The Ultimate Guide to Learning Belly Dance at Home
Learn Belly Dance at Home
Learning to make my body do things I had no idea it could possibly do made me feel like a freaking goddess and watching the progress of my strength and endurance build day by day was incredibly fulfilling. I gained confidence and sculpted my body into something I had always wanted!
One day my boyfriend (now husband) and I came across a man playing a sitar outside a coffee shop and a wonderful friendship was created. He introduced us to drumming the djembe and doumbek and a dancer was born! We held small drum sessions every Sunday and I danced and taught other people how to dance if they wanted to learn. It was so much fun!
I still belly dance but I switched my focus to learning Russian Gypsy skirt dancing for the sake of more "authentic" renaissance faire entertainment. (I used to play Daniella Noir the Gypsy Queen at the Texarkana Renaissance Faire by the way).
In my years of belly dancing I've learned that the point of belly dance isn't to learn how to make your belly roll or how to shake it like Shakira, or even to look good in a two-piece sequined costume.
Your goal should be to have fun, gain confidence, build strength, endurance, and mad body control. ____________________________________
BEFORE YOU GET STARTED: ► I am not a professional belly dancer. I've been a belly dance enthusiast for several years, and I love performing and spreading the joy of dancing. All opinions expressed here are my own.
► Belly dance is for everyone. Don't buy into the lie that belly dance is only for beautiful, long haired women with perfect figures and impossibly flat tummies. I feel that prior dance experience of any kind helps, but still anyone can learn (and perform) belly dance. Men, women, full-figured, thin, young, old, black, white, brown, and everything in between!
► There are many different forms of belly dance but the most common forms is Raqs Sharqi, but it's usually just called 'Egyptian Style' or 'Oriental'. There's also Turkish and American Cabaret. Often times these styles get mushed into one style of dance that many just simply refer to as "classic belly dance". Unless you're a belly dance expert, you probably won't even be able to tell the difference between any of these styles so don't stress too much about that right now.
I feel it is very important to learn the fundamentals of belly dance by starting off with classic belly dance. After you're comfortable with your basics, then you can explore the other forms and have a blast doing it.
► You don't have to bear your tummy to dance. You can wear whatever you want and be as modest as you need to be - even if you decide to go pro and perform! There are a countless number of belly dance costumes out there that fully or partially cover the stomach and legs. UK based company Belly Stockings™ has a very lovely selection of body stocking that come in tons of different colors and styles.
► Many professional belly dancers are going to tell you that you need to take actual classes from a pro in order to learn it right, but what they fail to realize is:
#1 Not everyone is striving to be a professional belly dancer. Some folks just want to do it for fitness and fun! #2 Not everyone has access to belly dance lessons. #3 There are dozens of belly dance instructional DVDs out there created by amazing teachers who specialize in teaching via screen. Just like how you can teach yourself how to play the piano, knitting, or cooking, you CAN learn how belly dance at home!
Right: Me, six months pregnant with #2 at my friend Amanda's (above) American Tribal Style ® Workshop. OK, LET'S DANCE:
► Where to find free or cheap home lessons: Many professional belly dancers have YouTube videos that show you specific moves but some are nice enough to upload entire beginners lessons! Check out one of my favorite free online instructors HERE. Bid for super cheap DVDs on Ebay and find very affordable belly dance instructional DVDs on Amazon. Heads up: you're not going to learn everything you need to know from just one DVD. There's SO much more to belly dance than just shimmying and hip drops. I recommend DVD series or box sets that will offer hours of instructions. When shopping for an instructional DVD make sure to buy one that is for total beginners and features a warmup and a segment on proper posture. ► Get a mirror: You'll need to be able to see yourself to see if your motions are on point and to make sure your posture is always in check. Since you probably don't have a giant dance mirror already set up in your home (lucky you if you do!) get a full length mirror and set it up beside your TV or computer or whatever you'll be using to view your lessons. You can find full length mirrors at most dollar stores for under $10.
► Attire: You don't have to wear fancy dancewear to practice. I usually wear a tank top and leggings . It's very important that you don't wear baggy clothes or long skirts because you'll need to be able to see the motions of your chest, hips, legs and feet in your mirror.
And I know you're ready for this one! Coin scarves! Everyone loves those things! Jingly coin scarves are in no way mandatory for learning belly dance but they are wonderful for hearing and seeing the effort of your motions. Coin scarves come in many different colors and the cheapest usually come in one size often fitting up to 40"to 45" hips.
There are also quiet hip scarves (or belts) made with large sequins or fringe. Guys might like fringe belts a little better. Plus size hip scarves are also available to buy! A piano shawl or any fringed triangle scarf is wonderful to wear around the hips as well. No special shoes are needed, in fact you'll find most belly dancers dance completely barefoot.
► Continuing Practice: When you're ready to get serious about getting your moves down, you'll need to do drills regularly to build up the muscles required to perfect the motions. Since DVDs can only show you so much in an hour and thirty minutes, you'll need to practice moves, combos and steps over and over on your own. Get yourself a CD that features great classic belly dance music and practice at your own pace. Also, on the days you're feeling lazy, just listening to the music will make you want to get up and move! When the basic lessons no longer challenge you, it's time to move up to intermediate level lessons. You can find many great intermediate lessons on YouTube and DVD as well.
► Adding Props: Once you've got your basic stances, movements, travelling steps and many combos down, you should try your hand at learning how to use common props like a veil or zills (finger cymbals). These can be found at affordable prices on eBay and Amazon. Make sure to check measurements before buying your props online! I bought a veil from eBay once based on the photo and when it came, in it was 20" x 6". That's about long enough to wear as a hair accessory. Your veil should be a rectangle of no less than 3 yards of light material and beginner zills should be about 2.5" in diameter.
Jamil, male belly dancer performing with veil and cane.
THE DOS AND DON'TS OF LEARNING BELLY DANCE AT HOME
DO practice at least twice a week.
DO NOT expect to become a belly dance prodigy overnight. DO expose your belly if you want (no matter what it looks like)!
DO NOT jump into practice without proper warm ups.
DO carefully read the descriptions and reviews of any DVDs, props and costuming before you buy.
DO watch belly dance performances by professional belly dancers from all styles so you can see how it's done. There are thousands of videos on YouTube and tons of performances available on DVD. DO NOT give up on an instructional video because it's too hard. Keep doing it until you get it. That's how you build stamina and learn!
DO consult a professional belly dancer if you feel you're ready to go pro. They can point you in the right direction of how to get started.
Gorgeous SIXTY year old belly dancer, Dee Orr from Shreveport, LA at the 2016 Texarkana Renaissance Faire. Scott Johnson Photography.
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