ATTITUDE & Teaching

'Don't wait for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Stride down there and light the thing, yourself.'

‘Life is a jigsaw puzzle, with no picture on the box’

The most difficult lesson for older women to learn – is how to overcome their upbringing – the rules which were drilled into their minds from infancy:

‘Do not wiggle your hips’; ‘Do not flaunt your bosom’ (once you started to develop); ‘Don’t show off’; ‘Don’t draw attention to yourself’; ‘Sit with your knees closed’; and the most often repeated instruction –

"If you act like a lady, you will be treated like a lady".

To ENJOY bellydancing, you must unlearn all these Do Nots/instructions – except the last one. That one still holds true in any situation. Always act like a lady; this makes men feel like gentlemen, and they like that - they feel 'special'.
You will find that, as you progress into the intricacies of the dance, you will understand that you are NOT flaunting your body – you are expressing your inner self. The self you have always been instructed to suppress.
You will find a newborn sense of ‘me’. You will be thrilled to experience your femininity. You will learn to "FLY" and release your soul. You will learn to be WOMAN.
Many older women, when first experiencing bellydancing, find that they cannot make LARGE movements with their arms. Their torsos are rigid and unyielding and they cannot raise their eyes to look at anyone else in the class.
Try to allow yourself six months' trial, before deciding that bellydancing is not for you. You will never look back. Your friends will see a new person. Your husband will discover he has a new and exciting wife. You will feel much more calm and ‘laid back’ and let minor hassles just wash over you.
Once you are more relaxed with yourself and can accept that your body movements are an expression of the music; you will find a whole new world, which you did not know existed. Think of yourself as the music. Think of yourself as a musical note dancing to the tune. Think of yourself as anything other than an ‘older woman’. You could have at least 30 years of dancing ahead of you. Enjoy yourself.
Discarding your inhibitions will improve the intimate areas of your life. Older women, having matured prior to the release of the Contraceptive Pill, grew up knowing that the only reliable form of contraception was the word ‘NO’. When you mature with a specific mind-set, that will remain with you all your life, unless you deliberately work at changing your attitude. Bellydancing will free your mind as well as your body.
Women who come from a domestic or other violence situation, or a relationship breakdown are extremely 'up-tight' and find they cannot move their bodies. Many women cannot 'squat', but once they loosen up their minds, their bodies relax and they find they can spread their knees and squat. Once they overcome this major hurdle, they are well on their way to becoming dancers. I kept urging one dancer to 'lift your head' as she would dance with her head bowed down and her body in a sort of crouch. She eventually said, "Cop This Lot!" and danced with a proud lift to her chin and a smile on her face. She had made her break-through.
Do not try to get into other people’s heads (especially your adult children) and worry about what they are thinking. They have to live their own lives. You have to live yours. You have no need to worry, or care, about what people think about your dancing. The nice people will be happy for you, when they see how much you are enjoying yourself. The others don’t exist.
This is your play time. You have earned this time for yourself. Many women are treating 'belly' dance as a form of gentle exercise; the graceful hip drops, rolls and pivots activate all the muscle groups in the torso, the spine, the neck - following the body's natural inclinations and not forcing it into un-natural movements as in classical dance, such as ballet.
The spine does not hold your body together, the muscles and ligaments hold the spine together - hence, the stronger those muscles and ligaments, the stronger your spine. The stronger and more flexible your spine, the less chance of injury or chronic pain.
Moving the hips, lower back and all other joints, gently though a full range of movements increases the flow of synovial fluid (nature's lubricant). When the Basic Stance - knees slightly bent, pelvis tilted to tuck in your 'bottom' - becomes second nature, you will find you cannot return to your old slouch.... back problems will disappear. Your muscles, not your bones, should support your weight.
All these movements will reduce the effects of stress. Stress causes contractions/spasms in muscles, such as the neck, shoulders and back – if you hear ‘noises’ when you move your head, this is an indication that your shoulders are tense. Muscle contraction decreases the flow of blood to these muscles and increases the build-up of lactic acid. Lactic acid build-up causes soreness in muscles.
Feel you have 'big feet'‌ The length of your foot is equal to the length of your arm between wrist and elbow. Small feet means short if you delight in willowy arm movements...value your big feet.
You can enjoy belly dancing without any pressure or compulsion to become a 'professional' dancer. 'Belly' dancing is a corruption of the word Baladi, pronounced Beh Leh Dee, which means 'of the people'. . . . . . Country Dancing.
Audiences are not interested in whether your technique is 'perfect', their enjoyment comes from watching dancers who are obviously enjoying themselves - if the dancers are seriously concentrating on doing it 'right' and watching each other to make sure they are 'in time', then there will be no sense of JOY. Dancers who are having FUN will energise the audience who will want to share in the fun.
Belly dancing is for ordinary people. Belly dancing is for YOU. ENJOY!


