If you want to get better at shimmying, you gotta practice them! This simple-looking, natural-seeming move can actually be surprisingly technical and difficult to learn, which is why many belly dance teachers recommend that students make their shimmy practice into an almost daily routine!
If you're finding yourself meeting this suggestion with the common "But I don't have time!" response, get ready to have your excuse declared completely null and void! You don't need to set aside hours for your shimmy practice. All you need are a couple of minutes shimmying every day or every few days to see your shimmy power, muscle control, speed and coordination reach new heights!
And if you really, truly are not able to dedicate those 3-5 minutes regularly, I guarantee that you can still fit that shimmy practice in if you learn the art of shimmy multi-tasking, or shimmy-tasking!
Shimmy-tasking is the act of layering your shimmies with mindless daily activities you already have to do anyway, to guarantee the shimmying will get done no matter what.
This not only helps you achieve better and more controlled shimmies, but is also bound to make your necessary chores much more fun and exciting!
So are you ready to dish the excuses? Let's go!
1. Shimmy While Doing Dishes
Got no dishwasher and a big ol' pile of dishes waiting in the sink? Turn on some music and shimmy while you wash them! You will feel that time suddenly fly by and won't even think about how much you just wish you had a dishwasher!
If you do have a dishwasher, you can skip this one, or if you are more advanced, use it as a challenge to practice your shimmy level changes when you load and unload the machine... just don't be dropping and breaking any of your china!
2. Shimmy While Brushing Your Teeth
No one can hide from this one! You gotta brush your teeth every day, so here is your perfect opportunity to get your shimmy on, multiple times on the same day. You don't even need to put on music, just shimmy to the rhythm of the bristles scrubbing them fangs!
3. Shimmy in the Shower
Just make sure your shower floor is not too slippery, and you're good to go! We wouldn't want you falling over and hurting yourself so keep your shimmies soft on this one.
4. Shimmy While Folding the Laundry
Is there a more boring chore than folding clothes? Now you have a reason to look forward to it. Get that music going and shimmy away! It might take you a bit longer to finish, but it will feel like time well spent.
5. Shimmy When You Wait for the Bus/Train/Anything
This act of public shimmying should be reserved for the cold days when you are wearing a long jacket and can shimmy inconspicuously underneath it without anyone noticing. Bonus: it will help keep you warm!
6. Shimmy While Grocery Shopping
I have heard many a belly dancer say the grocery store aisles are their favorite place to get some extra shimmy practice in. This is a great opportunity to practice walking and other traveling shimmies, but as another act of public shimmying, reserve it for those days when you are wearing a long jacket so as not to attract unwanted attention from onlookers.
7. Shimmy While Cooking
If you've got that recipe down on autopilot, add music and shimmies to your food prep or cooking process! But don't do it while you're chopping or peeling or handling something dangerous, because that would just be a recipe for disaster!
8. Shimmy While You Scroll
How many hours a day do you spend scrolling through social media? You might as well put some of that time to good use by getting up from your chair or couch and shimmying while you get caught up on all your friends' updates and stories!
9. Shimmy on That Boring Call
Got a friend, family member or colleague who just won't stop yappin' on the phone? Next time they start going on and on about nothing without giving you a chance to speak, mute yourself and get a shimmy going. If you're really pro at it and able to shimmy while maintaining your normal voice and breathing pattern, you can even do it while you have that conversation!
10. Shimmy When You Lay in Bed
Notice how your technique morphs completely when you no longer have that connection, exchange and feedback between your feet and the floor, and when your body is in a horizontal position instead of vertical. Which totally different muscles are you now having to rely on? Do this right before you sleep or right after you wake up to make your shimmy practice the first and/or last thing you do in your day!
We could keep this list going forever and ever ("Shimmy While Filing Your Nails!" "Shimmy While You Watch TV!") but I think you get the point! Add a shimmy to anything you do often and on autopilot, and watch your technique, control and comfort with this move completely skyrocket! If you have a favorite shimmy-tasking activity that wasn't listed here, share it in the comments!
