Category Archives: The bellydancer’s life: advice, tips and help

Thank you! (and something else)

There are some things that sound so much better when you say them out loud, and in this week’s short sweet post I have a message for you in this video as well as a question.

I absolutely love to write and film tips and advice about bellydance, so I’m in the process of trying to improve the video and audio quality of my tutorials. I hope that this makes them more fun to watch and easier to follow 🙂

Click here or on the video to check out my lil note …

 

Thanks for reading, til next time,

Love and shimmies,

Helen xx

P.s. Don’t forget to post your comment below!

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Quaking in your boots about performing in public? Here are 23 reassuring tips

Belly Queen 2015

 

 Presenting SMBA student, Sammi, with her Bronze Award certificate. Congratulations to all the students who recently received their Awards!

There’s a strange trajectory that happens to us bellydance students.

1. We witness bellydancing and get curious to know what it would be like learn for ourselves.

2. We consider attending a class and do a little research on local classes (plus hunt down some youtube clips).

3. We think about the possibility of joining a class.

4. After weeks, months or even years of thinking about it we join a class (and think “why didn’t I do this years ago?”)

5. We love the classes and get wind of end of term shows and public performances that the class are doing.

6. Then think “crickey, I’ve not even told my workmates I’m taking classes, how can I possibly perform in public?”

7. Next, we decide that we quite like the idea of joining in with the performance … except we feel super nervous and worry about screwing it up.

 

This is exactly the point where you need a crew of wonderfully warm and caring cheerleaders who’ve been in exactly the same place. What would somebody who’s been through the same thing wish she’d known before? What could go wrong?

 

So for this week’s blog, I called on the wisest, most lovely, caring ladies I know to help us out: Santa Maria Bellydance Academy students!

Here are the top 24 pearls of wisdom you need to call on when you’re nervous about the prospect of performing:

  • “Be comfortable with your choreography and know it inside out so you don’t need to worry about “forgetting” the steps. Practise, practise, practise and remember that you are doing it for the joy of dancing, keep that smile, no matter what!!!”  Sandy
  • “Practice in your outfit several times to make sure bits don’t fall off, come undone or are too loose.” Vicky Lumby
  • “Know the music, and breathe!” Trish Champion
  • “Enjoy yourself.” Freya
  • “Remember that everyone in the audience is rooting for you. Everyone wants you to succeed! And like I tell my students – if you are worried about making mistakes learn how to ” fall with style” – practice fixing mistakes and come up with some nifty troubleshooting moves that you can fall back on should a veil get stuck etc. Everyone makes mistakes, its how you handle them that makes you a star!!!” Louise Brooks
  • “Practice smiling as well as your choreography! It’s important that you know your steps, but your performance will look so much better if you look like you’re enjoying performing.” Cari Weston
  • “Two things that work for me: practice the choreography till you can do it without thinking; once on stage, lose yourself in the music. If you are 100% absorbed in the emotion of the moment there will be no brain space left for nerves.” Katerina
  •  “Before I undertook my first performance, I wish I’d known …that one of my students was going to be in the front row.” Rhi Smith
  • “Make sure you wear something you are comfortable dancing in. And if your outfit isn’t comfortable, wear it around the house until it becomes comfortable (but don’t forget to change again before doing the school run)!” Gwen Berry
  • “Before I undertook my first performance I wish I’d known… How quickly it flashes by! Enjoy every second!!” Natasha Bradley
  • “Before I undertook my first performance I wish I’d know how much fun it is!” Rossella Kench
  • “SMILE!!” Emily Ingram
  • “First – relax – remember to breathe – smile and have fun. (knowing that you have checked in advance that your costume has been FULLY fastened up properly)! then enjoy your performance and the audience appreciation at the end.” Tifanie Wentzell
  • “Before I undertook my first performance, I wish I’d known that glamour rocks and invested in a good costume.” Feyza
  • “Don’t worry what everyone else is thinking – they will be thinking you are brilliant just for having a go and it matters not a jot if you go a bit wrong.” Mandy Ryland-Langley
  • “Learn the music inside out, keep smiling even if you make a mistake because your smile will be what everyone remembered. Also, I wish I had known to pin my belt on when I did my very first solo, oops.”” Rosina Boden
  • “Before I undertook my first performance, I wish I’d known how much fun it would be and how much I’d love it so I’d have taken the plunge to perform much sooner than I did! And for someone undertaking their first bellydance performance my advice would be:
    (1) wear what you feel comfortable in and what makes you feel good,
    (2) it’s ok to make mistakes so don’t worry if you do – it’s all a learning experience,

    (3) bring a friend to cheer you along – a friendly face that you recognise in the audience can really help to relax you and
    (4) remember it’s all about having fun so just enjoy it!
    ” Ayten
  • “No matter how you think you look, or how you feel, everyone watching thinks you’re amazing .” Katie Lugg
  • “Make sure you love the first 30 seconds and know it backwards – that is how long it takes my brain to register that there is an audience. And remember, it takes longer to drink a cup of tea.” Gail Wilkinson
  • “Smile and enjoy the dance.” Carol Gey Van Pittius
  • “LOVE the music you choose.” Nita Grant
  •  “Look at the lights rather than the audience. Looking at the lights doesn’t panic you, you can’t see the people and then the muscle memory of your performance will just take over.” Katherine Williams
  • I was told to smile, sparkle, enjoy it and not to worry if I went wrong. It worked!” Mary Wilson
  • And one final bonus tip: “Make sure your hair piece, should you choose to wear one, is securely fastened to your head. A flying ponytail makes a fun anecdote but I can assure you it’s somewhat mortifying at the time.” Helen Santa Maria

 

If you’re nervous about undertaking your first public bellydance performance, take heart from those who have made this journey before you. You CAN be bold, step up and dance in front of an audience just like we all did.

