Can I learn to dance?

How fit to I have to be to participate?

Starting lessons as a beginner you need only a basic level of fitness. Providing you have not been advised by a doctor to avoid exercise (or suspect you might be) you should be able to keep up with the class. I offer different levels for difficult exercises, and you are always welcome to practice at half speed if you are having trouble keeping up.
As you continue to learn, your fitness levels will rise without you noticing, as the fun you are having masks the hard work you are doing! By the time you are technically ready to move up to Improver level, you will be fit enough to keep up. On the other hand, you are also welcome to stay at the level you feel comfortable at for as long as you wish.
If you are struggling with a move, warm up exercise or stretch, please let me know and I will provide you with an alternative. It is really important to me that you are enjoying lessons, and that we take care of your body, nothing we do in class should hurt, beyond a little ache in the muscles as they work and get stronger.

I have a specific health issue or injury, can I still take part?

It is really important that you inform me of any health issues that might affect your ability to dance, and fill out a confidential form for my insurance records. I would also recommend that you discuss your intention to start taking dance classes with your health care provider.
Bellydance is generally very gentle on the body, and the basic movement vocabulary should not stress the healthy body. If you have a chronic issue with your joints, or an injury, you may need to take things steady, and it is even more important that you focus on good form and technique, however many dancers (including myself) are able to participate despite such issues. Should anything we do cause you discomfort, please let me know and I will provide you with an alternative.
If you are pregnant, please have a look at this checklist, and speak to your midwife before you start classes.

Is there an age limit?

As long as you fit the above fitness/health criteria, absolutely not. I have taken lessons from a 70 year old dancer who had a lot of women in their 20s dropping like flies for water breaks! Unlike some other dance forms, bellydance is generally kind to your body, dancers continue to perform and teach for their whole lives and many don't start until they are in their 50s, 60s or beyond. 
Equally I am happy to take on younger students, however if you are under 16, and attending without an adult who is responsible for you, you will need to speak to me in advance for insurance and safeguarding purposes.

Do you accept men into your classes?

I don't believe in exclusion on the basis of gender (or any other arbitrary measure), my classes are open to anyone who wants to learn to dance*. In Egypt, men dance, some of the folk styles originates as male dances, and I have been fortunate to take instruction from some excellent male teachers. My YouTube "Dancers" and "Dance styles" playlists contain several examples of men in bellydance.
*The only minor exception here is that to attend my prenatal classes, you must also be pregnant!

Do I have to be a particular body shape to do bellydance?

Not at all! Bellydance moves look fabulous on any frame! The rumours that you must be slim, or must have "a belly" are rubbish, and there are excellent professional performers who can demonstrate this on every level! Bellydance moves look different on different frames, and at some point every dancer starts to contemplate how she can adjust her technique to suit her body better, whether that means creating an illusion of height, or learning to relax lean muscles to get a wobble on the shimmy; but if you are healthy and willing, you absolutely can bellydance.
Bellydance is also an excellent confidence builder. Over time, students gain confidence and become more comfortable in their own skin. They learn that they can move gracefully, they learn to appreciate their strength , technique and artistry. Everyone looks beautiful when they are dancing.

Learning to dance with Kash

What should I wear to class?

Whatever you feel comfortable in, you should be able to move, and it helps if I can see enough of your body to know whether you are moving correctly! I would suggest legging/yoga pants/jazz pants/harem pants and a vest or fitted t shirt are a good start; you may wish to wear a light top layer for the warm up. For some classes, skirts may be appropriate, but I do tend to use yoga/pilates in the warm up and cool down, and they can be cumbersome for some stretches. It is useful to highlight your hips with a coloured scarf or dance belt. I have some cheap and cheerful belts for sale to those who want them for class, or I can direct you to retailers of the fancier variety. Dressing up for a class can be great fun, and I am definitely up for students doing so if it makes them feel good, but please make sure that you can move freely, and your costume will not affect others' enjoyment (no excessive noise interrupting teaching, or hair accessories poking people in the eye please).
You can dance barefoot if you wish, or in soft flat indoor shoes, ballet flats or dance paws/lyrical shoes. Please do not dance in socks unless they have rubber grips. Please do not wear outdoor shoes in the studio.

Do I have to bare my midriff in class?

Only if you want to! I want you to feel comfortable and confident in class; if you are concerned about the exposure levels of your classwear, you aren't in your best frame of mind for learning. A lot of dancers find that they feel more comfortable in their skin as their dance experience grows, but there is never a point where showing flesh is  compulsory. Remember,
 the midriff-baring 2 piece costumes came from the West, traditional Arabic dancewear is much more modest, and even the pros often wear powermesh body stockings.

