Failure? Looking silly? Too fat? Too skinny? Not pretty enough? Not skilled enough? Performing?
What am I talking about?
These are all reasons people have NOT taken my or other teachers’ belly dancing classes. I’ve heard it all. I’ve been told that people are scared to take my classes because they know they will never be able to do what I can do. Seriously?
How can you know until you try?
Let me tell you a story:
There once was a lady who was a bit overweight. She had asthma (or an equivalent that caused similar problems), she hated exercise, and had no self-esteem. One day, a friend suggested getting some exercise videos instead of moaning over yet another missed day at the gym. This lady found three belly dance videos on sale and, on a silly whim, decided to buy them and try them out. She had heard of belly dance, but had never actually seen a performance before, so didn’t know what to expect. Would it be hard? Would it be silly? But try them she did, and she found that belly dance was actually a lot of fun. It was hard, sure, but there was a deliciousness in the challenge of trying to make her hip move this way instead of that way. Ever so slowly, the lady’s body began to change. Awhile later, bored with the videos and not sure where to go for more, the lady decided to see if there was a teacher in the area. Surely, in a town this size, there would be a teacher, right? Lo and behold, there was. Scared, unsure what to expect, and feeling extremely self-conscious, the lady went to her first class. She stood in the back, away from the other dancers who seemed skinny and flexible to her. But surprisingly, the teacher was no yoga-hard-body, and the class was fun. However, the lady still felt self-conscious, and would not bare her belly for the class. But she resisted the natural urge to wear T-shirts as large as tents and picked up a few work-out tops that were more form-fitting. She went to class after class, and soon, rolled up her shirt and bared that belly to the world for the very first time. It was scary. But she did it anyway. To her surprise, the teacher asked her to move into the intermediate class, and before she knew it, she was in the performance class. A new world of costumes, makeup, and performance lay ahead of the lady. It still was scary, but she enjoyed it. Sure, being part of a troupe was hard, but it was fun. The other ladies in the troupe became her friends, and they had fun together. Soon, it was time to strike out on her own. Now the quiet, overweight, scared lady became a professional belly dancer.
And now I’ve said it…that lady was me.
I NEVER in a million years thought I would want to perform in front of other people. I NEVER thought I would get good enough in belly dancing to perform it in front of others. But you know what: I did.
I told you my story not for self-aggrandizement, but to help others realize that it’s OKAY to not be skilled in belly dance. It’s OKAY to be overweight in belly dance. It’s OKAY to not want to perform. These things should NEVER stop you from starting a class, or trying a new teacher, or rolling up that shirt. I started out as a newbie just like everybody else. Here’s a secret: Rachel Brice was a newbie sometime in her life, too. So was Jillina. So was every single person that pops up on YouTube when you search “belly dance.” You gotta start somewhere!
And if you DO want to perform, how can you expect to get better if you are too scared to even go to class?
Humans, on the whole, are afraid of failure. Mix in our society’s pathological fear of failure with the ease in which failures and mistakes can make it out to the entire world through the Internet, and you get people who are terrified of trying anything new. It doesn’t matter that you might never want to perform. If you want to learn belly dance, don’t let ANYTHING stop you. Go to class and have some fun. Think of the difficulties you have in learning it as fun challenges instead. If you want to perform, don’t let ANYTHING stop you. Go to class, and improve yourself.
Don’t EVER be afraid of failure. Failure is a part of life. Yeah, it sucks, but you pick yourself up and move on. How can you grow if you never make the move towards change in the first place? Not good at hip circles? Don’t just moan about how bad you are at them; put yourself in front of a mirror and work on it. Or take a class with a teacher you respect. Never done belly dance? Try a class (many teachers have drop-in deals or free trial classes) and see how much fun it can be to challenge yourself. And don’t be afraid of failing. Don’t be afraid of not being perfect. I sucked at belly dance when I first started, just like everyone else. Getting good at something takes a brave heart, a strong mind, and a will to improve yourself…and we can all have those if we just put away the fears we have inside. NEVER let fear stop you from doing what you want.
Now go out there and take a class!
This week’s challenge is another all-level challenge, but it’s an important one.
Working on weaknesses
None of us are perfect dancers. None of us ever will be perfect dancers (sorry to burst everyone’s bubble there…). And you know what, that’s OKAY!! Being perfect is a burden that too many of us attempt to carry and fail, and so we think of ourselves as failures and losers because we can’t hold up the unattainable. However, we don’t always need to stagger under all that weight. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should just all give up reaching for perfection because it is a goal none of us will ever attain. We can still strive for it, push ourselves, and reach the next level closer. This post, and another post I am working on, will cover some important issues about striving for improvement.
Dancers can be really hard on themselves, and I’m not immune. We watch our videos in horror, commenting on how awful that arm was, or “what was I thinking with that costume?” or “Geez, do I really have that many chins when I do a back bend?” We are all our own worst critics. None of this is very helpful, however, in improving our dance. Criticism rarely works. On the other hand, I’ve also heard of many dancers who never take classes or workshops, never video themselves, never analyze how well they are doing, and somehow still expect to morph into professional dancers. This isn’t helpful, either. You still need to work on improving yourself as a dancer.
