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

Belly Dance Practice - How to Get the Most Out of It


By Saqra




Note from Saqra: I have several versions of this tip: Beginning - Advanced Dancers, Advanced - Pros & Instructors, specifically Music Interpretation, Drum Solo Practice, etc. Since the average length of time people are in this field is about 3 years and I don't know what anyone is currently working on, this seemed like the more useful version to put here.

Allocate time as follows:

  • 4-5 min upbeat song: Warm Up Muscles with Shimmies - hip and shoulder.
  • 4-5 min slow song: Gentle Stretch with Isolations
  • 10-15 min: Step/Transition Drill
  • 12-30 min: Performance Practice
  • Cool down

See below for a detailed explanation of each segment.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Ian Cartlidge, Leeds, United Kingdom.





4-5 Minutes Warm Up

Use hip and shoulder shimmies to warm up the muscles. Start shimmies centered under you or centered over your torso and slowly move them out and back in in spiral patterns and/or simple spoked stars.


4-5 Minutes with a Slow Song

Do gentle stretch with isolations. Work your isolations slowly and smoothly through your range of motion, pressing out a little further than you would for performance (remember the 70% rule?).

Imagine you are inside an object. Just look around the room and pick something: plant pot, fish tank, whatever. Reach your body, arms and hands out to slide your parts smoothly over the inside of the imaginary object. Do remember to turn your torso and touch the back of the object with your hands/head/shoulders as well.

This is actually a good exercise ANY time since it makes you more aware of using your full immediate space. May not work so well on stage though, if you start doing "mime in a box" — next you'd have to add "walking against the wind."

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.


10-15 Minutes with a Step/Transition Drill

Select four steps/combinations you would like to work with, plus one ultra-familiar step from back in your beginning classes (however long ago that was). Move in time with the music from the familiar step into the new step and return to the familiar. Do each of the new steps for at least four repetitions of old-new-old, or more if you felt the transition was messy. Try to never actually stop moving, just stay with the old step until you are ready to try the transition.

Remember that transitions are different with various types of new steps/combinations. When transitioning from one moving step to another, the focus lies with patterns in the foot placement transition. When transitioning from a moving step to a stationary step, you need to focus on moving into a good frame or pose, plus properly setting up for the stationary step.

Ensure you are keeping your arms posed and/or including them in the step and transition practice.



12-30 Minutes Practicing Performance Skills

Using music you assembled in advance ranging in length from 6-15 minutes, run a continuous practice going from one routine to another. Try to remember to include some of your new transition practice combinations. However, it is more important in this segment that you focus on hearing the music and dancing to it. 

If you are working on a specific set for something (competition,performance, birthday present performance for your cat) then substitute multiple (at least three) run-throughs of your performance music for the pre-made sets. But don't just "do your choreography" if you are using one. Take this time to really hear the music while you dance and focus on it.

If you are assembling pre-made sets for this segment, you can select whatever you prefer as long as it would be appropriate for a show. If what you prefer is Classical Egyptian style music and the pieces you like are all longer, then try not to select multiple pieces that are too similar to each other. You need to practice interpreting different styles and tempos of music if you are ever going to dance with live musicians.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.


Cool Down

Use your good sense. If you just did all high energy dancing, then use a medium tempo song and continue to move around with lower energy for the length of that song before doing stretches. If your last set was balanced then you can go straight to slow music and gentle stretches for flexibility. And if you were stealing time out of your day, omit the stretches when necessary, but try to wait 10-15 minutes before you sit down and start computing.




Music Tips

If at all possible, change out the music used in the "Drill" and "Performance" segments every five practice sessions.

If you put all your music in one playlist or on one CD so it can just run continuously, you are more likely to complete your practice.

Keep your playlists/CDs, and use them again in the future.

This music is likely to become your go-to pieces for sets in a few years. Look for music you like, but do not agonize over it. Your tastes will continue to change.

Your mileage probably won't vary on this one. This tip is designed to work on technical skills, interpretation, polishing, learning new steps, and learning new music. It works the same for everyone if they actually do it. That is always the hardest part.

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California.




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About the Author

Saqra (Seattle, Washington, USA) is a powerful dance artist and a master instructor. Her fluidity, grace, and technical skill is highlighted by her friendly demeanor and clear joy of the dance. She did not inherit the diva gene.

Saqra won titles in Belly Dance USA (Oregon), Belly Dancer of the Year (California), Belly Dancer of the Universe (California), Wiggles of the West (Nevada), and many other competitions. She was voted "Best Kept Secret of 2005" and "Instructor of the Year 2008" by readers of Zaghareet Magazine.

Saqra's journey in this dance form began in 1977 and has led her to study with many of the best dancers in the world, including in America, Canada, Turkey and Egypt. Saqra continues to travel and study both in the USA and abroad and prides herself on proper research for anything she teaches. Folklore, fakelore, and stage creativity: all three are valuable, and Saqra clearly presents for each what they actually are. Saqra is constantly expanding her expertise in the traditional ethnic forms of the dance, the modern stage variants, and the continuing evolving fusion techniques, all these areas combined keep her material fresh and current.

Saqra is widely known as an event promoter, musician, music and instructional video producer, and a registered hypnotherapist in the state of Washington. That is enough stuff to start explaining what she has been doing in belly dance since 1977. Visit her at

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Michael Baxter, Santa Clara, California. In the photo, Saqra is holding her Teacher of the Year 2008 Award from Zaghareet Magazine.

Saqra with Award



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