Interview with Helen Santa Maria…
How did you get to become a bellydance instructor, performer & mentor?
To help answer this question, it’s probably easiest if I tell you my story and a few defining moments that led me to where I am today, helping women like you bring out their feminine side and sparkle with confidence by teaching you how to bellydance.
Rewind a few years …
In 2001, I was working my first office job and my life was pretty much made up of work and a bit of a social life. I didn’t have any hobbies or interests to get excited about and each week was pretty much the same. So when I heard about a ‘bellydance taster session’ happening one lunch hour at work, I was immediately intrigued. I had seen a real life bellydancer before and also little snippets in films and had always been fascinated by the way bellydancers moved their hips (“how do they do that?!”)
However, actually turning up and having a go myself was another thing entirely. On one hand, going to a bellydance class seemed like a different and exciting thing to do; on the other, it felt a little silly and embarrassing. Although part of me was super curious about giving it a go, I didn’t feel bold enough to get out of my comfort zone and turn up to the class. Thank goodness the curious part of me was persistent.
I went to the class and I absolutely loved it! My first bellydance class opened my eyes to a brand new hobby that I was already getting excited about. In that decisive moment I found my very own “thing” that was just for me, that I could look forward to every week and see myself develop with.
I realised that as well as enjoying the class and the company of the other women there, I was actually getting the hang of it pretty quickly. So decided to dedicate more time taking bellydance classes, courses and workshops to see what more I could learn. I wanted to know EVERYTHING there was to know about bellydancing. There was no such thing as YouTube or video tutorials at that time so I made it my business to find out which teachers were in the country and what they were teaching and to make sure I was there. With no car it was a bit like planes, trains and automobiles! I sought out the best coaching I could find and gathered together the money to pay for the highest level of bellydance training I could.
Fast forward 4 years …
The years went by and I became even bolder. I began performing at every single possible opportunity at student bellydance showcases and, after a while, I had the occasional person asking me where I taught! It had never occurred to me that I would ever be good enough to teach or do bellydancing professionally.
So when the chance then came up to dance in a venue and actually get paid to dance, I realised that I would need to get a professional – and expensive – bellydance costume. Being a student for the third time round at university, I wasn’t exactly flush with money and I was spending most of what I had on my bellydance training. When a teacher suggested that I could start a beginner class at the university to make a bit of money it seemed like a logical plan.
I had no idea what to expect or if anybody would want to learn with me, but, thankfully, lots of curious ladies turned up to my little beginner class and I taught them how to isolate their hips and do some simple bellydance moves. They loved it!
I thought I was just teaching for a few months to make some money to go to Egypt and buy my first professional costumes. But this became a defining moment for me and I had an epiphany: I enjoyed seeing the results that my students got so much that it became equally (if not more!) important to me to teach bellydance than pursuing my own performance career. I realised that I had given my students a place and time where they can bring out a different side of themselves and develop a new confidence through learning bellydance with me.
I worked my day job during the day and taught bellydance every evening and performed professionally every weekend. I soon found a way of systematically teaching women the essentials of bellydancing in quite a short space of time. I was continually astounded at how special it made my students feel to able to move elegantly and gracefully. I began to think of my bellydance classes as a kind of “rocket fuel” for self-confidence!
I had step-by-step, easy-to-follow methods for teaching just about every single element of bellydance. I loved watching the transformations that my students made and seeing them become self-assured bellydancers as a result of coming to my classes.
As much as I enjoyed my blossoming career as a professional bellydance performer, it was teaching others and watching them transform into dancers that became the most exciting and fulfilling part of what I was doing. It was clear to me by then that bellydance was meant to be my professional life. And so it was.
I gave up pursuing my next day job and made a professional commitment to give women a clear and easy route to put their self-esteem into overdrive, bring out their feminine side and see themselves sparkle through learning bellydance.
I’ve now been a bellydance instructor, mentor and performer since 2005 and helped hundreds of women feel confident about themselves by bringing bellydance into their weekly routine. I founded the Santa Maria Bellydance Academy (SMBA) and created the Bellydance Essentials Course, a step-by-step 6 week bellydance ‘bootcamp’ where women quickly learn how to bellydance with confidence and poise.
I also created higher level Shining Goddess Programs where we take students beyond the basics towards profound, in-depth and authentic understanding of how to bellydance. I coach ultra ambitious students privately to enable them to take a giant leap to the next level. Fledgling professional bellydance performers and instructors can undergo professional breakthrough coaching and mentoring on my specially designed programs.
Who are your students?
SMBA students are women of all ages and every walk of life. Most of them have no previous dance experience when they first join. Generally though, our students are women who:
- are enthusiastic and passionate about cultivating their self development
- are often busy yet make time to switch off from day-to-day life to pursue their own interests
- like to try new and exciting things and are usually pleased with the side effect of regular classes: a svelte figure!
- enjoy fun and engaging activities
- are not afraid of learning a new skill from scratch and enjoy seeing themselves develop and thrive
How are you different to other dance, Zumba and exercise classes?
