Dancing With Myself: Part 1: The Pros of Self-Study

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As I have mentioned before, I am a self-taught dancer. I didn’t exactly choose to learn that way. Lack of access to in person classes when I developed an interest in the dance drove me in that direction. However, I think it’s fair to discuss the pros and cons of self-teaching, as there are positives and negatives, and it’s a style of learning that works well for me. In making my list, I came up with a number of points for both sides, so I’m going to address them in separate posts. For this go round, I’m going to discuss the positives of self-teaching.

It’s Often Less Expensive

Unless you are like me, who buys nearly every DVD I can get my hands on, self-study is going to be less expensive than regular lessons. DVDs and online programs range in price, but generally fall within the $10-$30 (USD) range. You can get hours of study out of a good DVD for that one price, whereas regular classes can range $5-$20 a class depending on the teacher, the size of the class, the venue, and the city. There are also free online options for self-study if one wants to try learning without the investment.

You Move At Your Own Pace

With classes, you are locked into a certain pace, either dictated by the teacher, or often by the less experienced learners in the class. A lot of classes in smaller areas tend to be exclusively beginner level, which can be frustrating for more experienced dancers, or dancers who learn more quickly, as the pace of a class can be slowed by students who take longer to grasp some concepts. Self-study allows a dancer to move at whatever pace suits them. I like to be able to work on a concept as long as I want without feeling like I’m holding up a class, or move on from something I’ve figured out more quickly.

You Make Your Own Schedule

When you’re learning on your own, your learning schedule is whatever you make it. You aren’t bound to specific class times and locations. I have found this aspect especially useful for me, as I work overnights and have a bizarre sleep schedule. I can be studying at 06:00, 15:00, or 02:00 depending on the day and whenever I get a whim to dance.

You Aren’t Confined to One Style

With classes, you are limited to the style that the teacher dances. If there aren’t many PicsArt_08-17-01.48.43teachers in your area, then there may be only one, or possibly two styles to choose from. With self-study you can try out a number of different styles to find what suits you. I went through a number of styles before I settled on Egyptian. I just looked through lists of DVDs and bought the ones that looked appealing and eventually the one that felt most natural for my body finally emerged. I also enjoy the freedom of being able to pick up new styles whenever I want, such as Saidi, or Shaabi, because there are so many programs out there by wonderful dancers.

You Get to Choose the Style of Learning that Works Best for You

Everyone learns differently, and self-study allows you to choose the way that works best for you. I’m a visual learner. I’m more suited to the “monkey see, monkey do” style of learning, so I like to see a movement at full speed rather than a slow breakdown. My brain processes the complete movement more easily than the individual components. I also prefer technique programs over learning through choreography (mostly because I’m terrible at remembering choreography) and prerecorded programs allow me to work that way. Sometimes, I just need to watch a movement or a combination over and over again and then let it percolate in my brain before I try it.

Improvisational Skills

Perhaps I’m biased simply because this is how I dance, but I think self-study can lead to developing improvisational skills earlier in the learning process. Most classes I’m familiar with tend to teach through choreography. Improvisation tends to come later, particularly with studios that do troupe numbers most of the time. Since I was never taught through choreography, I have always improvised. This is a double-edged sword, however, but we’ll get to that in the next post.

These are some of the benefits of self-study that I have noticed over the years for myself. Granted, my experiences with learning via classes and workshops are minimal and only based in the U.S. I’m sure other countries teach differently, particularly in countries of origin. This is not a slam on classroom learning. These are simply positives of the type of learning I have chosen for myself. Next time, we’ll get into the cons of self-study, and subsequently the pros of group learning as a result.

Ma’as salaamah!

 

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Raq’n Workouts

Belly dance workout DVDs have often been some of my favorite programs to work with throughout the years I’ve been studying dance. They are an introduction to the art for many people, as it’s very easy to stumble across one in the yoga section of a sporting goods store, or the exercise section of any big box store. bd2

My first belly dance workout DVD was the Love Potion program from World Dance New York. It’s a bit much for a total novice, but it’s one I still enjoy from time to time. Luscious, the other program in the series is the better choice for beginner level dancers, in my opinion. Luscious moves at a somewhat slower pace and has simpler combinations separated by move type, i.e. circles, figure eights, undulations, etc.

