Before Your First Class
Things to think about before taking a belly dance class.
Starting something new can be frightening for anyone. You may be even more apprehensive about learning belly dance because it has so much to do with your body. This article will describe what is, in my humble opinion, the ideal approach to learning this new form of movement. These are things I will tell any new student who wishes to learn from me; things I think everyone must confront in order to learn this art form with total ease and enjoyment.
Sad But True
There is some sort of unspoken feeling among many American women that they can not under any circumstances be happy with the way they look. In an age of plastic surgery and youth-ruled media, the everyday woman is made to feel an alien in her own skin. Ask yourself what you would do to change your body if you could afford plastic surgery. Perhaps you would increase your bust size or remove excess fat? Maybe you would erase some wrinkles here and there? In many cultures a voluptuous woman is a well fed woman. So, to have a full figure is to be wealthy enough to eat a healthy amount of food. In the Gulf Region women perform a dance that showcases their long, healthy hair and their expensive jewelry and dresses, not the size of their bodies. It's hard to think of these things in a country that thrives on a super skinny ideal that so few can attain. To be a woman is to be a soft and sensual being. And to be a student and/or performer of Raks Sharqi is to love who you are enough to let your body move whatever size and shape it may be.
In addition to how many women feel about their appearance there is also the feeling that to move certain parts of the body in certain ways is taboo. Wiggling the hips is nasty, shaking the butt is wrong and god forbid you should get any of the fat on your body jiggling in conjunction with these things! It is true that many of the movements used in this dance are sensual by American standards. However, keep in mind this is a dance form from a completely different part of the world where not only physical standards are different, but also where the music is completely different. The movements in this dance are made to interpret the music. You will be required to shake your hips, snake your hips and move your pelvis in your dance classes and with the right mind set from the start, you will have a lot of fun doing so.
What About Men?
Though Raks Sharqi is viewed by most to be a women's dance there have been a few men from around the world who have had the courage to enter the ranks of belly dancer. However, not all teachers will accept male students in their classes or even as private students. If you are interested in taking classes it is a good idea to call the instructor before hand (which usually wouldn't apply for a male teacher) and ask if he or she accepts male students in weekly classes.
It might make the instructor's other students uncomfortable to have a man around, so you may have to arrange for private lessons. Unfortunately, it might turn out that you have to pay more to learn this dance. Here are links to a few male dancers: Kamaal (CA), Mayodi (France) , Zorba (CA).
Get Acquainted With Yourself
Before you enter your very first Raks Sharqi class, especially if you've had no prior dance training, I suggest putting on your favorite music and moving too it. Don't worry about how you look. Just focus on moving your body through space. Try using large dramatic movements, then switching to smaller movements. Even just walking to the beat of the music will help. Try to pay attention to how your muscles react with these movements and focus on keeping your torso extended (by engaging your abdominal muscles and lifting your chest) and your arms away from your body. Try to imagine you are walking through a room filled with bubble gum or taffy. Sure, it sounds ridiculous and probably feels pretty silly too, but anything you can do to get comfortable with moving your own weight through space will better prepare you for your first class.
Dress for the Occasion
Now that you are completely happy with your body (=D) and you are comfortable with moving it around you will want to make sure you have the proper attire for your class. Every teacher is different. Some teachers will allow you to wear skirts in class, others don't mind a semi-loose outfit. But almost every teacher will want you to wear something that allows him or her to see the shape of your body. The reason behind this is because the easier it is to see what you are doing while they teach the easier it is for them to correct any posture mistakes you are making. Posture mistakes can make you unable to execute a movement, they can even cause injury. It is a very good idea to look at what other students are wearing and adjust your clothing accordingly. If you aren't sure about what your teacher is looking for in attire, be sure to ask him or her after class.
You will also want to get some sort of fringed scarf or coin belt to tie around your hips. In addition to looking pretty, they accentuate the hips and can indicate whether movement is occurring in the hips when they are supposed to be still. Many teachers have supplies for their students to purchase. If yours does not, you can find a few places online in my links section.
It takes quite a bit of courage to learn something new, especially if it requires so many changes in the way you think and the way you move your body. If you decide to stick with it, you will find the benefits of this dance are endless. Whether you are only interested in getting into better shape or you think you'd like to become a professional dancer in the future, it is important to remember to have a good time with it. The more fun you have, the less you'll notice the aches and pains of those muscles and the more fun your future audiences will have.