Why I Bellydance – The Debra Edition

I asked my students a series of questions hoping to get some insight about why people come to bellydance class vs. why they stay in class. I have noticed that when people commit to pushing through the initial hurdle of understanding the basic moves, they become hungry for more. Others say it’s “too hard” and don’t go beyond a class or two. The truth is, it’s difficult. And it’s not the sort of difficult that immediately impresses an audience because it looks so easy. Therein lies the frustration for new students. Trained dancers merely become “in on the secret” that moving your body in serpentine waves or percussive isolations takes a great deal of coordination.

Debra joined my classes in 2016 and I could immediately tell that she had a solid foundation with the ability to perform complex movements with ease. She is a quick learner when it comes to choreography and, having just seen her perform a solo, she’s dynamic and captivating on stage. 15515811_10102226942581092_911954376_o

Q: How long have you taken bellydance classes?

A: It’ll be 4 years in Jan.

Q: Why were you first inclined to take a bellydance class?

A: I’d taken many dance classes over the years starting with ballet and jazz as a kid. Kelli Hornachek actually invited me to one of her classes at Serena’s back when we worked together. I really loved it, but couldn’t consistently go to that class. I’ve always loved the movement you see in bellydancers, the grace and the passion – and the sparkly costumes and amazing makeup were just a bonus!

Q: How long did it take for you to feel like you grasped the basic movements? What kept you coming even if you may have felt awkward trying to do serpentine movements or had limited range of motion in the hips.

A: The weirdest part for me was that I felt many of the movements were ones that my body was always meant to do – like maya or undulations. It was always the movements that others seemed to pick up easily that I had the most trouble with (like a shimmy that I still struggle with). What always keeps me coming back is knowing how much more there is to go. There is always another challenge, another level, another prop, a way to make your movements more crisp or more smooth. When your teachers still take classes to better themselves, you know there is so much more to do. I love that I know I’ll never stop learning.

Q: If you stopped attending classes at any point, what did you (or what would you) miss about it the most? What keeps you coming back now that you’re past the initial hurdles?

A: On the occasion that I have to miss a few classes (for whatever reason) my body actually misses it. And no matter how tired I am at night, or how little I slept, I always feel better after being in class. The minute I step on the dance floor, the troubles of my day are no longer an issue. The tiredness I felt has been replaced and I feel energized. The other thing i love about this community, is that you can walk into a brand new class without knowing anyone and you’re welcomed with open arms. When I went in search of classes after moving to CT, I knew there was nothing to worry about and Tava (and the studio) made me feel right at home.

 

Q: What particular benefits does this dance, or dance class(es) offer you that you cannot get from other exercise, community events or dance form?

A: I was in the ballroom dance community for quite a few years, and while I never competed, I never quite felt like I fit in or that I could compete. This dance community is so much more open and judgement free. I’ve seen women and men of all ages, shapes and sizes looking stunning while bellydancing. While so many people in the outside world think of it as just sexy (which it absolutely can be) it above all, celebrates femininity and the female body – well every body for that matter. It makes you feel good from the inside out for yourself and for those around you. When you see a dancer being taken over by her passion for the dance and the music it’s really something to behold – whether just in class or in a performance – that speaks to the audience and it’s something you don’t always get in other forms of dance. You can really let yourself be free.

 

Q: What would you say to someone who is curious to try bellydance but is hesitant?

 

A: I usually use my answer for #4 when trying to convince people to come with me actually:) I always tell them the movements will start out feeling strange, your body won’t be used to it, but even after just 2-3 weeks you’ll get to understand how your body moves in a totally different way.

Thank you Debra, for taking the time to answer these questions. Thank YOU for taking the time to read. I hope it’s shed some light on what attracts people to this dance vs what keeps them coming back year after year.

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For Tava’s class schedule, please visit:

http://bellydancebytava.com/tavas-current-class-schedule-for-fairfield-county-ct/

To read Why I Bellydance – The Mary Edition (aka Tava’s Mom), click here!