While fitness and weight loss are current goals of mine, dance workout programs serve other purposes as well. As I mostly work with prerecorded teaching programs, workout DVDs become great for drilling purposes. Movement is constant. It is presented within a dance context, while still providing the repetition of drilling. If I can’t decide on what I want to practice on any given day, I’ll just pop in a workout and do some drilling.

I have  a number of different workout programs, some I’ve worked with a lot. Some I haven’t gotten to, but all have merit. Most of what I’ve got came from World Dance New York. They have a number of excellent workout programs in different styles.

bd1The program I’ve been working with this week is Jillina’s Shape Up n’ Hip Out. It has a warm up and a cool down sequence and three different routines of varying intensity, which you can do all of, or just one depending on one’s time and energy that day. The three sections are Slow & Smooth, Rhythm Hips, and Turbo Hips. I believe this one is a great option for beginners and for dancers looking to drill foundational dance vocabulary. The combos are simple, and Jillina breaks them down before kicking it up to full tempo. The footwork isn’t overly complex and it’s just a great overview of the basic building blocks of belly dance. I highly recommend it.

There are a number of belly dance workouts you can find for free on YouTube, as well. Tiazza of FreeBellyDanceClasses.com has a number of dance workouts on YouTube and most of them also have companion videos that breakdown the combos she uses. Leilah Isaac also has a number of dance workouts on YouTube, although I have not, as of yet, tried any of her routines.

There are a lot of options for dance workouts out there. It’s my favorite way to exercise and it’s a fantastic way to brush up on your dance moves, or discover belly dance if you’ve never done it before. Or if you’re just looking for a fun way to exercise that is easy on the joints, belly dance workouts are the way to go.

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Fact and Fantasy: Anthropology and Orientalism

The last couple times I’ve gone to visit Evryn, she has taken me to this beautiful Utopia known as Half Price Books. The last few years, I’ve been trying to mostly stick to e-books, as my physical library is fairly large and extremely daunting to move. But, I can’t resist a bookstore, especially one with discounted volumes.PicsArt_08-07-02.37.00

Last time, I walked out with three different volumes. This time, I walked out with four. I bee line it for the history and anthropology sections, hunting for volumes about different Middle Eastern cultures. My primary objective is Egpytian material, but this time I grabbed a few different things. An ethnography from Morocco, one from Iraq, a book on the Sahara, and Orientalism by Edward Said.

I am especially interested in Orientalism. It’s a complex topic, particularly in relation to the study of Middle Eastern dance. I mean, we call it Oriental Dance, and I believe a large part of Western interest in belly dance is fueled by remnants of Orientalist fantasy. I would wager that many come to the dance with images of slinky, sensual harem women twirling through their heads. It’s often a delightfully decadent fantasy, one that I’m not immune to myself.

Those images were perhaps what drew me toward belly dance. It wasn’t until I got here that I began to delve into the culture surrounding it. I was still studying anthropology in college when I started dancing, but it wasn’t until the last couple years that I became moderately obsessed with Egyptian culture. Discovering Journey Through Egypt was an absolute blessing, and reignited my passion for studying foreign cultures, as well as cemented my primary area of study.

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“Harem Dancer” by Gaston Guedy. My favorite Orientalist painting.

Orientalism as a movement, whatever its faults, is still interesting from a historical perspective, and I will not deny that I adore Orientalist art. I enjoy the fantasy, the romance, even if I know that it is largely false. But, at the same time, that fantasy makes me all the more interested in learning the truth about these things, and that fantasy is what led me down this path to begin with.

I can say with certainty, this will not be the last I speak of Orientalism. It’s a fascinating topic and close to the heart of this dance, whether we necessarily want it to be or not. I’ll definitely let you know what I find in the course of my studies.