(or any dance/fitness/performing arts teacher for that matter!)
By Laura Selenzi
Originally posted on Friday, February 25, 2011 at laurasbelly.blogspot.ca
It seems like everywhere you turn there's a bellydance class these days. When I lived in Toronto, there were 4 bellydance studios within walking distance. 7 if you're an athletic walker. When Yasmina Ramzy started Arabesque Academy in Toronto, there was nothing else like it in most of Canada. Now you can find a bellydance class at every university, gym, rec centre and dance studio. Are all of these teachers qualified? How can you find out? In this post I hope to give you a couple good tips on how to determine if a teacher is right for you.
There are certainly more people bellydancing than ever before, and many more talented dancers. But being a great performer does not necessarily make a good teacher, and vice versa. Someone may have a great website and look absolutely stunning, but that does not make them a good dancer. You may fall in love with a performer, and find them cold and disorganized as a teacher. One thing is for sure, you want to be inspired by your teacher, so finding someone who's performance style you love is important. If you find a dancer to be awkward and uncomfortable as a performer, they will likely be the same in class, and may not be comfortable teaching to large groups.
Does the teacher have respect for themselves and for the art form? Seeing one of their performances can be a good way to find out. Do they act bawdy and crass, or classy and professional? Do they teach in a clean, safe studio, or some sketchy dive? Do you really want to associate yourself with someone who is doing the art form a disservice? Also, remember that price should NEVER be your top priority, if you want to get your money's worth. A true professional will not undercut other teachers and devalue the profession by giving away their work for free or at a deep discount. Even if they turn out to be a knowledgeable teacher, it shows a lack of respect to other teachers who work hard to make a living.
Many people just want a fun class to get fit, feel sexy and have fun. This is a great reason to take a bellydance class! But just because you don't have any professional ambitions doesn't mean you should go to just anyone. Many newbie teachers say, "Oh, I know I'm not that experienced, but I only teach beginners". Beginner is the absolute most important level! 90% of advanced moves are a combination of isolations learned in beginner, and if you learn bad technique from the beginning, trust me, it is MUCH harder to unlearn than it is to learn something from scratch.
The other issue is your safety. Bellydance may seem like a gentle dance form, but all that hip twisting, shoulder snapping, chest popping and hip bumping can injure you if you don't have a knowledgeable teacher. Someone with experience will be specific when teaching technique, warning you to avoid things like stressing your joints, compressing your neck, hyper-extending your knees, etc.
One of the reasons I went in to Massage Therapy was to better understand bio-mechanics and the inner workings of the body to become a better teacher. What qualifications does the teacher have? Even if it's just knowledge collected from years of teaching and various related courses that may not have resulted in a degree, this is something you should research if you value your health! And as for learning the right technique, you may not start out wanting to be a "bellydancer", but so many girls fall in love with the art form and find themselves dedicated artists many years later. You deserve to get off on the right foot.
How long has the teacher been dancing before she started teaching? How long has she been teaching for? I personally waited 6 years until I felt I was ready to teach (and now I've been teaching for...13 years! EEP!). Some people wait a year or less. Do they really have enough knowledge to be taking your money for it? I have seen some dancers become amazing bellydancers in as little as two years, however these girls usually have a very strong dance background in other styles, and study like crazy for those two years. If the teacher studied every day with top-of-the-industry teachers, then maybe two years is enough. If they studied for 10 years with some lady in the park, well, not so much. Look at their training.
Is this just a silly on-the-side thing, or something the teacher is passionate about? For me, my love for bellydance is behind everything I do. There are a couple ways to tell if the teacher is serious. Have they studied with renowned teachers? If someone isn't willing to invest money and time into this dance, they can't be taking it very seriously. Dance training is expensive. Period. Do they invest in regular training? If they don't live in a big city, do they occasionally travel (or bring artists in) to stay fresh?
This extends to costuming, as shallow as it may sound. No matter if they're "designer", but a lingerie bra with a necklace sewn to it doesn't exactly scream "professional". Pro cabaret costumes cost a few hundred dollars. If you put together an amazing tribal fusion costume, it will be similar, if not more (That antique Rajasthani jewelry adds up).
Of course, having lots of bling doesn't make you good. I've seen a couple "interesting" performers with rich husbands who love to buy them designer costumes. The key here is professionalism. The costume doesn't have to be expensive, but it should show respect for the dancer and the art form.
