You've seen the posts. You've heard about it from your friends. You've thought about it for sometime. And now you've done it. You've signed up for your first belly dance class.
Congratulations! You are about to enter an amazing world full of beauty, friendship, and life-changing movement. I hope it hooks you the way it did me, but at the very least, that you feel empowered and full of joy afterwards. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your time:
1. Wear comfortable clothing. "What should I wear?" is one of the most frequent questions I get from new students. I suggest yoga clothes. I like full-length leggings (Athleta's organic cotton leggings are my favorite), a sports bra, a tank or crop top, and a long-sleeved roomy shirt on top. This allows for movement without restriction, but you can also layer and de-layer as the body heats up and cools down. Most belly dancers dance barefoot, but feel welcome to wear a pair of socks or ballet slippers if desired. Also bring your water bottle. You'll need it.
2. Be Ready to Learn. If you've taken fitness classes like zumba or jazzercise, you may be accustomed to fast music, heart-pumping aerobic moves, and lots of endorphins rushing through your body. Now you are transitioning from a fitness class to a dance class. The emphasis will be on technique. Moves will be broken down and repeated, stepping on beat will be drilled, culture/history/music/theory will be taught. These are all essential ingredients for a great belly dance class. It will feel different than a fitness class, because it is. It is dance. This may include feeling awkward, unbalanced, and uncoordinated at times. This is normal! Your teacher does not expect you to know the moves, that's why she's teaching, and I bet she loves helping you learn to move in new ways.
3. Buy a cool hip scarf. If I can suggest you buy anything as a new dancer, it is a really beautiful hip scarf. One that makes you want to put it on and prance around. When you invest in something that you love, you will be more likely to use it, and therefore more likely to improve through practice. Not all teachers allow coins in class, so check with yours before you buy. For me personally, the more noisy the better! Bring those coins to my class so we can all ooh and aah over them!
4. Remove expectations. Many women expect class to be full of a certain age of women, or a certain body shape. They are surprised when they show up and class is a mix of all generations and all sizes. This dance is for everyone. It looks good on all body shapes and sizes, and is accessible to women of every age. Also remove any notion of how quickly you think you will learn belly dance. This is a practice that requires patience of mind, and patience of body. Think of it as training for a marathon, with a long-term goal in mind. It will take time, but it is well-worth it.
5. Relax, Breathe, and Enjoy Yourself. Focus on your feet first, as they are the foundation for movement. Once you learn weight-shifting and driving the movement from the feet, transitions and future movement will be easier. Utilize your breath to move energy through your body and to calm the mind while you practice. Maintain your posture, remember to breathe, and above all else, have fun. I love this dance, and think you will love it too. It is joyful; it is beautiful; it is art. And it is for you.
I hope you find these tips useful, and that you feel more comfortable entering your first belly dance class with excitement and an eagerness to learn. Enjoy!
Malia Christina teaches weekly belly dance class in Battle Ground, WA USA.