So, what are you waiting for? Get up and start shimmy-tasking!
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?
While belly dance in its most basic forms may have existed for centuries, or possibly millennia, it was only over the last 100 years or so that it really began to take the shape we have come to recognize and refer to as "raqs sharqi"--or belly dance--today, thanks in large part to these incredible women who made history as belly dance stars in Egypt.
In this timeline of famous Egyptian belly dancers, you will learn a little bit about each woman and their influence on the dance as well as see them in action, thereby getting a glimpse into how this dance has changed and evolved over the years. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!
Badia Masabni (1892 - 1974) - The Godmother of Belly Dance
Badia Masabni was a Syrian/Lebanese actress and dancer who moved to Egypt and opened the first music hall in Cairo in the 1920's which featured singing, dancing, and other entertainment acts.
She is credited with adapting belly dance from its social and folkloric roots into a dance that is done on the stage to entertain a large audience. The usage of ballet-inspired arms and lines, greater use of space and traveling steps, and the incorporation of the veil as a prop can all be traced back to this woman, who is understandably referred to as "The Godmother of Belly Dance."
She is also credited with being a mentor to two major belly dance figures, Samia Gamal and Tahiya Carioca.
Tahiya Carioca (1915 - 1999) - The Marilyn Monroe of the Arab World
Eventually dubbed the "Marilyn Monroe of the Arab World," Tahiya Carioca began her belly dance career at Badia Masabni's Casino Opera where she rose to become one of its biggest stars.
She was given the surname "Carioca" due to her fascination with Brazilian rhythms and dance, which she incorporated into her performances.
She began appearing in films in 1935, going on to become an important part of Egyptian movie history. The height of her fame occurred during the "Golden Age" of Egyptian cinema in the 1940's and 50's, and she continued to dance until 1963.
Samia Gamal (1924 - 1994) - The National Dancer of Egypt
Another Badia Masabni protegé and Golden Age star, Samia Gamal would eventually be proclaimed by Egypt's King Farouk as the "The National Dancer of Egypt."
Samia was not only one of the most famous belly dancers of her time, but was also a very successful actress, having appeared in over 50 movies throughout her career. She also performed in international films and clubs, helping bring worldwide attention and recognition to this dance.
As a dancer, she was known for her beautiful arm movements and enchanting smile.
Naima Akef (1929 - 1966) - Bellydancing Acrobat
Naima Akef began her performing career as a child at her family's circus, where she performed as an acrobat.
After the circus disbanded, she eventually found work as a singer and belly dancer in Cairo's famous nightclubs, and in the 1940's she began singing, dancing and acting in movies as well.
She was lost to cancer at the young age of 37, but not before having become a Golden Age star in her own right, forever making her mark in this dance form with her fast and energetic spins, dramatic arm and leg movements, and impressive displays of acrobatics.
Nagwa Fouad (1936 - present) - Queen of Raqs Sharqi
By the 1970's, Nagwa had become one of the most important belly dancers in Egypt, but her reputation reached far beyond Egypt as she performed all over the globe throughout her career. Every famous personality who came to visit Egypt would come to see Nagwa perform, including former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Jimmy Carter.
By the time she retired, Nagwa Fouad had had a very impressive and versatile 45-year career in dance and film, having appeared as a dancer in over two hundred and fifty films and acted in more than one hundred!
Soheir Zaki (1944 - present) - The Om Kalthoum of Dance
Fifi Abdo (1953 - present) - Queen of Baladi
As a child, Fifi Abdo would watch the films of the likes of Tahiya Carioca, Naima Akef, etc, and copy their moves. She started performing belly dance at age 13 and thanks to her hard work, talent, and toughness, she rose to become a top belly dancer and actress in Egypt in the 1980's and 90's, and today she is one of the wealthiest women in the country!
