I remember passing a belly dance studio in my neighborhood every day on the way to work. The jewel-tone shades were always drawn, so I could never actually see what was happening in there. But I often saw the dancers (all shapes, sizes & ages) going into & leaving the studio each evening. I was curious about the mysterious “belly dancing” that was being taught there… yet it took years for me to get the courage to actually call the studio for information about the classes. It’s been almost 15 years since I made that first call, and this dance form (and the wonderful community that goes with it) has been a source of support, refuge and creativity ever since.
There are many ways to satisfy your curiosity about belly dancing and get started on your dance journey. Not all students and enthusiasts approach a new venture by just jumping right in and taking a class. Some want to learn the history of the art form first, while others want to meet someone in the community and have a more personal introduction. Many are looking for an artistic community to join. There are dancers who aspire to perform or teach, and hobbyists who enjoy taking the classes but have no intention of ever belly dancing in public. And there are students who land in belly dancing through their other hobbies/professions (seamstresses, costume-designers, drummers, dancers from other genres, etc.).
No matter how you “get into” belly dancing, the best way to truly learn any form of dance is to do it, by taking classes with an experienced instructor. Belly dancing looks a lot easier than it really is, so having someone there to correct your posture and technique (especially in the beginning) is important. Here are some suggestions for starting your belly dance journey.
- Take a class – This seems obvious, and if you’re ready to jump in… then please DO! The best way to learn any style of dance is to take classes, either in a group setting or through private instruction. Take the time to search online to find local instructors who have experience teaching belly dance. Classes may also be listed under Middle Eastern Dance, Egyptian Dance, Raks Sharki, American Tribal Style/ATS, and other descriptions. Contact the instructor before coming to class to be sure the class is appropriate for someone with little or no formal instruction, and find out what items (if any) you should bring on your first class. Feel free to ask the instructor how long they’ve been teaching and what styles they teach. You may need to attend a few classes with the same teacher to get a feel for her teaching style. If one studio doesn’t seem to be a good fit, feel free to check out other classes to see what’s out there. All instructors are different, and you want to find one who feels like a good match for you.
- Rent/Buy a Video – Some students want to familiarize themselves with the belly dance isolations and terminology in the privacy of their own homes before coming to class. After reviewing a few instructional DVD’s, you may also discover which style of belly dance really resonates with you… before paying for a block of classes. I’ve watched several of the instructional videos for sale through the Bellydance Superstars, and I found the instructors to be very clear in their explanations/demonstrations. I really enjoyedTribal Fusion Fundamentals, although some of it may be too advanced for brand new belly dancers. That particular DVD features Kami Liddle, Moria, Samantha & Sherri Wheatley. I also loved Belly Dance and Yoga Conditioning with Ariellah (www.Ariellah.com). And as belly dancing has become more popular, many libraries have started carrying a few instructional DVD’s. Renting a DVD for free gives you the chance to sample the material before spending the money to add it to your collection. Some libraries will even order instructional DVD’s if you ask (including ones for belly dancing). Just be sure the material is for beginners.
- Read a Book – For students who want to satisfy their mental curiosity before putting their bodies through the physical dancing, check out some books about the history of belly dancing. Many are available for purchase through Amazon and for renting through local libraries. One of my first belly dance teachers suggested I read Grandmother’s Secrets: The Ancient Rituals and Healing Power of Belly Dancing (Al-Rawi), which I enjoyed quite a bit as a new student. I’ve also found Serpent of the Nile: Women and Dance in the Arab World (Buonaventura) and Tribal Bible (Djoumana) to be very educational. As with any research, you may find discrepancies along the way and some points that are more opinions than truths. But a little history makes for a good foundation when studying this ancient dance form.
- Call the Gym – Belly dancing offers a lot of health benefits, including a cardio workout that’s fairly easy on the joints, increased flexibility and improved muscle strength. Some belly dance instructors teach at local community centers, health clubs and gyms. Even if the format is more fitness-oriented, it’s a great way to meet someone in the belly dance community who could be a valuable resource for other belly dance classes, events and contacts.
