Generally speaking, teaching belly dance is not very different from teaching other types of dance. What is different is of course the dance vocabulary you will be teaching, the context and everything else that is relevant to the style of oriental dance you teach. However, most teaching techniques apply to most types of dance. Here are some tips I think might help you if you are plannig to teach belly dance.
Provide warm up at the beginning of each session and cool down at the end. Warming up, at the beginning of a dance class, not only is important to avoid injuries, but also prepares the students mentally. By warming up your students will start leaving their daily worries behind and get in the mood for dancing. For a belly dance class, you can include dance movements that remind of belly dance moves, such as hip circles or stretching the hips from side to side.
For a start it is important to warm up the joints with small movements that increase progressively. You can, for example, start with gentle head rolls, followed by shoulder rolls, hip circles, wrist and ankle circles and anything that mobilises the joints. You need to start gently with a small range of motion and then you can increase the range gradually but keep it gentle and keep in mind the fitness level of the class. After, you can do something that raises the heartbeat slightly, such as side lounges, for example, or lightly jogging on the spot. You can end with short stretches, not holding for more than 10 seconds as you will be just warming up. Of course, always be mindful of the reaction of students in your class, their level of fitness and advise them to stop if they feel any discomfort.
I have found a video below that shows some joint mobility exercises. These were designed for a fitness routine but they can give you some ideas on what to use for your class if you adapt them and make them more belly dancey. Cooling down and stretching at the end of the dance class is equally important to avoid injuries. At the end of the class you can hold stretches for longer, about 30 second, as the muscles will be warmer.
The way you use space in a dance class reflects the mood you want to give to your class. For example, you may want your students to stand in a circle for an inclusive atmosphere while warming up, or improvising some belly dance moves. For choreographies, it is better for the students to stand in rows in front of you. However, if there are many students, every now and then make the rows that are in front go to the back and vice versa, so that everybody can see you. If you are teaching a travelling step, you may want to make the students move diagonally from one corner of the room to another, in small groups of, for example, 4 at a time, so that everyone has enough space to move properly.
If you are standing in front of the students, you can either teach facing them or with their back to them. If you are facing them you can keep an eye on them to make sure that they are doing the movements correctly, but remember to mirror their movements. So, if you want students to start with their right foot, for example, you will need to move your left foot. When you face away from the students, sometimes it makes it easier for them to follow you as they will not mirror you but move at the same time as you. If then the class has a mirror, it is great as students can see your movements from the back as well as the front and you can check on them in the mirror.
Providing strucutre to your belly dance class. For example: start with warming up, then move on to do some revision of old moves, then introduce new movements, then do some practice (drills, choreography or improvisation) and then cool down. Structure will help you as a teacher to build your teaching routine and, if you want, you can also create a written teaching plan for you to revise every week and you could also make notes on it to record how students reacted, so you can better plan in the future. At the same time, structure is useful for students as they will know what to expect. Structure does not need to be boring or repetitive though, as you will change material within that structure according to what you want to teach.
Go over your material from the previous class. Revising at the beginning of each class I think is very important in order for the students to remember and build on what they learnt. Many students will come to the class only once a week and many of them will not have a chance to practice in between lessons. Hence, picking up from where they left at the end of the previous class is a good idea. You do not need to spend a lot of time revising but it is useful, especially if the class is about technique. If you are teaching using set routines or choreography only, maybe revising is not necessary as students will repeat movements over and over as they rehearse the routine or the choreography. Otherwise, for a technique focused class, revising is useful.
The use of different stimuli for explaining new belly dance moves. Many educators agree that people learn mainly through three different types of stimuli: visual, audio and kinaesthetic (through movement and body perception). Every person has one or more favourite channel of learning and, by using all stimuli, you will be able to reach more people. For example, you can show the movement, explain it out loud or, if a student is mainly kinaesthetic, she can touch the part of your body that is moving. Other ways to use more than one sensory channel to learn dance movements or learn how to interpret a piece can be:
Another way to give variety to your class and make it fun is by using games and activities. A useful book I have found that gives belly dance teachers a lot of ideas is ‘Belly Dance Beyond Moves, Combos, and Choreography’ by Taaj.
Listen to your students and pay attention to their expressions. Sometimes students will not tell you if something is wrong, so it is up to the teacher to keep an eye on them to spot if they need help. Also, when students do talk make sure you really listen to their feedback and/or concerns. In terms of correcting people, when I am learning in a class I like being corrected, otherwise you cannot learn if you are not told that something is not right. However, a teacher needs to be sensitive and diplomatic about it. Some students do not like to be singled out for correction. So, what you can do is give the class as a whole some suggestions on how to improve a movement or the right and wrong way to do it, so hopefully those who need the advice will take it on board.
Using your voice properly, especially in big classes, so that every student can hear you. This comes naturally to some people but not to everybody. If, for example you have a soft voice like me, you have to make an extra conscious effort. Follow this link for some useful tips on how to project your voice. Apparently relaxation, breathing, posture, projection and opening your mouth properly but without strain are all useful things to keep in mind. If you need extra help you can enrol in a voice training course or find a voice coach near you.
Even if you love dancing, during a class do not forget that your main aim is to teach. So, if you are teaching, do not just starting dancing away without caring if the students are following or not, but pay attention to them and explain clearly what they are supposed to do. Yes, for students it is important to have an inspiring teacher who loves dancing and can transmit this feeling to them. However, teaching is not a self centred activity but it is about caring, wanting to transmit something and make sure that people get what you are trying to communicate.
Teach a piece of choreography. Even though the beauty of belly dancing is ultimately being able to improvise, learning a piece of choreography will help your students understand how to put the movements together in a sequence that looks nice. Choreography is a useful didactic tool and it does not matter if your students will end up performing it. If they have the opportunity to perform that choreography, it will be even better as they will have more motivation and something to work towards. If not, it is still useful to be able to put moves into context. Even if belly dancing was originally a social dance in its countries of origin and, in those countries, even when it is performed, it is quite often improvised, for people who were not brought up there and who have to learn as adults, choreography is a useful learning tool.
Be aware that every student may learn at different speeds, so make sure you give them more than one option (more difficult and easier) for movements you want them to perform. In this way, the ones who learn quicker will not get bored, while the others will not struggle. Giving different options at various levels of dexterity is particularly important in mixed ability classes, which are often the most difficult ones to teach because of the different levels of ability. However, offering students various options with various degrees of difficulty can help teaching mixed classes. For example, you can ask students at more basic level to perform a certain hip movement, but you can ask more experienced students to layer that same movement with something else such as arms or feet patterns or layering a shimmy on top (for example, horizontal hip figure of 8 shimming the hips at the same time).
Currently, there are not many courses for training belly dance teachers and courses that give a properly accredited qualification are even rarer. Those who want to teach this dance form have to rely on other courses, fitness teaching courses, for example, to learn at least how to teach exercise safely . Alternatively, you may want to search for dance pedagogy courses that will not be specific to belly dance but at least can give you some background training on how to teach dance.
The only accredited teaching course, specifically aimed at belly dance, that I am aware of is in the UK, in London, and it is run by the Josephine Wise Academy of Arabic Dance. This course teaches how to deliver classes safely, how to understand the music used in belly dance and gives information on the history and the culture. You can find out more information about it on the JWAAD’s website.
If you know of any other accredited course or want to give feedback or add information, please do not hesitate to write your comments below or to email me