Why Do I Bellydance? The Mary Edition (aka Tava’s Mom)

I asked my students a series of questions hoping to get some insight about why people come to bellydance class vs. why they stay in class. I have noticed that when people commit to pushing through the initial hurdle of understanding the basic moves, they become hungry for more. Others say it’s “too hard” and don’t go beyond a class or two. The truth is, it’s difficult. And it’s not the sort of difficult that immediately impresses an audience because it looks so easy. Therein lies the frustration for new students. Trained dancers merely become “in on the secret” that moving your body in serpentine waves or percussive isolations takes a great deal of coordination.
Mary, my mother, dances almost every day. She practices with her DVD’s, takes a weekly class at Work It Dance & Fitness and commits to such practice goals as “100 omis a day.”
Q: Why were you first inclined to take a bellydance class?
A: Because of you
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For context, when I first left New York City, I started teaching as a way to meet people and bring a bit of the culture I felt was missing from my new life in CT. Mom took my class purely to support my endeavors but, 10 years later, here she is — a loyal student of bellydance.
Q: How long did it take for you to feel like you grasped the basic movements?
A: At least a year. At most…I’m still having issues.  When I realized how difficult it was, I also realized how much my body needed this type of movement.
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Q: If you stopped attending classes at any point, what did you (or what would you) miss about it the most? What keeps you coming back now that you’re past the initial hurdles?
A: I would miss two things.  One, the specific kind of movement which comes from the core and moves outward to other areas of the body in waves. (and because I’m learning about science – all energy moves in waves so what better way for the body to move). Two, you are an excellent teacher so I feel like I’m in good hands taking risks with movement.  I won’t get hurt in class. (Aw, thanks Mom).
Q: What particular benefits does this dance, or dance class(es) offer you that you cannot get from other exercise, community events or dance forms?
A: To me this dance is organic.  It seems to come from a natural expression of the body.  It improves strength and fluidity.  I wish I were young enough to improve but just holding a level of ability is good for me.   I think the movements are especially good for older bodies which become stiff and more difficult to insert grace.
Q: What would you say to someone who is curious to try bellydance but is hesitant?
A: Since most of my friends are my age, I say what I just said in the last question.  I’m amazed that more of them won’t try.  It always strikes me as odd that people want to go places to explore but they don’t always think to explore within.
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Why do YOU bellydance?

Dancer Origin Stories #3 – Tava — Grace Notes Blog

Our next installment of Dancer Origin Stories features the glorious Tava. I have hosted Tava in the past for workshops at my studio in Portland, ME and I look forward to the next opportunity to learn from her. Tava has been a professional belly dancer in New York City and the surrounding areas for over 15 years. She’s currently based in Norwalk, CT, where she brings her deep knowledge and caring attitude to her weekly classes, while continuing to perform regionally and teach workshops up and down the East coast. Now… on to Tava’s Origin Story!

via Dancer Origin Stories #3 – Tava — Grace Notes Blog

Oh, Just Leaving Pieces of My Soul

This blog post comes after my most recent experience of dancing with tears. Here’s the thing, it happens, and it’s ok.

I have cried a few times during performances. Once when my cat died and I was still healing. I put a taqsim in my set and dedicated it to my sweet fur baby. Tears flowed. Another time I ripped off my toenail during floorwork and the pain was overwhelming. But, on occasion, I get teary when the music really moves me and I’m lost in the moment of feeling everything I feel when I become a vessel for beautiful music. Now, this may not be appropriate for a high-end corporate gala when I’m hired to entertain –BUT, for a theater show or community event, is it really so wrong to show that we’re human?

I know some people feel strongly that a dancer shouldn’t express this emotion; that s/he should be “on the verge” but never cross the line. I’m not one of those people. I can recall performances where the dancer had genuine tears in her eyes and I followed suit and joined them. To me, there is something so refreshing about the authenticity and vulnerability of real emotion on stage. If I’m being honest, I see more and more faux-motion and less e-motion as people seem to want to emulate the Tarab-like expressive qualities of their favorite dancers on YouTube (ouch! too harsh??)

