New in town

So I guess everyone know by now that I’ve left the UK and am now living in America. I’ll be in Salt Lake City, Utah for the next three years and after that….we’ll see!

One of the things I’m really excited about is having the chance to learn from lots of new dancers. OK, so the first workshops I booked were Little Egypt’s weekend with Randa :) but I am learning from new people as well! Before I arrive in SLC I got in touch with local teacher Stephanie, who told me she was hosting Karim Nagi at the beginning of September, and she was also kind enough to invite me to be part of the Friday night show! I have to tell you how lovely it was to be welcomed like that. I’ve done the same for dancers who were new to Cambridge in the past, inviting them to perform at my haflas, and it felt so good to be on the receiving end this time! So I’d say to other new dancers, don’t be nervous and reach out and established teachers, your reply can mean more than you realise.

Having the show on the horizon was a great motivation to get back in practice, which I’d let slide during the last few weeks of packing. At the moment we only have a few piece of furniture (ours is still on a ship somewhere) but that’s not a bad thing! The empty basement is an excellent studio:

(Not the best photo, admittedly. You can just about see my cat by the computer)

I’ve also brought all my costumes, not wanting them to have to endure a sea journey. When I tried to pick up the costume suitcase it was so heavy that the handle broke off!

I was really interested to see the other dancers in the show, since my main exposure to American bellydance has been the Bellydance Superstars (and I don’t consider a lot of what they do to be bellydance anyway, but that is for another day…). First thing I have to say is what a high standard of dance there was! It looks like there is a strong Egyptian influence round here (apart from the Tribal of course) but with distinctly American touches. For instance, the use of floorwork (splits and a Turkish drop amongst other moves – wow!) and also the use of props. There were a lot of props, often more than one in a routine – I do love it when a dancer discard her veil and suddenly you see the sagat she’s been holding the whole time (and yes I do know sagat are an instrument and not a prop really). The sagat playing – wow again! Really exciting, worked beautifully with the music, so much better than most of what I’ve seen in the UK and I include myself in that.

(I should probably stop calling them sagat and start calling them zills, right? I’m having enough trouble remembering the right names for my groceries but I do want people to understand me :) )

The props were also really well integrated into the performances. Often a performance can turn into “Look at me here with my isis wings” and the actual dancing gets rather left behind, but I didn’t see any of that. So those are my first impressions of what bellydance is like here, I’m sure my thoughts will change as I see more dancing and travel further.

The show was on Friday, then on Saturday and Sunday there were workshops with Karim Nagi. I don’t know if he’s been to the UK (he’s certainly travelled widely) but I don’t recall seeing his name at a festival before so it was great to be able to learn from someone new. Our first workshop was on maqamat and taqasim (hope I’ve spelt those acceptably!). With each maqam we would listen to it, sing it and talk about the emotions it evoked. With Western music I’m used to the ides that major scale = happy and minor scale = sad, but in Arabic music things are much more complicated and just one maqam can bring out a whole range of feelings, even just from a straightforward up and down the set of notes. It was the kind of workshop you could only get from a musician, we explored the music in much greater depth than I’ve done before but we were left in no doubt that really we’d only scratched the surface. Our second workshop was tahtib, and Stephanie had thoughtfully brought spares for everyone – I didn’t think I could get away with bringing my stick on the plane so I was very grateful! We began by just getting a feel for the music, Karim talked about how a man would use the assaya in everyday life, and how that was brough into the dance. Oh yes, we were doing the man’s style! This is something I’ve wanted to learn for a while. Many years ago I had a teacher who said that women shouldn’t do the “masculine” moves, I ignored that and carried on with my twirling. I’ve noticed more and more actual tahtib moves being done by dancers in Cairo though and I think it looks great, but I’ve lacked the knowledge – and the practice space! – to add it to my own dance. So even though  I was pretty bad at catching my assaya, especially in my left hand (Karim made us do everything on both sides!) I am determined to be able to do it.

