Photo of Shira



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

Learning to Belly Dance:

What If There's No Local Teacher?


What if the Local Teachers Are Barely More Than Beginners?

by Shira


Table of Contents


You've decided you would like to learn how to belly dance. Now, all you need is a teacher. But when you checked into it, you couldn't find anyone in your community. What can you do to start learning without a teacher, and how do you become part of the broader belly dancing community? Or, what if you found a local teacher but she's barely more than a beginner herself?

You can still start learning how to belly dance, even if you can't find a qualified local teacher. It's more difficult this way, but it can be done if you want to learn badly enough. Or, if you have a local teacher who doesn't offer enough growth to satisfy you, there are ways you can supplement your classroom experience by turning to additional sources of learning.


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



Before You Give Up

Before you give up on finding a local teacher, you may want to take a moment to look just a little more. Maybe you didn't look in the right place! Belly dancing teachers usually don't advertise themselves in advertising circulars or other places where you may have looked. Some don't even have web sites!

If you haven't already done so, read the article Learning To Belly Dance: Where To Find Instruction elsewhere on this web site. Maybe it will give you the lead you need to find that elusive local teacher!

If you've tried everything suggested above and still can't find a teacher, then the suggestions in this article should be able to help you get started. However, about once every 6 months or so, it's still a good idea to make another attempt to look for a teacher as described in "Learning To Belly Dance: Where To Find Instruction" at the above link, because you never can tell when an existing teacher will start to advertise, a retired one will resume offering classes, or a new one will move to your area.

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



Home Study

Other parts of this article discuss videos, web sites, and books that may help. But the first thing you need to do if you'll be trying to learn without a teacher is to give yourself a structure for learning what you can at home.

Belly dancing classes typically meet once a week, for one hour at a time. If you can't find a class to attend, try to carve out one hour on a consistent night per week for yourself to use for your home study. If you can do more, you'll learn even faster!

See my article elsewhere on this web site titled How to Structure a Belly Dance Study/Practice Session at Home for suggestions on how to get the most out of the time you have allocated.



Instructional Videos

Most instructional videos focus on movement: they offer movements you can do, sometimes with advice on posture and proper technique. The best ones also talk about how to make transitions from one movement to another, and include a sample performance by the teacher to illustrate how the movements look in the context of a real dance. They usually don't offer any cultural insights or background about the dance.

Purchase one or more instructional videos that teach belly dancing and work with them in the privacy of your own home. Better yet, try to persuade your local library to purchase one or more instructional belly dance videos so not only you but also others in your community can check them out! It may also be worth checking the videos offered through Netflix.

When learning from a video, it's important to pace yourself. Give yourself enough time practicing each move to feel really confident with it. In a single hour-long learning session, try to divide up the time this way:

  • Five minutes of warm-up movement to put your body into the mood to dance.
  • Ten minutes reviewing movements that you feel you mastered in the past. Put on some music and do a bit of freestyle dancing in which you incorporate the moves that you feel confident doing.
  • Fifteen minutes reviewing movements that you have been learning, but have not yet mastered. Put your video on at the section where it covers those moves, and practice them again with the video. Then put on your music and try the moves in time to the music.
  • Twenty minutes working on no more than 3 or 4 movements that are new to you.
  • Five minutes of freestyle dancing incorporating both moves you feel you have mastered and new ones that you are still polishing.
  • Five minutes of cool-down stretches.

The article How to Structure a Belly Dance Study/Practice Session at Home mentioned above talks generically about studying and practicing at home. For more details on how you can use videos in particular for home study, including the titles of some videos that I think are good, see Learning to Belly Dance from Videos elsewhere on this web site.

Unfortunately, there are also some videos available in the market that are disappointing. You have only so much money available to spend on dance videos, so be sure to check whether I've reviewed the video you're considering before making a buying decision. If I haven't reviewed it, visit one of the belly dance discussion forums and post a question there asking about the merits of the video you are considering.



Private Lessons

If you can't find a local teacher, but you can find a teacher within a 2-3 hour drive of you, maybe you can arrange to take a 2-hour private lesson once every 3-4 months. Spending some time in person with a teacher is the best way to get feedback on what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong. It can eliminate some of the sense of isolation you may feel in studying the dance with videos in your living room. And of course, in a private lesson you have the opportunity to ask all your pent-up questions. A good teacher can steer you to appropriate music to use for practicing that suits your style, help you find vendors who sell the supplies you need, offer you insights into the history and cultural context of the dance, and learn how to develop performance opportunities for yourself in your local community.



Sponsor a Local Workshop

If you know of several additional people in your community who would love to learn how to belly dance, consider sponsoring a local workshop in which you bring in a teacher from another city. This may be particularly feasible if there used to be a teacher in your community who has left town, but those of you who were her students still get together regularly to practice and exchange knowledge.