"We need to redefine age. Anything up to 60 is young.

60 to 80 is middle age and over 90 is elderly".

Ita Buttrose.

‘When people show you who they are -

Believe them the first time’

Maya Angelou


You cannot teach someone – she has to LEARN

Why not go out on a limb‌

that's where the fruit is

This is a major learning curve. You are dealing with a whole group of egos and personalities, not least of which are your own. You need to be able to lead these budding dancers into the light.... to let them understand that the dance is THEIR dance and not just a matter of aping the teacher.... monkey see, monkey do. If a teacher insists on the students all dancing in exactly the way she dances, she ensures they will never outshine her and will remain perpetually inept. If a teacher encourages each dancer to dance her own dance and move the way her body wants to move, she will be instrumental in the development of some superb dancers.
The dancers have to learn to LISTEN to the music and let their bodies flow and react to what their feelings tell them. This is very difficult for them if they have never danced before.
In the Arabic countries, Baladi is learned from infancy, so the children learn to interpret the music according to their own feelings. This is what Western dancers have to learn as adults.
I have found that it is best to teach new dancers one or two simple structured dances, so they learn to move as a cohesive group, then to teach them un-structured dances, where they have to listen to the music and feel the moves, which the music creates for them. New dancers who have not previously heard Middle Eastern music complain that they cannot hear 'the tune'. These dancers tend to dance only to the rhythm. It is a real joy when you see them doing movements to the melody.
They tend to feel they are very scrappy and just flitting around, but I tell them that it is all movement and colour and they look absolutely beautiful when I look at them without my glasses ( I always dance without my glasses)... this raises a good laugh and stops them feeling so intense. It is DANCE. It is FUN. Why take it so seriously‌

A VIDEO CAMERA is about the most valuable tool in which you can invest... especially if you can persuade a non-dancer (a husband) to become cameraman. He can film classes and performances and you can study the video later when you are not all hyped up. If it is impossible to find a cameraman, you can have your camera fitted with a wide-angle lens and set it up where it will capture most of the area your dancers will be using. Works pretty well and you can all see, afterwards, what you looked like to the audience. Great fun!
I have noticed things I never noticed during class and can help that particular dancer to work through her problems with any particular move.
The dancers can see themselves as they dance and not just their fronts as in the mirror. They improve rapidly when they see what their hands, hips, feet are doing - what they look like from behind.
What I do with my class is start with a warm-up very gently, posture, correct breathing, stretching and it gets more and more active as we loosen up, until we are going through ALL the moves they have learned so far. It is all part of the routine and we do this EVERY class, as it helps them to become more flexible and also helps me to correct any imperfections in their movements as I can concentrate on them one by one as more and more of them learn the moves. Also the older (longer term) ones are helping the newies, which is great as I can't be everywhere at once and it holds up the entire class if I try to do one-on-one each time we get a raw beginner (which seems to be almost every week).

Once we have gone through all the moves they know, I throw in a couple of new moves, or only one if it is a difficult one like the Egyptian Walk. Talking about the Egyptian Walk – I have recently taken to saying, ‘This is the SECOND most difficult move you will learn. The most difficult is to put tension on the muscles on either side of your mouth so that the sides of you mouth pull upwards in what is known as a SMILE!’. This always generates a big laugh.

Anyhow, after this sort of exercise session, we move onto actually DANCING. I have a chorus line dance which lasts 59 seconds and everybody does exactly the same thing. This gives the raw beginners a push start.
Then we take our veils (I show them basic veil moves in the warm-up session) and form a large circle travelling counter-clockwise. They all do their own thing using the moves they have learned and as they learn more moves, they include them in their dance. As they gain confidence they find they are able to LISTEN to the music. They love it and find the music ‘speaks’ to them.

I am TRULY, TRULY enjoying teaching and this is a total surprise to me – but I had a truly astounding experience just recently. It was my 400th class since I started teaching and several of the girls have been learning for at least 6 years, I have a mixed class of raw beginners and more advanced and find the dancers tend to help the newcomers, and it makes the newcomers work a bit harder trying to follow the dances. We have a series of 8 set dances and although I have changed them over the years as I learnt more and more about choreography and working with a ‘group mind’ – they are all in their sixties and seventies and not as malleable as younger dancers - I have pretty well settled on the 8 dances we use now and we go through as many as possible during each lesson just to keep the dancers ‘up to speed’ or they forget them, as do I. However, on this particular day, for some reason, there wasn’t a single brain in use during the session. Even the experienced dancers acted as though they had never seen the dances before. Perhaps the moon was on the point of decline, or the Earth had tilted, or all the stars in the Southern Cross had become scrambled, but for some reason the class was a total shambles.