In her films, she usually portrays empowered female archetypes, and her work is often provocative and controversial for its boldness.
While Fifi is an amazing all-around belly dancer, she is best known for being the embodiment of baladi: the simple, earthy, grounded, country style of dance from which raqs sharqi originated.
Mona Said (1954 - present) - The Bronze of The Nile
Mona Said began her belly dance career at age 13 after being encouraged to become a dancer by a nightclub owner and a big-name singer who had spotted her dancing at a disco.
She left Egypt in 1970 to perform in Lebanon for a few years, fleeing her father who was disapproving of her career choice. In Lebanon she found fame before returning to Cairo in 1975. She then went on to perform between Cairo and London for the next 5 years, and became one of the top belly dancers in Egypt through the 80's and 90's.
Mona was nicknamed "The Princess of Raqs Sharqi" by Tahiya Carioca herself, and "The Bronze of the Nile" by Egypt's media.
Mona is best known for her feeling and emotion when dancing. She does not believe in counting music, but instead in focusing on the feeling and allowing it to take over in the moment.
She is a perfect example of the "less is more" philosophy applied in belly dance, milking every beat and every note in the music, giving it no more and no less than what is called for, building up energy only when the music builds, all while expressing a variety of different emotions and personalities.
Dina (1965 - present) - The Last Egyptian Dancer
Dina began her dancing career in the 1970's training with Mahmoud Reda, co-founder of Reda Troupe, a group of Egyptian folkloric dancers that toured nationally and internationally.
She began her solo career in the 80's, quickly rising to the top of the belly dance scene in Cairo and remaining there up to this date, in a difficult and evolving social and political landscape.
Times have changed in Egypt, and the pendulum has been swinging further and further towards religious conservatism over the past few decades. In a 2008 article, Newsweek called Dina "The Last Egyptian Dancer," in reference to the growing conservatism in the country which is causing fewer and fewer native-born women to become professional dancers. This, coupled with Dina's provocative costumes and movements, have made her into a very controversial figure in her country and abroad.
But whether you love her or hate her, her influence in modern Egyptian style is undeniable. Dina herself is the clear dividing line between the vintage and classic styles that came before her and the modern styles that exist today.
Her Reda-influenced steps marked the beginnings of new trends in belly dance which favor more complex footwork and weight shifts. Her exaggerated and dramatic facial expressions and gestures, sharper hip and pelvic accents and slower and more provocative hip circles have been copied all over Egypt and the world. Her daring bras showcasing ample cleavage became the new normal in belly dance costume design (the "Dina bra"), and her occasional choice of a mini-skirt over traditional full-length skirts created new trends that are still being followed and developed upon all over the world today.
Newsweek may have dubbed Dina "The Last Egyptian Dancer," but she is far from it. We are certainly no longer in the heyday of belly dance in Egypt, but many new dancers have popped up since Dina, and they continue to set their own trends today. They won't be covered in this blog post, but may be covered in future posts so please stay tuned!
I encourage you to keep reading and watching belly dance videos to find out more about this dance, its influential figures, its history around the world, and the myriad of different styles that fall under the belly dance umbrella!
Wikiwand - Badia Masabni
Bellydance Superstars of the Past - Badia Masabni
Gilded Serpent - Badia Masabny Star Maker of Cairo
Wikiwand - Taheyya Kariokka
Belly Dance Museum - Taheya Carioca
New York Times - Tahia Carioca, 79, Dies; A Renowned Belly Dancer
Wikiwand - Samia Gamal
Belly Dance Museum - Samia Gamal
Google Doodle just honored this iconic Egyptian dancer
Wikipedia - Naima Akef
Serpentine - Naima Akef
An Uncommon Woman - Nagwa Fouad, Queen of Oriental Dance
Serpentine - Sohair Zuki
Belly Dance Museum - Soheir Zaki
Wikipedia - Fifi Abdou
Serpentine - Fifi Abdo
Mona el Said
Mona El Said
Gilded Serpent - Mona el Said in Dallas, Part 1
Mona El Said: Moving in Mysterious Ways
Wikipedia - Dina Talaat
DINA at the MENA!
