Five Tips for Dance Students of All Levels

First appeared in Misha’s Musings Newsletter March 2016

Throughout my dance career, I’ve been a student many times. Each experience has been extremely rewarding and even though I now teach I really love the feeling of having a fresh, open mind. Today I still consider myself a perpetual student and, each time I step into the classroom, I always remember the five tips below. These were passed on to me by several of my dance mentors, and I’d like to share them with you to help you along your dance journey.

1. Maintain a Student’s mind – Whatever your level, whether brand new beginner or advanced pro, maintaining a Student’s mind is imperative for success in bellydance. As a Student, you are open to trying new things and also working to progress. You understand that things may not come instantly and may require practice and work to achieve and, to be honest, that’s part of the fun!
2. Curb the competition – Your bellydance journey is exactly that – YOURS! Enjoy the amazing way each move feels in your body and don’t worry about another’s story. Rejoice in your own pathway and discoveries and do not compare yourself to others in class. Celebrating your own unique abilities will help you continue to find joy in the dance for years to come.
3. Ask questions – Be brave in class and speak up! If you need clarification or want to know how exactly to do a move be sure to ask. Your question will most likely clarify something for someone else, and you’ll get the benefit of getting the answer too.
4. Skip the full costume – Bellydance gives us the opportunity to dress up, costume, and become incredibly beautiful inside and out. It’s super fun to come up with creative costuming, but this is not always appropriate for class. While we do host costume nights for special holidays and once each session for fun, keep in mind that heavy costuming can impede your progress in class. Make sure that whatever you wear enables the teacher to see your body and movements so that she or he can help instruct and guide you.
5. Respect your Tribal Sisters – Whether the Sister is your Teacher or another Student, our Tribe is founded on respect. While in class, be considerate of one another’s time and learning process. Keep those zils quiet while the teacher is talking so everyone can hear. Don’t interrupt other Students or the Teacher. If you have to come late hey, life happens, but come in quietly and respectfully. Your actions will help maintain the atmosphere of the class, making it a fun and wonderful experience for all who come to share in this beautiful dance.

That “Sticky” Spot

First published in Misha’s Musings Newsletter, July 2016

I’ve been teaching dance for a while now (cough cough over 10 years) and I’ve noticed a few things. One, all of us have our “thing.” For some it’s the ability to flow with grace and beauty while executing slow oeey gooey moves. For others they shake it up and can make percussive movements look amazingly sharp and punctuated. Whatever your “thing” is trust me, you DO have something that is a bellydance gift that is all your own. And that is something exciting to celebrate!

But what about the things that don’t come easily and naturally to us? What about those moves that are tough, the ones we resist, the ones we sigh whenever a fellow dancer pulls them out to use in the circle? I’ve had those same exact feelings and moments too during my journey and it can be difficult to embrace those “sticky spots.” But it’s important to learn to love each movement and discover just how great each one feels in your body, even if you can’t find that element right away.

One of my toughest moves was the Circle Walk, a Level 2 movement. It actually caused me a lot of anxiety and even fear because it just felt weird in my body and I was so worried I’d do it wrong. How to overcome those feelings? Sometimes you just have to dive right in to that sticky spot! If our favorite moves are the “sweet spot” then the ones that give us trouble are the sticky ones. Look for the places in the movement that challenge you and practice just that part. For the Circle Walk, I had trouble with the foot placement and the weight shift. I also kept wanting to reverse the hip motion. So first I practiced just the feet. Mindfully slowly and carefully, I repeated just the feet which is the very first part of the movement. Then, when that seemed manageable, I added on the hips. Sometimes I’d get it wrong and when I did I simply started over. But it was amazing how quickly the neural pathways formed and how soon the movement got unstuck. Once these two elements felt good in my body, I worked on the complete movement. Today it’s one of my favorite unusual slow to medium moves! These days I love to feel my hips swing around, the pull of my leg in to start my Takseem, and the flow of my Snake Arms with it. I feel feminine and grounded and so juicy with it. Gone are my anxieties and fear!

Working through the sticky spots takes courage and patience. Carefully breaking down a movement to find out which particular element is sticky requires time, but once you find that spot it can be practiced like any other dance component. Diving in to your sticky spots can lead to discovery too as you find different elements of each movement that you love, integrating them into your wider dance practice. It’s a challenge but that in itself is part of the fun. So go out there and conquer your sticky spots and tell me about it! I’d love to hear about your successes!