What will I get out of your classes?

Learning to bellydance opens a world of opportunities for you, you can get fit, you can meet new people, build confidence, improve your posture,  you can learn about other cultures, music and food. It can be a hobby that allows you to spend an hour a week doing something just for you, or it can be an obsession that becomes a lifestyle in itself. Try a couple of classes, I promise you will take something positive away with you, even if you don't take it up permanently.

Do I have to perform?

What you do with your new dance skills is entirely up to you! There is much value in simply coming to lessons and dancing there, and if that is all you wish to do, then that is absolutely fine. Many dance students develop the urge to perform, even if they didn't start with it!  This might just mean dancing with your class at an end of term party, or at a local hafla (a bellydance party where there are a range of performers, a buffet and a bit of a disco), it might mean performing with a student troupe at local charity events, or taking it even further. I am very happy to support my students in their performance aspirations, however big or small. Generally people who take lessons will want to dance in social or performance settings, and as a teacher I believe I have a duty to provide or promote these opportunities.

Can you help me prepare for a performance?

I am always happy to watch students dance and give feedback for a few minutes after a lesson. If you want more in depth help with choreography or polishing your solo or independent group performance, then it is best to book me for a private lesson. Prices start at £20 an hour for up to 3 dancers (not including venue hire). Class choreographies for performance under my auspices are taught within class time.

What kind of music do you use in class?

Lesson time is an excellent opportunity for dance students to experience different kinds of music. Musicality is a vital skill in Arabic dance, and Arabic music can seem very alien to the beginner. For this reason I like to use a range of different styles of Arabic music, and teach rhythms, instrumentation and context  as we go. I also use some fusion music when it is appropriate, in the interest of introducing new styles and musicians to my students. When precision is important, I use drum rhythm tracks as it is easier to hear and dance with the beat.

What style(s) do you teach and perform?

Beginner classes are pretty general, the basic movement vocabulary of bellydance is quite universal. I broadly stick to the JWAAD definitions of movements (which are more Egyptian in style), although where there are distinct variations in a movement between styles, I will often highlight those differences. I try to mention alternative terminology, although again, for consistency, I use JWAAD terms.
Once you have the foundations in place we can start to look at Egyptian Oriental, Baladi, Saiidi and Shaabi, as well as looking at the use of props etc. There is also the possibility of looking at some Tribal Fusion in the future. 
I perform all of the above, plus Dark/Gothic fusion and fire fusion.

What is your approach to teaching dance?

I love dance that comes from the music and from the heart, I think it is important for every dancer to express themselves as an individual, when we dance we tell our own story, whether we do it on stage, or in the living room when no one is watching.
Good technique is important, so we will focus on that, and we will drill technique, good form protects our bodies when we dance, and strong, consistent technique makes things flow so much better when you get up to dance. I teach combinations to make practicing technique more interesting, and to practice transitioning between movements, but my focus is less on combinations and choreography and more on improvisation (which can always be refined into choreography later). We will be improvising from the very beginning. If a group wishes to learn a choreography, perhaps for an end of term performance, I will always be happy to do that too, preferably as a two way process where we build the choreography together.
I think it is important to appreciate the roots of the dance, so Arabic culture, history and music will be covered in the course of the lesson, usually while we are dancing. Even if you intend to be a fusion dancer it is important to have a strong foundation in both technique, and the culture of the dance. The best fusion performers are those who have expertise, understanding and passion for both/all the elements that they are fusing!
I understand that while some students will only dance once a week during my lesson, others will be more ambitious and want to work at home, so I will set weekly exercises to help you make the most out of your practice at home.

How long will it take before I am any good at this?

This depends partly on how much of a knack you have for the dance, partly on your fitness and mostly on how dedicated you are to improvement.
Bellydance can be deceptively technical, and the movements are quite different to how you are probably used to moving, so you will need to find and strengthen whole new sets of muscles. I plan my lessons to be as interesting and fun as possible, so that my students can enjoy learning in itself, rather than focusing on results. If, as many do, you find yourself inspired by the dance, and wish to move on faster, then I would suggest that you practice regularly at home, as well as attending weekly (or more) classes.  It is really useful to practice the steps we have learned, until you have perfected them, rather than waiting for the same step to come up in class again. It takes about 10 lessons to cover the basic steps, then we move onto travelling (moving) with the steps, layering movement and building variations - that's when the real dance starts!

How should I practice at home?

