Your First Belly Dance Workshop
Sara Shrapnell teaching a workshop in 2014
Belly dance workshops are a fabulous way to meet new people, learn from different teachers, experience a variety of styles of belly dance, expand your learning and get lots of practice ideas. Look for small events hosted by your local studios, special events taught by your local belly dance teachers or big events that attract dancers from all over the country.
When am I ready to start going to belly dance workshops?
As long as you look for a beginner’s workshop you should be ready once you have completed a beginners course. This may be ten to twelve hours of class. Make sure you have covered most of the basic moves, and had a go at different ways of dancing (a few styles, different tempos, free dance or choreography…) Some workshops are aimed at complete beginners, so you will have a head start. Don’t book a workshop aimed at serious dancers of other styles, like a Salsa group trying out belly dance – they will have lots of energy and a style of their own. Most event organizers know that lots of their attendees are beginners and mark their workshops accordingly. If in doubt, contact the organizer or host, and ask if it will be suitable for your level. Be honest about your abilities, but also don't use your lack of experience as an excuse not to attend.
Keep an eye out for adverts for events
Which teacher should I book with ? What kind of topic should I pick?
Its up to you! If you read the belly dance magazines, surf social media and look on web sites you will find reviews of workshops and recommendations of teachers. Pick something in a style you like, and aimed at your level. If you want to learn a complete dance, then pick a choreography class. Combos or drills are short groups of moves that are worked on over and over again to help with fitness and muscle memory. Technique classes will teach you how to dance a particular style. Lectures are usually all talk, so take a note book.
There are a number of events organised that let you book a variety of different workshops during one day. These are excellent at letting you have a go at lots of different things with different teachers. If you enjoyed the workshop you can ask that teacher where you can find out more. Don’t overspend on your first workshop, if it’s really pricey it’s probably aimed at a higher level, or very specialist.
Poppy Maya teaches a beginners workshop
Will it be too difficult for me?
It shouldn’t be too hard if you have chosen well. Focus on what you want to get out of each workshop. Don't expect perfection. Instead of trying to master the style of dance, aim to get an idea of how it should look. Is there one new move you like ? Could you find the music and have a go yourself ? Did you love the teacher? Is there a new warm up move that you can use in your own practice? Have you found a new music artist that you enjoy? Did you get a workout? We always take something away from each workshop we attend.
There will always be someone who glides through your workshop without getting confused or glowing, but maybe they haven’t learnt as much as you!
Dawn Devine teaches at a workshop
What do I need to take with me?
Make sure you have directions to the venue, a contact number and plenty of water. It might be worth taking your check book as some events have costumes, music or videos for sale. Try to fit everything, including your coat into one bag, so it can be stored safely during the workshop.
Here is my packing list:
- Parking details (including money for car park/meter)
- Check book
- Contact info of organizer
- Payment receipt
- Slip on shoes to wear. Dance shoes for studio
- Studio clothing (Yoga pants/skirt, t-shirt)
- Cardigan for warmth
- Change of top (for after a work out!)
- Extra hair bands/clips
- Zills (if needed)
- Yoga mat (if needed)
- Phone/notebook/pen for taking notes
- Hot tea
Many events have dvds, music or t-shirts you can purchase
What should I wear?
Like class, dancers go to workshops in all kinds out outfits, but stick with what you are comfortable wearing. You may need to be flexible and stretch out on a dirty floor, so don’t wear anything precious or a narrow skirt. A full skirt, Harem pants, yoga pants or leggings will do fine. Take a couple of extra t-shirts, as it can be nice to change in the breaks. Don’t be tempted to wear lots of coins, as the noise can be annoying and some teachers ask that no coin belts be worn. You don’t really need them, so pack something with a fringe instead.
Wear practical, comfortable clothing when you attend a workshop
Will it be just like class?
Everyone teaches differently, so expect something new. Some teachers expect you to have done your own warm up, so arrive with five minutes to spare and start getting your body moving. You can do this while chatting, so there is no need to feel self-conscious. The teacher may focus your warm up on parts of the body that you will be using in the workshop, so don't be late. How the class continues will depend on the subject and style, but you should feel confident about asking a few questions, and to move yourself around so you can see. If the teacher asks you to do something you feel is unsafe or unsuitable (Head rolls!), you should feel free to adapt the move to something you are comfortable with. Some teachers stand at the front of the room and ask everyone to dance in one spot. Others set up a big circle and teach from the middle. Some teachers will divide you into groups, suggest tasks and expect you to report back to the whole group with your creations. All are great ways to learn, so go with the flow.
Big belly dance events may include talks or lectures
How should I take notes?
Its really useful to take notes during or after a workshop. Think about how the future you will learn from the notes that you take. You can use a notebook to write out the key features of the workshop, or to draw pictures or diagrams of the moves. You might take a fabulous quote away from a workshop that changes how you think about belly dance. If you learn a choreography or combination and you want to video it to watch later, ask the teacher. Some teachers are happy to have their work videoed, others do not want to share their creation with the wider world. Respect their decision. Never record anyone without their permission.
My personal favorite way to take notes is to do a "piece to camera" after a workshop. Find somewhere quiet to set up your phone and record yourself talking to the camera about the workshop. Perhaps you want to record a new move you learnt, or a pretty arm position, a drill or a statement that summed up the workshop. Record yourself and use words that will convey your meaning to your future self.
Record your thoughts after a workshop using your phone
Will everyone be friendly?
I think belly dancers are the friendliest group in the world! if you smile and chat to others they will welcome you. Just beware that people are also there to work and study, so keep quiet during the actual teaching time. If you go with others from your local class, be sure to welcome strangers to your group.
Will there be a written handout / choreography notes?
Some belly dance teachers are more into handouts than others. Many teachers want you to take the essence of choreography rather than a piece of paper with it laid out. Also if you have a paper copy, it may not make sense once you get home. You can take notes in breaks, or better still focus on remembering the parts you really love and don’t worry about the rest. If you have a choreography to take home, you still can’t perform it without the author’s permission. If you love a choreography, talk to the teacher at the workshop a clarify where and when you can perform her work.
Handouts are the notes prepared by the teacher
Will I have to stand at the front?
You should be able to take turns in standing in the front row, and if you want to get the most out of a workshop then keep your eye line clear. Most belly dance teachers use the "front to back" method, where they teach for ten minutes and then ask the front row (or two), to go to the back of the room and move everyone else forwards. Stand where you can see and hear and remember that if you watch a teacher in the mirror you can get confused between left and right (or is that me?). Its good manners, if you are struggling with a move or choreography, to move to the edge, so no one will turn and crash into you. If you accidentally hit or bump someone, offer a quick apology and move on. It happens, especially in the most advanced groups!