Dancing today is different than it was twenty years ago, and with today’s modern conveniences, women are finding dance classes are just a click away. As a dance teacher, I found that I wanted belly dance to be available to all women who might not otherwise be able to learn because of location, economy or family.
Thus began my journey with online belly dance classes – a journey that included my husband. Both my husband, Daniel, and I wanted to make a difference in the belly dance world. Daniel is the definition of the “belly dance husband” who has survived the world of belly dance and the dramas that go along with it. Since he has been around belly dance for a long while, he wanted to be a part of creating solutions for problems dancers are facing today.
In today’s world of online belly dance classes, they aren’t so much a craze as they are a necessity to the changes that women are finding themselves in. Older women are looking for a pleasurable and healthier way to stay fit, while the working moms want alone time to enjoy doing something for themselves. The devoted student and professional dancer want more information outside the studio to add to their repertoire of moves, style and education. As time went on, it became apparent to us that online classes were necessary for a multitude of reasons. It’s a sign of the times for the modern belly dancer.
When I started to teach in front of the camera, one thing became clear – and that was that the instructional aspect of the belly dance class had to change. Belly dance can not be taught in a regular class format online because movement can’t always be seen by the camera’s eye the way the student needs to see it. My first videos that I did online years ago are a testament to the fact that I wasn’t thinking outside the box. The class format had to change because students are looking at feet, hips, arms, and chest all at once. All the areas had to be addressed as if the student was right there in
the same room with me.
Classes that don’t connect to each other and are a mish mash of what a teacher feels like teaching can become conflicting. There has to be a structured curriculum from one class to the next that is an extension from the prior class, especially if are doing weekly classes.
I have received emails from dancers who explained to me that information in class is key for them, not just a few tips here and there.Students have to learn how to incorporate movement into their dance and eventually the teacher has to step aside. In the end, the focus has to be on the student getting the information and being able to implement it into her dance. I have also received emails from women indicating that some of the problems they are having with online classes is curriculum that makes no sense to them. As luck would have it, I get feedback from women all over”the world and, because of this, I have created a curriculum that I feel students can understand. And believe me, if students don’t understand my classes, I get emails from them asking me questions and this keeps me on my toes.
This means that as a teacher I must have a dedication to each student that includes answering questions, even if it’s the same question over and over again. It boils down to personal attention based on really wanting to help students get ahead and feel good about their dancing. Most women eventually figure out who they want to study with, so it’s not so much me pushing my brand or style of belly dance on them. Hip Phylosophy is based on women writing me, suggesting or commenting on what they feel is lacking in their dance or studio curriculum. So it really is a community-based curriculum that women can feel good about – because I listen and implement their needs into my online classes.
I also feel that online classes have to be pretty straighttforward with no gimmicks involved. I know I can’t be everywhere at once and that is why I am doing online classes. Students have to know that I am here for their sake and not mine. This is one important value I feel that is missing in today’s dance world, and this is another reason why I started online classes. I remember my cowboy days practicing in the horse pasture or around our teepee. There was no one guiding me and it seemed like it took me a lot longer to get my moves down. I was practicing from a disadvantage that happened to be my life style at the time. Add in two left feet and you can only imagine how I looked. Fortunately, my passion kept me dancing and I started to feel like a belly dancer and eventually look like a belly dancer.
One important aspect of online classes is the fact that no dancer has to feel alone. Sometimes dancing can be stressful and daunting, to say the least. We all want to be accepted, but sometimes a mishap or bad experience will keep a dancer at home or away from dance friends. I have received emails from women who feel their home is not only their safety net but also their sanctity of mind, which is understandable with today’s trials and tribulations. My online classes are a link to a dance form women love. Women can practice any time of the day or night and the best part of all is that they don’t have to feel like they are missing out on their dance time.
It has also occurred to me that most dance instructors don’t just teach moves – they teach their own way of understanding this dance form. There isn’t a magic pill to belly dance where we can just take it and automatically become superstars in belly dance. Isadora Duncan spoke about three aspects of different types of dancers and I think everyone can relate to her way of thinking:
“There are likewise three kinds of dancers: first, those who consider dancing as a sort of gymnastic drill, made up of impersonal and graceful arabesques; second, those who, by concentrating their minds, lead the body into the rhythm of a desired emotion, expressing a remembered feeling or experience. And finally, there are those who convert the body into a luminous fluidity, surrendering it to the inspiration of the soul. ”
Women will find the right teacher for them and whether they learn in a studio, online or privately, women always seem to know what fits them best. The one thing I have always loved about this dance form is the fact that I have had the freedom to learn it my way. Women need to know that their style and creativity will blossom no matter who they take classes from. This type of comfort comes from choosing dance classes either online or in a studio that will help them not only feel like they are progressing in their dance but see it for themselves. The bottom line is not only how a man or woman feels about their dance, but how they feel about themselves.
Ann Halprin made a comment that really resonates with me and made me realize it’s natural for all dancers to be discouraged so they can finally get to a spiritual place of reawakened hope. She said, ”I’m very excited about dance and love it with a deep passion. I also struggle, tire and become discouraged. But what has always revived me … has been the rebirth of energy each time the creative process is awakened and artistic activity begins to unfold even in some infinitesimal measure. ”
The modern dancer has so much going on today, that not only are options the norm, but they are an integral part of everyday lives and schedules. And it is a pleasure for my husband, Daniel, and me to be right in the forefront of belly dancers’ needs. As I remember my days of practicing in the pasture, I realize that I have come a long way and I am reminded that passion is not only an objective in this dance, but a necessity; it makes the journey in this dance that much sweeter and more rewarding.
Leyla Najma is a choreographer, instructor and producer of Hip Phylosophy online instructional belly dance videos. Leyla resides in Albuquerque, NM, and can be reached at: Leyla@leyla-najma.com.
Michael L. Miller, photographer/independent filmmaker with lNine Point Productions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mr. Millers email address was incorrect in the last issue of The Chronicles.