Editorial by Amira
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Welcome to the November '06 edition of
Dance Your Belly!™
Thank you to those of you who took the time to write me with some feedback on the last newsletter. I’m truly happy you found the information about workshops useful and I hope those hints will continue to serve you in your practice. Please always feel free to refer back to previous newsletters here.
The great news is that the CD that we have waited so long for is finally here. It contains more of the beautiful music from Phil Thornton and Hossam Ramzy that is featured on my DVD. Thanks for being so patient; it is now available on my website here. Also see the sidebar for details on the Christmas DVD and CD combo deal, right now offered ONLY in this newsletter.
Editorial by Amira
It is already the beginning of November and many of you have started something new in the last few months. It could be you started a new school year, new classes, a new training plan, a new diet, or new resolutions. I personally think most people make new resolutions in September; as summer ends and children head back to school, it feels like the time to start fresh and try something new or make changes. People tend to feel like it is the time to get serious. This is very much seen in the health clubs where I teach bellydance fitness classes. As soon as September hits, classes are full of new people with plans for losing weight, exercising or toning and strengthening. This is also the time when the classes are full of first-timers who have heard of bellydance and want to try it out. These new beginning students always remind me of that very first class we all went through. How did you feel in your first class? What did you expect? Did you even know what to expect? With that in mind, I thought that this might be the perfect time to write about “What to expect from a bellydance fitness class”, so that you have something to compare with your experiences so far.
Bellydance fitness class at the health clubs is slightly different from those at a dance studio with a teacher where you will study the dance over the course of a longer period of time. For example, at a dance studio, I’ve started new classes and formed a new troupe that I’m preparing for Christmas performances. I couldn’t possibly do this at the health club because the health club classes are open for everyone, and each week new people come into the class. In the health club style open class, I have to stick to the basics, keep the class simple and accessible for everyone in the room.
Amira at the Las Vegas Renaissance Festival '06, in full Tribal, wearing her family's traditional Setu jewelery
However, classes at the gym or health club can be a great way to get acquainted with the joys and physical benefits belly dancing provides. If you are a member of the health club or a gym and you just started out as a fresh belly dancer, here are some pointers of how to assess and value the instruction you are getting. Not every good performer is always a good teacher, but you’ll know that your teacher is caring and trustworthy if the things like the background of belly dance, proper posture, technique, warming up and cooling down are covered in the class.
Don’t be late to the class because the beginning might be the time your teacher talks about some of the history and the main aspects of the middle-eastern dance. Please note: I said MIDDLE-EASTERN DANCE not bellydance on purpose. Your teacher should introduce you to the art of middle-eastern dance, commonly known as belly dance and a current popular form of exercise. Your teacher should introduce herself and share about her own background in the dance form. You will probably intuitively sense the confidence level of a teacher by the way she/he carries herself, and how she looks in your eyes. One thing I can tell you is that belly dance teachers who choose to teach cannot help but pour their heart into teaching; they love the art and the sharing of it with others. The difference might come when teacher is technically challenged.
Here are some of the things that are covered in a quality class:
Proper posture has to be discussed in the beginning of the class. Proper posture is crucial, as it will help prevent potential injuries. You want to protect your body, as belly dance can be very vigorous exercise and holding a wrong or improper posture can do a lifetime of damage. (One of the main compliments I get on my instructional DVD is the fact that I have spent a whole section on posture.)
The warm up is as crucially important in a belly dance class as it is in any other physical class. The warm up section should gently cover all the parts of your body and also put you mentally and physically into the mood for the specific genre of class. There can be many different ways to warm up and many different styles, the teacher will shape that mood with her/his personality. Most importantly you should feel welcomed, comfortable and like you are in a nurturing environment. Your teacher should be observing the class while warming up and offer modified versions if needed. Most teachers blend the actual techniques of some moves into the warming up process.
The technique part usually follows the warm-up and it is the time when the teacher shows the movement, then breaks it down, explains and drills the move. The teacher may concentrate on a movement that uses one part of the body or a movement that uses several parts of the body. At some point in your belly dance class, you will most likely hear the word “isolations.” In Middle-Eastern dance, you will learn to separate different body parts from each other. They generally include the head, shoulders, chest/torso/ribcage, midriff, hips, knees, arms and hands.
