As today brings the entire decade to a close, before we head into 2020, we take the time to reflect on all the amazing experiences and people that were brought to us...
Current & former SharqiDance students pose with Shahrzad, our guest instructor for Spring Into Dance 2019
2019 - A Year and Decade in Review
This decade saw the birth of SharqiDance, my dream business teaching belly dance in New Jersey, giving me the opportunity to cross paths with and teach hundreds of people this empowering, feminine and healing art form. For that, I could not be more grateful!
Just this year alone, we've had so many incredible experiences. Our SharqiSquad (the SharqiDance student troupe) performed at belly dance events all over New Jersey--gracing the stage of Roxy & Dukes in Dunnelle, Debonair Music Hall in Teaneck, and studio haflas all throughout the year.
We performed at public events and festivals: The Asbury Park Promenade of Mermaids, The Lakewood Renaissance Faire, and Soulsational Festival in Bayville; we hosted world-reknowned belly dancer Shahrzad at our very own studio in Wall Township, NJ, we added a Darbuka Mastery class with the amazing April Centrone to our roster, and we were honored to close out the year performing at a NY Arabic Orchestra concert in New York City!
What's Next in 2020
This was all made possible thanks to the amazing people who took a chance and gathered the courage to try out a belly dance class with us. This has enabled us to come up with even bigger, better plans for 2020.
If belly dance has been on your mind this past decade, but you haven't quite yet gathered the courage to start, now is the time, with 2020 poised to be our biggest, baddest year yet!
If you're local to Monmouth or Ocean County, NJ, come join our empowering, positive and supportive community! Or if you're too far away, contact me to schedule an online private class over video chat. It's never too late to start, and I would love to have you join us!
Stay in Touch!
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.
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!
This month I am challenging my belly dance students to shimmy for 5+ minutes at a time, 5+ days a week for 5+ weeks, and I'd like to invite belly dancers everywhere to join us!
A shimmy is simply the fast shaking of one's hips. However, there is more to this move than it appears! It must be controlled and sustained enough for other moves to be layered on top of it, and there are many different techniques that achieve different visual results. It really is so much more than just aimless shaking, and the best way to learn proper belly dance shimmy techniques is to take a local belly dance class or a remote online class if you can't find any classes near you!
If you are having trouble with shimmies, don't worry... you are not alone! The shimmy is one of those moves that can take months or even years for beginner belly dancers to grow completely comfortable into, and for most people there is no way to perfect it unless it is practiced frequently and for extended amounts of time. Even intermediate and advanced dancers can have trouble with this move, if it isn't practiced enough. And since it is one of the most prevalent and important moves in most styles of belly dance, there is just no way of getting around it...
We all lead busy lives and it can be difficult to find the time to practice, but anyone can spare 5 minutes a day 5 times a week for something they want to get better at! Thus, the 5/5/5 shimmy challenge was born ;)
You can be as laid-back or as serious as you'd like with this challenge. You can set aside the time and dedicate it fully to practicing your shimmy techniques in front of the mirror, or you can do it as part of your warm-up before you train on another physical activity, or if you're really short on free time you can just shimmy for 5 minutes while you shower, do the dishes, or cook.
You might end up doing it every day of the week, or you might only get around to it once or twice a week, but the point is to get that practice in as opposed to doing absolutely nothing :)
Feel free to share your practice/progress by tagging us on Facebook or hashtagging Instagram (#SharqiDance #shimmychallenge), or just let us know how you're doing in the comments section below!
So, will you join our Shimmy Challenge?
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!
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.