Nonetheless, I think the audience can generally feel it when it’s real and tears are a pretty good indicator. I’m not talking about balling or being unable to get through a performance because of an emotional release. I mean tears that are like a spice to a performance by flavoring it with sincerity.

As dancers who are sometimes hired to create ambiance or fill a room with “party vibes,” it is a gift when we are able to contribute to a show that is more about our artistry. When you have those opportunities, savor them. Seek them out and support them so others can experience the same. These are the events that drive our passion and give us outlets for our true style. Choose music that challenges you with space to pause not just music that fosters your favorite tricks (I’m not anti-flash…just like a good balance). Enjoy every moment of being true to your artistry.

In the above photos from Bellydance Night at Roxy & Dukes, I closed my set with tribute to David Bowie; an artist with a legacy of creative risks. I had been running at full pace without rest and, perhaps, a little run down. I knew when the song began I was raw and there was no hiding from it. But it turned out, it was exactly what I needed. And I’m happy to say I left a little piece of my soul on that stage.

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Tava is a bellydance instructor, performer & choreographer based in NY & CT. To learn more about weekly classes, workshop bookings or events, please visit: www.BellydancebyTava.com

Coming Full Circle and the Art of Non-Compromise

Back in 2006, I walked into my supervisor’s office at a major NYC University and I gave a generous 4 weeks’ notice. I had just been offered my 2nd promotion (and a raise), had a retirement plan, a decent salary, plenty of paid vacation and had earned the respect of my colleagues. I had a comfortable job. I worked hard. As a trained counselor with strong admin skills, disability services was a rewarding path for me. What happened? Two things:

  1. I was bitten by the professional dancer bug.
  2. They restructured our department and moved us out of our offices and into cubicles. Yeah….CUBICLES! My colleague and I referred to it as the “glass case of emotion” — (cool points if you get the reference).

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No way was I going to do a soul-crushing commute to sit in a cubicle and dream about being a full-time dancer. I was a diligent student who did whatever gigs came my way but I wanted more and I was ready to follow my passion without regret. Suddenly I had photoshoots, a web site, business cards and a cell phone that was always within reach. I had an agency pumping more gigs my way than I knew what to do with and I secured some regular restaurant jobs. I was busy and it was exciting.

As years went by, I found myself wanting to be more creative than the typical gig called for. I joined dance companies, choreographed some pieces for theatrical shows and scratched the itch as I went along. Now, my need for creativity and non-sparkly dance outlets has only grown stronger. I still enjoy the typical “gig” but only because I do about 1/4 to 1/2 of what I used to do.

Returning to a day job on a part-time basis has given me the freedom to cherry pick the dance jobs that I accept. Since dance is no longer my sole source of income, I can spend more time feeling like an artist or diving into my love of folklore. It’s afforded me the ability to be non-compromising. If a client doesn’t appear to respect what I do, or if the job seems like more hassle than it’s worth, I don’t take it. So now the jobs I do are, for the most part, really fulfilling.

I realize my future will see even more “day job” work and fewer gigs, but I suspect this will be a very rich time in my dance life. The irony isn’t lost on me. I left a full-time job to earn my living as a dancer. After a while, the full-time dance life left very little time to actually enjoy dance. And now, what sustains me is the fact that I am able to choose dance. We’re best friends, but no longer co-dependent. I’m more in love with every movement as a result. I show up to my gigs excited to be there. My relationship with dance is on my terms now and I had to come full circle to reach this place.

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Shimmyathon, 2016, Peter Paradise Photography

If you’re considering a drastic life change to allow more space for dance, just go into it with eyes wide open. It’s a great thing to experience and teaches you a lot of about running a small business, managing client expectations, pushing through physical limits, dealing with the ebb and flow of fluctuating finances and a heck of a lot more. If you want more time to dance for YOU, out of pure love for the culture and the music, you just might want to remain a hobbyist.

The dance hobbyist has the best of both worlds. You can have all the sparkly and adventure…with a 401K on the side.

