The Art of Teaching Belly Dance

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It was obvious that with some of the emails I have been getting regarding my book that I felt I should talk about a topic that kept coming up which is, the art of teaching dance. The emails were full of dancers speaking openly about what my book, The Divine Unrest, did for them. Some changed studios, others left teachers that were abusive and limited. I was very surprised to get these emails and wondered what on earth was going on with teachers in this dance form. When did this start to become a common problem or has it always been in our midsts.

Years ago when I started out dancing, it never occurred to me to take class from someone who wasn’t qualified. Usually I heard by word of mouth about a dance teacher from other dancers and most of the recommended teachers were exceptional. If anyone I was paying to teach me, tried to intimidate me or belittle me in class, I would have said, “Hasta la vista baby.” Maybe it’s because I’m feisty to begin with but I wouldn’t take class from anyone who I thought was abusive. That being said for some strange reason there are women out there who are obviously get away with teaching aggressively. I have news for them; this dance form has nothing to do with intimidation or belittling. To be able to teach dance is an art and I’m wondering with so many women getting into belly dance if this isn’t creating a problem with inadequate and unqualified teachers. I’ve seen it happen in public schools because I had to face a few bad apples with my daughter through out her elementary and middle school years. The question is, is this becoming a trend and if so what can qualified dance teachers do about it?

I was watching a documentary a while back called “Miss Navajo” and was blown away by the requirements each contestant had to meet. They were judged on how well they were able to fulfill each requirement.  They had to speak their own native tongue. They had to kill a sheep and skin it because sheep are an important staple that feeds the tribe. The contestants had to then cook the meat and feed the judges and families watching. They were questioned on important dates and what different insignias meant for them as a tribe. I realized that a big problem we have is the fact that there are no tests or guidelines for teaching our dance form.

The bottom line, we need to seriously figure out a teacher training course for dancers who want to teach so that the art of the dance isn’t lost, forgotten or turned into a money making scheme. We can’t afford at this point and time in our dance history to allow anyone to muddy up the dance especially those who are not qualified to teach it to begin with. Maybe this is where certifications come in but if so there needs to be new guidelines set down especially for teaching learned content. One of the problems with our dance field is that anyone can say they are a qualified teacher, have business cards or a cheap website, and wham bam thank you ma’am, they are teaching.

Remember my issue with the teacher who stated she could make anyone a professional in less then a month? I feel sorry for anyone who buys into the delusion that learning any dance form is possible in that short a period of time. It’s a scam plain and simple but more than that she is adding to the problem by placing herself in a position of authority without asking her own peers especially those in Egypt what they think of her offer. The student who buys into any scam artists scheme, ends up not only misinformed, but sold a false education that in reality takes years of training to master. Who pays the price for poor teaching skills, the student, the community or all the above. My next question is why don’t more professional dance teachers and performers stand up and talk about this problem? Unqualified teachers will tarnish our image in many ways. The two of the biggest problems are, the uneducated dancers who become unqualified teachers and the uneducated dancers representing not only communities but cultures.

One email I received just recently really struck a cord with me. This woman was older, pretty much a senior citizen and she had been dancing for many years. She took from two teachers. Her first was verbally abusive so she left here and the second one while she really enjoyed studying with her, was smothering her creativity. What happens to a flame when it gets no oxygen, it burns out. If a teacher doesn’t allow students to create their own choreographies, they will never understand the relationship between music and movement. It can’t be learned by just watching, it has to be learned by doing it and not just taught choreographies. After the fundamentals are taught, it’s important to get students to that place where the creative juices are flowing. Her teacher wouldn’t allow her to perform in certain venues and her creativity was suffering for it. What kind of teacher doesn’t allow her students to express themselves? Her teacher never gave her a good reason why. Why do we give our power away to those who don’t deserve it?

The only way a beginner can grow in any dance field is to learn the dance or studio curriculum by moving with dance, listening to music and then moving and listening to music at the same time. In the beginning it’s in the understanding of how a student learns to extend and restrain the body in movement and from this she be able to start to understand how to feel and react to music. But what if the teacher is afraid her students will eventually come up with something better then her? Limiting students will do one or two things, it will cause them to look else where to express their creativity or they will stay as limited as their teacher.

Dance teachers need to research, travel and explore their dance not only for their own sake but for the future education of generations they are teaching. This isn’t a self absorbed dance form, it’s based on community and keeping alive an ancient art form that has been passed down for multiple generations. It’s about going outside the comfort zone of the known into the unknown and finding that everything you learn is familiar to you already. It’s about relearning our heritage as women and understanding that it’s not about one person but about all of us sharing our joy of dance so we can go out into the world with a little more laughter, a little more light and an abundance of confidence.

What do you think?

 News Update: 

The Divine Unrest-My Stories and Personal Views on Belly Dance is out in paperback! The black and white paperback is only $12.99.  Here’s the link on

https://www.createspace.com/4181322

Remember to go to www.bellydancevillage and discover the wonderful art of belly dance!

 

 

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About Leyla Najma
Lifelong professional Belly Dancer dedicated to providing "Belly Dance Instruction That Is Easy To Understand And Learn That Connects The Dots"

Comments

4 Responses to “The Art of Teaching Belly Dance”
  1. Leyla, Had to read this. After our talk yesterday I felt it was a must. A really great article. You hit it head on. most teachers and dancers out there today fit in perfectly with your evaluation. No knowledge and passing on no knowledge. Have been pondering this subject for years. I have a certification process that takes a year to complete. Do not get many takers as this is over and above having at least 2-3 years of studying. But still lets me know who is serious or not.

    Keep up the good work. Cannot wait till the next char.

    Morwenna

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Thank you Morwenna…you definitely are my inspiration! The dance world would be a better place if dancers were trained by master dancers such as yourself. Send me your certification information and I’ll send it out to my subscribers and students!

      Hugs and Thanks,

      Leyla

  2. Allison Flynn says:

    Leyla great article!! As a teacher myself I find it a great joy and privilege ! It does not feel good when a teacher belittles a student and is so self absorbed in the end it affects the community and the troupe: I’ve had first hand experience at this and end the end the teacher ran all if her students away because of how they were being treated. I give all my students ample opportunity to shine and give them opportunity for learning and performing. I take my teaching seriously and I realize the importance of not only having a good solid curriculum but in a very open, friendly supportive atmosphere! I agree there needs to be a certification I have been very fortunate that I was able to have a very solid background and curriculum to my students I’ve had the opportunity to study with some if the best dancers out there including Leyla of course:) and Suhaila Salimpour, Suzana Del Vecchio just to name a few. I’ve been able to take things from each and have mixed it with my own curriculum and have something very solid for my students. I also noted things that happened along my dance path and how to avoid those things from happening with my students. I also realize that I have to keep up to speed on my own studies I continually push myself, get out of my own comfort level this helps keeps me grounded. I am also not afraid to suggest teachers to my students or to bring another teacher in to teacher students I have done both and my students really appreciate it! I feel as teachers and dancers in general we should be building and sharing and not tearing down!

    • Leyla Najma says:

      Thanks Allison for commenting in! It’s important for the gals reading this to get everybodies opinions and input especially a working professional dancer and teacher!

      Hugs,

      Leyla