To get what you want, you have to want what you get.
-Paraphrased from an unknown author
There is so much truth and wisdom in this short yet powerful sentence. It is, in a nutshell, the best advice I can give regarding acquiring new skills, building your goal body, becoming healthier, attracting great relationships, progressing in your career, making more money, or just in general creating the life of your dreams!
Appreciating what we already have opens our eyes to notice opportunities that are already available to us... opportunities which are impossible to detect when we are spending our time focused on what we don't have. That attitude of gratitude then goes on to attract more new outcomes that bring us the same feeling, resulting in a beautiful cycle of awesomeness.
As it relates specifically to raqs sharqi (belly dance), this means that if you want to become a better dancer or achieve specific dance goals, the best way to go about it is to not be frustrated by the level you currently find yourself at, not to look at other dancers who are "better" than you and compare yourself to them in a way that puts you down, but instead to fully appreciate where you are at right now, all while keeping your goals in the back of your mind as you enjoy every moment of your journey towards achieving them.
Look at me, your dear author, fully appreciating the fact that I am dancing to this incredible live band on a stage in LA ;)
Does this seem vague, abstract, or too "woo woo" for you?
Then let me put it a bit differently... I'll give you two scenarios, and you tell me which one will lead to more progress for the dancer in question.
Dancer A took up belly dancing classes because she was enchanted by the gracefulness, elegance and femininity of raqs sharqi. But every time she comes to class, she can't help but look around the room and feel horrible about herself. She hates the way her body looks, and she struggles with new steps and movements. When she looks around, she sees that other students are "getting it," which only adds to her frustration. When she sees a professional dancer, there is a nagging voice inside her head that says things like "You'll never be able to dance like that," "you started way too late to ever be any good," or "you're too ugly to perform in public."
Dancer B also took up belly dance because of its feminine elegance and gracefulness. But when she comes to class, she does not focus on what anyone else is doing; she only focuses on herself and her own learning. She appreciates her body and the fact that it is healthy and functional and able to learn this amazing art form. If she does look around the room, it's to appreciate how wonderful it is that all these people are gathered together to learn new ways to move their body and express themselves to complex, poetic music. When she sees a professional dancer, she thinks "I'm so lucky that I get to see this performance" "that'll be me some day," or "I'm so inspired by this dancer!"
If both these dancers take the same exact class, practice the same amount of time, and take the same actions to improve, which one do you think will see more visible progress? Which one will be happier in their journey? Which one is most likely to stick with it longer? I think the answer is so obvious I don't even need to say it!
Still skeptical? Then I'll leave you with this: why not give this whole attitude of gratitude thing a try, starting now? It is Thanksgiving week, after all! Jot down a couple of positive things belly dance has brought into your life. Note a couple of positive things about your own dancing, as it is right now. Lastly, write about the dancers you love the most, and then visualize yourself embodying all those characteristics you just wrote about.
Feel like sharing what you wrote? Post it in the comments below!
If you do this regularly and consistently, you will notice a visible difference in both your attitude and your dancing, and you won't want to stop that beautiful cycle of awesomeness. Bring that gratitude attitude into every aspect of your life, and you will reap the rewards as you see yourself flourishing in every possible way.
I hope you have an amazing Thanksgiving this week.
So your big day is approaching, and the performance jitters are setting in.
You've been working hard to develop your belly dance skills by going to class and practicing at home, but now you'll have to do it on stage in front of a bunch of strangers, and you can't help but feel a little bit scared and overwhelmed.
Don't worry, we've got your back! Simply follow the tips on this post and you'll feel a lot more comfortable and confident in your ability to make this go right!
1. Know Your Music Inside & Out
If you haven't heard your music enough times to be sick of it, you probably haven't heard it enough! There should be no surprises in your music.
Listen to it every day, making sure you know which phrases/sections come after which and that you are able to notice all the nuances and changes in your music.
If you're not there yet, keep on listening!
2. Know Your Choreo Inside & Out
If you're doing choreography, especially if it's in a group setting, you should also know your choreography inside and out. Don't wait until the day before (or worse yet, the day of) to start cramming the entire choreography into your brain.