So what’s the challenge?
Get a piece of paper and draw a line down the center of it. In the left column, write, “Things I need to work on” and in the right column, write, “Things I know I’m good at.” Now we are going to take a compassionate, but serious, look at ourselves and our dancing. Pick a song you absolutely love to dance to–whatever that may be–and video yourself. It doesn’t have to be professional, you don’t have to dance in front of your husband or friends, you don’t even have to do any special choreography for this. Just set the camera up on a shelf and dance in front of it. Dance the way you would dance if you were in a show, though (you could even put on a hip scarf and some lipstick if that helps), to make sure you dance your best.
Now, sit down with the video and your piece of paper. Repeat this out loud: “I am going to be compassionate and helpful to my dancer-self.” This may seem silly, but saying it out loud may just help you fully realize that. Now watch your video. For everything you list as “something you need to work on,” write something in the “good at” column. I try to relate my two columns together.
Here’s an example:
Things I need to work on Things I know I’m good at
arms aren’t soft; too rigid hands look nice
figure 8s get lost in the middle figure 8s great on right side
Toes aren’t pointed good footwork
You may feel a little bummed about the left column, but that’s why we have the right column. It’s now a law: every time you read the left column, you MUST read the right column. Sure, you may have a lot to work on, but look at how much you do right! And keep this in mind: DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHER DANCERS. Only look at yourself, and how YOU do. And another thing: if you have nothing in the left column, you may need to reexamine how you view yourself as a dancer. If you have nothing in the right column, you need to be more compassionate with yourself.
Here’s the challenge: pick ONE…just ONE…of the left column “problem areas” and work on it this week. Again, be compassionate. Whenever you feel down about how hard it is to keep your arms soft, just remember that your hands look great. Now take a deep breath and work on those arms! Keep this list handy; we’ll be using it again soon!
You may have noticed that there was no challenge last week (and this one is a day late). So some stuff came up. But that’s what inspired this week’s challenge.
Fitting dance into your schedule
In order to improve your belly dancing skills, you must practice. In order to practice, you need time. Usually lots of time, because you need to warm-up, and then practice, and then cool down and stretch. Right? And if you want to reach a higher skill level, your practice time gets longer, and you practice more often. You cannot gain in skill if you only practice once a week (or worse yet, once a year at your favorite workshop event!)
But putting that much belly dance into your life might be hard.
So what’s the challenge? Work belly dance into your daily life. Think small.
Waiting for an elevator? Start some glute squeezes.
Waiting for your lunch to microwave? Work on a little bit of layering.
Walking down a (hopefully deserted) hallway? Try a 3/4 shimmy.
Got your headphones and a really dull mindless job? Listen to an Arabic drum rhythm track.
It may sound silly, but every little bit of practice helps. I mastered glute squeezes by practicing them nearly constantly…waiting for elevators, waiting for my lunch to microwave, riding elevators, standing in line at the grocery store…. Try it for a week and see what you think. Yeah, I got some weird looks. But now my glute squeezes are awesome, so who cares?
If you have a desk job, this type of exercise is perfect. You should be getting up at least once an hour anyway, so why not get up and dance a little bit?
Just be sure you aren’t going to bust a move and injure yourself. If you try these, make sure you walk around a little bit to warm up, or that you’re trying something that isn’t going to put too much strain on your body. Think small, and keep it small.
Geez, can you believe it’s June already!?
And it’s Monday, so that means it’s time for another weekly belly dancing challenge. Except…this week isn’t going to be about belly dance…
Occasionally, I will have challenges that go across all levels, and this week is one of them. Cross training is training in an activity that is NOT what you normally train in. So a soccer athlete might try skiing for a season. Cross training helps prevent repetitive strain injuries by using different sets of muscles than the original activity while still keeping the body moving and training. Many athletes will cross train in an activity that complements their original activity in order to build strength and/or flexibility that will help with both activities.
Beginners probably don’t (yet) have to worry about repetitive strain on their belly dancing muscles because they haven’t been working them as much (yet). However, cross training can be a benefit to all dancers, of all levels. So how can belly dancers cross train? Oh, there are lots of complimentary activities. Other dance forms, for starters. Ballet is a good one, not only because it works the muscles in different ways, but it is also becoming nearly mandatory for advanced dancers to learn. Hip hop might be a good choice for fusion dancers. Many, many, many dancers choose something that isn’t dance, like yoga or pilates, to increase their core strength and their flexibility. These are just suggestions; there are lots of different activities to choose from out there. But I will give this advice: make it something fun, and something you can stick to, or else it will do you no good.
Your challenge is to try cross training this week. Just don’t kill yourself by throwing everything into some new activity. Meet with a doctor or a fitness expert first, and see what they recommend, especially if you already have an injury. Lay off belly dancing (mostly) for this week and give something else a try. Then see how your body feels once you come back to belly dance. Of course, one week isn’t enough to really get the most benefit from cross training, but it’s a great place to start. Again, these challenges are a way to incorporate things into your dance that you might not normally try, not necessarily a suggestion on how you should train. Give it a try and see how you like it!
Happy dancing (er…or whatever it is you’ll be doing!!)