As belly dancers we start our journeys usually with lack of knowledge for body movement at some time of our post-teens unlike ballet, jazz or modern dancers. There sure are dancers that converted from ballet and similar fundamental dance styles who are at more advantage by doing so. While this article addresses all, it is more for the later dancers who did not receive dance and movement education and discipline from young ages. Those of us with less formal practice, we understand less about the origin and mechanics of the movement unless we had the opportunity to study with a meticulous teacher who made us aware of it particularly. That is very seldom to come up with in the world of belly dancing which is mostly a woman to woman, mother to daughter, sister to sister delivered practice instead of a schooled education.
Now the times have changed from the ancient teaching styles. Even if the golden era of belly dance seems to have passed with the 1970's, there still is so much to be explored and discovered since an artistic and highly sensual style like this has infinite possibilities and an immortal life-time. Therefore, the best dancers of any time and era will continue to be the ones who seek improvement no matter what their experience has been so far.
So, you might say you are taking regular classes or studying from DVDs continuously. That still does not further your dance if you do not receive personal and direct feedback regarding your work. For example, we can perfect our chest circles when doing them over and over with stagnant stances. However, when placed in a flowing dance action, the isolation may be disturbed. You may not feel or see this by yourself unless you are able to examine your practice videos very closely.
The beginning of my suggestion is to take a look at your regular education with a critical eye. If your instructor does not continually push you into new movements, combinations, technique or choreography challenges with a methodological curriculum, you are most likely wasting your time and money into this education. If you are at a level that these classes seem not to provide improvement to you, regardless of how good or famous your teacher is, you need to move on. And if so, you might ask where to move on to next.
New dimensions is the answer which I will elaborate on. DVDs and workshops are great at learning new technique, rhythms, combinations and ideas. Staying selective at these are important as there seem to be endless number of them and this can be a big money pit. Yet, if your time and money allows, there is always something to learn from almost anyone; even if it is a movement you think should be avoided, it still is a learning! The major problem with DVDs and workshops is you are unlikely to receive personal feedback. I especially favor workshops the least if they are not offered at a suitable studio room with mirrors. Same goes where you study DVDs as well. This may even lead you to practice the movements wrong. Remember that practice makes whatever you are practicing perfect even if it is wrong. Only deliberate practice helps you perfect the good movement.
This is the information age. And I am pretty sure you heard about Skype lessons whether you tried them or not. Much like Skype, powhow.com classes are similar versions which allow group classes to be held at reasonable prices. Personal coaching in person is my most favorite while this could also be done online instead of in person with several different methods. I favor these four methods if you want personal betterment, improvement and if you have specific goals defined by you or your coach.
If you look at the athletes' and dancers' world, you'll never find a single athlete or professional dancer without a coach. Sometimes they have several! Why would belly dancers not have this advantage? In the book "Practice Perfect" by Doug Lemov, Katie Yezzi, Erica Woolway it is scientifically explained through many studies that deliberate practice with a coach leads all successful people into best personal achievements.
I'd like to explore these 4 options I mentioned above in detail as below:
1) Skype: With this option, you have real time access to watch your teacher and your teacher to watch you in order to make immediate corrections through immediate feedback. You also get to see yourself in the screen even if you don't have mirrors in the room you take classes at.
2) Powhow.com: This is an excellent platform similar to Skype for real time classes. It also allows more reasonable prices as group classes can be held, while the teacher could still see you individually as you perform the assigned task. One real advantage of this service is that whether it is a private or a group class, the teacher can record the whole session and make it available to you almost immediately.
3) Private Classes in person: My absolute favorite. Can be a bit pricey and if you are not in the same location as your teacher, it may be an impossible option obviously. But if it is a possibility, do take this option. Your teacher can physically correct you and you can see every detail in person without the distraction of dropped internet service.
4) Private classes with other methods: Using a video service and a feedback through written word or phone is another way to connect to a teacher personally if not residing in same location.
Here is where to start:
1) Find a dancer that you love the style of and admire. Find out location of classes if any offered and other services. If not close to your residence and if not already offered, inquire about other possibilities by getting in touch with the teacher personally. However, if the teacher does not respond, they are not worth to work with after all.
2) When you setup for your first class, make sure to pass a few videos of your dancing whether your teacher requests it or not. Usually good teachers would request this and they'd study you in advance of your class.
3) Make notes of the feedback you receive and go over during your next practice.
4) If you don't have a specific goal, your teacher can assign a few for your problem areas to be corrected. Here are some of the goals most dancers could easily need some improvement on:
- Choreography work
- Technique improvement I.e. chest lift, hip drop, shimmies, etc.
- Prop usage / utilization
- Zil work
5) Receive homework based upon these improvement points and practice and deliver the homework to receive further feedback for the next class. Your teacher should assign homework and if that is not the case, take it upon yourself to do it. Your teacher should continually be challenging you as you improve.
This can be a long lived journey once you start reaping the improvement. You need to find the most suitable way to match your time and financial commitments to. You can space out some of the classes or ask for discount if you pay for a package of classes up front.
The main idea of betterment through coaching is to improve. If you find no improvement through your training, it is time to move on to another teacher or class. For this reason I always recommend to stay away from most so-called 'certification" programs. Even if the teacher offering this certification is famous and a very good dancer, these programs are designed to hand you a proof of completion that you spent a number of hours and respecting your perseverance to finish. Unlike most academic programs where there are committees to decide whether the program is eligible to qualify you on your industry of study, belly dancing certifications are not standardized and don't give you any qualification or advantage over any other dancer usually. In all honesty your final outcome of education out of these certification programs is very small. So, personally your return on investment is close to zero if not negative.
In the beginning taking in honest feedback could be quite hard if you are not used to it. However, a good teacher should always give honest and direct feedback without sugar coating it. Take it with a whole heart and work towards It reminding yourself that your teacher that you admire so much has been through these roads and now it is your turn while your hand is being held. This is a big opportunity if you did go out this way. Feel the privilege and work towards your goals no matter what your pace is because from that point you will be improving inevitably as long as you work at it with your coach.