The week prior to your performance, be sure to run through the whole choreography for at least a few minutes. You can practice the whole thing just twice or three times, as long as you do it every single day you are bound to eventually remember it.
Be sure to notice the parts you are struggling with in your practice, and give those sections extra attention. Is there a transition you are unsure about, or a move or section you consistently forget? Address that with your teacher next time you see her/him, and be sure to give those short sections a couple of extra practice runs.
Your brain and body need time and patience to commit all that choreography to memory, so be patient with yourself and tackle a little bit each and every day.
3. Practice Smiling
We perform the way we practice, so if you're practicing all these movements and steps with a blank face, you will have a totally blank face when you perform.
Your face is made up of muscles just like your arms, legs and torso. You had to teach your feet to step here and there and you had to teach your hips to drop here and lift there, otherwise you would not be able to do any of the steps and moves in your choreography.
Your face works the same way. If you're not teaching your face to smile during this or that section, you can't expect it to do it when you perform.
So put a big smile on your face when you practice! Or, if your performance calls for a different feeling other than joy/happiness, practice expressions that correspond to the other feelings you want to evoke instead.
If you can, it's never a bad idea to record yourself and watch the video to make sure your expression looks the way you intended. You'll be surprised at how many times you might think you're smiling and you're actually not!
4. Do a Dress Rehearsal. Or Two. Or Three!
Make sure you practice in costume at least a few times. You want to ensure that your costume is functional and comfortable. If anything feels uncomfortable, see if you can make adjustments prior to the day of the performance.
Make sure all your important "bits" are in place, and if you feel like anything might, ahem, pop out in unwanted places, definitely make the adjustments needed to prevent any costume malfunctions from happening!
Check all hooks and snaps to ensure they are all secured, and if your belt or any costume pieces move around as you dance, figure out ahead of time how you will secure those pieces in place so you can have everything you need with you on the day of your performance. Large safety pins pinned from the inside of the costume are always a good bet for securing belts to skirts or giving bra bands an extra layer of security.
5. Practice Entering and Exiting
From the moment you appear on stage to the moment you disappear from your audience's view, you are performing. It doesn't matter if the music hasn't started yet or if it has already ended; if your audience can see you, your performance has already started.
So practice entering with a confident smile and dancer's posture and engaging your audience with eye contact from the moment they first see you, until the very end. If you're starting on stage, maintain this carriage until your music starts and through the end of your music and your walk out.
Practice holding your ending pose for 1-3 seconds, taking a bow, and then exiting gracefully.
6. Practice Making and Recovering from Mistakes
Mistakes are a natural part of life. When you're on stage, you might forget a part of your choreography, or you might stumble, or a piece of your jewelry could get caught on your costume or prop... anything can happen!
If you make a mistake during practice, this is the perfect opportunity to practice recovering from it seamlessly and naturally. Try not to frown or sigh when you make a mistake, even in practice. How you practice is how you will perform, so if you "practice" frowning or making noises when you make a mistake, that is what you will do when you perform! Instead, consciously maintain the expression of your piece no matter what happens, even if you make a mistake.
If you have to make something up for a couple of seconds, it's not a big deal. If you're soloing, there is no way anyone would know unless you show it on your face. If you're in a group, you will be able to see someone else out of the corner of your eye to figure out your place in that part of the choreography.
Your mistakes will always feel like a big deal to you, but the audience will most likely not even know. So no matter what happens, you can recover. No matter what happens, life will go on. Just keep going and keep having fun with it!
7. Do a Makeup Dry Run
If you're used to doing your own makeup, you can skip this step. But if you don't normally wear loads of makeup to go out, try doing a makeup dry run the night before or a few days before your big day, to make sure you can achieve the look you are going for and get a sense for how much time you will need on the day of the performance.
If you're not sure where to even begin, makeup tutorials on YouTube are always a great place to start. Just search for "belly dance makeup," or "stage makeup" or even just "makeup" on YouTube, find a look you love and can see yourself in, and follow along with it.
