New Student FAQ
What should I wear?
Comfortable clothes that you can move in, such as yoga pants and a fitted tank top or tee shirt, are a great combination for first-time students. Avoid any garments that restrict movement in any way, such as jeans, narrow skirts, etc. Avoid voluminous tops as they make it difficult to see how your body’s movement and posture alignment.
Other common options include pantaloons, full skirt and choli. Full skirts are very popular in particular. Tribe Nawaar has you covered!
A hip sash or hip scarf is recommended and is great for being able to really see how your hips are moving.
Please no “noisy” scarves, such as ones with loud coins or bangles, as it can make it hard to hear the instructor and distract other students. Though on our last night of class, it’s “dress-up night” and all bets are off–bring on the jinglies!!
What will class be like, exactly?
If this is your first bellydance class, or even your first dance class, then I extend an extra warm welcome to you! It takes a bit of courage to try something new, and we will do our best to show you a good time!
Level 1 classes will begin with a gentle warm-up, to get our blood pumping and muscles limber and prepared for dancing. Then we will learn one slow move and one fast move each week, drilling them, and answering any questions you may have. Then we finish by working on these skills with our fellow dancers, getting a chance to put them together into short combinations to practice the individual skills within the context of group improvisational dancing.
Do I have to bare my belly to participate?
Not at all! A fitted top is at least required, for me to be able to see your posture and form. But while a bare belly is not required, keep in mind that in bellydance class, it is entirely appropriate and in context. Read “All about baring your belly (or not)” in the extended FAQ below for more info about baring your belly in class, and belly-covering options for class.
Do I need to bring anything?
I encourage students to put together a “dance bag”, which includes a water bottle and a small notebook and pen for notes, finger cymbals, a spare hip scarf, and perhaps a small towel if you wish. Then everything you need to run off to class is in one place!
Where can I purchase finger cymbals? What kind should I get?
Students will need to purchase high quality student finger cymbals (also called zills). We highly recommend Saroyan Mastercrafts, which you can purchase easily online on Amazon: Afghanis or The Grecian are the preferred styles. I know of no local shops which regularly carry quality finger cymbals, so plan ahead and purchase them online in time to use in class the third week of the session.
If you do choose to go with another brand of finger cymbals, make sure you purchase good quality ones. If you buy cheaply produced finger cymbals, they will be difficult to play, the sound will not be pleasing to you, and you won’t want to practice! Most “import stores”, such as Cost Plus or similar, carry terrible quality prop pieces and are not appropriate instruments for serious playing. Most important, make sure your chosen style has two slots for the elastic, and can accommodate 1/4″ elastic. Finger cymbals with two wide slots and good quality elastic will stay on your fingers better, which helps you play more confidently.
All about baring your belly (or not):
Wearing what you are comfortable in, which will also allow me to see your posture, is more important than having a bare belly. But do keep this in mind–in class, your bare belly is in context. I, personally, would not take a stroll down the street with a crop top on–it just wouldn’t look or feel right to me personally. But in class, nothing feels more natural than to have my belly bared and shimmy for all I’m worth. I am among trusted friends in class (and if you don’t feel that way on your first night, you will very soon!), and baring my belly is appropriate for the activity I am doing. It also allows me to better see my posture and alignment, and as your teacher it is easier for me to see it to help guide you in correct posture and movement.
Again, let me reiterate that you do NOT have to bare your belly for bellydance. Not now, not ever. There are costuming options for all levels of modesty and all preferences for style. In class, so long as you are not wearing baggy tee shirts, which obscure your body line, then anything you feel comfortable in will do–fitted tee shirts, tank tops, leotards, etc. Bared or not, your belly is a beautiful thing–a seat of power which bellydance draws from. Feel free to show it off or keep it covered at any time in my classes!
Ready to take that first step to baring your belly, and want a little support? Try SugarPetals. They make these fantastic body suits with PowerMesh tummies which are not only a good modesty option, but are SOOOOO comfortable! I wear them all the time, as do many of my students. Great for class wear, stretchy, comfy, washable, and a ton of colors to choose from. If I sound like a saleswoman, it’s only because I love them so much! For maximum versatility, I recommend the “Mesh Middle Unitard” in black cotton/lycra with tank-styled top and tan or black colored PowerMesh middle, but really any color you like best will work great.
I have taken bellydance classes with other teachers before. Can I join Level 2 or 3?
I invite all new students to come to Level 1 classes to start their exploration of tribal bellydance. The skills required in my classes depend on a specific and specialized vocabulary of movement, including very particular body alignment and layering, which you can only learn by studying the style from the ground up. If you have studied FatChance style ATS® specifically, please feel free to contact me to discuss your appropriate level.
I encourage students to try not to think of the levels as skill or experience based, but instead as collections of information. While each level may contain more or less information, or move faster or slower, being familiar and comfortable with the concepts we cover in each is vital to being successful at the next level. Every student is different, and I encourage you to be patient and enjoy the journey!
I feel like I am not progressing as fast as I thought I would/as fast as those around me. This is hard! Any advice?
You are not alone! A lot of students come in with certain expectations about their class experience, and specifically how they will advance in the dance, and they find in a short time that it isn’t entirely what they expected. There is a LOT of information to absorb in each and every level of this art form! And it can be self-defeating to expect yourself to learn at the same pace or in the same way as the person next to you. We all need to pay close attention to our own progress and give our studies its due time to seep into our consciousness and our bodies.