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Tava is a highly regarded professional bellydancer, instructor, choreographer and author of the best-selling book, “Little Book of Big Advice: Enlightening Ideas for Bellydance Professionals.” She performs regularly throughout the NYC Metro Area and the tri-state area. Equally at home performing at galas, family occasions, cultural events, theaters or in music videos, she prides herself on having a career with as much variety as possible.

In addition to the “sparkly bits” of her life, Tava has a Masters in Counseling from Fordham University and uses the dance as a tool for building self-esteem and healthy body image for women.

An Artist’s Legacy

With the recent passing of two musical icons who really nailed it in the legacy department, social media is flooded with their previously unknown exhales of art that will be around for at least another generation or more. Whether it be vaults of unreleased music, inspiring stories of artistic integrity or heartfelt letters from people across the globe confessing how Prince or Bowie’s music got them through the roughest of times, it’s all got me thinking. Those of us who will never reach such levels of fame or notoriety, are we hoping to leave a lasting mark on our art? Am I?

The truth is, I don’t think so. The longer I dance the less I care about receiving recognition for it. My dance goals are in the here and now. I seek ways to grow and challenge myself and, while I am tremendously grateful that I get to inspire my students and maybe some audiences, my dance is not so innovative. I am one part of a long lineage that connects an ancient dance to the present. Sure, I use movement to transcend problems, to express what words can’t, to tap into something far more special than taxes or weekly trips to Stop & Shop, but I don’t feel disappointed to think my story ends with me. prince

I’m deeply moved by the body of work these two musicians created. They are examples of people who became famous in spite of themselves, on their own terms, who maintained control of their artistry throughout their careers. I’ve been moved to tears listening to Prince’s latest album and re-discovering Bowie’s  Lady Grinning Soul; dancing to both with a newfound appreciation. I can imagine how satisfying it is to know that your art lives on without you and I would be honored to learn this were possible for me but… it isn’t. And that’s ok. bowie-1152551

Prince and Bowie’s passing has renewed and strengthened my desire to have integrity in my work. Heck, did you see the letter Prince wrote to Suzanne Vega? It’s beautiful both in its words and penmanship/design. Thriving creativity doesn’t take a nap when it’s time to write letters. Artists who don’t phone it in, can inspire in so many ways beyond the talents they’re celebrated for. (Note to self: Write more sincere letters that people feel compelled to keep for years to come).

Both Prince and Bowie harnessed their creativity and paired it with a diligent work ethic. Learning about how they lived and made music has been like a little slap on my wrist reminding me that life is short and it’s time to dance all the dance I can. I heard a story on NPR about a jazz musician (sorry I forgot his name) who got a visit from a friend’s little girl near the end of his life. The little girl asked if he was dying and he said, “Yeah, but it’s been a great gig.” That’s what I want to feel at the end of the line…more than anything.

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Photo by Ale Vega (Oriental Dance Pictures)

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Tava is a professional bellydancer, instructor, choreographer and author based in NYC and CT. She is available to perform at family occasions, cultural events, theatrical performances, galas or media appearances. Tava’s weekly bellydance classes are in Fairfield County, CT with a range of workshop topics offered in various locations in the U.S. To learn more, visit: BellydancebyTava.com

Live With Art: It’s Good For You

Art is about crossing boundaries, building community AND boosting the local economy. Prospective residents are attracted to areas based on their public gardens, art galleries, music scene and other avenues for creativity and culture. So, why aren’t the arts thriving across the U.S. when all signs point to its significance?
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Some of the variables mentioned were time, cost, access and resistance to going alone. Well, there isn’t much artists can do about most of those things, but we still need to keep touting its’ value. We need to remind the public about the benefits of dance, music, visual art, architecture and creativity in their lives.
Since I left NYC 10 years ago and became a bigger fish in a smaller pond, I’ve worked tirelessly to instill the value of cultural dance in my community (and beyond). I began to produce events where people could see what we do and be entertained or inspired to join us. Without sponsors or much in the way of a budget, I’ve financed cultural dance events since 2002 with the hopes of breaking even. My goal was to create an experience similar to what I had in New York City — here in my own town.
Fortunately, there are many people who get it and consciously create space in their lives for art. In 2010, when the economy was pretty much toast, audiences at art events provided $74.1 billion of valuable revenue for local merchants and their communities. I suppose the million dollar question is how do we reach people who consider art to be an “optional” perk to explore when time allows? How do we override the other variables listed above?
Hey, if kale can surge in popularity because of it’s benefits, art can too. It’s a much easier sell. Here’s why:
1. Participating in the arts increases well-being as measured by life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors. https://www.arts.gov/art-works/2012/hidden-benefits-participating-arts
2. If you’re interested in art, turns out you may be more altruistic, tolerant and racially tolerant. Doesn’t that sound nice? http://news.uic.edu/interest-in-arts-predicts-social-responsibility-study

