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hippyhips

New member
Hello, i was wondering if you experienced belly dancers can help me?

Ive been belly dancing with my local classes for about two years, but i feel that ive majorly grown from the beginners classes which are the only type of classes i can find in the area (and quite frankly in bored of doing the same moves over and over again and not learning much else). My dance teacher was teaching me an intermediate class which had to be cancelled as there was not many other people ready or interested in the class.

so my question is, how do go about "going further?" i have alot of experience and certs in other styles of dance so im quite happy to check and regulate myself in tecnique, but i wouldn't mind the "student - teacher" class aspect of it as i enjoy it alot.
 

Tourbeau

Active member
Many teachers are doing online classes now, everything from sites with prerecorded package video deals to live-streamed workshops to private Zoom and Skype lessons. Which dancers would you like to study from? Have you checked their online offerings?

As far as your general problem, yes, MED suffers from two serious educational issues: a shortage of organized resources for learning past the beginning level, and a rush to get beginners onstage in order to retain them that feeds a de-prioritization of the wider, experiential knowledge that goes into becoming a master performer (music, background culture, etc.). Even prior to the pandemic, most teachers were only offering lower-level classes, and most sponsors had stopped doing workshops aimed at more advanced students. Multiple factors contributed to this, which could be a whole thread by itself. Alas, like many dancers, you've probably just reached the point where you're on your own to chart your future.

On the bright side, online also offers a lot of non-pay resources. Plenty of good teachers upload content for free. Listen to as much music as you can. Learn about history and culture from reputable resources. There are all sorts of language sites if you'd like to learn a little Turkish or Arabic. (You may not become fluent, but with, say, Duolingo, you can learn enough Arabic to hunt-and-peck your way to more YouTube and music information than someone who knows less.)

If you are motivated and have good self awareness, you can go pretty far, but I would argue there unfortunately is no substitute for one-on-one mentoring. One of the biggest (and most obvious) problems with being a student is that you don't know what you don't know. You waste a lot of time making mistakes and doing things requiring adjustments that you haven't learned how to fix or simply can't recognize from the view of your own eyes. It's really hard to understand how others see you objectively, especially if you've gravitated toward a style that focuses more on self expression than exterior standards, or if your own head is bogged down with aggressive self criticism. If it's important to you to lose your dancing's "foreign accent," that usually requires at least one native's feedback.

It's a little shady from an intellectual-property position to just start copying/teaching yourself choreographies off of YouTube, but there are some gray areas, and you need a good, humble understanding of your replication efforts. Is this dancer still protecting and earning from this property? (Sadie still teaches drum solos, but Samia Gamal is deceased and it's not clear who owns her choreographies.) You could attempt to replicate all of the performances in "Gharam fi al-Karnak," but unless you've had a lot of Reda Troupe training, you'll probably make a ton of mistakes, and it certainly wouldn't qualify you to promote yourself professionally as a Reda expert. Think of it like an art student studying the masters--some copying as learning builds technique, but don't blithely steal someone else's ideas, don't misrepresent someone else's art as your own, and don't forget to properly honor the artists who inspire you.
 

Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
OTOH, I've taken from several teachers who don't teach beginners anymore! Or my current teacher who is only teaching intermediates most of the time because she's having a HELL of a time attracting beginners. And that was before this Covid nonsense.
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Tourbeau gives good advice.

Zorba, my classes were mostly advanced beginners/intermediates with some beginners who remained beginners for years despite everything I could do. If ya don't practice, ya don't advance, no matter how many classes you take. As far as I know, classes were cancelled for spring and summer; don't know whether they'll be back in the fall or not. Hope the discontinuation is not the death knell of BD in central Wyoming.
 

Tourbeau

Active member
OTOH, I've taken from several teachers who don't teach beginners anymore! Or my current teacher who is only teaching intermediates[...]
I think this highlights how vastly different regional scenes can be. Without disclosing locations, I think you've primarily danced in places with fairly diverse metropolitan areas and multiple workshop-quality teachers in your state, and I haven't. I've never even studied regularly with a teacher who taught level classes more precisely sorted than "brand-new beginners," "everybody else," and the voluntary subset of the latter, "troupe rehearsal."

I don't mean to imply that there are no good dancers where I am, or that they don't offer private lessons, but there have always been reasons why I'm not under their tutelage.

Some of them don't do the style I want. I'm open to the idea that you can still learn from those dancers. I've taken plenty of workshops and classes over the years from dancers like that (sometimes knowing they weren't going to be "my thing" in advance but doing it for the experience anyway). But investing in a long-term, private-lesson, expensive mentoring relationship with them? No.

Some of the better dancers in my quadrant of the state are locked into a fixed curriculum at their studio. They've produced some very skilled dancers, but I know I can't succeed at their system because of my physical limitations. If I couldn't spot turn in 1999 when I started, and my inner ear problems have gotten worse as I've aged, and being able to spot turn is part of the criteria to advance in their class ranks, well...game over. (Fun fact: Some of us who are prone to dizziness can't just learn to spot because another thing that makes us motion sick is whipping our heads around quickly.)

