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,