Here are ten ways that a belly dance trip can improve your belly dancing:
- Access New Teachers. Perhaps the most obvious reason to travel for your belly dancing development is to take lessons from a different selection of teachers. Every teacher has a different way of explaining the technique, of correcting the students and helping them connect with the music. One of the greatest lessons we can learn is that there is not just one way to learn to belly dance. Your home town teacher will always be your favorite, but other teachers will widen your experience and change how you think about dance.
- Learn a New Skill. No teacher can specialize in all forms of belly dance. If you want to improve your skills, study with the experts. No amount of research, watching videos or self practice can compare to being in the room with a teacher who was born in the culture, lived the lifestyle, or developed that style of dance. Which brings us to...
- Meet the Innovators. While the roots of our dance may be ancient, the art of belly dance as a popular performance is still young enough that many of the innovators are still alive and hip dropping. The stars of the 1960's and 1970's are teaching workshops or presenting lectures. Not to be morbid, but if you take your belly dance education seriously, you need to meet these wonderful people this year, because they wont be around forever. When they take their final curtain, their first hand knowledge goes with them.
- Explore New Music. Ever left a local Hafla or performance bored by the music choices of your peers? Each local belly dance community has its favorite artists and styles of music, hits that get re-used, re-cycled and become performance favorites. By stepping outside your local circle you can experience not only the music choices of other performers, but also sample local bands and new mixes.
- Discover the Next Big Thing. Every famous name had to start somewhere. They all took a beginners class, danced at their first Hafla, were offered their first teaching gig, and filmed their first DVD. While its tempting to plan your travels around the diamonds of belly dance, explore a little further and find the unpolished gem. You may be very glad you did!
- Return to the Basics. I can't say it often enough, returning to the basics with a good teacher will do wonders for your skills. It is essential before you begin teaching, so you don't pass on your bad habits. Many dancers consider it like an annual check up with the Dr - the chance to go through the basics with someone and highlight holes in their knowledge or skills that need polish. However, pride can be a road block. Its hard to contact a local teacher, or someone you consider a peer, and ask them to critique your hip drop. Instead, consider contacting a teacher outside your area for a private lesson.
- Inspiration. Travel broadens the mind. There are thousands of ways that a trip away can improve your belly dance, without even focusing on the belly dance! Just being away from the familiar will spark the imagination. Perhaps the color of the sky will inspire your new costume, or the sound of the birds will help you find a new arm route. The change of pace, the music on the radio, the people you meet - the whole experience is inspiring.
- Understand your Skills and Talent. When we learn and dance with the same group of people year after year its easy to become complacent. Perhaps you are the headliner at most of the local shows, or always center front in your teachers choreographies. Its easy to think you have reached your peak. When we have the chance to move outside our local community, we can see how our skills match those of dancers in other cities. Watching, learning and performing with others can highlight the areas we need to develop, or be a huge ego boost.
- Shop for New Costume Ideas. We tend to think that all belly dance classes look very similar to our own, but fashion in class wear is varied and fascinating. Equally, trends in performance wear tend to grow in certain areas before they expand to the wider community. Does your teacher's recital drip with rhinestones? or do all the performers prefer the minimalist look? There are always new retailers to explore, new cuts and styles to try out and new designers to lust after.
- Bring your Expanded Horizons back to your Community. Finally, people who travel have a huge impact on their local dance community. You may be the first to suggest hosting an exciting teacher, or to present a performance to an unknown band. You might adapt a combination to suit your own students, or suggest improvements to their existing costumes that better reflect the changing fashions. You might be inspired to study a subject in more depth, and become the local expert, or encourage others in your social circle to travel with you next year. Your personal development has an impact on all the belly dancers you meet.
"In 2006 I set off on my first real belly dance adventure. I spent a week in New York, took Morocco's intensive training course and had my first taste of America.
Through contacts made during my obsession with the MED list (the belly dancer connection board that grew through the early days of the internet), I invited myself to restaurants where the big name dancers were performing, and to drop in classes with my heroines.
The next year, I took a similar trip to San Francisco. I used google and email to contact a dozen teachers in the area and plan my own intensive made up of classes and private lessons. Some of these people turned out to be upcoming stars, others were the "grandmas" of belly dance - each of them made me feel welcomed, shared their knowledge and love of dance. After taking two or three lessons with Rose Harden, I invited her to visit the UK and hosted her a couple of times over the next few years. I planned my meals around restaurant shows and fell in love with the best city in the world.
The final trip in my Trilogy of American Belly Dance was to The Las Vegas Intensive in 2008. This time I took the whole package, which included hotel, workshops, performances and even some transport. I picked out workshops that covered the gaps in my knowledge, as well as those I knew I would enjoy and loved both the professional and attendee shows.
By 2009 the pound to dollar exchange rate had changed and I no longer had the budget for exciting trips abroad. However, three years of training with some of the top belly dancers in the world had changed my own skills and experiences beyond recognition.
Back in the UK I continued to travel to improve my belly dancing, visiting other cities and weekend events from the Isle of Wight to Leicester. Weekend events like Celebrating Dance and social dance events like Planet Egypt in London.
In 2011 we had the opportunity to move as a family to San Francisco. Since then I have taken every opportunity to perform, teach, watch, learn and write !
This year I will be teaching in Merced, attending Waking Persephone in Seattle and the Las Vegas Intensive. I also plan to tour the UK with Dawn Devine once our new book "Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage" is finished. If you would like me to teach in your area, I'm now taking bookings for 2016/2017!"
Check out my previous Blog Posts including : "I'm Perfect for Belly Dance - And so are You !" and "Picking out your Troupe's Costume"
She has taught more than 4,000 belly dance classes, both in the UK and US. She now teaches in Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore in the SF bay area, as well as workshops world wide. Her classes are known for their humor, detailed breakdowns and cultural context. Students who have studied with Sara have gone on to teach and perform in all styles of belly dance and many have made their living through performance or teaching.
Sara’s first book “Teaching Belly Dance” is available on Amazon. Her second "Becoming a Belly Dancer: From Student to Stage", co- written with Dawn Devine, Alisha Westerfeld and Poppy Maya, is available in 2016.