- Attend a Hafla – You may see posters around your area that advertise a hafla, which is a get-together or party. Here’s your chance to watch belly dancing, hear some Middle Eastern music (live or recorded), meet new people… and possibly try a few moves yourself! Haflas are usually casual affairs, and they’re a great way to find out more about your local belly dance community. Nothing makes artists and dancers happier than sharing their passion with others, so you’re sure to find somebody who will enthusiastically answer your questions.
- Take an Online Class – Many respected professional belly dancers now offer online classes (this is the “Internet Age”, afterall). Here’s a great way to study with proficient instructors and sample different styles while wearing your pajamas (and a hip scarf, of course!). Try visiting Suhaila Salimpour at www.suhailaonlineclasses.com or Datura (home of Rachel Brice) at www.daturaonline.com. If you’re interested in getting feedback during your online training, you could search for an instructor who’s able/willing to use something like Skype to interact with you more fully.
- Consult a Guide – There are several online listings of belly dance instructors and studios, including genre-specific guides like the Gothic Belly Dance Resource by Tempest at www.gothicbellydance.com. This guide is currently being updated, and it’s a nice starting point to finding an instructor who teaches (in this case) gothic belly dance. Many of these directories also contain links to videos, costuming and more.
- Ask a Friend – When I first started taking classes, I remember describing the experience to a group of ladies at work. One of them had actually taken classes ten years earlier… at the same studio where I was learning! Had I considered asking those around me, I could have been belly dancing much earlier in life.
- Eat some Food – Why not enjoy some fabulous food and watch a little belly dancing? Some Mediterranean, Greek, and Lebanese restaurants hire belly dancers to perform for their customers. The restaurant’s website might list the performance schedule. If not, call ahead and find out if there will be entertainment, because some restaurants only feature belly dancers on the weekends. Get a group of friends together and make an evening of it!
- Contact a Yoga Studio – I’ve met several belly dancers who have yoga certifications, so you might find classes offered at your local yoga studio. And if you’re not lucky enough to have a studio in your area that’s entirely devoted to belly dance, try contacting ballroom or Latin dance studios. Some studios (and gyms) will give students a discount for taking other classes, which provides you with a chance to fall in love with yet another dance form or yoga, pilates, etc. This type of cross-training is very beneficial to belly dancers, because it’s another opportunity to build core-strength, become graceful with traveling steps, and work additional muscle groups.
- Attend Professional Show – There are touring professional belly dance shows, such as the Bellydance Superstars (www.bellydancesuperstars) and Jillina’s Bellydance Evolution (www.bellydanceevolution.com). These shows often reach out to a local belly dancer and/or studio, in order to optimize local marketing and increase attendance. Keep in touch with your local dance community (including fine arts and theater groups), and get on the mailing list for locations that host dance performances. You might find a local stop for these and other touring belly dance shows on their websites, which might also list the local contacts.
- Talk to a Belly Dancer – Seems easy, right? Don’t be afraid to talk with belly dancers when you see them out performing. They’re often hired for lots of different events and fundraisers, and they’re more than happy to talk about the art form between their sets. Ask them about how they got started, why they do it, what local studios that offer lessons, as well as any upcoming events where they’ll be appearing. If they’re not from your area, ask if they have a local contact for you.
- Take in a Festival – There are many belly dance festivals and conventions to attend all over the world, and there are often workshops that are appropriate for beginners (including some about make-up, history & costuming). Be sure to visit our new Carpe Nocturne Belly Dance Event listing, which is updated for each issue. Why not make a belly dance festival part of your vacation plans? Check out Tribal Revolution (late June in Chicago), 3rd Coast Tribal (January in Texas), Cincinnati Belly Dance Convention (August in Cincinnati), or Gothla US (November in California).
No matter how you begin belly dancing, enjoy the journey and those you meet along the way. Whether it becomes a hobby, fitness regime, profession or lifestyle… it’s sure to change your existence in ways you never expected!