It was a great day of workshops, held in a lovely studio (it belongs to another local teacher, Thia) which is just for bellydance. I would definitely go to more workshops with Karim and would recommend him highly as a teacher. I know a lot of people who would have loved that music workshop! From chatting to the other dancers I met it sounds like there is a lot going on locally and within the rest of the state so hopefully I will be sharing more adventures with you all soon :)

For the Record: (Some Of) My Teachers

I like to give credit when I can. I feel bad that the biographies I give to people don’t acknowledge all the people who have helped me become the dancer I am today, but as you’ll see, there are just so many of them! So here, in aphabetical order, is a list of people who I have learned from on at least two occasions (I started with a list of everyone who I have ever had a class or workshop with but it was much too long!):

Aida Nour
Anasma
Asmahan
Aziza
Beatrice Curtis
Bedru
Camelia
Candi
Dina
Eman Zaki
Galit Mersand
Gwen Booth
Heather Burby
Jim Boz
Jo Wise
Kay Taylor
Khaled Mahmoud
Leyla of Cairo
Lisa Michaela
Lorna Gow
Margaret Krause
Maria D’Silva
Melanie Norman
Mohamed El Hosseny
Nawarra
Pauline Sayhi
Princess Farhana
Rachel Brice
Raed Abd El Ghany
Randa Kamel
Raphaelle
Raqia Hassan
Samasem
Sara Farouk
Shafeek
Tara Lee-Oakley
Tracey Gibbs
Trish Rapley-Giles
Yasmina
Yousry Sharif
Yvette Cowles

Limiting myself to people I have learned from twice has meant leaving off some big names, so if I’ve left you off please don’t be offended because you’re keeping good company :) (with Fifi Abdo for one!). Even if I did include all those people the list would still be incomplete because it wouldn’t include the influences I’ve picked up from dancing alongside people, from watching dancers perform in shows and on video and also from seeing how they interact with other students, other professionals and musicians (and learning from those musicians too!). No dancer springs fully formed into this world, or is the protege and one true heir of Samia Gamal, and it’s silly to pretend otherwise. So to ALL my teachers – THANK YOU!

How did you start?

Chatting with some teacher friends the other day I was struck by the different ways we all came to bellydance. Some people start bellydancing for fun, for fitness, to make friends, to connect with their heritage, to learn about a new culture, to gain confidence, to do something a bit unusual…this is my story.

I was drawn to bellydance because I’d heard the “a dance by women, for women” line, which resonated nicely with my proto-feminist self. I remember saving an article about bellydance from a Sunday newspaper and going back to read it time and time again. When I saw a poster for classes in a local alternative/hippy type shop I went along and never looked back. Here I am 15 years later :)

Of course I soon learned that “by women, for women” wasn’t really true. Seeing Khaled dance for the first time definitely knocked any traces of that out of my head :) and he has been on of my very favourite dancers and teachers ever since. I think a lot of people probably have ideas about bellydance when they start which aren’t true – sometimes wishtory, fantasy or outright misinformation – but what you learn in class to replace those ideas is hopefully far more interesting than the fantasy and is what will keep you bellydancing for a long time!

So if my initial idea about what bellydancing was turned out to be wrong, what kept me doing it? Simply, I fell in love with the music and this way of moving. I’ve always loved music, but I didn’t spend my childhood dancing. I did the obligatory little girl ballet classes, then found that swimming suited me more so that was that. I’d watch my friends at school discos, unable to do what they did. It felt wrong on me, so I perfected the nervous teenage shuffle instead. Then I found bellydance and it just felt RIGHT. I don’t have a body suited for ballet, or jazz, or contemporary dance but with bellydance it didn’t matter if I wasn’t thin as a whippet, or couldn’t do the splits. I could move my hips and that was all that was needed.

Of course there are other things that have kept me dancing and part of the dance community, principally the wonderful people I’ve met along the way, but it was that initial “Hey, I CAN do this!” that got me hooked.