I’d love to know: what inspired you to take the plunge and embark on a public bellydance performance? Did you get inspired by other students? Did your teacher gently nudge you? Leave us a message in the comments below!

Thanks for reading, see you next time 🙂

Hugs and shimmies,

Helen x

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How to land your first pro gig – 3 mistakes to avoid

SUIT

 

Turning pro is just about as exciting as it can get for any bellydancer. But exactly how do you break into professional work without dropping a clanger and ruining your chances?

How do you avoid making schoolgirl,  embarrassing mistakes when dipping your tassels into the pro bellydance water?

Here are 3 valuable pro tips plus 3 BIG no nos to help get you started on the right track.

Pro tip  1:  be a geek and do your research

Who do you already know that’s absolutely rockin’ it on the scene? Go and watch their live gigs and learn by watching how they behave as well as talking to them. (I’m talking notepad and pen in hand) If they don’t have time to chat on the night, ask if you can set up a short phone call or skype chat.

Ask about how they got started. How long did they work two jobs? How did they know when to quit the day job? Did they quit the day job? (not all pros do) Mostly you’ll find they are flattered that you’d ask and will be happy to chat about their beginnings.

You may think that you can’t bring yourself to do that and you’re too shy. But here’s the thing, if you can’t muster the courage to speak to real live human beings already on the scene at this point, how are you going to deal with it when you’re pro? This is good practice for the proactive and tenacious attitude you’re going to need to forge a successful, lasting pro career.

And I know I don’t need to tell you to thank them and ask if there’s anything that you can do for them 😉

Pro tip 2: neutralize the competition by giving before you take

Take a look at who is already on the pro scene in your area  (if you haven’t already, where’ve you been?!). What you want to do is think about how you can positively impact the pro dance world and help other dancers – even before helping yourself.

These dancers have probably brokered deals, negotiated decent pay, carved out resident spots as well as educated a regular audience with quality dance. In many ways they have paved the way for you.

Contact them to introduce yourself and ask if they would be willing to consider you as sick cover, backup or an extra dancer. You’ll likely need to send a showreel or YouTube videos.

And always offer to refer gigs that you’re unavailable for (and actually do it).

You see, other pro dancers aren’t you’re competition, they are your community. Share any useful information and knowledge that might help them and you’ll be well on your way to making respectful, lasting relationships.

A rising tide floats all ships, when one dancer is doing well it generally elevates the chances of work for everyone. (This goes for teachers and students too)

Pro tip 3: don’t be too proud to hustle

You’ve psyched yourself up to hit the ‘publish’ button on your first website expecting to be busy fielding the queries about your classes and performances. You’ve hung out your shingle for all the world to see, things are going to get crazy, right?

And so the metaphorical tumbleweed starts rolling on by…

The thing is, it’s not up to people to find you, you’ve got to find them. You must put yourself out there constantly, not just when you first start but again and again and again.

Thinking that folks will eventually cotton on to your brilliance and you won’t have to lower yourself to marketing your services is not the way to go. So it’s time to get in the right mindset and think about all the ways you’re going to tell the world about your goodies. (if you don’t know how to do this then it’s time to educate yourself and learn).

Start with your mum, dad and cat to get started and ease yourself in. Then move on to friends and the world!

It’s not up to the world to discover you. You will always have the responsibility of keeping your pipeline of work full.

Oh, and those 3 mega mistakes?
  • Don’t  get your dad, boyfriend, mum etc. to hustle for your gigs
  • Don’t walk up to the resident dancer at the end of the gig and announce you’d like to have a residency there also
  • Don’t show up to a restaurant and try to ‘out dance’ the resident dancer in your day clothes (not the most dignified)
  • BONUS MISTAKE – don’t try to undercut the existing dancer to land a gig. It will make you and them feel yucky.

 

Did you find this post useful? Do you know somebody who might dig this content? I’d be so grateful if you were to share it!

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below – did this post bust any myths about turning pro for you? How did it change your thoughts, fears and dreams about becoming a pro bellydancer? Be sure to tell us by posting a comment!

Thank you so much for reading.

Love and shimmies,

Helen xx

Subscribe for blog updates with bellydance tips to get on track and stay inspired. Plus receive my free online class!

 

How to show emotion when you dance (without dying of embarrassment)

 

Would you like to have an expressive face when you perform bellydance?

Are you exuding joy on the inside but showing a blank face on the outside?

Does the thought of baring your soul on stage make you cringe?

