Learning to Belly Dance:
Where to Find Instruction
Table of Contents
You've decided you would like to learn how to belly dance. Now, all you need is a teacher. So you've done a web search, and found nothing nearby for belly dance. Now what do you do? How do you find a local class? And if you don't find a local class, what can you do to start learning without a teacher?
Only a tiny minority of belly dance teachers actually buy paid advertising. Many don't have web sites, and those who do have web sites often do a poor job of making their sites easy to find through searches.
Here are some ideas on how to find a class in your community. But first, during your search remember these key rules:
- If you don't find something in your initial search, try again after 3-4 months. People are mobile, including belly dancing teachers. It's possible that someone may move to your area and start teaching after your initial search. Don't give up.
- If your local community doesn't have anything, look a little further afield. Investigate the options in the communities within an hour's drive of you, if you're willing to go that far once in a while. If you live near a state border, don't forget to check the cities on the other side of the state line.
- Look for different class titles. Belly dancing classes might masquerade under other names, such as "Oriental Dance," "Arabic dance," or "Middle Eastern dance". If you see a class listed under one of these other names, ask questions to learn whether it is a belly dancing class, a folk dance class that concentrates on line dances, or something else.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.
Through the Internet
Surf the Internet looking for instructors who teach in your area. There are different ways to approach this, including:
- Browse directories of dancers. See some suggested sites below.
- Make creative use of search engines.
- Look for dancers through social networks.
Directories of Dancers
Here are some directories of dancers that appear on the Internet which will help you focus your search:
Even if you don't find someone local to you on these web sites, you'll probably find someone who is within a 2-3 hour drive of you. If so, contact that person and ask whether she knows anyone who teaches in your particular community. Often the people who teach belly dance know their counterparts in nearby cities. It doesn't hurt to ask! While you're at it, ask whether this person has a mailing list and if so, ask to have your own name added to it. This will provide an excellent opportunity for you to learn about upcoming belly dance special events such as workshops, special shows, or festivals in your region.
Many belly dance teachers don't have web sites. Those who do often have a poor understanding of how to make themselves easy to find through searches. You may need to be creative with your keywords to find the dancers in your area.
When entering keywords, don't limit yourself to just "belly dance" or "belly dancing". You should certainly try those, but other keywords to try include "bellydance", "bellydancing", "belly dancer", Oriental Dance," "Egyptian dance", "Arabic dance," "Middle Eastern dance", "Turkish dance", "Bellyrobics," "Goddess Dance", "Bellycize", "Raqs Sharqi", "Raks Sharki", etc.
You'll want to include the name of your town in your searches, to narrow the search to be as local to you as possible. However, if your own town does not have a local belly dance teacher, it's a very good idea to try searches with the names of neighboring towns. For example, if you don't find a belly dance teacher through a search for "Upper Arlington, Ohio", you should try neighboring towns such as "Worthington" and "Dublin".
Social networks are making it easier for would-be belly dance students to find teachers. Belly dance teachers often create "events" on facebook, myspace, or other network sites advertising their classes, workshops, and student recitals. Search your favorite social network for the keywords "belly dance" and the name of your town.
Another option could be to join an Internet forum where belly dancers talk shop. The ones with the largest populations are www.bhuz.com and www.bellydanceforums.net. You can post a question in these forums asking if anyone can steer you to belly dance teachers in your own community.
Adult Education Through School Districts
Depending on your locale, adult education programs may be offered by community colleges, the local school districts, or the state board of education. Such programs cater to adults who would like to take evening classes to develop a new hobby, learn a new skill, etc. Try phoning your local community colleges, school districts, and city offices and ask if they have an adult education program that includes a belly dancing class.
City Parks & Recreation Programs
Some cities have "Parks & Recreation" programs that offer hobby-oriented classes for adults. Contact yours to investigate whether they offer a belly dancing class.
If you are over 50, check whether your city has a "senior center" with recreational programs for older adults. If so, ask whether it offers a belly dancing class.
College & University Programs
"Just for Fun" Programs
Some universities offer not-for-academic-credit classes that are open to the general public, even if you're not a student in a degree program. Contact your local university to ask whether they have "adult education", "continuing education", or "community education" programs. If they do, ask whether they offer belly dancing.
A small number offer courses for full academic credit.
Programs for Older Adults
If you are over the age of 50, check whether your local university offers a belly dance class through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) or a similar program. This is a program that offers "enrichment" education for older adults.
Where Ethnic People Gather
Cultural Center or Club
Communities with either a college, a university, or a large local ethnic population may have a cultural center or ethnic club dedicated to making ethnic people feel at home. Investigate whether there is one in your community that serves Middle Eastern populations, whether Greek, Jewish, Egyptian, Turkish, or another ethnic group. If so, such an organization may offer opportunities to learn how to do Middle Eastern folk dances or belly dancing.