Serious dancers will have a website. I know a couple amazing dancers in Toronto who don't, but you should at least be able to read about them on the main dance studio website. In general, if someone is taking the profession seriously, they should have one. Good business cards too. There are always exceptions to the rule, but there just needs to be a way to learn about the dancers' background.
Now, we can all get a little flustered or disorganized at times, but in general you want to see that your teacher has a plan. Technique should build on itself as you go, and the class should have a good warm-up and cool down. Designing a class plan, what order to teach the moves in, to what music, and in what time frame takes experience. As a students, this is something you usually only find out after you take the class.
It seems obvious, but simply knowing how to shake doesn't cut it. What kind of shimmy is that? What muscles are powering that chest lift? Where does veil work come from? Where does BELLYDANCE come from? Who are the Saidi people? Bellydance is a cultural art with a rich history. If the teacher has no idea where it comes from, they are doing both the dance and their students a disservice. There is a lot of discussion about whether Tribal Fusion teachers (who clearly state they don't teach traditional dance) should know about the roots of bellydance and Middle Eastern Folklore. I believe that of course they should at least know about the general history of the dance. Modern dancers don't necessarily have to study ballet in depth, but they do know the basics.
For me, this is a big one. Do you leave class feeling like crap because of a put-down from your teacher? Does she make you feel excited about learning more, or like you should just give up? How does she give criticism? Don't keep going to a teacher who crushes your spirit, or who makes you feel uncomfortable. That's not what you're there for. Sahra Saeeda is a wonderful example of the right kind of personality. Taking her "Journey Through Egypt" folklore certificate course, I felt so excited to learn more, she made us feel like scholars of dance. She respected the knowledge we came in with and was excited to teach us more.
I've had other teachers make me feel like I will never understand all the complexities of this dance and I should just give up. They may insult your other teachers and insist they are the "one true path" and their next big expensive workshop is the only way you'll ever improve. Which personality do you think will really encourage your progress?
Another thing to be wary of is teachers who are so sweet that they never correct your technique (again, what are you paying for?) or who feed your ego by promising you that you'll be a huge star. You want someone kind and encouraging, but you also want someone who will push you to be your absolute best. This may mean you occasionally leave class feeling frustrated or bummed-out, but you shouldn't feel personally hurt or disrespected by your teacher.
There are so many more factors to take into consideration, and following your instincts will always help you. I wish everyone could have a wonderful experience learning this incredible dance and hope you can find the best possible mentor to guide you!
by Laura "Selenzi" Sutcliffe RMT
Originally posted on Thursday, January 26, 2012, at laurasbelly.blogspot.ca
In my massage practice there is one condition almost everyone is plagued by, and it's back and neck pain. I would say 98% of my clients are experiencing discomfort in this area. I find myself giving the same advice over and over and thought I'd share my top 10 tips for avoiding back and neck pain with YOU!
Now, if you already have pain in these areas, you need to deal with your tight muscles, trigger points, fascial adhesion's etc through massage, osteopathy, or your therapy of choice...and ALSO do the things below to keep it from coming back.
Without further ado!
1. Stop sticking your head out.
I admit this one is a constant battle. Many of us stick our heads forward to look at a computer all day, while driving, while studying, while squinting because you're not wearing your glasses etc etc. Your head is meant to be perfectly balanced on your spine. Kapandji (Physiology of the Joints, Volume III) states that for every inch your head moves forward, it functionally gains 10 pounds in weight. So the muscles in your upper back and neck have to work extra hard to keep your head up. This puts the suboccipital muscles (at the base of your skull) in constant contraction. So gently tuck your chin back in, or think of bringing your ears back to be right over your shoulders. Instant poise! Read more on this here.
2. Correct Your Posture.
Everyone knows they need to "work on their posture", but how do you do this? Constant correction is a start...good reminders are: Weight over the arches of your feet, feet straight forward, knees straight forward, hip sockets, heels, shoulders and ear in a vertical line, chest in neutral (don't let it sink or thrust it forward) and pull up through the crown of your head.
But why is this so hard? Most people have very tight pectoral muscles (over your chest) and weak mid-back muscles. So, stretch your pecs, and strengthen your mid/upper back muscles, and you will find good posture comes easily.
3. Sleep on Your Back.
Many people sleep on their stomach with their head cranked to one side. (You know...for breathing.) To me this is pretty clear how this causes your spine and neck muscles to be irritated. Another problem is sleeping with a pillow that isn't the right size. If you can re-train yourself to sleep on your back, use a fairly flat pillow. Many people recommend sleeping with a pillow under your knees in this position to take the strain off your back. If your back is strained by having your legs straight...you need your hip flexors worked on, now. A very small pillow is probably ok. I guess.
