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Four Steps to Becoming a Great Dancer

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 I did it. I solved the riddle. I have cracked the code.

Elegant Bellydancer

Right here, right now, I am going to give you the mysterious formula, the secret recipe, the magic wand to wave over your dance life that will give every single dancer reading this the power to become a stronger, more beautiful dancer.   It is a four step plan, which works regardless of what style of dance you choose to pursue; and is effective for all ages, all shapes and sizes and fitness levels.  Whether you have aspirations to take to the stage, or just want to be able to dance socially with greater confidence and grace, this method is for you.  I have used this method myself for years so I can attest to its efficacy, and in fact all the best performers I know have employed this same method to achieve similar results.

It is 100% foolproof, and only requires a little time each week to work!

Are you ready…? Read on!

Shay’s foolproof formula:
Step 1: Show up to class. Every week.
Steps 2-4: Repeat

Don’t you roll your eyes at me, missy!  You have known it’s true since you started school as a child. The only difference now is there is no one holding you responsible for your attendance; it’s up to you whether you show up and do the work or not.  The dancers you admire most are likely the students who are/were fixtures in their teacher’s studio.  The members of that student troupe or pro troupe got there by putting their feet to the floor every week (or several times a week), and their commitment was recognized and desired as part of an equally committed group to perform together. Put in the time, and you will enjoy the results!
Go to bellydance class!
Prioritize your dance training, and you will see your skills and confidence grow exponentially: you will become physically stronger and more graceful, mentally more agile, and emotionally more confident and expressive.  Attend class more than once a week, and you will see the benefits even faster.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, every week you spend away from your practice is actually more than simply one or two hours of drilling lost.  But I will get to that in a little bit…

If all this sounds just as obvious as some other points I have made lately, then you are ahead of the game. But as a teacher, if the attrition that happens as a series of classes progresses is any indication, it bears reminding. 

It is a familiar pattern, and one I hear lamented as well by other teachers all the time: Week 1 of a session, everyone is there, fresh faced and eager to dance.  Week 2 looks a lot like Week 1.  Week 3 it starts to get somewhat spotty,  the same in 4 and 5; and Week 6, a handful of die-hards… Where is everyone?  But without fail Week 1 comes around and everyone magically reappears like clockwork. What gives?

Perfect attendance at tribal bellydance class

I am not talking about new students who try out bellydance for a few lessons and then move on. I am talking about long-term students who ebb and flow, rather than being present and ready to work consistently.  Students who say they want to become stronger dancers, want to be in shows, maybe even have hopes for a troupe invitation; but who always seem to miss the last couple weeks of a session for one reason or another, or who come to a week or two, then disappear for a couple weeks, then stick around a few weeks before disappearing again.

Hey, I get it, we all have lives and priorities.  We start a session intending to see it through.  But I want to take those students by the shoulders (and if you know this is you, imagine me giving you a gentle shake as I look you in the eye) and say “You wanna get better? You gotta be here!”

I see a lot of dancers with great promise sabotage their potential by inconsistent attendance in this way.  Students who might have long ago been moving up and really thriving in their dance who are ‘stuck’ in place, never really pushing through to the next level.  Consider this: in Level 1 & 2, we teach the same moves in the same order every single session.  If a sporadic attendee misses material ‘here and there’, it may feel like no big deal; but she has missed covering aspects of the repertoire which won’t come back around and be broken down for another 6 or even 12 weeks (that’s as much as three months my friend!).  So missing one class can potentially set you back weeks in the progression of your technique and repertoire.  I don’t mean to sound over-dramatic, but it’s a fact.

I have had students scratch their heads and say “I have been in this class for over a year, and I have never seen that move taught before.”  My first question is, “Hrm…how consistently have you been coming to class?” Invariably the answer is a mildly sheepish look.  As I said before, of course missing classes now and again is to be expected–life happens, work, illness, and family obligations demand our focus. It is not my intention to guilt any student about their choices, priorities, or unavoidable deterrents.  But consider that with sporadic attendance, despite a concept being taught four or five times in the year, one can manage to miss important information entirely for months (even years!). Aside from the specific material missed, she is also asking her body to hop in and out of these movements, asking her brain to switch off and on, never fully developing the muscle memory necessary to develop the variety of vocabulary, quick response, and ease of movement that are the hallmark of a graceful improvisational dancer.  Imagine if you tried to learn calculus by taking a class once a month, or tried to paint detailed landscapes with access to only three paint colors.  What an exercise in frustration!

Remember this: to advance your technique, you need to see dance as a habit, not just an activity.

Tend your bellydance class like a garden

I liken tending to my dance like tending to my garden.  If I go out there regularly, watering the plants, pulling up weeds here and there, and just being regularly present and aware of what needs attention, my garden will flourish and will feel more effortless in general.  If I only show up once in a while, the weeds begin to take over and the plants wither.  When I walk out there, instead of finding light work and a vibrant landscape, I feel overwhelmed by the workload and discouraged by what it will take to get it to the place I hope it to be.

Being a strong dancer requires the same persistent tending as that garden.  If you only show up in fits and starts, the mental and physical work it takes to really get into your dance is much greater, and the results less palpable. You will have missed important information; missed opportunities to connect with your fellow dancers and grow together (and as we well know, ATS is about the group); your muscles will not be as strong, supple, and responsive; your mind will not be as quick to absorb and apply new concepts…  The ‘weeds’ will have moved in, and it will take some time in ‘maintenance mode’ before you can really dance to your best ability.  And if this inconsistency is the norm, that dancer exists primarily in ‘maintenance mode’, never being able to push through to the strong and expressive dancer trapped within.

I promise to be there every single week, on-time and ready to teach you.  Can you commit to being present and ready to learn? If you can, I guarantee you will see improvement you seek.

Be there. Do the work. See the results. Simple!

Want to get some more ideas on how to be a great dancer?
Visit “Six Steps to Becoming a Great Dancer (no, really!)

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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

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