Why do I dance?

Dancer image by Corinne Paquette-Parker (c)I feel there is an inherent desire in the human animal to dance, whether something simple like running, or more complicated, with music and audience.

There is something appealing about the complex rhythms that speaks through your body, the minor-key melodies that vibrate from your soul outwards. Music is the thought; dance is the vocabulary!

Dance is a language... Each small movement is a sound, a syllable... a fuller movement is a word... a series of movements become concept. Movement and concepts are not linked as it is in, for instance, Hawaiian dance, but a slow move may communicate sorrow, or tension, or peace. So... in the process of learning to speak in dance, each movement starts in the one before, in stages.

Thoughts on learning how to belly dance

How long does it take to learn the basics of belly dance? It all depends... I teach the basics over eight weeks; some people (the rare few) learn each move the first time, while the rest get the feel of it but remain awkward until they've practised their lessons. Several of my students have started teaching beginners after 3 years of weekly classes plus half a dozen dance seminars with other teachers. (I recommend having more than one teacher, but do try not to have them at the same time, especially in the beginning. Being exposed to different dance styles allows you to develop your own.)

What do you need to know before you begin dance classes?... You know your body best, so pay attention to how it feels when you work it and don't push 'til it hurts. Pain does not equal gain!

Don't bounce in your stretches; each time you bounce, your body tries to tighten up muscles and tendons, which causes small tears in them (and creating scar tissue as it heals), making you stiffer than before you started.

Never do an unsupported stretch; the damage may be undo-able... (as your body gets older, it reminds of where you were foolish...)

Warm up with large body movement (fast walking, knee-high marching, whatever for at least 5 minutes until you start to perspire a touch) before stretching (take about half an hour and be thorough).

Do cool-downs after your work-out (like all-over body stretches, but softer, for a few minutes). Have an epsom-salt bath after a class that feels strenuous; your body will thank you.

The cost of learning to belly dance varies widely. In general, you get what you pay for... but it depends on the teacher. My classes are very inexpensive (being at the community centre), and yet I am told, in many ways by different people, that I'm a good teacher... So you don't necessarily get what you pay for (but often you do)! See if you can watch a class before you commit yourself; make sure you can work with the teaching method. A good teacher will encourage, not browbeat, students to the best of the student's abilities; most beginners are stiff, and forcing movement until it hurts will only damage them.

(If there is a Middle Eastern Dance Association near you, check out their instructor list.) (Classes could cost - in Canadian money - $30 to $100 for 8 to 10 lessons of an hour or more each; weekend seminars run around $100 in my area.)

A quick overview of how I structure lessons

Lesson 1 - posture; rib lifts; hip lifts; loosen the body (loose, swivelling hips can be brought under control, but there's nothing to control if they won't move!)
2 - Basic Egyptian; large hip circle; rib slide; Arabic 4
3 - Tahitian hip circle; choo-choo; shoulder drop, thrust; arm frames; wrist circles
4 - Hip drop; Arabic 1; rib circles; alternating frames
5 - Hip figure 8; rib figure 8; contrasting arms
6 - Sway; Maya; Arabic 2; snake arms
7 - Undulations; body waves; camel walk
8 - Play time; ask those "gee, I should've asked before"s... By this time, we've been "dancing" our learning, so in this class, I just dance (keeping to the beginner level movements), encouraging them to dance with me (tends to be "follow-the-leader" anyway).

(The names of the movements are not standardized, as is typical of any "personal" skill, but the movements are; the names are fairly common in my area and may be different where you live.)

Each hour-and-a-half class touches on the classes that went before, because most moves build on the first 2 to 4 classes. Yes, it's a lot of information in each class; I don't expect students to get it all, but if you know what you're trying to accomplish, it's more likely you'll continue.

(I also tell students that it's OK to repeat entire sessions, that it's the best way to learn. And practicing is important if you want to learn quickly!)

(Need music? Check out My Favourites!)

At the intermediate level, I teach choreographies, which incorporate more movements (building on the previous ones) and begin the process of developing flow from one movement to another. Props are also introduced at this point (veil, sword, cane). Advanced classes put more emphasis on freestyle dance, interpretation, and challenge combinations.

Although I teach the use of props and zils, I have a greater respect for a dancer who can create a memorable dance without them. I dance with veil and sword for audiences who are without the awareness of the delicacy and subtlety possible, but my preference is for the bare dance itself. For is not the body the ultimate medium of expression?

Dancer image shown at top is created by Corinne Parker for Linda J. Doerksen, and is copyrighted; any unauthorized use is subject to said laws.
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