Saturday, 25 April 2015

Baby steps - Starting bellydance as a beginning dancer

What's it like being a beginner, stepping into your first Raqs Sharqui lesson? 

For me, as a teacher, this is something I try hard not to forget. It's easy to get wrapped up in your own dance place, the excitement and joy an experienced dancer feels when they get a chance to discover something new, or even just to dance again. I have to be aware that the new dancers crossing the threshold of the studio for their first class, may well be feeling something entirely different.

My first proper class was the climax of several years trying to find the right teacher, and several weeks waiting for a space to open up on her beginner course. When I started I fell for the dance hard and fast, it turned my world upside down, much for the better.

I'm not the only one, I often meet dancers who arrive at my class happy and relieved to have found a way to begin (or continue) their journey with bellydance. Some students are more nervous, and it can be a big deal to put yourself out there and try something new, but given the right support, they bloom in confidence and reap immense rewards from their involvement in class and dance community events.

Thinking of starting a bellydance class? Or new to class? Here is what I would like you to know.

You are welcome, and wanted in the studio

I keep saying this, because it's true: Bellydance is for EVERY body. You can be younger, older, slight or bigger, fit or a couch potato, tall or short, any ethnicity, any gender. You have a place here.

I often get calls or messages from people who would like to join the class, but are reluctant because they think they might be too old to try a new dance, or because they feel their body somehow inhibits them. This makes me so sad, for while I can try and reassure those who contact me, I know that they are the tip of the iceburg. Bellydance can be great for your body and great for your confidence. Come along, give it a go, you have little to lose and so much to gain. Many people like to come with a friend, and that's great, but if you arrive on your own you won't be lonely for long! We love sharing the dance with new people!

So what if you think you have 2 left feet! We can work around your limitations, psychological or physical! I am always interested in finding new ways to help different people access the dance I love.

There is a place for you in our community

Learning bellydance is fun! Most people who attend classes are not going to become professional performers or teachers, not because the field is cutthroat and competitive, but because most dancers who enjoy lessons get everything they need from it by attending lessons, workshops and community events.

I've written about this at length before, the bellydance world is diverse and everyone can find a niche here.

Nobody "gets it" first time

I love this skit by Galit Mersand. She is a technically brilliant dancer who I very much admire, and I recall the feeling of relief when I realised that she started out just as I did, with the flailing and the uncoordinated wobbly stuff! Everyone does, and that's just fine.

If you could do it already, you wouldn't be in the class and I know that many people who start bellydance have absolutely no previous dance experience, I didn't, and I don't expect it.

I still find myself struggling when I go to classes or workshops in other dance styles - or even just with a teacher I'm not so familiar with. It's all part of the the process.

It's hard 

Anything worthwhile is worth putting effort into. A good performer makes dance look effortless, but it's not. That's OK because the journey to getting there is  a rewarding and enjoyable experience.

There are some terrible misconceptions about Middle Eastern dance, and it's forgivable to not realise the complexity and skill that lies behind the artform, but please don't be daunted by that. There is so much richness in the learning and there is always more to learn.

You will get better

Some dancers take to new moves faster than others, but the truth is that everyone who regularly attends classes is going to get better. How fast you get better depends a little on your fitness and natural ability and a little on how hard you work at it, but it will happen, and when it does, it feels great.

It's OK to ask questions

If you aren't sure about something. Just ask. I'm immensely nerdy about all things bellydance, from tweaking your posture to recommending music to discussing the origins of the dance. This is one of the benefits of going to a class with a real-live teacher. My brains are yours for the picking.

Don't fear the feedback

This is another topic I would really like to get my teeth into properly in another post. I always give feedback in my classes, because that is one of the greatest benefits to taking a class in person. Feedback should be positive and might be corrective or just a heads up on something you are doing well. Without it, your progress would be much slower.

I know that some new dancers can get quite intimidated by direct feedback, and I understand that, I've completely lost track of what I was supposed to be doing while under scrutiny too! I do still give hints and adjustments to individuals as I move around the class, because I know that a single, precise correction can make an immense difference to your dance in an instant. Most of the feedback I give is universal though, I tend to give points to focus on for the class as a whole, so listen out for them and check in with yourself. It's a good skill to be able to assess your technique, so when I call out "watch out for...." I'm teaching you to correct yourself.

Give me feedback too

What did you like about class? What made it easier for you? What didn't you like so much? What would you like to see in future?

When I was training as a schoolteacher I was taught to consistently evaluate my teaching in order to constantly improve. That can be trickier with dance classes as adults tend to be less blunt about the parts that don't work for them! So if there is something that didn't work for you, or something that really did, let me know, because I'm always learning too!

Drop me a message via my Facebook page or email, and I promise I will keep working at it!

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