“What should I wear to class?” is a pretty common question when people first start bellydancing, but as an instructor it’s not one I ask myself very often. Then this past week I was watching trailers for various online classes and noticed that one particular teacher appeared to be teaching in a full performance costume. OK, so maybe this was just for the trailer but it got me wondering whether dressing up for class is the norm. Not necessarily in full costume – I’m pretty sure that’s unusual – but making more of an effort than I do.
I have very basic teaching outfits: trousers and a lycra vest top with a scarf round my hips. It isn’t even an exciting beaded or jingly scarf! Not because I’m the kind of spoilsport teacher who bans coin belts – for the record I am all in favour of them unless we’re dancing with sagat 🙂 – but because those scarves just can’t cope with the wear and tear I put them through. But now I’m worried that my students might be expecting a teacher festooned with scarves and dripping with sequins or they might used to seeing teachers in brightly coloured branded dancewear *cough*zumba*cough*. Am I a disappointment?
I have good reasons for dressing like I do. I remember the very first teacher I went to, who used to dress up for classes. She would have layers and layers of artfully arranged skirts and shawls, bracelets all the way up her arms, hair flowers and decorations – the kind of “gypsy” boho mashup which comes into fashion every few years. I thought she looked great! It wasn’t until I went back to her class after a year or so (this was when I was away at university) that I noticed that whilst all those layers made her hip movements very impressive they also made it kind of hard to see what she was actually doing. I didn’t go to any more classes with her because since I couldn’t see, I couldn’t learn. When I started teaching I wore outfits which meant it was easy for students to see how my body was moving. As regular students of mine know I will also roll up my top to show my midriff and hoick my trouser legs out of the way if I want them to get a really good look! Some teachers go down the route of the lycra catsuit which allows plenty of visibility, but those remind me of leotards in school PE lessons and give me the shivers 🙂
So I want students to be able to see what I’m doing. I also want to keep my classes affordable. One of the many things I love about bellydance is the fact that you don’t need to spend a fortune on the gear just to get started. With a lot of other dance forms you’re going to need at the very least a decent pair of shoes or trainers early on. My very basic flamenco shoes and skirt required a special trip to London and weren’t exactly cheap. With bellydance you just turn up to class, with a scarf if you’ve got one (but it’s not essential), and you’re good to go! I don’t want anyone to feel under pressure to dress a certain way to fit in, especially when they’re just starting out. I do love seeing the bellydance classwear that my students acquire over time but I hope that my Tesco Value look reassures the ones who choose not to.
Finally, I teach four or five days a week – I need robust workout clothes that last! I do like the fancy dance pants from Sharifwear and Melodia Designs (I wore my first pair of Melodias until the seams wore out!) but I rarely wear them outside of workshops and party lessons because they are made from delicate fabrics and you can’t just chuck them in the machine on a regular wash cycle. I am a practical woman at heart.
So there you go. I may look like I’m got lost on my way to the gym – well, apart from the scarf and the makeup 🙂 – but I’ve thought it through and I hope that my students can look past my unassuming appearance once we start dancing.