Ethnic Churches, Mosques, & Synagogues
Check whether there is a church, synagogue, or mosque in your community that serves an ethnic population: Armenian, Greek Orthodox, etc. These religious institutions are not likely to offer belly dance classes themselves. However, they might hire dancers to perform at the occasional recreational event, so they may have members who can help you connect into the local dance scene. The trick is to ask your questions in a way that will help you find someone willing and able to help you.
Religious institutions often host cultural events related to the interests of their ethnic population, and these are often open to the public. You may want to ask them about upcoming events that they may be offering. If you attend one of these, you may be able to ask the other people attending whether they know of belly dancers in the community and get the answers you're looking for.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by Pixie Vision Productions, Glendale, California.
Look under "Entertainment" in the Yellow Pages or online "city guide" web sites. Some of the entertainment agencies, particularly those who offer singing telegrams or balloon bouquets, may book belly dancers. Tell the agency you are looking for instruction in belly dancing, and ask if they can put you in contact with one of their "bellygram" messengers so you can inquire about class opportunities. They may be reluctant to give you a dancer's actual phone number, but if you're willing to give them your phone number, they may be willing to pass along a message for you. Even if a dancer you contact this way doesn't offer classes herself, she may be able to direct you to someone who does.
Public Bulletin Boards
Some businesses in your community may offer free-to-the-public bulletin boards for posting advertisements. Keep an eye on these, as sometimes local belly dancers may post announcements about their classes or events.
Businesses that feature such bulletin boards may include:
- Bookstores, particularly those that are not part of massive chains
- New Age shops
- Coffee shops, particularly those that are not part of massive chains
- Shops that sell dance supplies such as leotards, shoes, etc.
Gyms and Health Clubs
Many health clubs have bulletin boards on which personal trainers, aerobics instructors, massage therapists, and other fitness professionals advertise their work. Check your local health clubs for ads by belly dance teachers on such bulletin boards. Don't forget to investigate your local YWCA if you have one.
Also check whether any of the local health clubs offer belly dancing classes as part of their normal services. Obviously, belly dance classes won't be nearly as common as aerobics classes, but you may be lucky enough to find a class this way.
PHOTO CREDIT: Photo by William M. Smith, Iowa City, Iowa.
Dance, Martial Arts, & Yoga Studios
Call the local dance studios in your community, and ask whether they offer belly dance instruction. There are two kinds of dance studios: the type that teach theatrical dance (tap dance, ballet, modern dance, etc.) and the type that teach ballroom dance. Check both types.
Other possible locations for belly dance classes could include martial arts studios or yoga studios. A belly dance teacher might rent space at one of these places.
Nightclubs, & Hookah Lounges
If your community has a restaurant, hookah / shisha lounge, or nightclub centered on a Middle Eastern theme, contact the business and ask whether they can give you information on how to contact any local belly dancers. They may periodically employ dancers to perform.
Even if the restaurant or club does not currently offer belly dancing as entertainment, they may have a stack of business cards from belly dancers who have called on them hoping to get a dance job. Ask the restaurant to give you information on how to contact one of these dancers.
Society of Creative Anachronism
& Renaissance Faires
Check whether the Society For Creative Anachronism has a local chapter in your community. This is an organization whose purpose is to re-create the Middle Ages through role-playing. The SCA originally focused on re-creating the society of Medieval Europe. However, over the years in some communities the idea of portraying people from the Middle East has become popular. See if you can locate a local SCA chapter in your community, and if you can, try to find out whether there is anyone with a Middle Eastern persona who knows how to belly dance and teaches it.
If you yourself find the past fascinating, you may want to join the SCA yourself. But even if you don't feel any urge to spend the occasional weekend living in a tent wearing garb representative of 500 years ago, the SCA may be able to lead you to someone who can teach you belly dancing.
Many Renaissance Faires around the country feature belly dancers as part of the entertainment. Attend your local Faire, and scrutinize the program in search of belly dancing performers. If you manage to find some, ask them after their show whether they can steer you to someone who teaches classes in your community.
Festivals & Fairs
Every community has its local festivals, county fairs, and special events. Some are sponsored by the local Chamber Of Commerce, and others by local churches, service groups such as the Lions, or social clubs. These events attract belly dancers, who are always out looking for a place to perform in public. Try to find out whether anyone will be belly dancing at the festivals occurring within your own community. If they are, watch their performance and ask yourself whether they're good dancers or not. Afterward, if they do seem skilled, hunt them down and ask if they can steer you to local classes.
Can't Find Anyone?
Or, The Teacher Is a Beginner?
If you can't find a local instructor, or the only instructor you could find is barely more than a beginner, what can you do? There are a number of ways to grow in the dance, even if you can't find someone suitable in your local community.
Another article on this web site offers assistance with this situation. Take a look at Learning To Belly Dance: What If There's No Local Teacher, Or You Need More Than Your Local Teacher Can Give?
And remember, keep going back and looking for a teacher every few months. You never can tell when someone new may move to town and start teaching!
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