Teachers, what do you teach to Beginners


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I know I know I'm full of questions but I got my DVD (yay!) and now I'm wondering how many moves should I learn and practice a week and what type of moves. I figured start with the hip drops and stuff, but I'm not sure. Since I am a baby belly (haha) and want to be pretty good so I can perform for my family by christmas, what are some ideas?

Hi Starrbursts, At our school I teach beginners for 6 mos and in that time they learn traditional movements commonly found in all styles of Oriental dance.. For example, hip isolations such as hip circles, pelvic tucks/drops,bumps, lifts/drops:ribcage isolations such as ribcage circles, lift/drops, lateral movements etc.

You mention a DVD, is it geared for beginners? Who is the teacher? Is there a specific style the DVD promotes? I can remember having so many questions when I started and being grateful for having a teacher to guide me. Do you have a teacher? DVD,/videos are great,but they don't replace the feedback one can obtain from a teacher. Especially when we first learn to dance, there are many pitfalls we stumble into. the first pitfall is not paying attention to our posture so we can become graceful dancers. Another pitfall, is becoming a "legend" in our own mind, because we think we are good enough to perform after studying the video.

Depending on how fast you learn(visual learners really benefit form videos), 2 mos may not be enough time to be "really good" by Christmas. In order for you to reach your goal, you'll need to practice a minimum of 1-2 hrs daily, in addition to listening to the music you will want to perform to. It won't be necessary to create a choreoraphy, as long as you understand the rhythmic signatures of the song and have a strong dance vocabulary, you could perform an effective improvisation piece. Good Luck, let us know how it turns out.


New member
Well, I'm doing the Veena and Neena Discover Dance: Basic Dance DVD but am about to get Amir'as Belly Dance 101. I have noticed that my lover back has been hurting since I've started...so I don't really think that's good. I don't have a teacher. THere aren't any around for about an hour and a half....maybe I won't be that great by christmas but heck it's my fam. so I think they won't mind ;)


New member
Hi Starrbursts!
I'm not a teacher (I'm only 2 in bellydance years :) ), but I do remember starting with a teacher in late October and where I was by Christmas.

I'd done 7 or 8 lessons I think, with a little extra practise, and we'd managed to have a little routine by the end of it, so it's possible. We used the routine as part of practising the moves, and it was to an easy-on-the-Western-ear pop song. By the end I was managing to stop counting hip drops and actually dance to the music a bit - result! At that stage I couldn't have improvised anything because I didn't have the moves down well enough - but with a lot of practising that will come quicker.

Oh dear, what's Really Good though? :( Of course we weren't Really Good :rolleyes: , but I could have done a little performance for my friends and family without disgracing myself (if they'd fed me enough festive spirit...). Stick to moves you are confident with and enjoy yourself and it will come across. My friends and family couldn't tell a perfect hip drop from a dodgy one anyway :D .

Yasmine is right about getting a teacher if you can. It's important to get the posture right to protect your back (especially lower back - make sure you keep your tailbone tucked under) and you can't do some of the moves right otherwise.

Go for it!
Hi Starrburts, I stated learning belly dance with Neen and Veena, They demonstrate the posture but the voice over realy doesn't explain the significance of basic posture. aniseteph is right, your moves won't look very polished without it. Keeping your pelvis/tailbone slightly tucked will prevent lower back problems.


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I teach everything from lesson 1 (posture, music, rythm, family with movemetns) in each lesson we add more and more and more and more.
But i guess this could not be done without a teacher.
My advice is to find a good teacher.

Maria Aya


Well-known member
Questions are good! Keep them up! That's how you learn.

Here's what I see lacking in a lot of beginners, so I try to reinforce these things in class.


1. Posture -- if you want to get a good video that covers posture, I'd recommend Yasmina Ramzy's Bellydance Movement Foundations video -- plus it's a great drill for the basics. Posture is SOOOOOO important to this dance, and it's so often overlooked. It's easy to stand in front of the mirror and create the proper line, but so often as soon as the student starts moving, the posture falls apart.

