Philosophy and Methodology

Excerpt from "Oriental Dance Curriculum, Volume 1 Beginner to Multilevel: A Complete Guide for the Belly Dance Teacher"

"Oriental dance is more than movements. It is an embodiment of a unique musical form and cultural expression. For this reason, the art, craft, and science of teaching belly dance must incorporate more than mechanics of movements. Movement without expression and artistry is just movement with no meaning.

Ask any belly dancer who has been involved in the art for many years, why the continued fascination? I guarantee you will get answers like, “There is so much to learn!” Obviously, we are not talking about the moves. It means that Oriental dance is a manifestation of a vast array of cultural flavors and artistic influences that simply cannot be explored through the practice of movement alone. The movements are simply the vehicle to the understanding and embodiment of that expression. It is a rich and complex art that demands a multi-disciplinary approach. The art of Oriental dance may be complex. Teaching it should not be.

I often compare learning dance to language learning. First, you learn the alphabet, and then you put the letters together to make words. When you’ve learned some words, you begin to make sentences, and eventually paragraphs of thoughts and expressions.

Learning dance is very similar. First you must learn the alphabet of movement - muscle engagement. Then you put them together to learn words or vocabulary of movements, such as hip circle and figure eight. Then you learn to make sentences or combinations of movements and steps. Finally, you can write a full essay or choreography comprised of many combinations organized in musical phrases, or paragraphs.

I love the analogy of dance to language because dance is a language of expression, and in my other life, I was a language teacher. The other commonality between language learning and dance, especially Oriental dance, is that when learning a foreign language, there is an essential cultural element. Without this cultural context, a true understanding and appreciation of the language and dance will remain elusive and vague with a limited potential for advancement."

The methodology of my format incorporates three areas of competency in belly dance as a cultural art form, using both vertical and horizontal skill-building strategies to address the learning goals and objectives of each level.

1) Technique

2) Music & Cultural Context

3) Artistry

In general, technique is considered vertical skill-building. Vertical learning means that we will build skills, one on top of the other, where the previous skills must be developed before incorporating the next skill. For example, you need to know how to shift weight before doing a traveling step. And you need to know where to place your feet in order to make a direction change in your traveling step.

In general, music, cultural context and artistry are considered horizontal learning. It means that knowledge and understanding can be practiced and expanded intellectually. For example, you don't need to be able to dance to the Saidi rhythm in order to understand its cultural origin and context. You don't need to know how to dance to a taqasim in order to learn how to identify it.

There are many instances where these areas overlap. Categorizing skill-building and class content in this manner can help you greatly with organization, music selection, and movement vocabulary. It can help you create gentle and fun classes for beginners, and challenging and inspiring classes for more experienced students.