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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Dear Shira


Belly Dancing:

Stuck in a Beginner Rut?



The Question

Dear Shira:

I took 3 months of belly dancing classes from a wonderful teacher who was pregnant, and when she quit teaching in the latter stages of her pregnancy I was so addicted to bellydancing that I hotfooted it along to another beginners class in my area.

The problem is, though, that this new class is a 6 week Beginners introduction. I have just completed week 5, and not only have I not learned anything new, I haven't covered half of the moves that I learned in my three months previous. I've been seriously thinking of going along to an Intermediates class in my area with a different teacher, but I'm not sure whether I'd be able to keep up with them — I have no idea what their class would involve or what they'd expect me to know! My first teacher told me that belly dancers are all classified as "beginners" until they've had at least two years of study — but I can't seem to find a belly dance class that stays around that long! Help!

— Eager Beaver

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.





Shira Responds

Dear Beaver,

You must be very frustrated! Your question brings a number of thoughts to mind for me. Here are some questions for you to consider:

  1. You say you haven't learned anything new, but have you really tried? For example, you may already know how to do a hip drop, but as your new teacher explained it, did you carefully listen to her explanations and look for nuances of posture, which muscles to use, etc. that you may have missed the first time?
  2. Did you realize that learning to belly dance isn't solely about learning a catalog of moves? There are many other elements to it: musical interpretation, understanding the culture it comes from, learning how to transition from one move to the next, etc. Could it be that your first teacher skipped some of this important background information, whereas your second teacher took the time to provide some of this important context?
  3. Is it possible that your first teacher skipped too quickly on to the next move, while some people were still struggling to master the first one? Good teachers take the time to correct errors, and they try to make sure that most of the students are comfortable with the current move before moving on to the next.

Since your first teacher was pregnant and knew she'd soon be taking a break, it's possible she moved quickly through the material to cover as much as she could before having her baby. She may have hoped to give you all a large amount of material to work with on your own.

I recommend to my students that they take my Belly Dance 1 class at least 6 months (two 7-week quarters) before trying Belly Dance 2, because I move at a much faster pace in Belly Dance 2 and I teach harder material. I have four different choreographed dances that I use in Belly Dance 1, so a student who preferred to move more slowly could take my Belly Dance 1 class for four consecutive quarters (an entire year) and still learn new step combinations every time.

But I know another teacher who tells her students that once they complete an 8-week Beginner class with her, they're ready to move into her Intermediate class. She has students in her Advanced class who would struggle to keep up in yet another teacher's Beginner class. Every teacher is different.

One teacher's "Intermediate" class might be similar in difficulty to another teacher's "Beginner" class. Don't be afraid to explore the Intermediate class choices available from the various teachers in your community. You might want to contact each instructor and ask these questions:

  • How many months do you encourage your new students to stay in your Beginner class before they move up to your Intermediate class?
  • If someone who has studied with a different teacher wanted to attend your Intermediate class, what skills would you expect her to already have?
  • How long have most of the students in your Intermediate class been taking belly dancing?
  • Would you let me come and watch your Intermediate class for one week before I sign up, so I can figure out whether it's a fit with my current level of dance skill?

You might also consider how your brain likes to learn. If you like to be fed information slowly and methodically, then you might want to stay in a beginner-level class a little longer, looking for new technique nuances and polishing of moves beyond what you've already mastered. Each teacher explains moves differently, and even if you already know the move, you might learn something about improving your posture and technique by listening carefully to how someone else explains a move you already know.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.

But if you get bored in "easy" classes and you find that you learn fastest when challenged with something that's difficult for you, then maybe you'd benefit from trying one of those Intermediate classes. Someone else at your exact same skill level might be intimidated by the very same Intermediate class.

— Shira




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About this Column

Shira has received many questions from readers over the years related to various aspects of the dance. In this column, she picks some of the more interesting ones to answer publicly. Details contained in the questions are sometimes removed or disguised to protect the anonymity of the person who asked the question.



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