2. Hip downs. Not to be confused with the Hip drop, the down is one of those movements that a lot of students struggle with, and if you don't really HAVE these, you're missing out on about half of the movement vocabulary. You can work your hip downs by stretching the hips up and down -- slowly -- every day.

3. Arms. We make beginning students keep the folkloric high V with their arms, because keeping them in some sort of ballet second position seems to encourage slumped shoulders and dead chicken wing arms. Keep energy in your arms at all times, but maintain a relaxed look.

4. Hip circles using oppositional muscles -- Shareen el Safy introduced me to the idea of pushing forward with the buttocks to move the hips forward, and pulling back with the low abs to move the hips back. This is a tough thing to really master and incorporate while you're dancing, so I try to introduce it early on. If you can master this technique, your circles will look much more "Oriental" and much less like Club Salsa or Afro-Cuban dancing.

5. Sharp, "isolated" movements. -- Isolation is a tricky word because we all use it differently. What I'm refering to is the idea of making each movement sharp and defined -- you can see the beginning, middle, and end of the movement. Too many students cut a movement short so that they can start the next movement. If your hip circle is 4 counts, GIVE IT the full 4 counts. Don't cheat and give it 3 and a half.

Isolation to me is not allowing every other part of your body to react to motion in, for instance, your hip. Now, this is DIFFERENT from Reverberation -- when you shimmy, it reverberates throughout your body. A lot (if not all) of the Oriental vocabulary has a tendency to reverberate through your body. But the reverb is INTENTIONAL, and is sort of a happy coincidence of the active movement.

Real control over your muscles allows for REVERB, but not spastic reactions to an action.

I see students doing a hip lift and drop, and they want to lift the entire side of their body (from shoulders to thighs) to accomplish this. It's not necessary. Once you can "Isolate" what muscles are needed to achieve a hip lift and drop, and start practicing that, the movements may look smaller, but they will look WAAAAAY more precise.

The reverb/isolation issue is easily confused by a lot of people. Check out the Janine Rabbit video to see an example of using WAY more muscles than needed to accomplish a movement, and look at how unpolished, sloppy, and amateurish it looks.

6. Small is good (the range of motion issue) -- The way we teach dance is usually: we do the movement, and the students copy it. The problem with that is that we've been doing this a lot longer than the students, and we've built up a much greater range of motion than the new student.

Torso flexibility isn't something we tend to work on in aerobics class. A simple ribcage slide is really a very complex movement, and if you don't have a large range of motion in those muscles, the slide is NOT going to be very big.

I see this in video learners, too: In order to copy the size of the movement, they tend to exaggerate the movement and use more muscles than necessary to achieve it, which results in sloppy dancing. Just keep in mind that you are new to this, and at first, your movements are probably going to be a lot smaller than those of the instructor.

My analogy is this: When you decide you want to start lifting weights, you don't start on a Monday and have big Popeye arms on Friday, right? Well, increasing range of motion is just like that. You work little by little, and over the course of several months you CAN achieve a greater range, and the movements WILL look bigger or more pronounced.

7. SLOW is good. Here's the trick to learning any dance movement and making it look super professional. START OUT SLLOOOOOOOOWWWLLLY. Like boring as can be slow. Like, so slow you think you're going to slip into a coma. So slow you just can't bear to do one more repetition. ONLY -- and I do mean ONLY -- when you can do the movement darn near perfectly at a slow speed, should you try to up the pace.

So you want to shimmy? Want to know how to really screw it up and never be able to do any layering with it? Practice it at light speed. I guarantee you'll never be able to get it looking good.

If, however, you want to have nice clean and sharp shimmies, 3/4 shimmies, drops, whatever -- do yourself a favor and buy a metronome. A cheap one is like $4.99 and it's WELL worth it. Get out the metronome, wind it up, and set it for a low speed. Like, a boring death crawl speed, okay? Seriously. Practice the movement for maybe 1-3 minutes -- whatever you need. Does it look sloppy? Stay at that speed and continue practicing through the week/month. Once you get it where it looks nice and clean -- then and only then should you click the metronome up a notch (just one!) and practice at that speed.

(Other teachers may disagree with me on the start slow thing, but I can testify to it, both as a student and with my own students.)