Newsweek - Saudis and the Last Egyptian Belly Dancer
This Valentine's Day has me thinking about some of the notions people have about belly dance.
To the general public in the Western world, the words "belly dance" tend to conjure up thoughts of harems where half-naked concubines dance to seduce the sultan...
But did you know that's actually an incorrect stereotype?
Belly dance originated from folkloric dances of the Middle East... dances that are regularly done informally at family and social gatherings, by children and adults alike, both female and male.
It is a dance of joy and celebration, with a rich history and culture behind it that is now studied and performed all around the world.
Reducing it to nothing but a "dance of seduction" is really a wild inaccuracy!
Then again, it is also easy to see how this dance--which can indeed be very sensual--could actually be used for this purpose. After all, who can possibly think that a slinky undulation or precise controlled hip shimmy isn't attractive? Even if it's an inaccurate stereotype, there is still truth to the fact that belly dance can be a sensual and mesmerizing art form.
Yet there are ways to use this quality without reducing the dance to something that is done solely for the pleasure of leering men. Because if there is one person you should definitely try to use belly dance to seduce... that person is you!
You can use it to see beauty in the diverse people who perform it, and in turn to see beauty in yourself.
You can use it to teach your body how to do new and amazing things that you will feel beautiful doing.
You can use it to express the music you love and the deepest feelings inside your soul.
This Valentine's Day, do a little belly dancing, and fall in love with yourself!
Are you overwhelmed by expectations of what your body should look like? Are you bogged down by feelings of not being attractive enough? Does your displeasure with your body cause you to miss out on things in life that should be enjoyable? Are you unhappy with your shape, size, or weight?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are among something like 90% of women, who feel unhappy with their bodies and want to change them. But before you go and start trying to “fix” your body, why not work to change your mindset? Here are some steps you can take to start loving your body and developing a healthier body image, starting right now!
1.Realize that you are more than just the sum of your parts, and you are worthy of happiness
The most important thing to work towards when trying to develop a more positive body image is the attitude that your value as a human being is not tied to your physical appearance.
That can be difficult to realize when you live in a society that might constantly be telling you otherwise, but it is the truth. You are as worthy of happiness as the next person, and you are valuable for the simple fact that you are a human being with a unique set of genes and experiences that have shaped you into who you are.
If you do not feel valuable as you are right now, try tapping into your existing talents and abilities to make someone else happy or lend a helping hand. Do more of the things that make you happy, and surround yourself with people who love and value you as much as you can.
If you are able to love yourself in broader terms, it will be much easier overcome the negative perceptions you have of your body.
2.Focus on the positives and compliment yourself
You already know there is a lot of power in a compliment. A few nice words can totally make a person’s day! But are you applying that knowledge to the way you treat yourself?
It is easy to look in the mirror and see only flaws… after all most women are surrounded by messages that tell us all about these flaws and what we can do to “fix” them (hint: it usually involves buying their products or services).
Don’t let any person or entity who is financially vested in making you feel flawed so they can sell you stuff get the best of you! Make the active choice to see your physical qualities over your perceived flaws, every time!
This might be difficult for some, but with regular “practice,” it can be done. Pick a few of your favorite things about your body, write them down if you need to, and go over them regularly until you start seeing yourself in a more balanced way.
3.Nip those negative thoughts in the bud!
We all know that “practice makes perfect,” right? The more we practice something, the better we get at it.
But have you ever thought about how much this applies to your own thoughts? If you are constantly thinking negative things about your body, what you are essentially doing is getting better at telling yourself those bad things about your body.
It is a vicious cycle, and endless loop of self-disrespect and you are the only one with the power to end it. How can you ever love your body when you are constantly practicing ways to hate it?