3. It’s good for the local economy. “Arts and culture contribute to local andregional economies, generating jobs and spending, attracting tourists, and making places attractive to businesses and their employees.” https://www.giarts.org/sites/default/files/public-benefits-value-of-arts-culture.pdf

4. Dance, specifically, improves cognitive functioning and pours awesome sauce on your brain.
5. Cultural dance “serves multiple functions (e.g., traditional/ceremonial practices, celebrations, healing, spirituality, cultural transmission, and social connectedness).” http://www.healthevidence.org/view-article.aspx?a=15502
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Michael Baxter Photography (Do not use without permission)

In short, support the arts as best you can. Look for low-cost ways to involve yourself. You deserve it. Your community deserves it too.

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Tava is a professional bellydancer, instructor and author in NYC and CT.  She performs regularly for all family friendly events, galas, weddings and corporate events. Tava also performs in creative/theatrical endeavors and enjoys her balance of commercial and artistic fulfillment.  To learn more about classes in Fairfield County, CT or to inquire about hosting Tava for a workshop, please visit: BellydancebyTava.com

Bellydancers and the Chair: The Four-Legged Elephant in the Room

If you’re a bellydancer who has done even a handful of professional performances, chances are you’ve encountered, “the chair.” This four-legged elephant in the room can be the embodiment of an antiquated stereotype. When a male guest of honor is seated directly in front of a female dancer while she performs, it can feel a little “harem girl/seduce the sultan/oriental fantasy-ish,” with shades of lap dance. Personally, I don’t have a problem with empowered women making their living from erotic dance, but I do think we need be to be careful not to blur those lines. A dance rooted in culture that’s a physical expression of celebration has a very different intention. Early in my career, when I danced in front of “the chair,” I saw lots of confused faces when I didn’t dance lasciviously for the  seated male. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better about changing the expectation by having more thorough pre-gig conversations (where I specifically request no chair in the middle of the room) and a bit of on the spot strategy for those times when an audience member decides it needs to be there.

downloadThe vast majority of the time, people are well meaning and have no intention of offending a performer.  In fact, sometimes it’s the women who get the chair out for the guy. But, I find it interesting that the chair never comes out when the guest of honor is a woman (at least, not in my experience). Perhaps there is some inherent understanding that women celebrating birthdays don’t need to be in the “personal space” of the dancer. The dancer’s role is to bring joy to a party and create a memorable experience; not to titillate. The dancer is there to get people up to dance after a certain amount of time showcasing her skill; not to embarrass anyone.

Sometimes the chair comes out and I don’t feel it’s the right thing to stop my show and educate people on why I don’t like it, so I make the best of it. I introduce humor. I’ll put the sheath of my sword on the guest of honor’s head or engage in something that will give the audience a chuckle. I can count on one hand how many times I have been blatantly objectified (it rarely happens), but when it does, there is a chair involved.

EmptyChairThis is what I say to clients when they decide to go forward with hiring me for a show; namely for a birthday party when the guest of honor is male:

“Now that we’ve discussed all of the performance details I just want to mention one other thing. Sometimes a well-meaning audience member gets a chair for the ‘birthday boy’ to sit on and places it in front of me. This actually makes me a bit uncomfortable. I’ve worked hard to represent this dance in the most professional way and that’s just something people associate with lap dances.”