I mentioned this to an e-pal who teaches in Tennessee and she said it is a known phenomenon that a whole group will suddenly develop a mob mind and act really stupid.
I hope I never experience this again. It left me feeling quite angry and usually I leave the class on a HIGH.

Many women living in towns (all over the world), where there are no belly dance classes have contacted me to say they would love to start a class in their town, but feel they are not 'experienced' enough. I urge them to start the class and gain experience as they go along. They will find that their approach to teaching will alter several times before they settle on their own style. If they have had a few lessons (as most of them have), they are already ahead of their class of raw beginners. The teacher can study moves from videos and introduce a new move to each class, thus keeping one step ahead of the students.
If a student has real difficulty in understanding a move - for instance the backward figure eight, then stand in front of that student with your back to her and let her put her hands on your hips as you do the move. This will help her to 'feel' the move as well as see it.
Others have great difficulty with chest circles and try to circle their shoulders. You have to stand facing them and point to your rib cage and keep trying to get them to focus on their ribs and not their shoulders. I find it helpful to get the student to raise her hands above her head and touch the palms together, this prevents her shoulders from moving and she HAS to focus on her ribs.
A word of advice to new teachers - you will always have one negative person in your class (they pop up in all walks of life) - take care that the negativity of this person does not alter your own attitude. Just let their dismal look at life float by you, like a bad smell. It is important to keep a happy atmosphere in your class and if a particular student constantly turns the wrong way or moves in the wrong direction - she is not doing this to rile you, her brain is simply wired up that way. In time, you may be able to sort out the wiring in her brain so that she learns right from left, back from front, clock-wise from counter the meantime, don't sweat it. Fifty per cent of women have difficulty in telling their left from their right.
We are not trying to prove we are better than anyone else, or to gain certificates (which usually end up at the back of cupboards), we are only having FUN. ENJOY!

One point which I feel is important enough to highlight - when a teacher has a background in classical ballet,
she may find it difficult to really understand Baladi.
Comparing ballet and belly is like comparing a stick of chalk with cream cheese.
Ballet dancers need supreme strength and the rigidity to maintain impossible poses.
Belly dancers need stamina and the flexibility to be able to dance as though their bodies are made from rubber.
No comparison.

A teacher trained in ballet trying to teach belly dance

is like an ice skater trying to teach someone to swim.

They are both on water, but there is no comparison.

This takes me to 'competitions'. I have been asked several times to judge belly dance competitions - usually on the other side of the world in the North American States. However, I feel belly dance is not a competition - you cannot compare apples and oranges.
How can you judge a blonde, statuesque Nordic dancer with a fragile, delicate Asian beauty‌ Unlike ballet, where all the dancers have to be clones of each other, same height, same build, same shape; belly dancers come in the wholly encompassing shape of WOMEN - worldwide. Each dancer's body moves in a way unique to her body shape. There is no way you could say this dancer is BETTER than that dancer. A dancer could be technically correct (and who is to say what is correct in such a fluid and constantly evolving dance as belly dance‌), yet have no true feeling for the dance. A dancer who can connect with the audience may be far less 'able' than another dancer, but she has connected to the SOUL of the dance, and can share this with her audience.
(I have recently been told that if a dancer is aiming to become a professional, she needs to enter competitions as these often give valuable prizes to the winners, such as a contract to dance in an Arabic country. So I guess competitions serve a purpose.)
I saw a clip on You Tube where an ill-mannered pig was talking on his mobile phone during a performance by a String Quintet. The leader of the Quintet saw him and led all five musicians over to the pig who was fortuitously sitting on the end of a row and they all continued playing the piece VERY LOUDLY. The pig had to admit defeat and the entire audience applauded.‌v=BujoOxjB3b4


A dancer who lifts your soul....... now that is a DANCER.!!!

Some people walk in the rain

others just get wet

Sandra Schrift expresses attitude extremely well in this article

Belly Dancing for the Midlife Soul

By Sandra Schrift AKA: Mahara

Isadora Duncan, the mother of modern dance, says, “The dancer of the future will be one whose body and soul have grown so harmoniously together that the natural language of that soul will have become the movement of the body. The dancer will not belong to a nation, but to all humanity.”

In October 1989, while taking a brisk walk with my friend, Judy Cullins, I was given an idea that would allow me to merge my body and soul so harmoniously that my life literally changed. Judy had casually mentioned that she was taking a belly dance class through an adult education program in San Diego.

Her exact words were, “It’s a hoot,” and that was just enough to spark a long held adult fantasy. So at the age of 52, this mother of five registered for the Tuesday night belly dance class and never looked back.

