Anyone can rent studio space and organize a class. Some studio owners do not check out credentials on instructors coming from different dance traditions than they are familiar with. All teachers vary widely in their teaching and performance philsosphies, practice, methods, and styles. Each teacher does have her own unique ways of breaking down moves, teaching prop work, correcting, and generally passing on knowledge. Some teachers teach choreography, some don’t. Some are trained in folkstyles and/or have training in other dance traditions. Some teach veil, finger cymbals, both, or neither in beginner levels. Expect inconsistency.
Keep in mind that most teachers will teach privately and semiprivately (2-3 people) at varying rates; expect to pay $25-$55 per hour. This is a more focussed way of learning, and is helpful when you want specific corrections, drilling, and feedback on technique or choreography. Private lessons work best for students who have been dancing for at least a year.
When looking for a teacher or evaluating a DVD you should look for a combination of:
- years of experience (5+ at advanced level and higher, as well as performance);
- formal training (group, private , workshop classes) she has pursued and is still pursuing;
- first aid training;
- formal, standardized, certified teacher training in Middle Eastern dance, via Hadia or Suhaila Salimpour (the only 2 widely recognized courses);
- fitness leadership and/or coaching training;
- university or college-level coursework in education, dance instruction, anatomy, physiology, kinestheology, osteology, massage therapy, music, dance, and/or cultural anthropology/pre-history of the Middle East /North Africa;
- membership in recognized dance organizations, such as Dance Manitoba;
- awards (specific and actual) or other formal recognition by actual, viable, accepted institutions, organizations and associations (not just ones she has invented to award herself, e.g. “Golden Toe Ring” award for Best Hairdo; you should be able to look up and verify what the award was for and why/how it was awarded, e.g. Dance MB Provincial Dance Festival will award multiple gold medals in a single category because dancers are marked on a criteria out of 100 points, not ranked against each other
- connections and collaborations to other dancers and participation in events such as workshops and stage shows (not just her own) held in the local area and nearby cities . She may not have all of these credentials, but she should have many or most to provide a safe class, with authentic technique and accurate cultural knowledge.
Take charge of your learning. Read her bio. Ask questions. Check references and other details. Beware of bios heavily peppered with vague, self-congratulatory terms such as “numerous”, “huge”, “always”,”hundreds”, and so on. Check, ask, verify, be critical and keep your eyes open.
A dancer’s cultural background is not necessarily important–it should not be a make-or-break point for you. There are many excellent dancers who are internationally recognized for their dancing and teaching talent who are not from the Middle East. Just as there are fine Flamenco and Highland dancers who are not Spanish or Scottish. A ballet dancer does not have to be French or Russian to be excellent. A dancer of Middle Eastern-descent will indeed have special knowledge and understanding of the language, music, and culture. But keep in mind that professional dancers working in the Middle East also pursue formal training for many years, in Orientale and other dance forms, have their own dance coaches and choreographers (and costumers), and have spent a lot of time adding to the homedance they grew up with. Think of it this way: not every person born in Scotland knows how to Highland dance, or could teach it, nor does every person born in Canada know how to play hockey, tap a maple tree for syrup, or trap beaver. My father coached junior hockey for most of my young life, but I can neither play the game, nor could I coach it.
Furthermore, not every person born and raised in the Middle East will have had direct experience with dancing, and fewer will have any training. Their experience may be limited to seeing it on TV, which is exactly like watching “Dancing With the Stars” and claiming to be a ballroom dance expert.
An Orientale dance performance in a stage or restaurant setting should leave you with the “wow” feeling–the dancer should be very well-dressed, well-groomed, demonstrate excellent rhythm and musical interpretation, and her movements should change to fit the different songs in her set. It should not be slutty, sloppy, overly repetitive, or leave you with the feeling that what you saw was wierd and silly.
Dancers in Winnipeg takes turns hosting a visiting professional or master-level instructor in a formal workshop, with a stage show, 1-3 times per year, which feature out-of-town and local dancers of many levels. Keep in mind, though, that you should approach a workshop experience with a similar, critical, eyes-open and brain-turned-on manner. Don’t expect to be catered to in any way–you will do well to walk away with 3 things that you remember–and don’t assume that because someone is teaching a workshop that they are as stupendous as it is claimed they are.
PLEASE BE AWARE: Teachers and performers are NOT trained and educated in a standardized way, so there are no guarantees of their talent, ability or knowledge. Bellydancing is plagued by bad dancers and worse teachers who may put your health and well-being at risk, tell you untrue or invented facts about Middle Eastern dance, and teach you poor or incorrect technique. It’s student beware! Take your well-being seriously when you spend your money and make your commitments.