ATTITUDE & Teaching
'Don't wait for the light at the end
of the tunnel.
Stride down there and light the
‘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
‘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 –
you act like a lady, you will be treated like a lady".
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
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
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
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
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 arms....so 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
Belly dancing is for ordinary people.
Belly dancing is for YOU. ENJOY!
need to redefine age. Anything up to 60 is young.
to 80 is middle age and over 90 is elderly".
‘When people show you who they are -
Believe them the first time’
LEARNING TO TEACH
cannot teach someone – she has to LEARN
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
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
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
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
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 clock-wise...in 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!
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
ballet and belly is like comparing a stick of chalk with cream cheese.
dancers need supreme strength and the rigidity to maintain impossible
Belly dancers need stamina and the flexibility
to be able to dance as though their bodies are made from rubber.
A teacher trained in ballet trying to teach belly
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 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
dancer who lifts your soul....... now that is a DANCER.!!!
people walk in the rain
others just get wet
Sandra Schrift expresses attitude extremely well in this article
Dancing for the Midlife Soul
By Sandra Schrift
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Belly Dance Journal
26, #5, March 2004
contains an excellent article on the 'origins' of belly dance
BEAUTY does not create a great performance.