Here is one I like, which achieves a look that works very well for belly dancers on stage:
Consider your venue and lighting. If you will be up on stage with lights shining in your face, "less is more" is not a concept you'll want to go for. More is more! Be sure to line your brows and go heavy on the eye shadow, eyeliner and mascara/eyelashes. Your stage makeup should be heavier than your regular "going out" makeup so that your face and expressions will be visible from a distance.
If, on the other hand, you'll be performing outdoors during the day time fairly close to your audience, you can go a little lighter. Use your judgment :)
8. Have a Checklist Ready
The day before or a few days before your performance, write down a checklist of everything you will need that day. Your checklist should include:
When your big day arrives, give yourself plenty of time to get ready. Estimate how much time you will need to shower, do your hair and makeup, pack up, and drive to the venue. Add an extra 30-60 minutes to that estimated time, just in case there are any last minute issues, mishaps, or traffic.
Try to arrive early so you have time to get to know your venue and space, socialize and settle in. Once you are in costume, if not performing, you should be wearing your cover-up.
10-20 minutes before you go on, make sure to warm up backstage. Do some shimmies and stretches and drill some basic moves or combos from your choreography. Pay close attention to your breathing as you do this. Take the deepest breaths you possibly can, breathing into your belly and releasing any stress or tension as you breathe out. This will help calm your nerves.
After you get off stage, do a quick cooldown. Take deep breaths and do a couple of stretches backstage. Then change back into your clothes, or put your cover-up on before you leave the backstage area.
If there are other performances on the show, try to watch them when you are not getting ready, warming up, performing, or cooling down. Try not to leave the show before it ends or arrive after it starts, it is very poor etiquette to come in only for your own performance and then leave. If you absolutely must leave early or arrive late due to a prior commitment, please make sure your teacher and/or the organizer are aware ahead of time.
10. Just Have Fun!
We know you've worked hard for this moment and that you want to do well. But please, don't forget to have fun and enjoy the moment! Once you arrive at the venue, know that you've already done all you could to prepare and now it's time to let go of all stress, pressure, and expectations and just have fun.
Socialize, make friends and be supportive of other dancers. If you see something you like about someone else's performance, let them know... it could make their day!
Be proud of yourself for taking this step and pat yourself on the back for doing it. Pamper yourself and allow yourself to feel absolutely beautiful. When you are performing, take in and enjoy the attention, love and joy that is emanating from your audience, and reflect this beautiful energy back to them.
Try not to take yourself too seriously. It's just dance, and it's supposed to be fun! In just a few months' time, you will have forgotten most of the choreography but what you will never forget is how you felt when you were on stage. That is what matters the most... and if you allow yourself to feel great, your audience will feel it too!
So have fun and spread the love and joy that is this dance. Enjoy every moment of your journey, even the scary ones. They will feel the most rewarding and keep you coming back for more!
Has the idea of joining a belly dance class been nagging you for some time, but every time you get the chance, you back out at the last minute because you are afraid of the unknown?
If so, it sounds like you are suffering from a case of "cold belly!" Like cold feet, cold belly is a doubt strong enough to prevent you from doing something you were planning on doing, in this case, going to that belly dance class you've been wanting to try! And believe it or not, this "cold belly" phenomenon is is more common than you think!
Maybe you're afraid of having to bare your belly, or you think the class will be packed with young, mean women who will make you feel bad about yourself. Or maybe you're insecure about your lack of dance experience and you picture a class full of experienced dancers, making you think you won't be able to keep up with everyone else. Maybe you think you're not fit enough to try out this dance, or maybe you just don't feel like getting up and going out after you've already settled in at home for the night...
Regardless of the reasons behind your apprehension and inaction, the fact of the matter is that you are not alone in feeling this way! In fact, the majority of women who show interest in belly dance classes never actually end up showing up for one!
But isn't that a shame? Because the reality of most belly dance classes in the US (and certainly the reality for our belly dance classes at SharqiDance in New Jersey) is that they are a gentle, friendly and fun environment for women (and sometimes men and non-gender binary folks) of all ages, levels, shapes, and sizes to learn how to move their bodies in incredible ways and how to express themselves artistically through dance all while falling in love with Middle Eastern music and culture!
