Starting to Teach – Some Advice

posted in: Editorial, NWBD Blog | 0

A guest post out of Chicago today. Shared with permission, written by Sam Brenneman of

For new bellydance teachers:

Lately I have been more in touch with other bellydance instructors, in every style and flavor that’s out there. We have a great deal of experience in common no matter where we come from or whose format we are teaching.

bellydancestudentsThis isn’t English Comp, that’s for sure; we are working with students who are not only learning to dance, but who also come carrying quite a few other needs and desires, not always known even to themselves.

In any given class you might find:

  • Someone who wants to lose weight.
  • Someone who loves all kinds of dancing.
  • A group of friends who got up the courage to take the class by mutual encouragement.
  • Someone whose mom or aunt was a bellydancer.
  • A refugee from a group which disbanded.
  • Experienced dancers from other disciplines.
  • Complete newcomers to dancing who are motivated by curiosity.

Bellydance students (and teachers and performers) come in all shapes, sizes and ages. They could be of any race or sexual orientation. Some are men- it happens.

This is what makes beginner classes a challenge, this broad range of experience and needs to suss out and serve. In addition to these reasons for showing up in class, add these further conditions:

  • Some will be really shy about moving their bodies in a new way.
  • Some will be scared to ask questions.
  • Just about everybody will have body-acceptance issues to some degree.
  • There will be vegans, pagans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, alternative and mainstream people, feminists and those who wish to dance for their partner’s enjoyment. People will be looking specifically for fitness, or want to dance professionally one day. You can’t even guess at what brought them to you, or what conditions are attached to that choice.

Plenty of your students will come with preconceptions about what this dance is, or how difficult or easy it might be.

You have seven to eleven weeks to do the best you can with your new students. What can you hope to accomplish in that time?

chicagobellydanceStart right in with your own history and an idea of bellydance history, so your people have some idea of what the dance is, and is not.

A syllabus is good, so they know the proper names of steps, and will note that your curriculum is cumulative (if it is, and you are not teaching drop-in classes).

Talk about music, talk about the artistic aspects of this dance, and above all do not fudge or pass along fakelore, because somebody will bust you- that student is in your class, too.

Keep them moving, as it cuts down on time-wasting chatter. Wear them out, because nothing else transmits the idea that work is involved so effectively.

Make connections to the larger community from the start, and never ever publicly disrespect another teacher. All of these folks may be meeting your students one day, in some capacity. You may in fact be sharing students already, unbeknownst to either of you.

Get out there and perform yourself, so your students get an idea of how it is supposed to work by coming to a show- not only that, but they will also be exposed to other bellydance.

Take workshops, stay sharp.

Two hints from my own experience:

  1. Introduce finger cymbals, if you intend to teach this skill, early. It’s really discouraging for new people when the wheels fall off their steps as the zils force them to think differently. If they learn the skills together, it’s not so difficult.
  2. Ask your rows to change up, so everyone gets the benefit of mirrors and proximity to you. And, if you have a student who stops everything to ask questions, thank her! She is probably giving voice to what everyone was thinking.