WHY Do You Dance?

What Brought You To Belly Dance Class?

"For Beginners"
(reprinted from ZAGHAREET! Jan/Feb. 2003)
by Anthea Kawakib Poole

  In other articles I've focused on how-to's. or the "nuts and bolts" of our dancing. Now take a mental step back and think of what brought you to this dance in the first place. As the saying goes, "everything happens for a reason."

   When I ask students why they signed up for belly dance, many list "exercise" as their reason for taking class; a handful will say they want to surprise the man in their life; and a few others have actually seen real belly dancing somewhere and want to learn how to do it. Many people begin out of plain curiosity. I'd say that's what brings the majority of people into the classroom - but why are they curious?

   The fact is, SOMETHING brought you to belly dance class, but maybe not be what you thought!

My Personal Story

   I stumbled upon the dance (in the form of Ozel Turkbas' book "The Bellydancer In You" - what a great title!) while looking for how-to-dance books at the library. I'd begun going to see local rock bands and wanted to join in the dancing, but didn't know how. One thing I did know was I sure didn't want to dance the way I saw other people dancing - if they didn't look stiff as boards, they were flitting and flowing about the room in a way that was downright strange! Ozel's picture on the book cover really grabbed me, and I was hooked.

   I began to use dance as a method of self-expression, creating dances left and right. Talking wasn't my thing, didn't work for me at all - in fact, I was so shy I actually couldn't really talk to anyone outside my family!  So dancing, and soon teaching, became my therapy, as I worked out "how" a normal person actually behaves in everyday life. Of course I didn't realize this at the time, but now as I look back I see what really happened. I'm sure no one meeting me now would believe how shy I had once been.

This Dance Is Transforming

   How very few people realize what studying this dance can do for them. All you can do is trust yourself, give yourself a chance to grow and develop within it.

   This dance gives you what you put into it. If it's a lark for you, a hobby, a distraction from life, you won't find any deeper meanings in it. But if you go beyond using it as "mindless movement" it can also serve as a mirror, presenting you with a view of your personal issues (the ones you try not to think about in the normal course of things), and giving you an opportunity to sort them out and work through them. This is weird, wild, scary stuff!  Maybe it even accounts for some of the drop-outs - it's hard for some people to trust themselves enough to get past their old fears.

   Trust doesn't happen overnight - give yourself time. Don't feel rushed or harassed by all the academic material, workshops, tours, etc. that you might think you "should" take. No one will know it all; no one will master it all; no one (mega-bio's notwithstanding!) is the perfect expert on the dance - we each have our own eyes and our own outlook on the dance and what it means.

   Trust that you'll do what you need to do - be open to the possibilities... and see what happens.

   Instead of getting the next new instructional video, opt for one that features professional performers, or "top stars" of the dance - and just watch and absorb their style.  Put your feet up and relax. If the dance hasn't been an integral part of your upbringing, then you need some "passive instruction" - it teaches you in a very different way than our usual sweaty struggle in the classroom or studio. It's also good to watch dancers live, but there are often so many other distractions that you can't relax or focus enough to take it in.

   Then after INspiration, PERspiration: put on your music and explore the dance. Turn off the extraneous chatter, stop striving, and grok* it - to find out what the dance means to you.

* "grok": to understand profoundly through intuition or empathy. (http://dictionary.reference.com/)

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