And then there are the dancers who have fallen upward into becoming the regional dance matriarchy. I don't want to call anybody out, so I am intentionally being vague and mixing two states' MED communities, but I can think of lots of dancers I've known over the years who have worked/are working as professional performers and teachers, who plateaued when they didn't have access to mentoring and advanced classes, either, and their dancing reflects that they stalled at the "everybody else" level, too, even as they rose through the ranks to become the local senior teachers. No matter how much book knowledge you amass, how many workshops you take, how many shows you dance in, if you stop getting a more expert dancer's personalized corrections and feedback on your technique, unless you have monumental drive and insight, you are going to flatline--if not backslide into creative ruts and bad habits. This is one of the reasons I have been so halfhearted about my own "professional career." I'm too willing to admit that 20+ years of dancing still barely qualifies me as "high intermediate" (barrel turns aside).

I get the resistance to standardization and qualifications in the MED community. As I explained above, it would limit me pretty harshly, and hobbyists making entertainment for each other don't really need to be that rigid and exclusionary. For that matter, does it ruin anyone's appreciation of Souheir Zaki that you never saw her get on the floor and belly flip coins?

But there's a difference between arguing what constitutes a critical mass of dance skills for "competence," and admitting that the lack of educational rigor is perpetuating our own deficiencies. I'll stop before I start ranting about the wider ethics of teaching....
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
Well, I was one of those "flat-lined" regional teachers, and much of what you say is true. But in defense of us less-than-stellar regional dance matriarchs, if it wasn't for us, there'd be no belly dance in the region. ;)
 

Tourbeau

Active member
Well, I was one of those "flat-lined" regional teachers, and much of what you say is true. But in defense of us less-than-stellar regional dance matriarchs, if it wasn't for us, there'd be no belly dance in the region.
I wouldn't want to estimate what (staggeringly large) percentage of the dance community is in this boat--both teachers and students--and doing the best they can with an endeavor that is merely a hobby or a labor-of-love part-time job. Most of us don't live near a world-class teacher and wouldn't have the time, money, and life situation to follow their muse to their maximum dance potential even if they did. And that's okay.

But if I may quote one of your other posts, "Every semester saw some improvement in her skills and in her confidence, a thing I can’t say of some of the more advanced dancers who were content to stay in their comfort zone rather than struggle to the next level."

Yeah, that last part--especially for dancers presenting themselves as professionals.

As soon as you hang your shingle out and proclaim yourself an expert, the expectations change. You have an obligation to understand and respect your limitations. If you aren't qualified to teach much above the beginner level, own it. Take a long, hard look at whether you should be teaching at all, and whether your area is so disadvantaged that a less experienced teacher is better than nothing. Maybe it is. If you have a solid basic technique and a humble, knowledge-seeking attitude, it can work out. If it's going to be the blind leading the blind, it's probably not such a good idea. At a minimum, less experienced teachers shouldn't over-inflate their expertise and behave like they are qualified to teach workshops or private-lesson coach a student to a prestige gig in Egypt. That's simply not ethical.
 

Tourbeau

Active member
But back on topic...

Even in limited circumstances, there are things any dancer at any level can work on to keep growing:

Drill your basics with mindfulness, not on autopilot.

Watch free online dance videos, including videos of regular Middle Easterners dancing at parties and folkloric troupes at cultural events. This is especially helpful if you tend to demoralize yourself after watching how amazing some world-famous belly dancer is, or if you don't have access to anyone who teaches a folkloric substyle you'd like to learn more about.

These dances started as everyday people having fun. Don't lose that. If you're still stuck at the stage of finding ME music weird, foreign, and unrelatable, videos where people dance for enjoyment can help. (Hint: If you struggle to like Khaleeji music, let me suggest the delightful YouTube rabbit hole you'll fall down searching for clips from the TV show "Jalsat Wanasah" جلسات وناسه.)

Do those odd exercises where you dance to a whole song only using hip circles or while sitting down, so you force yourself out of ruts and you can explore fresh ways of thinking about technique and interpreting music that are still stylistically and culturally consistent.

Find a playlist for a Middle Eastern musician and jam out with your finger cymbals. Just strut around if you don't have the bandwidth to improvise dancing, too. Don't be ashamed of liking lowbrow ME pop music. Lots of people over there like it, and it's still better to practice to Amro Diab or Oka & Ortega or Tarkan than Western music.

Film your practice and work on shortcomings that don't require sophisticated insight to correct, like letting your non-dominant arm go all chicken wing or constantly looking down at the floor.

Practice facing a different direction, without a mirror, and/or in a different room occasionally. Don't always rely on the same practice music. Change the little things up. These seem like minor details that should be irrelevant, but they aren't.

WORK ON YOUR MUSICALITY.

Here's the thing: a big part of musicality can't be taught. I can teach you vocabulary, I can teach you about meter and rhyme, and I can help you memorize somebody else's poetry, but I can't teach you what poem you should write. It's your job to coax how you feel, what you want to express, and how you want to express it out of your soul. Your unique voice as an artist comes from your personal connection between the song and your body. You find it by listening to lots of music and experimenting with lots of dancing.

