To the beginner bellydancer..

Congratulations on embarking on your dance journey. Welcome to the alternate reality of beads, tassels, zils and coins. A worldwide booming community collectively exploring many different styles and variations. However conformist or outlandish you are, I guarantee you will find a niche that fits.

In the western world, bellydance is unusual in comparison to most other dance genres, in that people most often start as adults, often with little or no previous dance experience. As such it can raise some unique challenges. Starting out in adulthood can be very confronting for some people. What you are struggling with is not your lack of’s your FEAR: of being not good enough, of being seen, unrealistic expectations. Body image issues also regularly surface.

Fear has many faces: don’t indulge it. Stay aware and in control of the headspace you’re in.

A couple of times I have had students have come for a term then disappear. When I happened to bump into them months later, they say, oh I was just crap at it. Nope. They were doing just as well as the rest of the class. They were being too hard on themselves.

It’s also a product of instant gratification thinking – lot of people want to be a dancer – but only if they nail it in 6 months.

Many of the body isolations and patterns of movement are not used in everyday life. It’s literally learning a new mode of moving, not just new steps. As such, most people feel and look awkward for a few months. I say this not to discourage, but to support – it helps to be realistic. Cut yourself some slack.

The other thing it is important to note is that the rate of progress is not constant. People often plateau for a while. Then as the body frees up and something clicks in the brain, they suddenly nail several moves.

The mirror is your friend! The instant feedback of a mirror really fast tracks learning. But if you’re too busy comparing your moves to everyone else or body shaming yourself, you can’t learn or enjoy. A brain seething with frustration or anxiety cannot absorb efficiently.

Let your inner voice be a mentor and supporter. Perfectionism is the death of creativity and growth.

And of course, watch for external influences. Like any new creative endeavour, the early stages are new buds, sensitive to frost. Be careful of the other people who are your frost. Don’t buy into friends/ offspring/ workmates/ partners who undermine you, tell you are too old, selfish, you are making a fool of yourself, whatever it may be.

Your life is your business – and you only get one shot at it. There is nothing selfish or stupid about taking out a couple of hours every week to do something creative and social that keeps you fit. I have seen many times over the burst of personal growth and confidence that comes with dancing.

So find the style of music and movement that calls you, the studio with the sort of culture and vibe that feels right. Some people like to be challenged and pushed to progress, others need to be treated more gently. Don’t be afraid to shop around for the right teacher for you; that inspires, energises, corrects but doesn’t squish you.


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