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How To Be Your Own Belly Dance Teacher

Zaghareet! Magazine (Mar/Apr 2011)
by Anthea Kawakib Poole

Learning on Your Own?

Learning isn’t always easy, but for those of you without teachers it can be an especially frustrating struggle. I know from experience because for the first several years of my “belly dance study” I learned from books (yes books, before internet!), but I don’t count those years as “training” or education, that would be silly. My training didn’t start until I had a real live teacher. She helped me so much to adjust my posture and get clean isolations; that was just the beginning of what she taught me. Obviously, if I could have done that myself, I would have. It took other eyes than mine - eyes that knew what to look for and how to help me adjust what I was doing.       

I know everyone isn’t so lucky to have a teacher nearby, but at least today there are DVDs for aspiring belly dancers who don’t have recourse to a teacher, or to a teacher who would benefit them.

You, the Teacher

I wrote about home practicing with DVDs in this column before but want to revisit this topic because of its importance. It’s important because everyone seems to use DVDs these days - AND because the body develops habits very quickly and will even change its shape to accommodate repeated movements! That should give anyone pause. But it’s so easy to buy or borrow a DVD these days that any deep thought about the consequences usually doesn’t happen... until it's too late!

The down side of using DVDs is that you can basically do what you want since there’s no teacher watching you - you can skip warmups, gloss over hard movements, ignore warnings or “boring” lectures on the cultural context of the dance, etc. And I also wonder how much focus the DVD actually gets compared to the image in the mirror? I’ve seen a lot of students who say they’ve learned from DVDs before coming to class, but either they had DVDs with bad teachers, or if they did have a “good DVD”, the incipient student did not benefit from them as much as they thought they did. So I’m suspicious of home learning with DVDs. I suspect that they serve more as “inspiration” for people than a virtual class with a real teacher.

Think of it this way: would you want to go to class with a teacher who was always unprepared and “winged it”, never had any goals for the students, and didn’t really offer them any help? A teacher who had you “try something” for a few minutes, then instead of refining it and clearing up mistakes, polishing technique or timing, told you to move on to “try” something else? I certainly wouldn’t pay for lessons from a teacher like that! You deserve so much more! Yet this might be describing your usual “practice session” with a DVD.

Get Serious to Get Good

I just want to emphasize that you need more than watching DVDs (or attending the occasional workshop) to learn belly dance. So if you can’t afford class, or if there are no worthwhile ones nearby, then sometimes turn off the DVD player and “do it yourself” - pretend that you are TEACHING yourself (which, by the way, is what you are doing!) and look for basic mistakes you - the student - are making. 

Make some assessments of your dancing: write them down to make it “official”.  What do you think your strong point are? Good, now what are your weak points? For instance, maybe you’ll notice that you don’t do any travel steps; or your moves are always soft and slow; or you don’t know what to do with a certain kind of music. If you can figure out what you need then you have a chance of finding a solution.

If this sounds strange, acting as both a teacher and a student, then at least I’ve opened your eyes to the reality of your situation. You ARE being your own teacher, and you alone are responsible for how good a dancer you become. Now you can see what a monumental task you’ve taken on. So get serious and be a good teacher! 

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