QUIT PROCRASTINATING. DON'T WAIT FOR THE PERFECT MOMENT TO DO THE PERFECT PRACTICE.

Don't bog yourself down with an overachieving schedule you can't keep or the idea that you can't practice unless you have an uninterrupted hour in exercise clothes and a hip scarf if reality is going to stomp all over it. Whatever you've got on is usually fine for 15 minutes of stretches and drilling, and 15 minutes of stretches and drilling are better than fantasizing about the excellent workout you could have done with more leisure time and ideal circumstances. If you're so busy you've only got time for one song, pick a bop you love and dance.

JUST PRACTICE.
 

Zorba

"The Veiled Male"
I was a pretty damn good Greek folk dance teacher at one time. That doesn't qualify me to teach Belly Dance - and I have too many "issues" myself to be a good example. What I *can* do is teach the two specialties that I am actually good at: Veil and finger cymbals. I teach the occasional workshop in both, and have mentored my current teacher in both. She's flown right past my abilities in single veil (we have yet to touch double veil), and is now teaching me veil stuff I've never seen anywhere else! I think part of that is "nobody told her she couldn't do that, so she went ahead and did it!". She is also "coming along nicely" with finger cymbals as well - I'm hopeful and expectant that she'll out do me there as well eventually!
 

Shanazel

Super Moderator
But if I may quote one of your other posts, "Every semester saw some improvement in her skills and in her confidence, a thing I can’t say of some of the more advanced dancers who were content to stay in their comfort zone rather than struggle to the next level."

Yes, you most certainly may quote me, and I will add something to that quote.

There is a difference between an inexperienced teacher and an experienced teacher who is no longer actively taking lessons herself. When one's body begins to lose the physical capacity for movement it once had, one reaches a point where one must accept a plateau and eventually the descent down the other side, no matter how many classes one takes or how often one practices. That does not diminish one's knowledge, experience, or one's ability to teach others to dance. If it did, all those ancient ballerinas leaning on their canes wouldn't be teaching master classes that students line up to take. When arthritis began to seriously impact my own ability to move, I told my students, "I can't dance with you any more, but I can still stand here and yell at you when you make mistakes." Eventually two of my students were able to step into teaching, allowing me to retire without retiring dance in my region as well.

And that's the news from "the regional dance matriarchy" where the teachers are flawed, the plateaus exist, and the students still have access to lessons.
 

Tourbeau

Active member
There is a difference between an inexperienced teacher and an experienced teacher who is no longer actively taking lessons herself. When one's body begins to lose the physical capacity for movement it once had, one reaches a point where one must accept a plateau and eventually the descent down the other side, no matter how many classes one takes or how often one practices.
I don't have a problem with older, experienced teachers who have limitations as they age. I've taken workshops with Leila Gamal, Aida Al Adawi, and Mahmoud Reda, each of whom was physically quite removed from the dancer they once were by the time I had a chance to take their seminars, but those were still very worthwhile experiences. I've studied under less famous dancers who were older and semi-retired at various points in time, too.

Older teachers and dancers are a valuable part of the MED ecosystem. There's no substitute for the depth that maturity brings to one's dancing, even if it is a tradeoff that older dancers can't usually match the physicality and (let's admit it) raw sexual energy of younger performers. (Not that older people aren't sexy, but older performers, at least to me, have a stronger sense of control over their sexual energy--more smolder than sparkler--that only comes from the experience of being in your body through the evolution of life.) And didn't Bert Balladine say you don't even have that much to dance about until you're older?

At any rate, I think we are talking about two different types of plateaus. Plateauing on the up side before you amass enough experience isn't the same as plateauing on the down side where you still maintain your knowledge even if you can't apply it the same way.

An older dancer who knew the right way to do a Turkish drop when she was younger can still teach a Turkish drop, even if her arthritic knees won't cooperate to do one any more. A younger dancer who never learned how to do a proper Turkish drop shouldn't be trying to teach it, even if she thinks she figured it out on her own.

An older dancer who played finger cymbals very well during their younger performing days may no longer have the fleet fingers of yore but can adapt to playing more open but still interesting rhythms, or demonstrate complex patterns by slowing the music down. A dancer who never mastered staying on the beat of a simple gallop while dancing can't model good technique for students because there is none.

Unfortunately, for whatever reasons, too many dance students can't bear the thought of correction when they're first learning, and years later, after they've started down the road of performing or teaching, by the time they realize they might have benefited from a little more educational rigor (if not a little more tough love) in those early classes, they're too embarrassed to ask for it, or can't find a way to ask that hits the sweet spot of being feasible and productive.

Unless you can succeed in a big, structured format (like Salimpour), or you can find a master teacher to mentor you, after the first couple of years, belly dance training becomes a DIY project, and that's one reason why so many dancers feel disappointed in the gap between the dancer they are and the one they thought they should be (and I'm not talking about delusions of grandeur--I'm talking about how you can spend thousands of dollars and hours and still have crummy arms and no idea how to put together an interesting choreography).
 
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