In 100% of cases where I’ve brought this up, the person hiring me thanks me for bringing it up and appreciates the request. That being said, sometimes, we’ve got to roll with the punches and listen to our own “spidey sense.” If the people are down to earth and I feel respected, I may let it slide. If there is any doubt in my mind or I’m being looked at in a way that doesn’t jive with my intentions, I’ll ignore that chair and look for a child to dance with. . . or a spunky grandparent.

My advice is to follow your instincts. Don’t perform in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you enjoy dancing for the chair, hey, great. I’m not here to impose my opinion on anyone. But we should all understand that in the age of event photos going on Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, FB and any other social media du jour, consider what messages a performance sends to people who don’t have the context of seeing your entire show.

We shouldn’t vilify women who dance for the purpose of arousal, but if that’s not what we are doing, we have to make sure the public knows that.

Considering Bellydance for Your Holiday Party Entertainment? Read This.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for every bellydancer who promotes him/herself as a professional but, by and large, this is what you can expect if you’re looking to book a dancer for your holiday party.

Rashmi_Masquerade_Ball (604) In the NY Metropolitan area, we’re in the midst of a heatwave and summer humidity has a relentless grip on those of us who must venture outdoors. It doesn’t seem to be the right time to talk about winter months, and yet, holiday party bookings are starting to come in. Most savvy planners are well in the throws of booking venues and Rashmi_Masquerade_Ball (1179)entertainment for their holiday parties so I thought I would share some of the most common questions I receive.

  1. There really is no such thing as booking too early. I’ve been booked up to 18 months in advance for some weddings. The benefit of booking early is that it allows time for the performer and host/event planner to establish rapport and cover every preference in detail. For people have a vision, say, a Moroccan-themed party or a cultural event, the dancers will bring this theme to life. By making inquiries early, you can be as selective as you like. Take time to watch the dancer’s video clips or have conversation with some of your preferred dancers to get a sense of their professionalism.
  2. Is it Family-Friendly? 100% yes. In some cases, clients prefer to have dancers were a “belly drape” to cover the abdomen. The costumes we wear are designed to accentuate the movements of bellydance. Children, in particular, are usually the first to get up and dance. The performances are joyful, elegant and interactive (unless requested to be more of a staged show). We have all worked hard to dispel lingering stereotypes that portray our art in an overly seductive manner.Rashmi_Masquerade_Ball (1197)
  3. What does a typical performance involve? Generally speaking, performances are customized to fit neatly into a variety of circumstances. However, most sets are 25-30 minutes and include an entrance, a balance prop (sometimes a tray of candles or sword), a dynamic drum solo and songs for audience participation which is gently encouraged, but never forced. Performances can be solo, duet or groups. For larger venues, multiple dancers is the best option to ensure that all guests can see a performer at all times. It instantly elevates the experience to watch group performances.
  4. What is the fee for a performance? This varies, depending on location and specifics. A general rule of thumb is to expect to pay $250-$300 per dancer for holiday parties. If a show requires rehearsal time, travel, etc… the rate may go up. Our fee is based on 90 minutes of prep, time spent crafting a culturally appropriate playlist and planning the show, travel to and from venue, time spent posing for photos, to off-set wear & tear on expensive costuming, insurance costs and all correspondence leading to the event. Some dancers may charge less but in NY/CT this is a fairly standard rate. This is the part of an event that will shape people’s experience and leave a lasting impression.
  5. How will the audience react to seeing bellydancers? This is a common question I receive from people who are new to working with dancers. It is not possible to say with 100% accuracy but, in the years I’ve been performing, most audiences tend to clap, smile and say very kind things. Even if an audience is on the reserved side, they warm up quickly.

This is a celebratory art form that has lasted thousands of years. It is infectious joy. Holiday parties and events are a perfect pairing for this beautiful dance. If you have questions, would like to book Infinity Bellydance a duet, or a solo performance with Tava, please visit http://bellydancebytava.com/contact/ to make an inquiry.

The holidays will be here before we know it. In the meantime, let’s make the best of the summer temps!

