If I had known then what I know now…
There you are, standing awkwardly in a living room studio in an apartment in Zoetermeer, the Netherlands. You are welcomed warmly by a beautiful Moroccan dance teacher, Radia. She tells you that her classes are like a family, and you jump right in. Nevermind that you are dancing way off the beat – get used to it. It’ll be years before teachers stop correcting you on this. Somewhere in your mind you know that in fifteen years you will be an accomplished dancer with a performance career, a studio founded and sold, tons of wonderful current and former students, beloved mentors, and a toddler who wouldn’t be here if Magidah Wahab hadn’t taken it upon herself to introduce you to the man who would become your husband… Maybe that’s deep in your mind somewhere, but all you know right now is that FINALLY you are taking a bellydance class after wanting to desperately since you were six and saw a bellydancer at Epcot Center.
Well, if I could go back in time and give that 19-year-old some advice I’d tell her these things:
1. Developing Rhythm Yes, you’re klutzy. Yes, up until now the kindest thing that could be said about your dancing is that it looks like some type of highly conceptual post-rhythmic dancing (best attempted when tipsy). Here’s a big shocker: In the future people will actually enthusiastically hire you to perform at their events. And they’ll like it!
2. Developing Technique You’ll change your dance style and your interests a lot, so you need a good foundation in movement. For that, you need to take one ballet class for every two belly dance classes you take. Yes, you might hate ballet, but if you start now and you’re consistent I swear you’ll thank me for it. Otherwise, you will find yourself cramming years of ballet into one year and your knees will hate you for it. Do the same with Arabic lessons and drumming.
3. Protect your feet! Through some trick of nature, at the exact time you realize that you are not confident dancing in shoes, you will also realize that all the floors you dance on have: A. globs of hummus everywhere B. nails sticking out C. black restaurant carpet that was once white. So for goodness sake, put some dance shoes on those precious feet! For the love of rhinestones, protect your money makers! Wear flat, flexible dance shoes every single time you practice, perform, or take a class.
4. Get Properly Aligned You know how your feet turn out like a duck’s and you’re all knock-kneed? And your shoulders are really weird and stiff and sound like you’re popping bubble wrap whenever you move them? Well, an good physical therapist can help you get into alignment if you work with them on regular basis from now until forever. Here’s a tip, those things that make you look weird are actually going to hurt you big time once you start dancing constantly.
5. Your teacher’s role Your teacher is like a mother, but she’s not actually your mother – well, there are some cases where dancer’s mother’s are their teachers, but not you. Your mom sells insurance. For you, you need to remember that your teacher will give you attention and support in the studio and pep-talks as you try to build a career in dance, but that is pretty much the limit of her role. Don’t expect more (or less).
6. Think twice before you buy that wig Sure, it looks great now, fresh out of the box. But, do you really have what it takes to wash it, style it, properly care for it? You have enough trouble with your real hair. Well, you said you can handle it, but don’t blame me if at the end of your show one night you look in the mirror and realize you look like you’ve gone around the room at a used car salesmen convention snatching off toupees and sticking them on your head.
7. Keep it in perspective You might want to sit down. I’m going to break it to you: no one else but your little circle of serious dance nuts cares as much about belly dance as you do. I know, you keep telling everyone you know all about the intricacies and intrigue of belly dance, but they’re mainly humoring you. So, treasure your dance friends and remember to read some news headlines so you have something else to talk about with civilians!
8. Know if you’re coming or going. You’re probably already tuned into the addictive power of beads and sequins, but you’ll develop another – more annoying – addiction: the mirror. You’ll become so accustomed to viewing your dance classes in the mirror that you’ll have entire conversations with your teacher and classmates in the mirror. You’ll get disoriented on stage because there is no mirror. At banquet halls you’ll find yourself hovering in the corners where there’s some cheesy mirrored décor. Do yourself a favor now – spend 1/2 your classes and practice time facing away from the mirror!
9. Don’t quit your day job Don’t neglect your day job. Happily, it is not only possible, but probable, that a dedicated dancer can eventually make a decent living as a bellydancer. However, the schedule of a bellydancer is awful. Unless you are a really late riser and bar-fly by nature, you’ll be better off developing some skill that people want to put to use between 9am and 5pm so you feel like a member of the human race. Step 1. develop skill, Step 2. find a part-time job working that skill so that you don’t go insane from your creature of the night schedule.
10. Congratulations! Taking this dance class was probably the single best decision you’ve made in your life up till now and you are about to enjoy many exciting years of movement, friendship, travel, and personal growth.
I hope you enjoyed this post! Did any of these tips ring true for you? Tell me about it!
Plus, as part of my celebration of 15 years of dance, I’m giving away my Perfect Practice bellydance music FREE! Click here to get your free album.