Would you like to be able to perform with an uncensored and open heart and feel connected emotionally to your dancing?

These questions hit a nerve with me, perhaps they do with you too.

The fear of looking silly, feeling embarrassed, being vulnerable and feeling uncomfortable is one of the most powerful forces that drives the way we live our entire life, let alone how we approach our dancing.

It pains me to say it, but as a teacher I’m guilty, in the past, of teaching techniques, movement and routines with 95% of the focus on technique and then a quick 5% of time reminding my students to smile and make sure their faces are animated.

I can see now that when I started out dancing (and teaching), I completely neglected the importance of connecting emotionally when we dance. Thankfully this is some years back now and I’ve evolved my teachings to incorporate feeling, expression and emotion.

But learning, myself, to show emotion through whole body expression has been an inordinately hard part of my bellydance journey and is still something I constantly work on.

I still often have to dig deep, be brave and push myself out of my comfort zone when it comes to fully and visibly investing my emotions into performing, teaching, writing and filming.  What if people don’t like it? What if somebody posts a mean comment? Am I really good enough to put my heart and soul into this? How can I look confident when I still feel like I don’t have enough training?

These are thoughts we all have about our dancing and – I’ll be honest – they never go away. So if you’re waiting to feel 100% secure and assured before you grant yourself permission to fully and openly infuse your dancing with feeling, you’re on the wrong track (somebody had to break it to you, sorry).

Now here’s the good news. There are ways of developing your dancing along unabashedly expressive lines (which don’t involve putting yourself through mortifying and cringey experiences). I’m going to give you 6 easy ways to get you started.

First though, realise that you have to change the way that you are currently approaching your dancing. I know this sounds obvious but hang in there with me. When I say you have to change I mean that you actively have to stop doing things in a way that is comfortable and familiar to you and start doing them in new – uncomfortable – ways.

You must be wiling to be uncomfortable while you adjust to a new way of dancing.

When we talk about going out of our “comfort zone” we think of it as metaphorical. It’s not. It’s very physical and you will feel tangibly uncomfortable. The problem here is that, when this happens, our instinct is to return to what feels familiar and comfortable, e.g. looking at the floor when we dance, having a blank face.

But if you hang in there, keep going even when you’re out of your comfort zone, you can start to be more expressive, feel better and change the way you dance.

Feeling uncomfortable means that you are changing (literally, growing pains) and visible results are on the way. Learn to recognise that uncomfortable feeling as a sign that you are doing something meaningful and important and that exciting changes are on the way.

These days I love that slightly queasy, fearful feeling in the pit of my stomach when I go for a new dance goal because it means I’m doing something with real meaning. I know that I have to go through that stage as part of the “adventure”. So don’t give up when you feel unprepared or out of your comfort zone, just go with it.

Being more visibly expressive when you dance is related to confidence and confidence comes from doing (you may want to check out my article “What to do when your confidence takes a dip”) so you’re going to have to get stuck in and take action before you see any results in the way you look and feel when you dance. Don’t worry, we’ll start with small milestones, we’re talking baby steps.

I’m going to give you 6 exercises to implement in your dancing, but I don’t expect you to put them all into practice straight away. Instead, you are going to aim to act on each of the exercises one at a time for 10% of the duration of your dance to start,  then 25%, then 50%, until you’re up to 100%.

The point is to keep nudging yourself forward and out of your comfort zone bit by bit. It’s about steady progress, not perfection. I love using the % technique as it means you can set yourself an achievable milestone without being overwhelmed.

  •  The first thing you’re going to stop doing is looking at the floor. You’ll likely feel some resistance to this but remember, you’re going to aim to keep your eyes off the floor for 10% of the time to start with and go from there.  This might seem like a small thing, but where you place your focus with your eyes and the angle of your head makes a huge difference to the expression and feel of your dance. Lifting your gaze can make you feel exposed and vulnerable, so don’t be surprised if this is harder than it sounds. You may look down because you are concentrating on the moves, but remember: your face is part of the move.

 

  • Next, you’re going to get specific with the feeling and mood you’re aiming for by using language. Think of words that describe the mood, character and emotion that you want to portray in your dance.  If you don’t know what you want to feel when you dance then it’s time to decide. Listen to the music and think about the stylization of the choreography. For example it could be connected to joy, power, elegance, playfulness, fun. Use any descriptive words that make sense to you, even if they seem a bit bonkers:  sultry, aloof, fun, cute, electric, cold, dry, velvet, spiritual, earthy, wild, sexy, lost, symmetry. Keep going until you start to see a character emerge. This is a starting point, a way in for you to connect emotionally with your dance beyond the choreography, there is no “right” answer – you can’t do it wrong.                                                                                                                                                                         Now you have a specific idea of the characterization that you’re going to portray, set your intention to embody it when you dance, starting with your face. (We’ll look closer at how to do this in the next point.) Remember, we’ll start with 10% and go from there.