Practice, practice, practice

Few dancers actually want to be full time professionals, but lots of dancers want to dance at that level and I’m sure all want be the very best dancer they can be. Every dancer knows that the only way to improve is to practice. The way you practice will change as you develop as a dancer. But how do you go about structuring that practice to make it effective? There are plenty of DVDs out there to help you, but I think that an important part of finding your own voice as a dancer is deciding how you dance when there is noone to tell you what to do. What works for your DVD teacher may not always work for you. At the risk of totally negating this entire post before I even start, the best person to decide how you practice is you. All I’m going to do is give you some suggestions.

[Important disclaimer: I am not responsible for what you do outside of classes! You are responsible for making sure you are dancing safely.]

What to Practice?
Probably the most important question to answer! The temptation is always to try and practice everything, every time, but this simply isn’t possible. If you’re attending weekly classes then it makes sense to practice what you’ve learned in class that week. Your teacher will have explained the technique to you and hopefully also given you some feedback so you know what corrections to make. Take notes at the end of class to remind you. You’ll probably be building on what you’ve learned in the next class and if you’ve got a strong grasp of the material it will be easier.

If you’re not attending weekly classes then choosing what to include in your practice can be harder. Again, avoid the temptation to try and do EVERYTHING. You might decide to focus on a particular area (such as fluidity, sagat, travelling or shimmy layering) and work on that for a few weeks or months, then pick a different topic. You could draw up a programme for yourself where you work alternate topics on different days, for example, day 1, 3, 5 taqs and shimmies, day 2, 4, 6 figure eights. Day 7 rest – rest is important! Sometimes I like to go back to basics and focus on core technique for a while, other times I’ll work on moves and combinations I’ve learned in a workshop. Having a plan which you can use for a few weeks will mean that when you’ve got time to practice you can start straight away, without worrying about what you’re going to do that day. If you’ve got a performance coming up spend more time running through your choreography for that and do less technique. Let your practice be fluid, adapt it to what you need.

How long should you practice?
If I give you a specific figure I can guarantee that someone will comment and say “Oh but [genre] dancers practice for [that number plus four] hours every day! We should be doing that!”. Sure, the more you practice the better you will get but be smart about your practice, there is no point flogging yourself to death for three hours every day if you’re tired and miserable by the end of the first hour. That will just leave you feeling resentful the next time you come to practice, less likely to work hard and more likely to stop early.

Busy lifestyles can make it hard to find time to practice, but don’t beat yourself up about it and remember that little and often is very effective. When you’re a beginner just a few minutes here and there will make a big difference. Try practicing your shimmy while you boil the kettle for your tea ?. If you’re a professional/teacher level dancer then you should aim to be doing more, but be realistic. Most professional bellydancers have day jobs and families and lives outside of the dance world so I would say do what you can, when you can and make it as effective as possible. It’s the teachers who think they don’t need to learn or practice any more who worry me!

Also consider what time of day you practice – I know I work much better in the morning than the afternoon.

Where to practice?
Very few people have the luxury of a home studio but if you have a room at home with a big mirror that will do nicely. Watching yourself practice will help you pick up on mistakes quickly and let you see what really looks good on you. If you don’t have a mirror try recording yourself, then watch the video and make notes on areas you need to improve. Don’t try and correct all the mistakes all at once, pick a couple and work on those.

So you’ve found a suitable space and set aside an hour to work, you’ve made a list of what you want to cover – what next?

How do you practice?
Whatever else you’re doing, start with a warm up. This is where a DVD can really help you, although some DVDs will assume you already know how to warm up and don’t include one. If you don’t know how to do an effective warm up, ask your teacher. Spend around ten minutes warming up. Then, simply work through your list! I have a playlist of songs, all with a steady beat and lasting around four minutes, and I use one song for each move or combination on my list. Say my first move is circles – I’ll start with a basic hip circle then think about adding arm shapes, travelling, direction changes, layering with a shimmy etc. and that easily takes up one song. Repeat for as many moves as you like. I recommend you leave yourself some time for free dancing at the end, not only is it good to practice your improvisation but it will help you see what moves are starting to “stick” from the rest of your practice. Allow yourself time to cool down and stretch, and use this time to focus on any areas of your body that really need it. In classes and on DVDs you’ll usually get a good all round stretching routine, when you’re on your own you can take time to personalise it.