We are slightly different from exercise or Zumba Fitness classes because at SMBA there is no pressure or expectation to burn calories or shed weight. Because of this, our students feel empowered to bring out their feminine side and enjoy bellydancing from the very first class!
How exactly will you teach me to bellydance?
We will guide you, step-by-step, through exactly how to do the 30 essential moves of bellydance. We de-mystify each of the moves and techniques by breaking them down into manageable pieces. It’s true that learning any kind of dance takes time and patience. That’s why each course is specifically designed at the right pace with just the right amount of content to make sure you learn a great deal of content thoroughly.
We know that it can be difficult to remember everything you learn in class, especially when you’re just starting out. That’s why we give all participants on the Bellydance Essentials Course a free audio CD where you can listen to step-by-step instructions of all the moves on the Course (plus a few extras). This helps you to stay on track with what you’ve learned in class.
Does it really work? What if I can’t do it?
We gently and discreetly correct students in class if they are doing a move a little “off beam”. We will never pick on you, single you out, or do anything that would make you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed in class.
Who will be my instructor?
You will be taught by one of the SMBA instructors, it might be Helen or it might be one of the other trained and experienced instructors. All SMBA instructors work to the same syllabus and teach in the same step-by-step style. We are all here to give you as much hand-holding and instruction as you need.
When will I be able to bellydance? How quickly will I learn?
Students who join the Santa Maria Bellydance Academy can expect to learn the essential moves of bellydance in 6 weeks. Of course, it takes time and patience to really master the moves and how quickly you learn will be determined by whether or not you practice the moves you’ve been taught between classes. However, with our Bellydance Essentials Course we find that within 6 weeks students have a healthy repertoire of bellydance moves and techniques. Most students then go on to the following 6 week Bellydance Essentials 2 Course. This is where we teach you how to start putting your moves together into 3 simple routines and add some extra sparkle. In Bellydance Essentials 2 we show you, step-by-step, how to connect the moves together so that you really see yourself “bellydancing” rather than learning individual techniques.
Students who complete Bellydance Essentials 2 are then invited to join the Shining Goddess Improver Program
Is there anybody that can’t learn to bellydance?
In general, our bellydance classes aren’t suitable if:
- you have an ongoing injury or medical issue that means you are required to take lengthy absences from exercise
- you think bellydancing is silly or sleazy
- you are pregnant and have never bellydanced before or have not bellydanced for a long time
- you lack patience and a sense of humour
- your motivation for learning bellydance is purely weight-loss and you have no interest or curiosity for the art of bellydance
I’m ready! I want to learn how to bellydance and I know that you are the one I want to learn from. What do I do now?
Congratulations on deciding to learn how to bellydance! I’m honoured that you have chosen to do this with me.
To get you started, I have developed several different Courses and Programs to make sure that you get exactly what you need to start enjoying bellydancing quickly. We highly recommend that you start with the 6 week Bellydance Essentials Course; it contains everything you need to master the basics of bellydance.
If you already have bellydance experience, take a look at the three profiles below to see which one you fit.
- You want to start learning bellydance with step-by-step, easy-to-follow, fun tuition. Our Bellydance Essentials course is for you >>
- You have some years bellydance experience, either previously at SMBA or elsewhere. You need to be pulled and guided to the next level with high quality tuition. You need to be with others who share your commitment and passion for bellydance. You enjoy performing routines with the class and may even have undertaken a solo performance. One of our 3 month Shining Goddess programs is right for you: Improver >> Intermediate >> Advanced >>
- You would like individual attention and super quick results. You are ready to take on the assignments, homework and accountability that will skyrocket you to the next level. One of Helen’s Private Coaching programs is for you >>
I know which course I want to do. How and when can I get started?
Great! The first step to learning how to bellydance is to be decisive about joining a step-by-step course where you are guided through the moves at the right pace. If you have questions then we’re happy to answer them, just drop us an email via the Contact page.
Here’s what you need to do now: Go to the classes page above and follow the links to the course or program that you would like to join, read through the description to check that you are suitable for the level (this is very important as we design each course according to your previous experience). Check the start date for the course and then follow the Pay Now button to secure your place on the course. Congratulations! You are now on your way to mastering bellydancing 🙂
I’m still not sure about it. Can I get a taster of what it’s like to learn from you?
Sure. A way to sample learning bellydance at SMBA is by subscribing to my fortnightly email newsletter and video tutorial. “The Bellydance Academy Ezine” email newsletter and video tutorial provides you with coaching, tips and advice on anything and everything to do with bellydancing. You can get started right away with a bellydance video tutorial here.
How are you qualified to teach bellydance?
I have a bellydance teaching diploma from the International Dance Teachers Association, I’m also a graduate from the Hossam and Serena Ramzy Advanced Dancers Course for professional dancers. I’m also a qualified Fitness Pilates instructor.
I’d like to get going but I still have a couple of questions. Can I contact you?
Great, it sounds like you’re ready to bring out your feminine side by learning how to bellydance! The best way to contact me with any questions is by email, send your queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you and walk you through anything that you’re not sure about. I can’t wait to see you sparkling with confidence with your bellydancing. Let’s get going!
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