How does one go from being a complete beginner to dance in general and belly dance in particular, to being a full-blown belly dance enthusiast and teacher? Here’s my story.
First Steps as a Student
I’ve always liked movement and dance. From trying ballet when very small. Then sticking with figure skating during my school years, through to yoga in college and beyond. I had never experienced anything like belly dance before when my friend dragged me along to a class in college for the first time. After shimmying, circling, and twisting for an hour to fun, fascinating music, I was hooked. The music and dance moves were completely foreign and fascinating. I stuck with it for the year, and didn’t think anything more when I moved on from college.
Fast-forward several years, and a move to a new city for postgraduate study. Something (I don’t remember what) possessed me to search for a belly dance class in the area. Lo and behold, there was a weekly class that I promptly joined. After several months of weekly classes, I toddled along to a belly dance workshop in Dublin with a crew from my teacher’s group. I had no idea what to expect and no idea who Lorna of Cairo was. Turns out Lorna was a Scottish dancer who was dancing professionally in Cairo and she had lots to share. Three workshops and six hours later, and I was Blown. Away. I didn’t know that belly dance could be more than ‘this thing that I showed up to and did for an hour a week’. And that there was a whole world of dance and dancers out there to learn about and learn from.
Developing Knowledge and Skills
Fast-forward again, and countless dance weekends in England, such as the Jewel of Yorkshire and the JWAAD summer school. And classes and performances with various local teachers as classes came and went from Belfast. Discovering that I love the depth and difficulty of the dance. Developing an awareness of my body and its muscles and bones to somehow turn these weird torso, hip, and chest isolations into ‘belly dance’. Learning more about the myriad of props, music, and dance styles.
Another aspect of this was trying to solidify my dance technique. I felt it was lacking due to a lack of consistent regular weekly classes for me to attend in my local area. Fast-forward to a series of JWAAD technique assessments and a year of private lessons with Galit Mersand. I managed to move up two levels in the space of four years. This was really hard work for me because JWAAD is a set style. It emphasises the use of core muscles (glutes, abs, obliques, and back) to achieve precise isolation. This allows complex layering of belly dance moves. My body doesn’t naturally follow this style – I’m more of a ‘wing it and express the music’ type style.
Steps into Teaching
I continued to work on my technique and attend various workshops to build more dance knowledge. I completed the JWAAD “Safe Delivery of Belly Dance Classes” course to build my teaching knowledge. I took my first forays into teaching a weekly beginners belly dance class for a small group of students at a local yoga and wellness studio. I organised small haflas (informal student performances) for my students and fellow dancers.
Fast-forward to today. What’s my current dance ‘jam’? I’ve decided that the most important thing for me (right now) is developing my performance-focused personal practice. And developing dance classes focussed on understanding and interpreting Middle Eastern music. The thing I love most about dance is the joy in music coming into my ears, through my body, and out again as belly dance. I love enjoying it for myself, and sharing it with others. If that means my technique builds more slowly, that’s OK, because the most important thing to me is ‘just dancing’!
Here are a couple of photos to celebrate my journey so far… One from the very early days of my belly dance journey and one from today…