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

Dear Shira

Shira

Dear Shira:

Belly Dancing - Starting to Teach

 

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The Question

Dear Shira:

Could I get some hints on teaching bellydancing? I've been belly dancing for eight years and I am well experienced, but not in teaching. I've put together a small class that I will be teaching and I'd love some tips!

— New to Teaching

 

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Shira Responds

Dear New:

There's so much to know about teaching, it would take me weeks to share everything I've learned from my own experience! Maybe I should write a book...

I'm really glad you have already been dancing for several years. That brings you a level of experience, knowledge, and maturity that people who start teaching after a much shorter time can never have.

Anyway, here are a few ideas to help you get started. Be sure to ask around other teachers you know for further suggestions:

  • Use Videos. Buy a couple of beginner-level videos that teach basic moves, to discover which moves other instructors consider beginner-level and help you identify ways to explain those moves.
  • Multiple Explanations for Each Move. For each move you intend to teach, identify two or three different ways to explain how to do that move. "Explanation A" might not work for a particular student, whereas "Explanation B" might be exactly the right way to help her understand it.
  • Paint Mental Pictures. Try to come up with vivid imagery that helps students visualize a move. For example, Hilary Thacker on her beginning video talks about wearing a hip scarf to practice, and then using a mirror to ensure the scarf stays level/horizontal, without tipping either direction when doing hip slides. I teach forward-and-back hip sways such as you would do in a camel walk by telling students to envision pushing in a silverware drawer. If you choose good videos for #1, they will help with this.
  • Choreography Helps. Create a short, simple, repetitive choreography to help students learn how to put moves together. But also force them to try improvising on their own so they don't get too tied to pre-choreographed material.
  • Avoid Injury! Emphasize correct posture and technique. Include appropriate warm-up and cooldown. You don't want anybody to get injured in your class! Suzanna Del Vecchio's Precision Motion Workout is good for this.
  • Handouts. Create written handouts that itemize the moves you'll be teaching that students can use as a practice guide at home. Students also appreciate handouts that identify local shops, mail-order, or Internet sources for classroom attire and supplies.
  • Show Your Legs. Don't cover your legs with a skirt or pantaloons. Wear either yoga pants, tights, unitard, or leggings. Students will find it easier to learn moves if they can see what your knees are doing, where you are putting your weight, etc.
  • Drill. After introducing something new, allow your students time to practice it. This will provide you an opportunity to go around and make individual corrections, plus it will give the students an opportunity to become comfortable with it.
  • Music Choices. I recommend using music that comes from the Middle East for your beginners, regardless of which belly dance style you teach. A teacher has a responsibility to educate students not only on how to move, but also to train their ears to recognize the music that has shaped the dance form over the years. It would be ridiculous to use non-Spanish music for teaching flamenco, and it would be ridiculous to use non-Scottish music for teaching Highland dancing. Similarly, belly dance teachers need to use Middle Eastern music for belly dance classes.

Shira

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

  • Student Recital. Arrange periodic student recitals so your students can show their friends and family what they have learned. They can perform the choreography you taught along with a short "group solo" piece where every dancer improvises in her own way, and more experienced students can try doing some solos. It can be as simple as an informal gathering in your classroom on the final night of class, or you can take over the private party room of a restaurant for an evening. You too can perform, to show your students what a professional performer looks like.

 

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Related Articles

Other articles on this web site related to starting out as a new belly dance teacher include:

 

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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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