 

  • When it comes to putting expression into our face during a performance  we mainly think of smiling which in turn leads us to force the corners of our mouth up. Yep, the “fixed grin syndrome” we’re all terrified of (the result of which is usually cheek ache). I want you to forget about smiling with your mouth per se and instead think about manifesting your emotion with your eyes. This will give a much softer and sincere look and feel to your facial expression. And if you’re getting carried away with the moment of the dance, go with it and let it show! Remember, start with the eyes.

 

  • When it comes to dancing the easiest way to embody emotion is to be genuinely passionate about it. Think about your attitude towards the routine and the music, do you take it for granted that you or the choreographer and the musicians have created this piece of art for you? Some of the most expressive dancers  you’ll ever see are so wrapped up and absorbed in the whole miracle of movement to music that there isn’t any space left for self-doubt or shyness. Get into the music and fall passionately in love with dance every time you perform. Remember, we’re starting with 10% and building from there.

 

  • Imagine that it’s 5 years from now. You have 5 more years worth of bellydance training, experience and performances under your hipbelt. You’re now in the top level class at your school and you’re one of the best dancers in your local area. Other students comment on how good your dancing is and ask you for help and and advice because they aspire to be like you.  You’ve mastered techniques and maybe even done some professional work. How would you dance when you perform?  What would you look like? How would you behave on stage? Start dancing like that now.

 

  •  We talk about “giving” a performance and that’s exactly what it is, a gift. So I want you to be generous, not stingy. The way that you dance is extremely special and is unique only to you, never make light of that fact. When you put yourself forward to perform in front of people you must respect the fact that it’ a two way situation: the audience is there offering you their attention and your job is to communicate your dance as best you can. Make it easy and pleasurable for your audience to take you in. Give them the chance to be fascinated by your dancing by giving as much of yourself as you can.

 

  • One final bonus point on how to feel expressive when you dance:  Be grateful that you have the ability, freedom and choice to be able to learn to dance as well as perform. I hope, as I write this, that you are, as I am, in the extraordinarily lucky situation to be physically and mentally well enough and have the social and political freedom to practice dance.

 

Now I’d love to know: what has helped you to overcome shyness and fear of embarrassment when you’re dancing? I’d love for you to tell us in the comment section below as it might be exactly the advice somebody needs.

Thanks for reading.

Hugs and hipdrops,

Helen xx

Ps. If you’re curious about learning to bellydance with us here in Reading, UK, take a look at our upcomng courses  – we start next week!

Subscribe for blog updates with bellydance tips to get on track and stay inspired. Plus receive my free online class!

Have you lost your bellydance mojo?

I was at a birthday party at a Turkish restaurant in Leamington Spa, the music came on, she walked onto the dance floor in a dazzling silver and crystal costume mesmerized me with her moves – I was smitten. I was in love.

Do you remember the time you were wooed and then smitten by bellydance?  You start to think about it more and more until you find yourself thinking about it in your team meeting at work or when your having a catch up with your friend. Things get serious and you’re flying high in the honeymoon period. This goddess can’t put a foot wrong! She’s exciting, she makes you feel fabulous, the more you get to know her the more you fall in love.

So with all this love floating around, why do we sometimes lose our bellydance mojo? and what can we do to get it back?

Think of it this way, getting  bitten by the be bellydance bug is akin to getting into a heady relationship and, like intense relationships, it has ups and downs, ebbs and flows. It turns out she’s not as perfect as you thought she was, sometimes you feel blissfully in love, other times you need a bit of space.

The thing is, it’s often not the sort of thing bellydance students want to talk to teachers about as they feel like they are letting them down (or being a “bad” student). But know this, any teacher worth their salt understands this phenomenon and will be understanding (they won’t burst into tears and feel personally wounded). It’s perfectly natural and normal to go through peaks and troughs as a bellydancer. I’ve seen this and also felt it myself as a student and as a teacher.

I’m in no way qualified to tell you, or any bellydance student, why you feel what you feel. That said, over the years I’ve noticed 4 common situations which sometimes affect our relationship to bellydance. Maybe some of these will resonate with you? Or maybe not. But if your friend or student seems to have momentarily lost the passion for bellydance then consider that they may be going through one of the the following:

1) Bellydance hangover. When we’re in love with bellydance we’re on a high and we want to keep feeding on it. You feel like you have more energy and drive than ever so it’s time to take on more classes, courses, multiple teachers, workshops, online tuition, performances (as many as possible), joining or forming a troupe, collaborating with friends, even going pro. It’s one big blinging party!

However, if you’re the type who’s inclined to get a hangover then you may have one on the way.

Why the hangover? Well, essentially we commit ourselves up to our earrings to far too many events and projects. When we’re high on inspiration and love for bellydance we make promises to other people (and ourselves) about dedicating time, emotion, love and creativity to all these commitments because we are high on inspiration and we can’t imagine that feeling ever changing.

But, as we know from experience, that high doesn’t last forever and at some point we mellow back down to our more usual levels. In this case, one big sparkling adventure then leads to bellydance burnout.

The first time this happens it can be confusing not to mention upsetting. It’s horrible when what once seemed like bliss can begin to feel like a chore (you promised to meet up to rehearse, you said you’d perform in that show etc.). Be forgiving on yourself and take it as a learning experience. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never get the love back again, you just need to be mindful in the future about how much you commit to.