So there you go – it’s pretty simple really! If you want help in structuring your practice, or deciding what areas you need to work on then your teacher can help. If you don’t have a regular teacher then consider having a private lesson or signing up for the JWAAD Personal Development Programme. I also offer a workshop on daily drills which will allow you to see how I put these ideas into practice (as it were!).

Spirit of Egypt and Celebrating Dance

October was a busy month!

Early on this year I signed up for Spirit of Egypt, a show being produced by Yasmina of Cairo. The idea was that a small group of dancers would spend five days learning her choreographies, and then perform them in a show on Saturday night at Jewel of Yorkshire. When Kay of Farida Dance asked me if I would like to be part of this how could I possibly say no? So a few weeks ago I turned up at Victoria Hall in Saltaire with around 16 other dancers (including almost all of the Peacock Project!) to find out what we’d actually let ourselves in for. Our pre-course instructions had included requests to bring umbrellas, sun cream and jeans so it was all quite exciting!

We were going to perform four tracks from Yasmina’s latest album “Nawader”, which had been composed with the show in mind. A magency, an Oriental rumba, an Alexandrian beach tableau and a street tableau “Sharia el Fen” (the street of art) based on the idea of the famous Mohammed Ali street in Cairo where musicians and dancers lived.

Yasmina is a very creative and innovative choreographer and straight away we were into something I had never seen before – a wheel of veils! It took some practice to get used to spacing ourselves out and moving to see the wheel at its best without accidentally pulling it apart. It looked amazing in performance, the photos show all the glowing colours. The magency continued with more straightforward dancing, some saidi girls with sticks and a finale featuring all the dancers and props. The riot of colour and movment was followed by the more serene rumba, opening with a graceful solo by Natalie and some gorgeous partner dancing by three couples.

Then it was into the tableaus! The Alexandrian one was the one I had been most excited about after Zafirah told me about the sneak preview she had been given and we were shown our beach outfits. Cute tops and skirts all covered in polka dots! It was a shame to have to give them back. We entered the stage wrapped in brightly coloured melayas – dancers will know that there are two styles of melaya lef, from Cairo and Alexandria – which then became our beach towels! The middle section of the dance was a beautifully acted swimming scene followed by a dance with parasols. “Sharia el Fen” opened with a dance from the girls who lived there along with the local Ma’alima (boss lady – think Fifi Abdo!) played by Sandra, along with a pair of musicians who will have looked very familiar to anyone who has ever frequented the Farida stall… :) we had a short baladi interlude, a drum solo competition and finally everything was brought up to date with some shaabi.

The show was around 25 minutes long and I think we did really well to learn it! Of course it would have been nice to have a little more time to iron out the changeovers – things were  little frantic backstage at times – but I don’t think we had any major disasters. The missing umbrella came close :) but was found in time. It was hard work and sometimes we had to push on even though everyone was tired and not thinking straight in order to get through everything. Then in the evenings there was practice in our apartments and sewing to be getting on with. Kay and Yasmina had loaned us costumes but they all had to have minor alterations. It was a very useful experience for me and I’m glad I got to be part of such an exciting project. I hope that when Yasmina takes the show on tour the other groups who take part enjoy it just as much.