If you absolutely cannot fall asleep like this, or you snore, try on your side with a pillow big enough to keep your head at 90 degrees to your shoulders, and hug a big pillow to keep your shoulders from rounding in. A pillow between your knees will keep your pelvis even too.
4.Drink Enough Water.
You've heard it a million times before, but did you know that being underhydrated can lead to stiffness and pain? Fascia is the connective tissue that weaves throughout your whole body, encapsulating every muscle fibre, muscle group, organ etc. See the gross pic at right (its a back). It's everything that's white. Stuck, immobile, or contractured fascia is often thought to be more responsible for pain and imbalances than the muscles themselves. And guess what, they need water to be pliable and delicious. I mean...functional. Read more on this here. Think about chewing gum. It's hard until you add moisture, movement, and warmth. More on the last two coming up.
5. Keep Warm.
Cold muscles like to contract to conserve heat. Walk out into the cold and your shoulders want to jump up into your ears. BAD SHOULDERS! Keep them happy with a cozy scarf and dress properly. This can also happen with a cold air vent or window draft hitting you, be sure to avoid this at the office and especially while sleeping.
If your muscles are already tight, we all know heat is a wonderful tool for relief! Hot showers, moist heat packs, and infrared heat are great because they penetrate deeper into muscles than regular dry heat.
6. Stop Sitting All Day.
I realize that you may be required by your job to sit for many hours a day. And although this is cruel and unusual, I get it. Oh, and no desk is "ergonomic" if you're sitting all day. It's a shocking revelation, but we didn't evolve to sit in chairs. See the diagram at right. It shows the positions used by humans all over the world. How many are you using?
The simple fact is that doing anything over and over, all day, causes injury. We know this about repetitive stress injuries, but did you consider that sitting is something you do over and over, all day? Every day, your hips and knees are put at a 90 degree angle, shortening your hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves. When you eventually stand up, your muscle length is totally out of whack and your back has to arch to compensate, among other problems. See more here. And be very afraid. But there are lots of things you can do...just read Katy's Blog. Get up and walk around as much as possible. You can even make a standing desk!
This is the fun part! Your body NEEDS movement to be healthy. And not just a shot of exercise once a day. Change your positions as much as possible! Walk instead of taking the bus! Take breaks from sitting! Take more dance classes! ;) Moving through the ranges of your joints is necessary to keep your mobility. Use it or lose it!
8. Ditch the Heavy Shoulder Bag.
When my clients come in with a combination of a very tight shoulder/neck on one side and tight low back on the other, this is always my first guess. A couple quick fixes: Before you go out, take out every extra thing that you don't need in your bag. Carry less. Get a smaller bag. Get a bag with a longer strap that will cross over your body. If you must carry heavy things, get a rolling bag. (These have saved my neck many times.) Get a (horror) backpack! There ARE cute ones out there! And according to at least two sources on the internet, they are stylish again. So you can feel smug, not dorky.
-Reconsider the Backpack
-Oprah Said So
-15 Cute Backpacks For More Than Just The Gym
-This is actually nice. This too.
9. Stop Wearing High Heels.
We all know they're not great for us, but turns out, they're actually horrible. Remember how I said that sitting at the desk all day shortens your hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors? Well, on top of that, so do your heels. They put a ton of pressure and strain on your low back too. The human foot is a miracle of engineering, and heels of any height (actually, most shoes) seek to create their own crazy engineering. If your foot muscles aren't able to move (as in almost every shoe), they are shutting off, and throwing off your whole biomechanical chain. This has been shown to lead to Osteoperosis, and even weakens your pelvic floor. I can't get into this right now. I just can't. Go here. And here. Please.
It still amazes me the difference that stress makes in the tone of our muscles. Many clients who come to me with chronic pain feel miraculously better on vacation. Once they're back to their stressful job/life, all the pain comes back.
Make your mental and emotional health a priority. Remember that to take care of others, you need to take care of yourself first. Whether this means getting regular massage treatments, taking yoga or dance classes, finding a creative outlet, meditating before bed, or whatever works for you, you need to take care of yourself, people!
This also goes for seeking treatment, don't wait until you are in severe pain. It is much more effective to catch a problem before if becomes a fully-fledged condition. Again, be kind to yourself. Good luck!