You may not be fully in control of your thoughts, but you can choose to take charge and say “No!” to that voice in your head saying you look ugly. Interrupt that nasty thought pattern and consciously replace it with a positive one.
At first it might seem difficult to control, but the more you do this, the better you will get at doing it, until your thought patterns become more positive, and therefore healthier!
4.Tune out the noise
It will be easier to control negative thoughts when you are able to turn off or tune out the very sources of those ideas that have gotten in your head. Maybe it’s TV or magazines, maybe it’s a friend or family member, maybe it’s things you see on the internet…
Whatever it is, you can get rid of it altogether, distance yourself from it, or simply tune it out. If the beauty magazines you read are constantly showing you unrealistic images of photoshopped, well-posed, and professionally-photographed models and holding that up as the ideal you and all women should strive for at all times, ask yourself if you really need to continue reading these magazines. If you have toxic people in your life who make you feel awful about the way you look, try to address it with them and see if it improves. If not, you can distance yourself from them or cut them off, depending on the particular situation.
You can take charge of your happiness by controlling how much negative input is getting into your head in the first place!
5.Find body positive role models
Seek out some positive role models. These can be people who are body positive and whose attitudes and philosophies you can emulate… people who have the same “flaws” as you but have a healthy mindset about them and are out there living their lives and just generally being awesome without letting these things hold them back… or just people who have a similar body type to yours that you can look at and find the beauty in, to help you find that same beauty within yourself!
6.But Remember that comparison is the thief of joy
As you find role models, remember never to get caught up comparing yourself to them, or anyone else for that matter. It is great to find inspiration in others, but comparison and jealousy will absolutely steal away your happiness and self-love!
No matter how perfect you think someone else might be, they go through struggles just like you. You really have no idea how hard they may have worked for that thing about them you envy, or the challenges they face in life, or the kinds of thoughts that go through their heads that they have to deal with every day.
Focus on yourself, the things you can do to better yourself, and keep your progress in perspective. As you progress towards your goals, don’t let your pride and joy be taken away by jealousy because you perceive someone else as having gotten there more quickly or more easily than you.
Give yourself kudos for overcoming your own struggles, compare yourself only to yourself, and give yourself realistic expectations that are based on your own situation and needs so that you can avoid the pitfalls of jealousy.
7.Stop gossiping/talking trash about other women’s bodies
The practice of trash talking about other women’s bodies—including celebrities’—is not only cruel to the women who are being talked about, it is also self-destructive to the people doing the talking. It is very unfortunate that this seems to be a common practice among many women, a form of bonding even…
If this is how you bond with other women, stop. Just, stop… you are creating an entire culture where it is acceptable to say things about other people’s appearance that you would be devastated to hear said about yourself, you are projecting your insecurities onto others instead of taking care of them, and you are creating or contributing to a toxic environment that will only backfire on you and potentially your loved ones in the form of more negative attitudes and body issues.
You can quit this practice by changing the subject when other people bring it up, or choosing to say something nice instead, or saying nothing at all and just avoiding these conversations altogether. You can choose to surround yourself with kinder and more positive people, or continue to surround yourself with the same people but tune out these topics.
Either way, you are in control of the things you do and say, so choose wisely!
8.Support and empower other women instead
I truly believe that the more supportive you are of other women, the more supportive you are able to be to yourself. It’s a bit of a case of “the chicken or the egg” here… many women are able to support and empower other women because they already have a healthy relationship with themselves. But even if you are not totally on board with the body positive, self-acceptance bandwagon, you will find that as you project positive attitudes onto other women in your praise and support of them, as you see other women being empowered by your beautiful words and actions towards them, you will begin feeling empowered as well.
In this case, you are creating a positive environment that will foster growth for all involved!
Exercise not because you hate your body and need to “improve” it, but because it feels good physically and mentally and will help your longevity and quality of life.
Taking up a form of exercise that takes away the focus from how your body looks to what your body can do is one of the best ways to battle insecurities and develop a more positive body image.