As for what we teach beginners, movement-wise, you have a good start with V&N, but I'd get the second volume in their series too, which covers more steps and some travelling, if I remember correctly. The third volume covers veil and spinning.

Oh, and finger cymbals -- do yourself a favor and get a cheap pair and a finger cymbal video. Most people seem to like Ansuya's. Walk around the house and play singles -- play the Left cymbal when you step on your Left foot, and the right one when you step on the left. I swear this is the best self-introduction to cymbals. Don't worry about learning patterns -- just get used to actually MOVING your feet and hands at the same time. You can also play cymbals along with movements you have already learned and feel comfortable with.

Keep us up to date on your progress and don't hesitate to ask questions. Some of us (ahem) can think of nothing more interesting than talking belly dance all day long :)


New member
Wow Aziyade, great advice, thanks for that.
I'm definitely going to give the slow thing a go. And the cymbals.
Though I have the opposite problem with range of movement for some reason - everything comes out huge on me (statuesque and always been fairly flexible) and I'm trying really hard to tone it down and be more refined :rolleyes:

You can talk bellydance to me as much as you like!:D


New member
What a great list Aziyade! Although I've been dancing for a while I'm on a mission to "clean up" my technique, and un-learn a few bad habits. Seeing such lists in writing helps my "cleaning" business.

Starbursts, if you can, find a good teacher from the get-go so you won't have to suffer un-learning later on!



Well-known member
Any advice for a lazy side?

Hmm, you mean one side of the body that doesn't quite do it as well as the other side? Just the P word -- practice more on that side than the other for a while. But one side is ALWAYS going to feel more comfortable, I think.

One of the things I do personally, and we also do in class (and I stole this from Suhaila) is practice every movement or every combination on both sides of the body, or moving in each direction (north, south, west, east).

So for example, and this is something that amazes me -- I've seen students who can't do a 3/4 shimmy while travelling sideways to the left. ??? Why? Because they've never practiced it that way. I don't want to be limited like that.

Advice for general laziness (like preferring to sit on the couch eating bonbons rather than dancing)? Just put on some music you like, or throw on a performance DVD that inspires you. Right now I have this crazy wicked Eddie Kochak CD that I'm addicted to -- I'll drop that in the CD player and 10 seconds later I can't HELP but dance. And for some reason listening to Missy Elliot Cds gets me in the mood to dance or lift weights. I haven't quite figured out that connection...:p


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Hmm, you mean one side of the body that doesn't quite do it as well as the other side?

Yes, that's the lazy I was meaning :eek: . Thanks, I'll incorporate the traveling in all directions on it. Sometimes it feels like the left side is never going to be smooth *garrrgh* but there is injury there so maybe as that gets better it'll help too.

:D re the couch - so true, once the music plays there is no hope for it - so was born the car bouncing, eh?

I have discovered that shimmying to Bach is quite exciting :cool:


Well-known member
Sometimes it feels like the left side is never going to be smooth *garrrgh* but there is injury there so maybe as that gets better it'll help too.

Oh yeah --- never push through an injury. You probably will see a difference once you heal.

It could be psychological too. The brain does goofy things sometimes. Something one of my old ballet teachers used to do with the four or five of us who were HOPELESSLY right-legged was to start teaching each new combination on the left side or starting with the left foot. For some reason, if we started the combo on the right, we JUST couldn't repeat it on the left leg. But if we started on the left leg, we got it and could repeat it on the right leg with no problem.


So maybe if there's a movement that's really lopsided, you could start it on the weaker leg/hip and see if that makes a difference? Let me know if that works for you. :)
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[So maybe if there's a movement that's really lopsided, you could start it on the weaker leg/hip and see if that makes a difference? Let me know if that works for you. :)

Heyyyyy, that's a great idea - I've noticed that when I go through a move or choreo in my head I always start on the right - may be a connection there. I'll report back in ... Thanks mucho, g


New member
Wow! THanks for the tips! What I usually do (it's bound to change!!) is do the warm up and then work on hip circles for about five minutes, first slow, medium, then fast. After that I do that one move where you circle one of your hips up and around (i forget what it is called...) for a while on BOTH sides, then I work on hip drops. I think I go to fast though on them cus I feel sloppy. I also realized my mom is NOT really good on telling me if I look good or not since she isn' a bd. lol anyway. I try to work on shimmies but I get so frustrated that I don't feel like doing them. Now, though, I'm going to keep my arms way up...uhm, what is the iright posture in bellydance? Vand N don't teach it....