2) You haven’t found the right teacher. If you’re not resonating with the ethos of your teacher and feel out of place in class then it might be time to hunt out a new school. It’s nobody’s fault, just a mismatch of what they are offering and what you’re after. Don’t give up, do some research and hunt out a class where you will feel at home (tip this could even be an online class).

3) Quit the diet. Like any relationship, you need to feed your bellydance bond to keep it healthy. Reigniting the spark – in bellydance terms – can mean giving yourself a new challenge or getting fresh inspiration.

Starving yourself of the abundance that bellydance has to offer could be the reason you’ve hit a slump. But don’t panic, if you feel you’ve plateaued then getting out of it can be as simple as finding new music to listen and practice to, buying a new hipscarf or costume. Or it might be as ambitious attending a workshop, intensive or festival. Find out what your classmates are up to to see if you can hook in on an adventure.

The truth is, you need to be proactive and see what else is going on.  Remember when you got the courage to come to class for the fist time? Now it’s time to be courageous again and discover something new.

4) You’re trying too hard putting pressure on yourself to progress faster than you are is a sure way to suck the joy out of just about anything.

Think back to when you first fell in love with bellydancing and how good it made you feel. It sounds so ridiculously simple to say this but the whole point of the endeavor is to feel good. Don’t just skip over that sentence: the whole point of the endeavor is to feel good.  This means that you should feel good while you’re on the bellydance journey, not save it all up for when you reach a certain goal or level.

Sometimes we think that once we’ve reached a level THEN we’ll start to feel great. So I’ll tell you now: you don’t have to wait to enjoy yourself, you may start right now.

Now, I’d love to hear from you on this one:

Have you experienced bellydance burn out? Did you have to try several teachers until you felt ‘at home’ in a class? Do you put too much pressure on yourself and kill the joy? What did you do to get YOUR mojo back?

I’d love for you to leave a comment below and tell us, it might be just what somebody needs to help them get their passion for bellydance back on track.

Thank you for reading 🙂

With love and shimmies,

Helen x

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How’s your classroom etiquette?

Does it get on your wick when another student tries to chat to you when the teacher’s talking? Do you cringe when somebody’s phone goes off in class?

Most of come to class with an open heart, a passion for bellydance and an eagerness to learn, we don’t intend on doing things which might get somebody else’s goat. So, I decided to bring this (slightly tricky) topic to the fore and asked a large sample of my students: in your opinion, what makes for good classroom etiquette?

Let me be clear, I didn’t do this to unleash the moan-fest of the century. Instead, I wanted to make visible a kind of “code of conduct” which 99% of us abide by 99% of the time. However, we all have moments when we fall off the etiquette wagon, so this is a little nudge to get us back on.

Here are the top 7 answers from my students (with a couple of my own thrown in too) and remember, these are all meant with heartfelt love and affection 🙂

  •  (not) Chatting. Our ladies love having a quiet room so they can hear the instructor clearly. Plus, teachers aren’t keen on competing with other conversations
  •     Space. When you’re concentrating on getting the moves it’s easy to lose track of your spacing. Keep an eye that you haven’t “drifted” too close to another class mate. Also – don’t be shy about standing at the front!
  •     Time. We only have one precious hour together a week. Arrive early and settle up any payments or questions in good time before the class to avoid eating into class time
  •     Unofficial teaching assistant. It can be soooo tempting to help out a struggling classmate, but wait to be asked by them before offering help and do it after the class or during a break
  •     If you’ve been coming to class for years, remember that lovely person who said “hello” and made you feel welcome when you first came? Now it’s your turn to break the ice with any new class members and help them feel at ease
  •     DO ask for extra explanations and ask questions about the material taught in class and DO feel free to bring out your own and your class mates sense of humour. AVOID telling long anecdotes about your personal life and going off topic for too long
  •     DO ask questions about the music, where to get it etc. AVOID asking the teacher email you the music or burn you a CD!
  • Remember to switch your phone to silent before class starts. If you have to take an urgent/emergency call, take it outside

Thank you to all my students who contributed their thoughts to this blog, I learn from you all each and every day!

Now I want to ask you: Do you have any other suggestions for classroom etiquette that we could all learn from? Are you a teacher who has effective ways of keeping your class on track etiquette-wise? Leave your thoughts in the comments below and let us know. And of course I’d love it if you were to share this post with all your friends, especially as this has such a huge impact on the quality of our learning.

Thanks for reading, love and shimmies,

Helen xx

Subscribe for blog updates with bellydance tips to get on track and stay inspired. Plus receive my free online class!

How long does it take to be a good dancer? (here’s the real answer)

Have you ever watched a dancer and thought “how did she get so good?”, “what did she do that I’m not doing?”  Yep, me too.

In a world where everything is instant at the click of a button we can consume so much dancing so fast. There are hours of videos featuring totally amazing dancers, it’s almost too easy to just flick through and take it all for granted.

You see, what happens is that we get a snapshot, the finished article, but we don’t see everything that’s come before it. We don’t get the whole story, the hundreds (or thousands) of hours, the various evolutions and incarnations of that dancer, the incremental trajectory over the last 6-8 years that led up to that point. Having instant access to limitless amounts of the highest level of art forms that take hours, weeks, months and years to master makes it seem like it’s all achievable overnight for some people.