Most people start belly dancing because they think it will be a fun way to exercise. But most people stick with belly dancing because of the amazing connections they make with the incredible people they meet in class and in their local community, all while challenging themselves--inside a supportive environment--to keep getting better and better at this rich and evolving art form!
There is nothing to fear. You don't even need to show your belly to belly dance! In fact, most people in class actually don't.
You also don't need prior dance experience to start belly dancing, and there is no age too young or too old to start. And guess what, you can become quite good even if you start late in life without any prior dance experience, because belly dance is low-impact and easy on your body!
This also means you do not need to be fit to start belly dance, and you might be glad to learn that the belly dance community embraces a much wider range of looks, body types and sizes than society at large!
That doesn't mean the dance is easy, it just means that with guidance from a good teacher and practice, consistency, and time, it can be done well no matter who you are or what you look like!
Does that sound like something you should be scared of? We think not!
It's time to stop letting the weeks, months and years go by, and just give belly dance a shot already! Just imagine where you could be in one, five, or ten years if you just take that chance and get started today! You might discover a fun new thing to do every week, or you might uncover a lifelong passion. Or maybe you'll find that belly dance is not for you, but you won't know until you've tried!
So, are you ready to try out a class?
We all have different backgrounds. Most of us came to belly dance at different stages of our lives, for different reasons and with different goals, and we all started with differing amounts of natural skill. We also have different learning styles and prioritize the dance differently in our lives.
Belly dance can mean different things to different people. Some do it for fun and socialization, or as way to get to know more about a foreign culture and its enchanting music and dances. Others do it as an outlet for artistic expression, or as a form of exercise to get in touch with their bodies at a deeper level. Some just belly dance to feel more sexy and beautiful, while others want to reach the highest levels, dancing at professional venues or competitive stages.
No matter your reasons for being drawn to belly dance, always remember that your journey through this dance is unique to you, and honor that unique journey by looking within yourself for the reasons why you do this dance, so that every time you do it, you can seek to get out of it the feelings, experiences, and results that you need.
There is no reason to look at other dancers with judgment if you think they are worse than you and therefore not "worthy." There is also no reason to look at other dancers with envy if you think they are "better" than you or that they have some unfair advantage. Those dancers are walking their own paths that are different from yours, for their own reasons that are different from yours, encountering their own roadblocks that are different from yours, towards destinations that are also different from yours.
If you spend time comparing yourself to others, you lose sight of your own journey and give up control of your destiny! You miss out on lessons you can learn from your individual struggles and on the unique insights you can offer, because no one else has walked the same path as you. You miss the opportunity to learn more about yourself and carve a path that truly fits your own needs, hopes and dreams!
Respect your unique journey through belly dance, honor and own all the reasons why you dance, and don't worry about what others are doing. This way you will feel happier throughout your journey, and it will take you to the most incredible destinations!
I wrote out these tips for my students who are studying and practicing for their very first belly dance solo performance, but they would be helpful to any belly dance student who is new to performing, and perhaps feeling overwhelmed!
1. Pick a piece of music that you love, and get to know it inside and out! The more you like your music and the better you know it, the better you will be able to express it and the more comfortable you will feel.
2. If you feel stronger working with choreography, then choreograph. If you are more comfortable with improvisation, improvise! Or do a mix of both. There is no need to force yourself into any method that doesn't work for you!
3. Remember you don't need to show us a million moves or prove anything to anybody. Pick a few moves you can do well and that go together with the music, and have fun with them! It is possible to do a whole belly dance routine with just a handful of moves, if you do them well and know how to use different variations and timing that fits well with the music.
4. Watch lots of dancers perform... there are thousands and thousands of videos available on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, so use these resources! Don't ever outright copy another dancer, but let yourself be inspired by what else is out there.
5. Just have fun!!! You work on technique in class and you practice it at home so you don't have to worry about it when you perform. Forget about whether you are doing it right or wrong, just let go, have fun and show us how happy you are to be dancing for us! Your audience wants to see you succeed, and they will have fun with you if they see you are enjoying yourself!
Follow these tips and you will come out of your first solo feeling happy and proud of yourself for putting a smile on your audience's face! Break a hip!