The price you'll need to pay that visiting teacher will depend heavily on local pay scales for workshop instructors. In the United States, the going rate for the top-of-the-line instructors who have a national or international reputation is $200 per hour or possibly even more. If you choose a teacher who is less well-known, you may be able to get a lower rate – maybe $100 or $150 per hour. Shop around. The price may also vary depending on how far the instructor needs to travel to come to your community – if an airplane ticket is required, it will probably be your responsibility as the sponsor to pay for it. If she needs to drive several hours to reach your community, you should plan to pay for mileage in addition to her fee. In the United States, a helpful guideline for determining expected mileage fees can be found on the Internal Revenue Service web site. Many U.S. corporations use the IRS guideline to determine what they will reimburse their employees for miles driven. In addition to transportation expense, be prepared to provide overnight accommodations for the visiting instructor.

Consider hiring her for a 4-5 hour workshop on Saturday, an evening show Saturday night, and a 4-5 hour workshop on Sunday. For the evening show, give some of the workshop participants a chance to perform, too. Ask in advance if you may videotape the class so that you can privately review what you learned after the fact— some instructors allow it, but others don't.

If you know of other dancers in communities that are a 4-5 hour drive away or closer, invite them to come to the workshop. The workshop fees paid by these additional attendees can help pay the bills.



Belly Dance Magazines

Subscribe to all the belly dance print magazines you can afford. Although there's a limit to how much you can learn about movement from a printed medium, they will offer you useful advice, historical background about the dance, costuming ideas, advertisements for vendors, reviews of videos, announcements about upcoming workshops and festivals that may be in your area, and more. Even if you have a great local teacher, magazines will broaden your horizons when it comes to learning more than simply how to move.
Zaghareet Magazine



Workshops, Seminars, Retreats in Other Cities

There are many special belly dance festivals, workshops, seminars, and retreats available. These events provide opportunities to take master classes from prominent belly dance instructors. There may even be such an event within a few hours' drive of you that you could attend on a Saturday or Sunday. The weeklong seminars are particularly valuable if you can afford to spend the time and money because they offer a chance to get to know your fellow attendees and feel connected to a dance community at the same time you're obtaining in-depth instruction.

One excellent weeklong workshop worth considering is the one conducted by Morocco (pictured at right). Morocco is one of the foremost authorities in the world on the varied dance traditions throughout the Middle East and North Africa, but her workshops offer rich exposure to Oriental dance (belly dance) choreography. She teaches the entire week, and incorporates her vast knowledge of authentic dance based on her firsthand research into the class material. Often she also features a credible guest instructor teaching his/her specialty.

If you are eager to learn about the history and cultural context of the dance, plus learn some choreography to help you put all your isolated moves together into a finished dance, Morocco is one of the best teachers you'll ever find for that! For details on her workshops, visit her web site at




Online Forums

Forums are places on the Internet where people can talk to each other about topics of common interest. There are several of these where belly dancers gather to "talk shop".

You can use these to:

  • Ask for feedback on videos you are considering buying.
  • Ask for suggestions of videos that cover the topic you want to focus on.
  • Ask people to clarify something taught on a video that you don't quite understand.
  • Learn about history, culture, and "soft skills" that often are not taught on videos.
  • Discover belly dance events that you may want to travel to attend.
  • Discover vendors.

Here are some that may be helpful:



Web Sites

There are several web sites that can help you expand your knowledge of dance. They probably won't help you much with movement, but they can offer you advice, historical and cultural information about the dance, vendor suggestions, and other useful information. These are some I have found to be informative:

All About Belly Dance! You're already here - this is the web site you are reading right now!
The Gilded Serpent Web-based magazine about Middle Eastern dance, music, and culture.
The Hip Circle Web-based magazine about Middle Eastern dance, music, and culture.
Oriental Dancer Salome's collection of articles, song translations, and more.




I'm aware of only a couple of books currently in print that describe how to execute belly dancing movements. There were several published in the 1970's and 1980's, but the majority are out of print now. Besides, I'm not convinced the printed word can provide useful information on how to learn to dance unless you already know how the move should look and you just need a clear explanation on how to produce it.

Still, if you'd like to try using a book to help you learn how to belly dance, one of the older books that's still in print is Belly Dancing for Health and Relaxation, which is reviewed elsewhere on this web site. This and some of the out-of-print ones can be useful for belly dance teachers when looking for ideas on what words to use to explain a move to students. So if you find that the explanation on one of your videos isn't helpful, you might try referring to a book to see whether the words chosen by the author make it clearer for you.

There are also a number of books available that talk about the history of the dance, Middle Eastern culture, costuming advice, and other topics. Although they won't teach you to dance, they offer related information that represents a valuable part of a dancer's education!

See Shira's Reading List For Dancers, another article on this web site that provides a list of book recommendations. Shira's reviews for these books appear right here on this web site.




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