Studying Without an Instructor
You've been taking belly dance classes, you've found an instructor you like and you are having the time of your life. Then BLAMMO! You get transferred, go away to school or find a new job in a new town, and you can't find a belly dance instructor in the area. Or maybe you really want to start taking dance classes, but you live in a small town, miles from the nearest belly dance instructor. Aaaugh!
Nothing can fully replace the in-person instruction and feedback you had (or want) with a skilled, qualified teacher. Still, belly dance is an important part of your life. How can you keep studying and practicing your craft when you don't have an instructor? A few tips:
· Set aside a regular time and place to work on your dancing. Find a quiet place where you can put a boom box and a mirror, and possibly any dance videos or inspirational items you have. Plan a specific time on a regular basis that you will go there, and treat it as though it were a class—don’t schedule other things over it that time, and don’t give it up easily.
· Be picky about your technique. You don’t have a teacher now, so you need to watch everything you do very carefully. Pay special attention to your posture, remembering to keep your tail bone tipped under and your pelvis aligned directly below your shoulders.
· Find a community. Whether it’s other women in your area who have taken classes and are going through what you are, or an online discussion group, seek opportunities to talk with other dancers.
· Try out some videos. Though videos lack the direction and feedback of live instruction, they can give you exposure to technique and a methodology for practicing. In your arsenal you should have at least one good “basics” video that you use (even if you’ve been dancing for many years—reviewing the basics on a regular basis is important to maintain strong technique that must underpin all the harder stuff) and one video you find challenging, Also consider performance videos—they are great for inspiration and for observation.
· Read up on the dance. Books, articles and online resources about the dance and techniques are good sources for information. They can also be inspirational.
· If and when you’re ready, look for opportunities to practice your craft in front of others. Maybe your town has an annual outdoor festival. Could you possibly dance at such an event?
· Tape your performances and watch them with a critical (but not overly critical!) eye. Take note of what you're doing well, and notice specific things you can improve.
· Develop (or maintain) a relationship with a dancer you respect. If you’re moving away from an instructor you already have, be sure to keep in touch with her. Get her recommendations for other dancers you might talk to as well. If you’re new to the dance, seek out an instructor in a nearby town or a place where you have friends or family. Ideally, you’d like someone who teaches and is actively performing and/or furthering her own studies. If you develop this relationship, you’ll have a possible source for advice, news about events, etc. Don’t necessarily limit yourself to the “big names”—good marketing doesn't necessarily equal good dancing, and if she's too busy, she may not take time for you anyway.
· Travel for private lessons or workshops. Nothing can totally replace the in-person instruction experience, so if you'll be living away from an instructor for a year or more, consider saving up and planning to travel to at least one workshop or set of private lessons a year. It may not easy to do, but it can be well worth the experience.
Online Discussion Groups
Resources for Finding Instructors
Video and Vendor Recommendations
· Nourhan Sharif. Introduction to Belly Dance. It's a fairly basic video, but it's a good one to have in your arsenal, no matter what your level. Nourhan teaches well, the quality of the video is very good. It's a great survey of the basics and it's excellent for practice. I still pop it in once or twice a year, just for the refresher.
.· Tamalyn Dallal. Tamalyn has two videos that might be of interest. "Picture Yourself Belly Dancing" is the first in her series and covers a lot of level 1 and 2 material. "Serious Belly Dance" is a little more advanced and includes more complex technique such as layering belly rolls on top of other movements. It is a good “stretch" video if you have previous experience.
· Dahlal Internationale sells videos from many of the top names. If you're unsure which video is right for you, ask for Debbie. She can give you recommendations. Visit them online at www.dahlal.com.
(c) Mirah Ammal, 2006