Ten years from now… you’ll be wishing you had started TODAY!
Think of all the hobbies and activities you have always wanted to try, but never made the time or gathered up the courage to take that first step…
Where would you be today, if you had started when the idea had first popped into your head? What’s on your mind right now? Where will you be tomorrow?
If you are looking to start something new for your body or for your mind, then you need to look no further than dance as it blends the best of both worlds. With dance you get fitness (working your body) and art (working your creativity and musical ear) in one shot!
In recent years, we have seen scientific study after study published that confirms what us dancers have always known: dance is not just great exercise for the body, it is also great exercise for the mind!
Dancing has been linked with improvements in memory and creativity, reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, and reduced levels of stress and depression.
Needless to say the benefits of dance on the body include increased cardiovascular capacity and muscular strength and endurance, better flexibility, balance and coordination, more energy, and so much more!
Belly dance in particular has also been linked with increased self-esteem and positive body image in many of its practitioners.
Of course all this will depend on the individual, on the genre, and on the class in particular, but you will certainly enjoy at least some of these benefits by joining a belly dance class today!
What’s great about belly dance is that it provides all these benefits while being gentle on the body. You don’t need to have started as a child to ever become good at it. You don’t need to have a specific body type, as all body types are both welcome in class and even represented in the professional realm. You don’t even need to be at a high fitness level to start, and you certainly don’t need any fancy clothes or equipment!
All you need is to show up and to be open and willing to learn; and learn you will! You will learn movements and steps, you will learn music and culture, you will achieve amazing things all while having fun!
The belly dance community in our area of New Jersey is still small, but it’s growing fast. Don’t miss your chance to become a part of it—right now—because one year from now you will be amazed at what your body can do and how much you’ve learned. Ten years from now, well… we can only imagine! The sky is the limit!
I'll take discipline over "natural talent" any day of the week!
Innate ability will carry you through the initial stages of learning a new skill and might even help throughout all stages of development (better results for the same amount of practice), but without deliberate and consistent study and training, talent on its own is nothing but unsatisfied potential.
This is true for absolutely anything in life, including belly dance. I’ve been thinking a lot about how beginner students often create limitations for themselves that don’t actually exist, by perceiving their lack of ability to do something right off the bat as a permanent limitation as opposed to a perfectly natural part of the learning process, and even an opportunity to learn the process at a deeper level than those who don’t have to struggle through it.
Sometimes as teachers we even encourage this type of thinking, by overly complimenting a student’s natural ability to just “pick up” a new move right away, but neglecting to give attention and positive reinforcement to the improvement that student is showing week after week on a move they struggle with.
If you are that student in class who just can't understand the explanation given, if you're that person making mistakes and looking around and noticing that everyone else remembers the choreography but you, if your body just won’t move the “right” way, or you just feel awkward, or whatever it is...
There are reasons you are having a hard time, and none of them are your fault, so there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Yet these reasons are also mostly within your control, if you want them to be.
If you want to improve, if you consistently practice, if you have good guidance in some or many forms (in your teachers and mentors, friends and peers, books and/or other reading materials), then it's just a matter of time before you become good, or even great, or even awesome.
Many aspects of belly dance did not come naturally to me, so I'm familiar with all types of learning struggles and learning styles, and try to tailor each class to the specific individuals in it by using a mix of verbal, visual, kinesthetic, and other methods of explaining movement.
In my class, "mistakes" are not bad, mistakes are opportunities for progression (for both the student and myself as a teacher), because they allow me to rethink my explanations and tailor them to the student/s having issues so that they are receiving the best instruction for their individual needs.
Or if the issue is not with my explanation, then it allows me to look at the root of the problem and recommend appropriate solutions. Maybe it's just a matter of drilling that specific movement over and over again. Or maybe we need to specifically target the muscles that are not working optimally in this move, in which case I will recommend an exercise outside of belly dance that will do just that.
I am amazed at the progress I've been seeing from each and every SharqiDance student! When both student and teacher are committed to this progress, wonderful things happen. I feel absolutely blessed to have dedicated students who come to my class to embark on this journey!
Yamê is a Brazilian-American belly dancer based out of New Jersey, USA.