While I have primarily done self-study throughout my dance “career” and have found it beneficial, there are a number of drawbacks to only engaging in independent learning. I only get snippets through the occasional workshops I do throughout the year and the couple of class sessions I’ve taken in the last couple of years, but I notice them.
One the downsides of independent study is you don’t get any teacher feedback. If your form is off, or if you’re doing something weird, you have to figure it out on your own, because there’s no one there to correct you. A way to mitigate this is to film yourself dancing a lot and comb over the footage and correct yourself accordingly, but it’s still not the same as immediate feedback from a more experienced dancer.
Lack of Guidance
When you study on your own, you’re…well…on your own. You have to decide how to develop your own program, which can be difficult if you don’t know what you’re looking for. You don’t have the guidance of a teacher to steer you in the right direction. When I started, it was a bit of a struggle to find what fit, because I didn’t know the vocabulary. I didn’t know what words to look for. I gravitated towards Baladi and Shaabi early on, but it took a few years for me to learn the words to be able to seek those things out. For a long time, I confused the two because I found the word Shaabi first, and the dancer was wearing a baladi-style costume.
When you study on your own, you are the only one who can make you practice. There are no classes to ensure you practice on a regular basis. This is why when I do find classes to take, I pay for the entire session in advance. This obligates me to attend. No excuses for not going. I find myself often going through long periods where I don’t practice at all. If I had people to dance with, I feel I would dance more often.
I feel like I have done well for learning on my own, but I also understand that my progress as a dancer has been slowed because of it. Having been acquainted with the Aalim Bellydance Academy for the last few years, I notice their students progress a lot faster due to the regularity of their practice, access to teachers, and regular performance opportunities. With lack of guidance, accountability, and feedback, you will move slower.
Ultimately, all of these issues come back to the ultimate drawback to self-study, the lack of involvement with the dance community. That support network isn’t there. All of the aforementioned issues come from this single most important point. Being a baby dancer all alone is really difficult. When you finally do stumble your way into the community, you feel like an uneducated dolt because you don’t know all the words. You don’t know the big name dancers, your dance ancestors, the famous composers. It can be intimidating.
I am grateful that managed to find the community via the workshop circuit. It has improved my dancing a lot even with just the few events I go to each year. I have met countless new friends through these experiences and even found a few classes as a result. While I am pleased with the results of my independent study, if I had had the opportunity to learn with others in the beginning, I would have. If you don’t have the opportunity to learn from a live teacher, or take a class, then independent learning is a great way to get started with exploring this beautiful dance. If you do have the opportunity to take a class, do it. Seriously, you won’t regret it.