The technique part can be greatly cardiovascular, but it doesn’t have to be at all. Please always remember that in bellydance class, you work out even if you move slowly and don’t sweat. The finding and articulation of muscles is more work then you think. A slow pace will help increase your focus on the movement of your body. You’ll be surprised to discover some muscles that you never knew even existed. So, don’t be surprised if your class is not aerobic, but you’ll feel it the next day.
The End of the Class:
Doing combinations at the end of class is a great way to end the class because you will feel all the progress you made in just one class. In the beginning of the class, you may have felt like you were just doing some exercises, but by the end of the class, you are dancing. Mostly, people feel very excited to be moving in a synchronized manner; it increases the adrenaline since the feeling is “I’m performing”. The technique part can feel slow, and doing the combination always adds excitement and enjoyment.
Most teachers offer a little combination at the end, but again, it may not be the case in every class and that is okay. Some classes can also be purely technique. If you are attending a class that is purely technique then it is highly recommended that you attend another class where you can do combinations of steps or even a choreography class. Why? Because eventually you will want to know how to put those moves together to create combinations; technique is not the only part of this dance. What matters the most is that you can loosen up and use those moves with any music. Just imagine if you only did technique and let’s say you become an absolute master of figure eights but then what…? Once you are on the dance floor, and you have repeated your figure eight for about 264 times, then it is obviously the time to tie your move to a different move. Combinations will teach you how to transfer from one move to another and I’ll keep emphasizing that it is a very important skill to have. Combinations don’t have to be complicated, but certainly you shouldn’t be stuck with one or two moves even if you can do them really well.
Another side of this is that your teacher may do mostly improvisational dance, which focuses on movement and spontaneity itself, rather than the technique. Even though this dance is all about movement and spontaneity, technique is crucial to your training and development as a dancer. If you are NOT the one who grew up in the Middle-East dancing and watching your grandma and your mother dance and have NOT done it since you were born, you most likely are NOT able reproduce these moves as well without telling your body exactly how to move. Most of us, including myself, were not born (read: not lucky enough to be born) in those conditions where dancing was a part of everyday life or dancing genes simply were already embedded in ones DNA. So, yes, you can still dance without knowing the technique, but your movement and spontaneity will be limited to your technique, and you will not be able to keep up with choreographies of modern style of dancing. Even something as old as the art of belly dance evolves and now proudly takes place in the modern world by including ballet and classical dance training into its curriculum. So, work on your technique and dance it out.
Cool down section
This is perhaps my favorite part in the fitness classes. Now after we have challenged our mind and body with all these intricate moves, the cool down section is a relief and the body needs it big time. I turn on a different music that is calming and relaxing; this changes the mood completely. This is also the time to feel the energies uniting in the class. I personally use simple yoga stretches for cooling down. I ask people to turn their gaze inside and feel the sensations within the body, to acknowledge those sensations and accept them. But that is just what I do… Any cool down section of any kind is good as long as you leave the class with a smile on your face and with the knowledge in your heart that you want to come back. That is what you should feel and in most cases, it is the ultimate goal of your teacher to make you feel like that.
Lastly, there is something that you should keep in mind but cannot expect from your teacher to notice:
Listen to your body
It is really easy to forget to breathe in the beginning of your bellydance training cycle. If you literally feel fatigue, tired or dizzy, you are probably not breathing. Take your time, breathe consciously and rest. Don’t go for racing and competing with others. There you might realize that doing seemingly effortless movements actually require a lot of body control and effort. Stretch if you need to. Drink plenty of water; hydration also helps to keep you aware. If there are any limiting factors to your body at all (bad knees, high blood pressure etc), please acknowledge and respect them. Once again, this is your time, and you want to get the most out of it. Use a positive and non-judgmental attitude towards yourself. Give yourself credit for doing what you are doing! Enjoy your classes!
I’d love to hear from you if you are someone who just started bellydance a while ago. I am curious about your experience. What did you feel in the first class? How do you feel now … days/months later? Write me!