As you begin to appreciate your body for its newfound abilities, you will put less focus on how it looks and more focus on how it functions, which is what really should matter the most! You will also begin to treat your body better, as you figure out that healthier foods, habits, and thoughts will lead to improved performance in your chosen activity. It’s a much better motivator than exercising for the sole purpose of looking a certain way.
Regular exercise also has the added benefit of enhancing serotonin production and release, so it should make you feel happier, too!
10.If all else fails, do seek therapy!
There is no shame in talking to a professional who can help you if your body image issues are more serious and you can’t work through them on your own. In fact, even if you can work through them on your own, it can still be beneficial to speak to a therapist!
Even individuals who are perfectly mentally healthy can benefit from therapy. By talking about what you think and do, you will discover things about yourself you wouldn’t otherwise have, which can help you set your life in the right direction for you.
And if your body image issues are keeping you from doing things you enjoy, negatively affecting your relationships and interactions with others, or otherwise hampering you in your daily life, then it is definitely time to consider therapy. Therapy can help get to the root causes of your issues and send you on a path to healing.
Remember you are not alone… someone can help!
Good luck on your journey to a more positive and healthy body image. If you find yourself sinking back into old habits, come back to this list or read other advice like it to find some grounding and get back to work on fixing your thought patterns.
You can do it!
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!
When I say that “dance is poetry in motion,” I do mean it literally. Because dance is a language of its own… after all, is it not a way of communicating feelings using our bodies as the medium?
Studying dance actually does take us through many of the same processes as learning a new language.
The first step is to learn the alphabet—becoming familiar with the shapes of the letters and properly enunciating the sounds they represent. In belly dance, our “alphabet” is composed of “isolation components”—those simple, single-plane-and-direction isolations that can sometimes be used by themselves, but that also get strung together to form multi-plane-and-direction isolations, from the most basic to the most complex. These “composite isolations” are our words, along with the traveling steps and other non-isolation movements that we use.
It is important to learn and practice those “words” enough for them to become ingrained in our muscle memory, so that we can develop a movement vocabulary large enough to interpret a variety of sounds in the music we dance to.
Much in the way that the vocabulary in a language is a key defining element, the types of movements that we do—and the way we do them—are part of what differentiates one genre of dance from another. Music is another key element, as it dictates the types of movements we can do and when, therefore providing a structure for the sentences we create with our movements, like grammar and syntax!
Transitions and accents act as punctuation marks and facial expression, body language, and stylizations can serve as our adjectives...
Achieving true mastery in any genre of dance takes practice and immersion, much like achieving fluency in a language. It takes years of work and dedication, and there are no shortcuts!
We can’t skip straight to layering multiple moves together and trying to add feeling and stylization if our body can’t perform the movements—the dance will not be recognizable, in the same way that if we attempt to piece together a thought in a language before knowing the words we need to use, we will not be understood.
On the other hand, we also don’t need to get stuck practicing a move to the point where it is being perfectly executed exactly the same way as a dancer who is native to this dance before moving on to layering, expression, and stylization. Some moves can take years of practice before they can be executed at a professional level, and it can take years of study and immersion before they can be executed with the same nuances seen on native dancers.
We call that dancing with an “accent.” Having an accent in a language doesn’t necessarily make you any less fluent. The world is full of multilingual people who can express complex thoughts and ideas in their non-native languages even if they do so with an accent. Western belly dancers need not be afraid of dancing with a Western accent. So long as they are using belly dance vocabulary, grammar and syntax, they are belly dancing!
These parallels are a great way to think about how we learn dance and to keep perspective when we become frustrated with the challenges that pop up.
They can also provide some context and a framework for our goals. Someone who just wants to learn how to say a few words isn’t going to need to spend as much time studying as someone who wants to learn how to speak a language fluently.
But regardless of individual goals, the ideal class should provide students with all the tools they need to achieve fluency, so that they too will be able to create poetry in motion…
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.