 
What can then happen is that we get stuck on a train of thought which goes something like: this dancer is just super talented, they have a more flexible body, a longer waist, they just have a “natural” ability and it comes easily to them, they are just super talented. One way or another, we can end up at the conclusion which basically says: I’ll never be like that no matter what I do.

 
However, let’s stop and think about really goes into those moments when we witness truly elite dancing. This begins by getting rid of the false idea that there is such a thing as overnight dance success. Let me reassure you that there is no such thing!

 
Now we’ve debunked the myth that some dancers are just super-talented and we’ll never be like them, let’s get down to some truths, so strap on your hip belt good and tight because there’s a secret that good dancers have been keeping and I’m going to let you in on it now.

 
Boredom. Yep, get ready to be bored. If you think you’re going to be skipping off to class with sunshine and unicorns every time or busting with enthusiasm and jumping for joy when it comes to doing your 20 mins daily practice, think again. It can be tedious and annoying to have to keep repeating stuff, hell it can feel like a chore, but good dancers don’t entertain the idea of letting practice lapse. For them, practice is non-negotiable, it’s part of their daily or weekly routine.
The truth is, those amazing, effortless-looking dancers have been chipping away on the same things that you’re getting taught in class, they just repeat it more times. Excellence is a gradual accumulation, sure sometimes with the odd highlight and breakthrough, but it’s all about consistency, not instant results.

 
I’d love to be able to say that I have stars twinkling out of my eyes and rainbows springing out of my ears every time I work on my movement or a choreography. Sadly, that’s not the case. I pretty much have to lock myself in a room until it’s done. An believe me I can procrastinate with the best of them!

 
As a person who hates using numbers to quantify achievement, this next bit is really hard for me. But the question I get asked most of all by students is “how long have you been dancing?” I know by now that what this really means is “how long will it take me to be able to dance like you?”  So I’m going to dig deep and do my best to be completely honest and realistic about the results you can expect to get in a certain period of time. Bear in mind that the time scales here assume that you are consistently attending regular classes. *A quick disclaimer before you dive in: each student is a unique individual with her own learning curve. This is a general guide to give you some idea, your own progression will be unique to you.*

 
What you can expect after 4-6 weeks   Depending on your teacher you’ll learn anything from around 10 to 20 moves and be able to execute most of them, there will probably be some moves that you can’t quite nail and others that are a whole ball of mystery. You might not remember them all and you won’t look exactly like your teacher just yet with perfect isolation, but you will begin to look like a bellydancer. It’s not unusual to still feel a little awkward doing the moves at this stage. You might think that you’ll never get to grips with the moves, just hang in there, we all start somewhere 🙂

What you can expect within 4-6 weeks of regular classes plus a short daily practice All of the above plus your muscle memory will start to kick in. This is where your body “remembers” how to do the moves and you won’t have to consciously think through every element of it. This means you can further refine the moves and start to improve your isolation.

What you can expect within 3-6 months A growing level of confidence as the basic moves become familiar. You will notice that you can begin to isolate the moves (even if you need reminders from your teacher). Short routines are no problem (though remembering the choreography might be!) Expect to struggle with tricky moves like the Egyptian Walk, undulations and umis – don’t worry, this is normal. The shimmy is still a bit hit and miss for you. Add a daily practice onto your regular classes and you’ll probably begin to notice changes in your body tone and shape, particularly in the obliques and shoulders. Your snake arms will start to look smooth and fluid and your hip locks will start to pack a punch. There are moments where your Egyptian Walk feels like it’s finally coming together (even if it’s not at full speed yet). Your shimmy is coming along nicely – yey!

What you can expect within 1 year to 18 months You no longer look like a beginner and you have no problem with the basic moves or routines. Your body has adapted to the movements and you’ve developed the appropriate muscle groups. Now you can do the moves you’re keen to do them with a good quality of movement. You’re being challenged with more complex routines and layering techniques, it feels like you’ll never get the hang of layering. Add regular practice and “extra curricular” workshops, private coaching or additional classes and you will find the content in your regular class very manageable. You’re most likely one of the strongest dancers in your class. Layering movements is still difficult but with concentration you are able to have a stab at more advanced material than you’re learning in class. You’re standing out from the crowd – woo!

What can I expect within 2-3 years? You’ve worked your way up towards the Intermediate or Advanced level and you have a decent knowledge of different bellydance styles and music to the point where you know musical and stylistic bellydance terms. Performances are a regular feature in your diary either with a group or as a soloist. Your choreographies include Egyptian walks, undulations and other tricky moves. You understand how to isolate the moves and they look impressive when you do them. If you’ve been keeping up your practice then your body is “bellydance-ready” and your movements are strong and clean. You keep your dance posture consistently when you dance (and sometimes when you’re not!)

When will I start to look like my teacher? You’re looking at anything upwards of 3-5 years of regular classes plus practice and extra curricular to grow into an elite dancer.

