Teaching Belly Dance: Certification for Belly Dance Teachers
Shemiran Ibrahim's belly dance certification program has been around for some years now - but when I started comparing teacher training programs, I couldn't find any detailed reviews of it.
I was able to track down some women who'd done the course, and their feedback was enough to convince me to buy the home study pack. Now I've begun working my way through the material, I've decided to fill the void and provide my own review!
The Teacher Training Handbook
It may seem odd that in spite of studying belly dance for years, I have trouble putting together structured belly dance lesson plans to teach beginners. I don't think I'm unusual in that - for most people contemplating a career teaching belly dance, their own beginner's journey was a long time ago! Can you really remember what steps you started with, which moves you struggled with, how your teacher got you over the early hurdles?
Anyway, let's face it - starting a belly dance school is stressful enough without having to worry about what you're going to teach in your first class! So having a clearly defined syllabus, complete with music and ready-made student handouts, is a real Godsend for the newbie teacher.
Shemiran is of Middle Eastern origin and has studied with top instructors - and yet, even she had this reaction when invited to start teaching at one of Sydney's best schools:
"I know how to do the movements, but how on earth do I explain them to a Beginner student?.....I went to a teacher training course [but it] did not cover the absolute basics that I was looking for i.e. a week-by-week course curriculum, how to structure the learning curve, what to teach in each class; how to break down the art of Belly Dance.... in a methodical way, and deliver it in simple and easy-to-digest terms."
A Spiritual Approach?
I know some belly dance teachers are big on “expressing your Inner Goddess” - but for me, the simple joy I get from dancing is more than enough, without getting into chakras or inner healing. Shemiran also runs occasional courses on women's empowerment through belly dance, so I was initially concerned her course might be too "New Age" for me. But to my surprise, the course was very down to earth.
Yes, there are sections which deal with the spirituality of belly dance, but the majority of the advice is focused on the practical – and the section on “Striking A Balance” had me questioning my matter-of-fact approach to teaching dance, and thinking maybe I am missing a dimension.
At this point, I confess, I got impatient with reading and couldn't resist having a peek at the two DVD's. I was disappointed as they are far from slick and professional - but to be fair, that's partly because they were filmed live, in real classes with real beginners, not staged for the camera.
Shemiran starts each class with a lecture, explaining the moves and philosophy of the class to come. I was doubtful - surely students would get bored with sitting and listening, when they've come expecting to dance? Then I went back to the Manual, straight to this paragraph:
“Overwhelming students with too much information too soon is an epidemic in Belly Dance classes in general. There is a fine balance between giving them what they need, and boring them.”
So clearly, Shemiran is aware of the need to retain students' interest. Again, I found Shemiran's approach challenging my preconceptions. Thinking it through, I could see the advantages. Starting a class with a talk means you can start on time and the inevitable latecomers won't miss the warm-up. You also get the detailed explanations out of the way, so the rest of the class can move faster.
At the end of each class, when most other belly dance teachers would teach a simply routine, Shemiran once again takes a refreshing approach. She uses a kind of guided improvisation to coax her students into dancing freestyle - and it works! It's wonderful to see beginners improvising and laughing instead of standing like rabbits in the headlights. It's a good bonding exercise for the class too, as they dance for each other.
It's also clever because it frees up the time normally devoted to laboriously memorizing choreography – which means more time for that initial lecture, plus more drilling and practice. And it gives the students the feeling they're “really dancing” from the very first lesson.
Finally, it's more true to the spirit of belly dance - which is, after all, an improvisational dance. Most Western belly dance schools focus almost exclusively on choreography because so much of our performing takes place in troupes – but in so doing, we're missing out on a vitally important aspect of the art form. We're also creating a headache for those students who do aspire to having a career in belly dancing – it's much harder to break the shackles of choreography and learn to improvise later, than if you get used to it right from the start.
Belly Dance Business
A large chunk of the Manual is devoted to the nitty-gritty of starting a belly dance business – things like finding a venue, insurance, how to handle enrolments, ideas for marketing flyers etc. There are also some very basic templates for business documents.
I didn't find this part of the Manual as useful, but then I'm familiar with most of it from other businesses. I can imagine this chapter of the Manual could be the most valuable of all to some teachers, who haven't the faintest idea about things like insurance, marketing, student retention etc.
What else is included?
The student handouts are very useful – handing them out to students makes you, the teacher, look as though you've put careful effort into preparing material for them (whereas all you've done is print them out from the DVD!).
A CD of music is provided for use with the classroom exercises.
Assessment and Certification
Certification is available (though it costs extra), and can also be done via correspondence. There aren't many opportunities for a belly dance certification so it's a bonus, and the fact that you don't have to get to a course location or find a free week or weekend is a big advantage.
The course doesn't provide lesson plans beyond the first term Beginners' course. That makes sense in some ways, because all the basics are covered, and your next step will depend on how your students are progressing and your own personal preference. But it would be nice to have some guidance on how to structure a Beyond Beginners or Intermediate curriculum.
My only other reservation is that I'd like to have seen more coverage in the Manual of injury risks and the importance of warm-up, cool-down, posture etc. in their prevention. Shemiran assumes that a trained belly dancer already knows her craft, and that includes how to practice it safely. However in my experience, many belly dancers don't know enough, or are using warm-ups and stretches taught by their own teacher - which are now 20 years out of date! An individual dancer who is unaware of injury prevention will hurt only herself - but when you become a teacher, you're responsible for the safety of your students and it becomes critically important.
Overall I found Shemiran's belly dance teacher training course value for money, because after years of being too scared to take the plunge, this course has finally given me the tools and the courage to get started – and that's priceless!