Two weeks after Jewel of Yorkshire I was off again, this time to Torquay for my second visit to Celebrating Dance run by Afra Al Kahira. Quite a few delegates remembered me from last time which was nice! Celebrating Dance is a very civilised festival. We all stay in the hotel, all the workshops and shows are there and we get breakfast and a three course meal each night. Meals are very important on a dance weekend! Everything kicked off on Friday night with a showcase by local dancers. It wasn’t a very late night because workshops started at nine the next morning and ran all day. I taught two workshops. The first was a choreography to “Ya Msafer Wahdak” which has little touches of flamenco. I was really pleased by how well the dancers picked it up, we learned the whole dance and even had time to do a little skirt work at the end. My second workshop was on Sunday morning and I had promised it would be nice and easy, all about moving slowly and taking your time but of course dancing is never that simple and actually there was a lot to think about! When I teach a new group I’m always nervous about asking them to improvise because it is a skill which still isn’t taught as widely or as well as it should be, but happily that was not a problem and they all took on board the ideas I gave them. In fact a lot of the dancers said how much they enjoyed it and they felt much more confident at the end.

There was a teachers showcase on Saturday night featuring (in alphabetical order for fairness!) Artemisia, Khalida, Kitty Kohl, Queenie, Sophie Armoza, Vashti and Zafirah. Sadly Nikki was unable to perform so I stepped in to open the first half in a costume which Vashti had very kindly let me borrow. It was lovely to be part of such a high quality show and see dancers in real life who I normally only see online. I rather lowered the tone with my shaabi, but you’ll all be used to that by now… :)

Jewel of Yorkshire and Celebrating Dance are two excellent events which I thoroughly recommend. Next year JoY will be featuring Randa Kamel amongst others but you’ll have to act quickly, at the time of writing one of her workshops has already sold out and the others are very close. There will be plenty of other high quality teachers to learn from.

Review: Shimmy in the City

As you know, my weekend started with the competition. I must say how well it was run this year, the team was very efficient and kept everything moving so we were finished in time for the open stage to start (or to go and find some food before the hafla!). The Peacock Project was an unofficial third in the group competition – “unofficial” because only first and second place were announced at the hafla but when we spoke to Orit later in the weekend she told us we were ranked third. Not bad going!

The hafla was in the same room at the Fairfield Halls in the evening, and there was a band! They played lots of classics and the dancefloor was soon full. We didn’t really get any impromptu performances although Orit went round the tables getting people up and the other stars got up and joined us all on the dancefloor. It’s pretty awesome to be dancing away and then realise Aziza is dancing next to you! It would have been nice to have some party music playing when the band were taking their breaks, but the quiet music did allow for chatting with friends. So much chatting that Nikki, Candi and I were the last ones there and had to be thrown out!

Last ones standing

Go Home!

I had booked myself onto all of Dina’s workshops because I have been wanting to learn from her FOREVER. She did not disappoint. She is an excellent teacher and it was so interesting to learn about her style of dancing, it’s very different to what I’m used to. Her technique workshop went at a cracking pace. The two choreography workshops (shaabi and Oum Kalsoum) were also pretty challenging, with lots of Dina’s characteristic footwork which looks so easy when she does it but is actually very complicated! We got so muddled up at one point that she had to simplify the step pattern for us. Predictably, the workshops were a scrum, although there was space for everyone and Dina was on a stage so she was easier to see. She was also very good at making everyone sit down while she demonstrated. I highly recommend taking a workshop with her if you have the chance. I also popped in to Orit’s shaabi workshop, just because I thought it would be fun, and it was! I felt like we finished a little early, but maybe everyone was a bit tired by then and didn’t want to do much more.

What can I say about the show…..FANTASTIC. What a line up! In fact I don’t need to say anything because you can just watch the DVD trailer:

 

Two sets of really high quality performances and then a full show from Dina! Time just flies when Dina performs, an hour goes by in a flash.

So there you go, despite what happened at the competition I had a super weekend and I’m sure I’ll be back next year.