How long will it take to become professional? This is a tricky one and it’s a brave person to put an exact number on it. However I’ll step up and say that it would be around 8 years depending on your previous experience. It could be less or it could be more. For example I had 8 years of ballroom and latin training and then 4 years of bellydance training before I started professional work. It was then another 5 years before I became a full time professional bellydance performer and teacher.

 
So what is your first job as an ambitious bellydance student? Trust your teacher. Your trajectory is something that you don’t need to worry about or burden yourself with. Don’t take on the responsibility of worrying about the material and course content, just focus on surrendering to what you’re working on in that moment. Nothing more.
I once had a student who sent me videos of highly accomplished professional dancers and asked why we “weren’t learning that” on our improver course. I gently had to explain that these dancers didn’t go to class and “learn that”, they had spent hours and years crafting their art. But I reassured her that if she kept going with her dance journey then there was no reason she would not be able to dance like that in the future.

 

One last thing before I go, my exam coaching workshops are coming up in February, do have the feeling that you should be there? Is it the time to ramp up your dancing an really let the rubber hit the road? Check out all the details here. I’d love to have you on board!

 

Now I’d love to hear about you: What are the milestones that have marked your bellydance journey? What’s your next milestone you’d like to reach? Leave a comment below! And of course, I’d be delighted if you’d share this article with your friends 🙂

Thank you for reading,

Love and shimmies,

Helen xx

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Ready for your first bellydance performance? 9 tips to help you take the plunge

There comes a point in learning bellydance where the inevitable happens: your teacher or School holds an end of term show or hafla and offers a class the chance to perform the class routine. Many of us can’t get enough of performing and are eager to make the most of any opportunity to feel the buzz and excitement of the whole process: rehearsals, anticipation, excitement, nerves, make up, deep breathing, performance, thrill, adrenaline, living in the moment, applause, praise, attention (let’s be honest 😉 ), photos, congratulations, satisfaction, confidence, “when’s the next one?” The whole kit and caboodle.

When most students attend their first bellydance class, performing it in public is the very last thing they are thinking of. Performing certainly isn’t for everyone and my students frequently hear my mantra in class “performing is not compulsory, I have no personal investment in getting you to perform, only that you enjoy learning bellydance and get the most out of it”. However, over the years I have seen countless students go from not entertaining the idea of ever performing, to happily dancing in end of term shows experiencing all the fun that goes along with it.  In today’s post I want to get down to the nitty gritty of what happens in-between these two mindsets.

If you are progressing nicely in class and feel like you are starting to really ‘get the hang’ of bellydancing, why not think about developing yourself further and performing? Perhaps you have entertained the idea for a moment but you’re still not sure if performing is your thing. I mean, isn’t it taking this hobby a bit too far?

My action points for this Ezine are all about bringing yourself to the point where you are ready to perform. Or, if you have performed with your class, how to take yourself to the next level and do a solo.  If you have been toying with the idea and need that extra ‘push’ or permission to let yourself go for it – consider this it! Here are some practical ways to get your head around the idea of taking action and performing.

  • Go along and watch a student showcase so have a good idea what it’s all about before you take the plunge and join in. You may find yourself wishing you were up there dancing too!
  • Ask yourself why you are so resistant to performing with the group. Is there somebody/something holding you back?  Are you worried about being judged, criticised, feeling embarrassed? You aren’t alone. We all have to push through this stuff in order to put ourselves up there and perform. Take a look and chat to your classmates who have already performed in shows – they lived to tell the tale and have been back for more!
  • Do you enjoy seeing the side of yourself that you encounter and develop in class? Do you enjoy the company of your classmates who also do so? Performing gives you a chance to take this positive experience even further and deeper and is one of the quickest ways to bond with a group of like-minded people.
  • Think how you will feel after the show if you don’t perform: relaxed, relieved, safe, in your comfort zone, or just simply the same as before. Then think how you will feel after the show if you do perform: exhilarated, proud, satisfied, surprised, like you’ve added another facet to yourself, different. If you keep doing the same thing then you will feel the same. If you do something you’ve never done then you will feel like you’ve never felt.
  • Perform a class routine at the end of term show before you consider undertaking a solo to give you an idea of how it feels to dance in front of an audience. Get somebody to film it so you can look it over (and even ask your teacher to look at it and give feedback) and see how you can improve on what you did and move forward for a solo presentation.
  • Bring your fan club to come and watch you. Whether it’s your first group performance or your first solo, having your ‘crew’ there to support and witness you makes a huge difference (plus, they can do the drive home so you can have a glass of wine after). Your friends and family will love the opportunity to cheer you on.
  • Try dancing a class routine, that you’ve performed as a group, as a solo or duet before you embark on choreographing your own. All you need to do is repeat what you did before.
  • If you are a whiz with a sewing machine or simply can’t get enough of all things bling, then student shows are the ultimate way to push your creativity to the limits and make your own performance costume!
  • If you still can’t decide whether you should take the next step in your self-development as a bellydance student, try this classic mantra (it works for me every time I feel resistant to pushing myself further): ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.