I hope to see all of you in the future workshops in many different parts of the world!
Next scheduled workshops are at:
Lima, Peru !
November 11th. & 12th., 2006
9am - 7pm workshops
One Dinner Show on Tues 14th, 7pm
Please visit www.miluart.com for details and directions, if you happen to be in the neighborhood !
For more information on this or any other workshops, visit
Amira purring at the annual
"Halloween Hafla" in Las Vegas
Photo courtesy of
Click on Shivers & Shimmies,
UN: Halloween PW: Hafla
Here's a testimonial from our armed forces in Iraq that we're especially proud of:
We received Amira's Bellydance 101 yesterday and the females who wanted to attend the "classes" assembled yesterday evening to begin the instruction from the video. It was a huge success! Everyone absolutely loved the ease in which Amira explained the movements and even demonstrated how to accomplish some of the harder, more difficult movements. They especially loved the changing camera angles so we could see up close and from different levels how to do the movements. Before long, everyone was getting the hang of the moves and we were having an excellent time learning. So, we thank you so much for being patient and understanding with us and please thank Amira for us for the incredible video she's put out. You can be assured that we'll be ordering from you all again soon. Thank you once again!
The females of B Co, 4th BSTB.
Hello, and thank you so much for taking time and effort to mail the DVD. I truly appreciate it. I am not going to reveal my age, but will say so far I am well-preserved as they would say in the medical profession. I absolutely enjoy the Middle Eastern music and culture. Mainly, I am doing this just for myself, for the exercise and "for me" now that family is not present.
If possible, I would like you to make Amira aware that although I have been watching a different dancer's video, I found it rather difficult for a beginner, almost did not look forward to practicing to it. When I found Amira's video on the website, the first things I noticed were how soothing and calm her presentation is, also the clarity of the moves. It is very easy to follow. I will send an update after a week or so. She has a lovely manner.
Thank you again.
I would like to share some thoughts on the Middle Eastern Dance (the dance) with you. In May of 2004, you first introduced the dance to me at the Las Vegas Athletic Club (LVAC). I was a beginner, over fifty, and had been experiencing some low back pain after I competed in rodeo (barrel racing).
I loved the dance and the way you teach because you make sure everyone gets the basics. I then began taking lessons from Yolanda, at the other LVAC and from Donna at UNLV for two semesters. I have improved a little in the dance but the side effects have been extremely beneficial. Since last year, with the dance, yoga, and one chiropractic visit, I now have no back pain. Also, I believe the dance has taught me much about balance and grace. It has improved my riding so that I was able to win the American West Nevada State Barrel Racing Championship for the senior class. (The saddle is in my office.) I am currently the average winner in the Las Vegas Beauty and the Beast Series Rodeo.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful art with me.
- Lauren Dean
Director, Communication Services
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
I want to tell you how much I enjoyed your teaching workshop. I've been dabbling in belly dance for about a year, but still consider myself very much a beginner. Not only did I learn more in your class than some I have attended, but your sweet spirit and love for women and dance made all us beginners feel beautiful and graceful! I would not want to miss any opportunity to take a class from you in the future.
Also, my sister came for her very first class that day, and although you taught us so much in 2 hours, she said she didn't want the class to end! (Maybe we've hooked her!)
Please keep me on your email list, and I wish you all the luck and happiness in the world!
- Tracey McCullough
First of all let me thank you so much for all your hard work, your enthusiasm and a strong desire you possess to help ordinary women (like me) discover this mysterious and beautiful dance!
I am a beginner to a bellydance. Ever since I remember myself I always wanted to learn it, but never had a chance. Right now at the age 24, when I started taking bellydance classes, I surely had doubts about being able to "reproduce” all those moves. With you I learned that there's no prerequisites to start other than desire.
Besides that you are a beautiful dancer and a wonderful teacher, you have a great personality: u r a very warm and friendly person. During your workshop or classes you make everybody feel comfortable and confident about themselves. You are also very inspiring! I think so much more about myself now and the capabilities of my body.
I wish you good luck with your DVD and looking forward for new workshops!
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