During my first night of class, our teacher greeted us at the door with these instructions,

“Grab a veil out of the box,” she said. “There’s a dancer inside of you and she just needs to be let out.”

It was right there that I caught the belly dance bug and it changed the course of my life forever. Although my friends and peers couldn’t quite grasp the concept and repeatedly asked why a mature woman decided to belly dance, I could only say that I found the whole idea of this type of expression both provoking and rewarding.

I have found that belly dancing is a metaphor for life, for in dance we move through time and space, just as we do while we live out the passages of our lives. As I studied the art of movement, I was also learning the art of living, since belly dancing teaches one how to be in the moment, to be in the body and most of a to feel with the entire being. I’ve not only learned how to stay in shape, but I’ve learned to lead, to follow and best of all, to let go.

Ten years after taking my first lesson, I started teaching classes to a group of mature women, age 50 and over (my oldest student was 91). Students come with loads of self-doubt and self-consciousness, fearfully displaying their belly, yet eager to exercise and have some fun. They all stay because they love the chance to play and be in the present moment just like we did as children.

“Love your belly” is what I say, for it’s the only one you have.

“Belly dancing can be equated to removing a curtain as you start to express yourself,” states Valentina Kouznetsov, a computer engineer from Russia. “It’s an exercise for my soul and puts me in touch with my inner femininity.

According to a recent Psychology Today survey, fifty-six percent of women are not happy with their bodies, most of whom are troubled by their abdomens, hips, muscle tone and weight. But things are changing and believe it or not the change is coming about through the unusual art of belly dancing. During my classes we work our abdominals and hips in a way that our culture doesn’t teach.

Sheila Disper, a retired social worker says, “We may be seniors but we’re not in rocking chairs.

“I’ve noticed a lot of young people who can’t even keep up with us,” says Audrey de la Houssaye a retired chemist. “Twenty years to tighten my abdominal muscles that were weakened by surgery, I am finally achieving results by belly dancing.”

Several women have told me they wished they had known about belly dancing in their child birthing years as they really see how it would have helped them surrender and open more easily to the birth energy. What Lamaze calls “pelvic rocking” and “deep breathing” are referred to as “belly roll” and “flutter.” Since life begins in the belly we now get a second chance to get back in touch with our bellies without becoming pregnant.

Something absolutely miraculous happens to women as they swirl their veils and isolate their hips while waving their snake-like arms. I love seeing my students rediscover the magic and mystery of their true feminine energy, for belly dancing truly puts one in touch with the profound wisdom and beauty of who we really are, no matter what our age or size of our bellies. We are transformed into earth mothers, playful little girls, queens in ornate costumes and seductresses all rolled into one desirable woman.

In as much as belly dance is improvisational, there are basic moves, but once learned the dance becomes a personal expression of the dancer. Eventually each belly dancer moves towards greater self-acceptance and confidence.

Valentina, whose mother often called her a clumsy child, says, “I no longer feel awkward. I am now a dancer with a soul – and the soul is beautiful!”

Clinical Therapist, Susan Siegel says, “The dancer was sleeping within me. It was not in my master plan but I love being alluring and spontaneous in my performance. It’s more about feeling than thinking.”

During belly dance, the mind, muscle, hip and shimmy celebrate a woman’s strength and the goddess within. It’s also very festive as women dress in alluring costumes, shaking their hips and their belly, coming together as “sisters” in a non-threatening environment.

Audrey de la Houssaye states, “I always want to look my best in a costume which motivates me to take better care of my body.”

While spending seventeen days at Ground Zero, Rachel Chavez, a San Diego nurse, and long time belly dancer, visualized herself dancing. Doing so seriously reduced her stress. “I found myself swaying my arms to remove myself from the incessant sounds of the cranes and jackhammers.”

Once a student feels comfortable with the dance moves and their ability to express themselves in an unstructured way, the women easily don costumes and eagerly look forward to participating in monthly performances at senior centres and nursing homes in San Diego. Both the men and women in the audiences smile as they watch the dancers flail their veils, balance swords and act flirtatious. When a dancer drapes a perfumed veil over the head of a man in the audience, all the men smile, secretly flattering themselves that the gesture really was intended for them. The women smile too, because they all know better.

“I love the sense of feminine mystery” behind my veil and the feeling of mastery says Susan Siegel.

The women who enjoy this form of dance find it to be a powerful yet joyful expression of their inner souls. Belly dancers will never let their age get in the way of their lives for dancing is more than fun.

Despina has a very in-depth insight into

the joys and pitfalls of teaching.

Discover Belly Dance Journal

Vol. 26, #5, March 2004

this contains an excellent article on the 'origins' of belly dance

Physical BEAUTY does not create a great performance.