I’d love to know what, if anything, held YOU back from performing bellydance publicly and what helped you decide to take the plunge and go for it. Leave a comment below and let us know! (it might be just the thing to inspire somebody to go for it).

Thanks for reading 🙂

Hugs and hipdrops,

Helen x

When you’ve no time, space or privacy to practice bellydance

Love it or hate it, practise is essential if you want to reach your maximum sparkle capacity.

We all love the feeling when a move or a routine finally comes together and feels “right”. We get a lovely satisfied glow and it makes us happy, whoop! Not familiar with this feeling? If you only dance once a week in class, or perhaps you haven’t made it to a class yet and have just watched (rather than physically engaged with) bellydancing on YouTube and DVDs then it’s time to make the commitment and dedicate a little time to YOU and see yourself sparkle.

Once you’ve made this commitment to yourself you might be wondering how to practise and what to practise. It’s my aim in this blog to make practice approachable, do-able and of course get you brilliant results (i.e. feeling fantastic when you dance).

What and how to practise  will depend on the level you’re at which you can gauge from what you are learning in class. To get you started, think of it in 2 main groups:

1) technique which trains your muscle memory and requires you to repeat the same movement over and over again concentrating on timing, refinement and posture

2) a routine or short combinations of moves which requires you to learn and remember a sequence by repeating it concentrating on transitioning from one move to the next

Try to pick just one element to work so you don’t dilute your efforts. NB. Beware! If you are anything like me then you will have a whole arsenal of “reasons” why you haven’t managed to practise this week. The top 2 are:

1) I don’t have enough time

2) I don’t have enough space

There are also others like: my husband/partner is fed up with hearing Arabic pop music, I feel too tired when I get home etc. But let me ask you, what do you do when you are waiting for the kettle to boil? What do you do when you are waiting for the oven to heat up? Is Eastenders really that good?!

It’s about consistency and quality – not quantity. If you think you need to set aside hours of time, don’t panic, it’s not necessary.

Now you have my top 2 excuses I’ve used in the past with myself to avoid fitting in regular practice, I’ll give you practical 8 solutions to get you on track:

Limited on space or privacy?

o  Practise routines and moves in your head, clearly visualise the routine or movement you want to achieve (yes, I’m serious, this really does work and is extremely powerful). Imagine and internalise the feeling in your mind even if you don’t move a muscle

o Practise “internal” muscle drills and isolations sitting down (at work, on the train, watching telly). Nobody will even know you’re doing pelvic tucks under the desk

o Listen to your routine music as much as you can, in the car, on headphones, while you’re cooking. Anywhere! When you come to dance it will be easier to remember the  moves if you know the music inside out

o Always walk and sit in dance posture wherever you are, it will soon become second nature to you and all of your moves will be enhanced (you’ll be shocked at how effective this is)

Limited on time? Days slip by before you notice you’ve  done no practise?

o My personal favourite, make time every week (or even every day) for a “Power Practise”: a 10 minute session of repeating 3 movements on a loop. Set the clock for it and it will be done in a flash. (Hint: use your fave music for this to quickly get you in the zone)

o Team up with a class buddy to go through the class choreography. There’s nothing like being accountable to somebody else to keep time in your diary for a weekly practise

o Have a target that you want to hit and don’t give up until you hit it. Want to be able to do the Egyptian Walk with a forward and back step on a rise? Keep going until you can (you’ll get there, just have faith in yourself)

o Not sure what to practice? Try starting with the thing you always avoid. Come on now, you know what it is. Turns? Arms? Props? You’ll be so glad you did next time you go to turn and it feels more balanced and controlled than before

o Not attending classes? Attend a drop-in class or course EVERY WEEK (even if you leg it to class straight after work). Being amongst a group of women all at the same point in their dance journey is sometimes all you need to transform an ambivalent attitude into a fiery passion for rocking your curves

You can get started right now with my video tutorial below. It will give you one of the most fundamental moves of bellydance and is essential for getting you on track to see yourself sparkle

One last thought: if you’d practised 30 minutes a week for the last 6 months you would have done around 12 hours more dancing. That’s a term’s worth of dancing! How would your dancing look now? In 6 months time you can ask yourself the same thing.

In the video in this post I’m giving you something very specific to practise, click below to find out what it is!

Before I go, I’d love to know, how do you manage to fit dance into your busy life? Do you have any tips for helping us prioritise our practice when there are so many demands on our time? Leave a comment below and share your tips 🙂

Until next time, hugs and hipdrops,

Helen xx

 

 

How can I feel more graceful?

Let me ask you, are you like Sue? Some time ago a lovely lady called Sue asked me a brilliant question via my facebook page: “how can I look more graceful when I dance?”

Well, I’m going to be a bit sneaky and answer a slightly different question: how can I feel more graceful when I dance? For me, how I look when I dance is deeply connected to how I feel when I dance and if the feeling’s right, then I know I stand a much better chance of expressing myself fully in the dance. After all, first and foremost we want to feel good when we dance, right?!

Hear my tips for feeling more graceful when you dance, check out my video here …

Before I go, I’d love to know, when do you feel your most graceful? Is there a certain outfit, costume or music that makes you feel fabulous? Post in the comments below 🙂