Tuesday 30 September 2014

How bellydance changed my life

In August 2014, the Yahoo Contributor Network was shut down. All the copyrights to articles thereon were returned to their authors, so I decided to publish certain articles of mine, originally written for Yahoo UK on my own blogs. This is one of them.

If you had told me once that I would dance for my living, let alone that this would come when I was already in my thirties, I would not have believed you. Here I am though, rhinestones and sequins everywhere (the homes of bellydancers have the most glamourous dustbunnies), an MP3 player full of Arabic music, planning my schedule around performances and classes.

Arabic dance is an excellent way to bring regular exercise into your life. Originating from folk dances, it is danced by people of all ages and physical abilities. The movements work with the body's natural motion and, as long as the posture is correct, puts very little strain on the joints. The dance builds core control with flexibility, grace with strength. As a long-term sufferer of joint problems with a taste for the exotic, bellydance seemed like the perfect, fun way to keep fit.

Little did I know it would become so much more than that.

My first class was actually a technique workshop with a famous dancer from out of town. The venue was huge, and I arrived to find a large number of women, in bright and jangly attire, catching up on news from their various circles. I believe I was the only raw beginner there. I struggled a little to follow the teacher from the midst of a large ballroom surrounded by my sparkling peers, but even as I fought for the compliance of my reluctant hips, I was falling in love.

I started regular classes, and I really mean classes, I attended two to three lessons with my teacher every week. I grew stronger, more flexible; I gained stamina, isolation and control. Stiff movements became gooey and smooth, stilted shimmies evolved into fast, effortless energy. The more I danced, the more I could dance, I progressed in a spiral of joy and beauty.

My joints became more stable, and less painful; I grew a full inch in height as my improved posture lengthened my spine. I became more poised and graceful, more confident and comfortable in my body - I became a dancer.

Not every individual who takes bellydance classes wants to perform, and that's just fine. A good class will offer every participant an opportunity to exercise, socialise and have fun, whilst still breaking down the movements and give feedback so that students learn to dance both safely, and beautifully. This allows them to ascend to a stage-worthy standard, should they choose to.

Tips for picking a good bellydance class:

Look for a local organisation. Or a not-so-local one, and ask about teachers. Failing that, seek out a reputable teacher further afield and ask for a recommendation. It is good for a teacher to be known by and involved with the wider dance community, that way they bring more opportunities for their students.

Speak to people already taking the class, but beware of bias. A personal recommendation is excellent, but if that person has only been exposed to the dance via their teacher, they may have a distorted view of the quality of the class.

Go to a local hafla (bellydance party) or showcase. Watch the teacher perform, watch the students perform, how do they compare with other groups at the show? Do you enjoy the style that they teach?

Ask your potential teacher about their training/qualifications. There is no governing body for bellydance in the UK, but there are a number of smaller schools with official training for bellydance teachers. I would also expect any decent teacher to be constantly working on her own dance, attending workshops, possibly even working under the mentorship of a master teacher. How a teacher trains will impact seriously on her students.

Talk to your teacher about their ethos and attitude to the dance. A good teacher will be passionate about the dance, music and culture. They will love to talk about it with you, and they will take great joy in infecting all their students with the same enthusiasm

Kash now teaches and performs as Scarlet Lotus Dancewww.scarletlotusdance.co.uk, in South West England.

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