Set yourself aside some dance time, you don't need a lot of space, you can practice a lot of movements on about a metre square! I usually set "homework" in class, this will be a conditioning exercise to help you locate and strengthen relevant muscles, and some dance movements or combinations to practice. If you are working on learning a choreography, or short combinations, I would recommend you work on these at home too. Improvisation is a useful and fun skill to practice - use a short piece of music, put it on loop and try to dance it differently every time.
Drills are the staple of a dancer's practice, even if it's just 10 minutes a day, focusing on a move, simply and repetitively, concentrating on good form, will work wonders for your technique and stamina. Some ideas for drills can be found here.
Lastly, bellydance can be worked into your day really easily. Try shimmying while you are doing the washing up, doing hipwork behind the counter (isolated so no one can tell from your top half), hagalla down the supermarket aisle! Listen to Arabic music often, put some in your car. Listen to the same pieces repeatedly, focus on the rhythms one time, the melody the next, pick out the accents the next. Look for repeating patterns and try to discern the structure of the piece. Training your ear like this will help your improvisation, and help you make your choreography really interesting.

More about Kash 

How do you train for dance?

OK, this isn't really an FAQ, because nobody ever asks this, but they should, because how a teacher develops their own dance has a direct effect on how they teach and how thy nurture you as you develop your dance.
Since moving to Glastonbury I no longer attend a weekly class, which means I have to be very self-motivating in my regular practice. I subscribe to Datura Online (Rachel Brice's online studio), and generally complete 30-90 minutes of online tuition or guided practice daily. On top of this I also have a week long rotation of drills and conditioning circuits which I run through daily, and regular yoga practice. Not seeing a live teacher regularly creates an issue with feedback, so I am also enrolled on the JWAAD personal development programme, which means I am periodically assessed by a master teacher who can help me direct my practice more effectively. I am also constantly working on choreographed and improvised dances, most of which will never see performance, but give me an opportunity to work through the process, and film the results for feedback. Whenever the opportunity arises, I take private tuition with other teachers.
I also work under the mentorship of other dancers, I am currently part of Alexis Southall's Tribal Fusion Education Programme cohort, which means I do a full day's studio training and a private lesson with Alexis every other month.
I also love attending one off workshops and dance festivals, and aim to get to as many of these events as I can. I go to advanced sessions for my technique and lower level classes to observe the teaching.

What qualifies you to teach?

As well as several years experience as a bellydance student and performer (both solo and in a troupe) I have completed the JWAAD Safe Delivery of Bellydance classes course. This is an OCN accredited and assessed course that required me to demonstrate relevant understanding of anatomy and physiology, how to break down and explain movements to students, how to warm up and cool down properly, and how to manage all the legal and administrative parts of the work, as well as having my own dance technique assessed. I also find skills and knowledge from my yoga teacher training, a degree in Anatomical Science, and even the teaching skills I learned as a secondary school teacher can cross over and help with my dance teaching.

Kash the performer

What kind of events do you perform at?

I am happy to perform at parties, conferences, balls, festivals, weddings. There are very few occasions that cannot be improved with a bellydancer! I dance in a range of styles and costumes, to a range of music, and I am always happy to tailor my performance to your needs. I can dance on a stage, or amongst the audience (or restaurant seating) and I love getting the party going by getting the audience up and dancing too!

What about private parties

Absolutely. I can simply perform, or do a package which is great for hen parties and the like, where I do a little taster lesson and a performance, it ends with everyone dancing and having a great time. I can also do children's parties, fairy and Princess Jasmine themed parties are great for little girls. 

What can I expect to pay for a performance?

This depends on your requirements, travel expenses etc, but rates are comparable to other professional entertainers. A rough guide can be found here. I can sometimes offer concessionary rates for charity events, please contact me to discuss this  option.

About Bellydance

I hear people using different terms for this dance, why is that?

Terminology in bellydance can be quite a touchy subject. The word "bellydance" is a western label, and a misnomer, this dance comes from the hips, not the belly! However, this is probably the most widely recognised and understood term. It is also a useful term as it covers a wide range of dances, including those from the Middle East, Roma and Western dances with Arabic roots. Many bellydancers also dance Middle Eastern dances that don't fit the "bellydance" descriptor, such as Khaleegi from Saudi Arabia, or Persian dance.
Alternative terms you might hear are Arabic dance (usually referring to the dances of Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon), and Raqs Sharqui, which translates as "Oriental dance", both terms are used to describe Egyptian performance dance.

Where can I find out more about the history and culture of bellydance.

I am going to pass the buck here and suggest you visit Shira, who has spent years compiling an excellent online information resource for bellydancers.