Most students spend 6 months to a year in Level 1. Most students stay at the Level 2 level for more than a year or two, as there is a lot of new information to absorb at this level. Many students choose to take the first two class levels in conjunction–refining the previous level while taking on the challenge of the new level. Some may take less time to advance, and some may take longer.
My advice, not only with my class but in any class, is to always start at the beginning and take your time. Don’t rush the process of learning, strengthening, refinement, and above all getting “into your body”, bonding with your classmates, and absorbing the skills at each level before pushing yourself to move up.
For my part, even after dancing for as many years as I have, I love taking foundation level classes from other teachers, for the chance to learn their unique style, and to refine my own skills and see the movement from a new perspective. It is not a sign of being “lesser” or “lower” to be a Level 1 student. Instead, it is the mark of a serious and respectful student to consider each class and each teacher a unique opportunity to revise and refine our skills. All of us, no matter where we are in our dance, benefit from revisiting the foundations often.
How do I know when I’m ready for the next level?
Different students learn at different paces, is the short answer. Regardless of the length of time it takes, moving to the next level is based on the student’s familiarity and comfort with the information at each previous level. And that takes time! Can you name all the moves at that level on sight, and lead and follow them with proper posture and body alignment? Some level of confidence in this knowledge (not necessarily 100%) is the key to being ready to take on more at the next level.
There is a frequent misconception that if one takes a single Level 1 series, the next step is to start taking the Level 2 series immediately following, and so on. The truth is, a dancer new to this dance and format can expect to take Level 1 for a AT LEAST few sessions (three or more) times before moving up to Level 2 comfortably, which moves faster and demands a familiarity with the movement vocabulary taught in Level 1.
Some students find that a longer period of time spent at a particular level is beneficial before moving forward, and I encourage you to take it at your own pace, and consult me for recommendations if you like. I do allow students to make the decision to move from Level 1 to Level 2 for themselves, so if you want to try Level 2, you are welcome to try it. For Level 3, moving up is allowed by instructor permission only. The best way to know is by communicating to me your interest in moving up, and I can let you know if the time is right.
Here is a link to shira.net (a fantastic online bellydance resource!), which is a little Q&A on the subject of moving forward in classes. While it is talking about a non-Tribal bellydance class, the same good advice applies!:
Are there any videos you recommend for home practice?
There are many many MANY bellydance videos on the market, but only a handful are really relevant to the work you will do in class with me. The most vital videos I can recommend for a new student are the beginning level videos from FatChance Bellydance.
Our Level 1 class coincides most closely with the FatChance “Tribal Basics: Volume 1”, and will provide an excellent companion to your studies as the movements on the video and in class will be nearly identical.
You will definitely gain skills faster and have better retention with a little practice time at home each week between classes. It need not be incredibly formal or lengthy. Just revisiting the concepts for a short time a few days after class will reinforce both your mental memory and your muscle memory. Taking some simple notes in class can support and guide your home practice. And there is always the ever-expanding Student Resource Center right here at Deep Roots Dance to inspire your home study even further!
What if I want to take classes from multiple teachers and/or in other styles?
I heartily encourage my students to explore as many classes with as many teachers as they have time and resources for. Taking classes and workshops in diverse styles will make you a more well-rounded dancer, and can only help you in your advancement in your dance. Seattle has a wealth of instructors and resources, so avail yourself of them!
When and if you decide to perform tribal group improvisation, it can be helpful to narrow your regular weekly studies to one format with one instructor. Tribal group improv demands the ability to recall a very specific set of movements, executed in a very specific way, and requires split-second response times. When trying to develop this muscle memory and swift recall, it can be difficult to be trying to sort through and keep separate information from multiple formats in your head and body.
My advice is to take your time exploring as many teachers and formats as you have available to you, and when and if you decide to pursue group improvisation as a personal style, choose the teacher, class environment, and format that resonates the most with you to focus your time and energies with. If that is me, that would be wonderful! And if it isn’t, that’s just fine, too. I want my students to pursue their personal bliss, and in dance that is guided most by their trusted teacher and the fellow students they dance with.
When do I get to perform/join the troupe?
A summary of a response penned by Wendy Allen of FatChanceBellydance says it best:
“…what does it take to perform? It takes a LOT of classes, and a LOT of practice. Our level 1 class is a 6 week format, and level 2 is a 12 week format. You must take at least one full cycle of each before entering into Level 3, which is the level at which you start performing. But before you think ,”18 weeks, that’s not so bad”, most people will need to repeat Level 1 at LEAST three or more times before graduating to Level 2. Same with level 2, although many will need to repeat that level more, as the steps are more complex, plus it takes time to get used to leading, and changing formations. Count on at LEAST a year of taking classes consistently, if not 2, before you first perform.
We do not audition, nor do our student troupes. Well, I take that back. We do audition, but that audition starts in Level 1 and continues throughout your education in our classes. The teachers do pay attention, and we do observe. And it’s not all about skill, it’s also about attitude. We are likely to choose a less skilled dancer with a good and humble attitude over a diva who can dance like a dream. Technique can be improved. It’s a lot harder to change personality. It’s no fun to deal with a diva. And while we do take what we do seriously, we also want to have fun.
If you want to perform with an ATS group, here’s what you do. Show up consistently to class. Have a good attitude, don’t be a diva. Focus, do your best to fit in with the culture of the classes. And no matter how experienced you become, always go back to Level 1 and Level 2, because in spite of what you may think, you have never learned everything there is to learn about any one move. If you think you know everything, you’re sorely mistaken”