New member
Ooohhhh i did what you told me to do. I took it sloowllly and I tell you what, I felt like I ran four miles or something. Before hand when I took it too fast, I would get frustrated and discouraged and not really want to do it again. However, today through much pain, I felt like wow, I'm actually doing it but twenty times slower. Now the shimmy, I just slowly bent my knees back and forth and went a little faster. Building muscles! lol.


Well-known member
what is the iright posture in bellydance? Vand N don't teach it....

Well, that's a matter of some debate. LOL. Ultimately proper posture results in a stable support line from head to toes, but there are a few ways to achieve that.

Let's start at the bottom and work our way up.

99.9% of teachers will have you stand with your feet parallel to one another. (There is a faction of Tribal that seems to encourage a more "turned out" or V position with the feet, but they're in the minority.)
With your feet parallel, you should feel the weight of your body centered between the triangle made by the big toe, little toe, and heel.


some teachers encourage you to put more weight on the ball of your feet. For me, it completely depends on the movement itself and if I'm wearing heels. The goal is stability, to protect your feet, ankles, and knees. Try to feel all your toes on the floor -- don't grasp the floor with your toes, though. Keep them flat.

Alignment of feet, ankles, and knees:
Your knees should line up with your toes, and point in the same direction. You don't want the knee twisting to one side.

This is important to note: If you've had serious ballet training (or if you were just born that way) you may find that you have a certain degree of outward rotation of the feet from the ankles (duck footedness). If when you stand with your feet in parallel, you notice that your knees are pointing towards each other, go ahead and try to align your KNEES so that they are parallel, rather than your feet.


The great debate -- based on your style, your knees will be bent or straight to various levels:

Old School American Cabaret -- knees VERY bent. Always.
Modern American Cabaret, some Arabic styles: -- knees are moderately bent. If you look from the side you can see the bend.
Egyptian (a al Shareen el Safy) -- knees are not bent much, if any, and leg is basically straight.

Now, a straight leg does not mean a hyperextended backwards knee, or locked knees. Lay on your back on the floor. Your legs are now "Straight." If you were to stand up and try to push your knees to the back wall (don't do this -- it's horribly bad for you) then you would end up with a hyperextended knee. NEVER NEVER NEVER lock the knees. I'm pretty sure THAT rule is consistent between all styles, and all forms of dance.

How far apart should the legs be?

Again, stylistic differences (and your personal body structure) will cause this "rule" to vary. If you have the legs too wide, the movements will be lost on the body and you'll have a tendency to look ... odd. Legs to close together and you lose your line of stability.

Picture yourself hanging from a trapeeze, your arms holding on to the bar and your legs hanging beneath you. (Don't you love the goofy visuals?) Now, your legs are literally HANGING from the hip socket. To me, that's the best place for my legs to be -- basically, hanging straight down from my hip bones.

Shareen taught modern Egyptian with a more wide-leg posture than I was used to, and that DEFINATELY changed the way the movements felt to me. I was raised with the "knees together at all times, like you're wearing a miniskirt" idea. I think for the MOST part, that's a good general guideline -- the part about imagining you're in a miniskirt. Overly wide-legged postitions can seem very aggressive to your audience, especially if you face them front-on. A more closed leg position gives the impression of vulnerability and is a little more "sassy" and cute.


Usually you'll hear something like "tuck your pelvis" or "tuck your rear end" or "tuck your tail" or "flatten your low back." Doesn't really mean much, does it? I think a better way to envision this is to think of pulling your belly button to your spine (using low ab muscles).

The pelvis can rock forwards and backwards. A lot of women have the problem of letting the pelvis rock backwards and stay there (Duck Butt!) which makes your rear end stick out and exaggerates the arch in the low back. This is an unhealthy position for the low back.

