How To Dance on Your Own

When You Have To Be Your Own Teacher

Zaghareet! Magazine May/June 2004 "FOR BEGINNERS"
by Anthea Kawakib Poole

Wondering which videos to get?

New students often ask me what videos to get to practice with at home. I love that they intend to practice! Nothing compares with home practice in making fast progress learning the dance.

And videos are certainly tempting - who DOESN'T want to watch belly dancing? We're all a little nuts about it!

But I don't recommend that beginning dancers start using instructional videos (unless no teachers are available). They won't transform you magically into a belly dancer. In fact, for beginning students, instructional videos are really a distraction

I'm not saying you can't learn a few neat combinations or find out about handling props by videos; they're great for that. But for basic instruction, whose method will you follow: the video instructor's, or your own teacher's? Their methods may be amazingly different - and both correct, in the larger scheme of things. So before you get involved with various instructional videos, stick with your own teacher's method until you've acquired a basic foundation in the dance. Once you've learned the basics, there's plenty of time to try new methods and techniques. If you must get a video, choose a performance video in the style you like (American, fusion, tribal, Egyptian, etc.).

Do You Think You're Too Busy?

Thanks to our busy world today, I often hear, "I don't have time to practice". Maybe that's a big factor in buying videos. Perhaps students think if they make another investment - and not have to THINK too much - they'll be more inclined to practice. I doubt if it works out like that. I suspect the videos are watched a couple of times, maybe with some active participation, and then go on the shelf and stay there.

The market is constantly hungry for more videos because (big secret here) learning from videos doesn't work very well. So dancers keep getting videos hoping "this one" will do the trick. If there wasn't a market, we wouldn't see so many instructional videos - that great for video producers!

But what really WILL work for you, and what I heartily recommend, is for you to invest in the concept of undisturbed PRACTICE. Good old daily, by yourself - only you, your music, and your Muse - practice.

What Does Daily Practice Really Mean?

"Daily practice" as it relates to our dance, can be divided into two types - "Inspirational" and "Educational". 'Inspirational' relates to your innermost desires, feelings, and creative urges (sometimes also referred to as the spiritual component); and 'educational' to the intellectual aspect of learning our dance (i.e., techniques, styles, traditions, etc.).

They are both important focuses for your daily practice (instructional videos tend to emphasize the intellectual, which is presumably also being covered in your weekly classes). As I mentioned in an earlier column ("Why Do You Dance?" Jan/Feb. 2003), something brought you to belly dance; some inner urging nudged you into signing up for class. Take some time to get in touch with the reason behind that impulse.

In days past the typical belly dance student may have been "a bored housewife" - but those days are long gone. Now teachers are lucky if students even have time for class, let alone practice! Sadly, I've seen the number of students who DON'T practice increase over the years. I can tell this not only by how much longer it takes for today's students to learn specific material, but also because I've asked, "how often do you practice" both in written feedback form and just in general conversation.

Students often seem sad that they don't ("have time to") practice; and eventually I suspect it turns into an uneasy "guilty" feeling that increasingly interferes with their enjoyment of belly dance class. I don't want anyone to feel guilty. Guilt feelings are a waste of energy. What I WOULD like is for students to explore "why" they don't have enough time.

Addicted To Stress

We can get addicted to high levels of stress just like we get addicted to anything else: sex, relationships, alcohol, drugs, etc. Our bodies and brains become acclimated to a certain stress level, and when that level of stimulation decreases, we actually experience neurological "withdrawal symptoms" - we get stressed about not being stressed! But we really need to relax - for our mental, physical, and emotional/spiritual well-being.
  • When you go into your practice room by yourself, do you find it's hard to "wind down"? 
  • Does your mind keep distracting you (trying to keep the stress level at it's accustomed *high*)?
  • Is it hard to quietly focus and relax?
That's what I'm talking about. Belly dance is related not only to other dance forms like Indian and Spanish, but its practice is also sister to traditions like yoga, meditation, and even daily religious devotions.
I can almost hear you now: 'I just can't DO "daily" practice" - but keep in mind the two kinds, "inspirational" and "educational". There are many facets to practice besides actual dancing! As Walt Whitman put it so well, "Loaf and invite the soul." Stretch, listen to music, follow your inspiration, see where your journey leads.

Begin now to de-stress yourself; "find your center"; "tune in and drop out" of the daily grind! Stop looking for stressors to feed your habit. Turn OFF the videos, quiet down and take time to feel what the dance can do for you. YOU ARE WORTH an hour a day - an hour of peace and tranquility. Do it today!

Back to Performing Secrets