had to do these things. An example is the zagareet. She explained to us how to do it properly. The right hand has to be placed between the nose and the upper lip with the palm down and angled in a way that will cover the mouth. The mouth has to be covered because the sight of one flapping his/her tongue is not very attractive. The zagareet is done to express joy. The audience usually does this to show that they are having fun. It can also be an alternative to clapping. The dancer may also do the zagareet to show that she is enjoying herself.
We have also noticed that there are parts in the hip-hop dance routine wherein we were allowed to dance any way we want. Our informant explained to us that that part is called freestyle. According to her, one can determine how good a dancer is by how well that dancer can make-up dance moves on the spot. Also, freestyle is important especially for those who want to be captains of dance troupes. In order to be a captain, one must have his/her own style and know how to choreograph.
3. What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
There a lot of things that you learn when doing a participant observation, compared to a simple interview or answering of a questionnaire. When you interview or write a questionnaire, you have limited access to information simply because we only ask what we want to know. But in participant observation, not only do we get answers to our questions, we also learn a lot more, especially those that we didn’t expect.
In this activity, if we were to do an interview it would be just us asking about their routine and what they go through. But because we were able to participate, we got to learn about the zagareet in belly dancing and the execution of the movements in hip-hop. Participant observation allowed us to gain more knowledge on the activity than what we expected.
4. For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
Even though there is a lot of information we can obtain from participant observation, there are also instances when a questionnaire or an interview is better than participant observation. There are events or activities that often do not allow participant observation. For example in research, we usually conduct interviews since they are more appropriate and does not require much of our time and effort.
In this activity, an interview would’ve been better if we wanted to know about the history of the dance, the dance studio and its members and staff. Participant observation allowed us to have a first-hand experience of being a dancer, but it did not explain everything. There were instances were we needed to ask our informant or research more about it. An interview would also allow us to know the reasons behind the activities.
Questionnaires would be best to use for gathering quantitative information such as the percentage of people who find a specific genre of dance interesting or the most liked genre of dance. We may also be able to know why people like a certain kind of dance.*Not actual photos from the activity. Photos by Movement Dance Studio. Jenille Gwenn Juico Charlotte Louise Maglasang SA 21: Y