Checking in from the pool

This morning I woke up to my phone reminding me that  online check in had opened, which means that in 24 hours I’ll be on a plane home and this adventure will have come to an end :(

This is where I am right now:

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I’m not a sun worshipper so I haven’t been out here much, and while I’m here I’m sheltering under one of the canopy beds, but since this is my last day I thought I’d catch a little sun before heading back to England. I gather you’ve been having a spot of rain :)

If you’ve been following me on Facebook you’ll know already that I had a pretty good night last night. It was the competition and I’m through to the final! I still can’t believe it. I was so nervous when I got on stage and felt disoriented by the lights and though I recovered I didn’t think it would be enough, especially after I watched all the other dancers. I guess Randa was in a generous and forgiving mood :) I haven’t spoken to her yet, she left before the results were announced. Randa hates competitions! It’s really good of her to do it anyway, it’s such a good learning experience. She said afterwards that everyone was good, everyone was a professional and had their own

Tonight is the final, with the band. We all had to give a shortlist of songs and Randa has chosen what we’re going to dance to. I got “Esmaooni” which I’m very happy about. I danced to “Fi Youm Wa Leyla” last night so it’s been an all-Warda competition for me! At the moment I’m not feeling as nervous as I was yesterday, I’m just so happy to have been given this opportunity and tonight I want to enjoy myself. I won’t place but I’ll tell you all about it later. Lots of dancers are going to be dancing with the band as part of the show and I’m really looking forward to watching them.

Keeping busy

A quick lunchtime update. I have completely lost track of what day it is! Two days ago we were learning baladi with a relatively simple choreography so we could really get the feeling of it. We’ve been given translations to all the songs we’re using and it’s good to see how the moves relate to the words. After snatching a few hours of sleep most people headed out to the Tivoli, a cabaret, to see the dancers.These weren’t famous dancers lie the ones who travel and teach, these were ordinary working dancers. There was a little bit of false advertising going on though:

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That’s Asmahan on the poster and I bet she’s never danced there! We saw two dancers and two singers. The dancers were quite reserved, almost shy, but then how would you be if you knew Randa was sitting in your audience? The first dancer invited her up and when Randa got going her face dropped but she rallied and carried on. Randa danced “El Eh Besalowni” and “Inta Omri” for us which was really special. I have video of her brother Fady giving her a money shower which I’ll try and put up when I get back. I learned a thing about money showers, I didn’t realise that they were essentially toy money. You might have a stack of £1000 but really it’s play money that you paid £100 for. Knowing that didn’t detract from the fun of seeing the men toss the bills around.

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This was a really late night and we left just as things were getting going – 4am! Fortunately yesterday was our day off, spent by a swimming pool followed by lunch and a folklore show with endearingly ropey dancers.  There’s always one or two who know the steps and the others are desperately following along. The bellydancer was good though and of course we all had a dance too.

I left early with a small group who were going to another show. We had all of 15 minutes at the hotel to make ourselves presentable then it was off to the Nile Maxim again to see Asmahan. I hadn’t been too sure about going back but when I heard Asmahan was dancing that was it, I HAD to go. I saw her in London last year and loved her but I’ve never seen her dance in Cairo. It wasn’t her full show with boy dancers and a grand entrance but it was still incredible. Asmahan is so powerful and her presence just fills the room, but she has a great sense of humour that goes with it. I think she appreciated two tables of excitable bellydancers, we were certainly the loudest people in the room. She got her band to play “Batwannes Beek” for us which was lovely. I had such a nice time.

Right, better leave it there because I need to head back down to find out when I’m dancing in the competition! Eeek!

First day of the course

As I may have mentioned, once or twice, I’m in Egypt again doing Randa Kamel’s week long course. I arrived late on Tuesday night (well,technically it was early on Wednesday morning) then had a relaxing morning getting to meet some of the new girls and catching up with returning students. I’m not the only one who thinks the course is worth doing again, in fact I think most people here have done it once (or even twice!) before. Randa has that sort of effect on you :) it’s a fantastic atmosphere, it’s like being at a family reunion. We all live so far away but dance has brought us together.

Last night was the opening show at the Nile Maxim. We were met off the coach by a group of saidi dancers. Wow, mizmars are loud! They played and danced and sang for us, of course we danced as well, especially when the pantomime horse came out! I do love a pantomime horse. They were followed by a tannoura set and then finally we were allowed on the boat itself.