Try it -- rock your pelvis back (think porn star!) and see how that feels in your lower back muscles. Now rock the pelvis forward -- like you know how old men sometimes walk? LOL. See how weird and uncomfortable this feels?

Somewhere in the middle is what we call "neutral" position. This would be pretty much a straight up-and-down position of the pelvis, without rocking forwards or backwards. This is your goal.

Most people can achieve this neutral pelvic position by pulling in with the low abs (navel to spine). You really want to get in touch with the muscles between your pubic bone and your navel. You will want to be friends with them, especially if you're interested in looking like the Egyptian dancers.

BTW: If you hear the phrase "flatten your low back" -- the teacher doesn't want you to TOTALLY flatten it. You need some arch in it to be healthy. But what she's seeing is an excessive tilt, and wants you to bring it back to neutral position.

Kegels -- those "little girl muscles" in the vagina may or not be activated. I know Suhaila says she doesn't use kegels, but Shareen and Hadia swear by them. If you know how to activate them, try it! It makes a difference in how the movement FEELS (to me).

Rear end -- Egyptian style seems to demand that the glutes be contracted, and the rear end be pretty tight. Try tightening and loosening the glutes during Egyptian shimmies and see the difference in how it feels. Contracted glutes help add stability to the body when you're standing on one leg. However, Suhaila has created a different system, and she doesn't tighten the glutes as part of the basic posture, so if you study with a Suhaila-ite, she'll probably tell you to relax your butt.

Thighs -- your thighs are your tree trunks, steadying the body and absorbing most of the workload from the abs. If your thighs feel tired after you dance, you're doing it right :)


Low abs should be pushing the navel to the spine, but upper abs should basically be relaxed. You want to be able to breathe normally, and you want the breathing to be able to be seen on the body. (Separating, or learning to control just one part of the abs is REALLY difficult for most people. Don't fret if you can't do it right away. This is just one of those things that takes time and LOTS of practice!)

Ribcage is lifted, but don't think "West Point" -- instead, think of maybe standing up straight like your mom used to fuss about.

You can lift the ribcage from any point, or combination of points, depending on your style. Shareen encourages a lift from all the way around the back and chest, almost the same feeling as if you were diving into a swimming pool. Try it -- put your hands up and pretend you're going to dive. See how that feels?

Now, the placement of the ribcage on the horizontal plane is another debate.

Old School Am Cab -- ribcage is behind the hips (so you have a distinct feeling -- and visual -- of leaning or arching backwards) You don't see this position used much anymore because people say it's dangerous. It's only really DANGERous if you let the pelvis drop and allow the arch to occur in the low back. Arching from the upper back is standard for Flamenco, and Ansuya uses this position, but it takes a lot of work to maintain, and since most people will say "ooh that's dangerous!" you might as well not even bother with this option.

Modern American / Arabic styles -- ribcage is in line with hips, balanced in the center. "Neutral" position, so to speak. This is what most people teach.

Egyptian -- again, from Shareen and Sahra -- the catch phrase is "tits over toes." Basically your ribcage moves forward from that neutral (but still lifted!) position, to a position more over your feet that your hips. This posture gives a sense of tension or anticipation and it's SO delicious.

Upper body

Just general good posture here: head up, not too far forward, not too far back. Shoulders rotated back and down. Arms should hang gracefully from the shoulders -- some teachers say think of having a peach in each armpit to move the arms away from the armpits a little.

If you're using the Egyptian posture for your ribcage (tits over toes) than you can frame the hips with the arms -- keeping the arms back by the hips. This is a very dynamic and lovely position.

ALWAYS keep energy in your arms. It's hard to describe in writing, but think of energy constantly shooting from your heart to about two inches past your fingertips. That way when you raise your arms to the sides, or up, they won't look like dead chicken wings.

Are you exhausted yet? Who'd have thought just STANDING would be so much work!

I'm sure I left some things out, so I'm interested in hearing what everyone else says. !
Kudos to you Aziyade, It's great to see(read) other teachers who share a similar philosophy. I'm always looking for different ways to describe Basic Posture to students. May I use some of your descriptions?