Infinity Bellydance is Mariyah, Sira, Layla Isis and Tava. They have performed as soloists and in troupes for over 15 years, for stage, movies and television in New York and abroad. Driven by the passion to present bellydance as an art that is elevated, exceptional, and authentic, they have collaborated in countless theatrical productions, instructional and performance DVDs and taught workshops around the world. They perform regularly in a wide variety of settings as entertainers, cultural ambassadors, and artistic educators.

Dance Students: Results-Driven vs. Just Here for an Hour of Fun

As a dance teacher, nothing thrills me more than a motivated student. I’m not just talking about motivation to learn a particular movement, but a general desire to learn and see progress/expansion of knowledge. With “bellydance,” this can take one of many forms: cultural/historical research, hunger for context, deliberate home practice, devoted to attending multiple classes per week, supporting fellow dancers, attending performances, performing at haflas/showcases, etc. But, sometimes people are not interested in measured progress. Sometimes, people want to escape the clutter of their lives for one hour a week and dance without pressure. Who am I to judge?

lucy-ballet1Sometimes I fantasize about tailoring my approach and expectations by forming separate classes for each category. You see, these various mindsets exist at every level. There’s a hungry beginner who takes 3 classes a week and studies the legends on YouTube in his/her spare time. There are also advanced dancers who only attend rehearsals or classes that lead to performance opportunities, but never demonstrate a curiosity to expand their knowledge. It would be nice to have the results-driven at every level and the “eh, I just want to sway to this beautiful song” types in separate classes. But, of course, it doesn’t work that way.

Tava's bellydance class at Work It Dance & Fitness

Tava’s bellydance class at Work It Dance & Fitness

In a perfect world, a dancer’s ability would be directly related to their hunger for progress and learning. When there is a disconnect, we have a dilemma. Dance teachers, of course it isn’t fair to impose an expectation on a student, and some of us rely on income from our students, but how to we rectify these discrepancies? To some extent, it is a service industry. On the other hand, we have to make difficult choices such as opting not to advance a student when all of her friends have moved up a level. I’ve had to call students and have heart to heart conversations about their motivation and commitment. I’ve had to protect my reputation and my standards by uninviting men/women from my classes. I don’t enjoy this but the greater good won’t let me compromise.

I crave learning. I videotape my practicing and critique myself. I seek private lessons, take workshops, read books, research, watch other dancers for inspiration. When I see these qualities in a student, it thrills me to no end. There is always more to learn. Isn’t that the beauty of cultural dance? And yet, I put myself in the position of a student who recently had a baby and wants to do something for herself, or a working professional who faces unbelievable demands at work. Giving them a safe space to explore serpentine and percussive movements for an hour is a beautiful thing. I know there are instances when someone may be resistant to hearing my corrections because they just want to feel good for the duration of the class.

I have learned that I am not the kind of instructor that can go without correcting technique. I am tactful, use humor, focus on anatomical explanations but — even still — some people are there to get lost in the music and move. . .for years! Part of my role is to make people comfortable and sense when they are committed enough to respond well to challenges, feedback and opportunities that require a dedicated presence. For a student, I suppose it’s important to remain cognizant of your goals and expectations. Approach your dance training from a realistic standpoint. Communicate with your instructor so we can work together on meeting your goals (or no goals).

For people who like prizes, medals, the promise of a lucrative career in bellydance. . .well. . .this is not impossible. You can enter competitions, get some expensive costumes, build a website and hope for the best. But this, I can tell you, often leads to burnout. Dedication to a rich dance for the sake of learning and personal growth leads to a lifelong relationship. A love that keeps feeding you. And if you just want to have fun for an hour in class, well, that’s ok too. I just can’t promise I won’t push you a bit. It’s all part of my job.

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Tava is a professional bellydancer, instructor and author in NYC and CT.  She performs regularly for all family friendly events, galas, weddings and corporate events. Tava also performs in creative/theatrical endeavors and enjoys her balance of commercial and artistic fulfillment.  To learn more about classes in Fairfield County, CT or to inquire about hosting Tava for a workshop, please visit: BellydancebyTava.com