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I’m going to have to apologise to you because I took almost no photos of the show! I don’t like watching from behind a camera and I know that out official photographer Tracey Gibbs will have some spectacular pictures so I decided not to bother. It was a FANTASTIC show. Randa danced oriental, saidi, Alexandrian, shaabi and baladi. She is incredible and I think the love and cheers and clapping from all around the room lifted her even higher. Some of us may have had a few tears in our eyes :) when I watch Randa I just think “YES. THIS is what it’s about, this is why I dance!”

I will share one photo, and this one I took especially for Candi to show that all the best people stand on chairs!

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We also had some bamboutiyya and saidi from Bedru, who is teaching our warm ups and folklore this time. I think he was at a bit of a disadvantage coming on after Randa and her band. As a special treat we also had the singer Rico and his band, who had us all up dancing, and finally a fashion show with a rather incongruous soundtrack of 80s cheese! I think some of the Egyptians were slightly baffled by our YMCA conga but they joined in anyway :)

It was a brilliant was to start the week but there were some tired faces at breakfast this morning. Randa went easy on us with some gentle technique, looking at ways to get on stage with different rhythms. I learned some new rhythms, which was good, and new ways for thinking about an entrance. We continued this afternoon by thinking about choreography but everything descended into chaos when two delicious cakes arrived for two birthday girls. You can’t keep dancers away from cake for too long.

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One last photo for you:  this is the new poster in the ballroom to inspire us as we dance. Imagine my delight when I realised that not only were there lovely pictures of Randa, but also the silhouette of that dancer! You’ll have to look quite carefully but I promise you that she’s there.

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JWAAD Personal Development Programme

After you’ve been bellydancing for a few years it’s not unusual to reach a point where you’ve outgrown (or think you’ve outgrown 😉 ) the classes available to you locally. Teachers are not always able to offer advanced classes, either because the demand is not sufficient to make a viable class, or because they themselves haven’t reached an advanced level of dancing. So what do you do next if you want to continue growing as a dancer?

My solution to this problem was to take the money I had been spending on regular classes and spend it on workshops instead. That way I could learn whatever I liked from whoever I liked at a high level. I recommend everyone take as many workshops as they can manage at every stage of their dance career. The only problem with using workshops as your only tuition is that you often don’t get much (or any) feedback on your dancing. 30 dancers in a 2 hour workshop – you do the maths. It can be easy to fall into bad habits, to become lazy and to find that your progress has stalled.

Private lessons can be a good way to give yourself a reality check. They require a certain amount of commitment from a student in terms of time and money so make sure you choose a teacher who will give you what you want and, more importantly, what you need. If all you want is a pat on the head, don’t bother. If you want constructive feedback to help you progress and you are prepared to put the work in between classes then private lessons are a good way to go.

For dancers who find themselves in the situation where you don’t quite know what do to next there is a new programme that might help you: the JWAAD Personal Development Programme. I am one of the National Assessors* and you can read about what I can offer you here. The programme is centred around technique assessments which will be familiar to anyone who has done a JWAAD Foundation or Diploma course. As part of my Diploma course I did three, then did a fourth one afterwards just for fun! I think they are universally acknowledged to be the most scary part of the courses. You dance, the assessor assesses you. I was pretty terrified when I did my first assessment with Jo, but she corrected a problem with my posture that I didn’t even know about and that made a huge improvement to my dancing. At every assessment I was given something new to work on and by the end I was a much, much better dancer. The assessment process has changed a little since then. Most noticeably you are given a description of the levels in advance so you know what kind of thing the assessor will be looking for, which will remove a lot of the fear. It is all centred around principles of movement and it is desirable to have your own style – we’re not trying to create an army of clones!

You don’t have to be enrolled on a JWAAD course to take part in the programme, it is for anyone who wants an appraisal of their dancing and guidance for how to take it to the next level. Get in touch if you’d like to know more.

*(If you’re one of my regular students don’t panic! I’m not going to watch you all and mentally go through my tick sheet, or start making you take assessments before you can move up a level.)