Explain the steps you would take to ensure safe dance practice in teaching
folk dance forms mainly 'Belly dancing' to recreational dancers who are not familiar with the
particular characteristics of the style
by Jennifer Lim
Belly dance is an ancient folk dance for women and men in
the Middle Eastern regions for centuries. Since appearing in World Fairs during 18th and
19th century, belly dance became increasingly popular in the Western World. Today, many are drawn
to learning belly dance as a way of staying healthy, learning a new skill or to socialise.
The responsibilities of the dance teacher in safe dance
practice begin from the point a student expresses their desire to learn a new dance style and ends when the
student leaves the class environment.
Before embarking on a Belly Dance course, safe procedures
are put in place and students are advised in writing to wear fitted tops, stretched leggings or tights. Also
if they are not comfortable dancing on barefoot they are advised to bring soft soled shoes. The dance studio
room temperature is set to a comfortable level and is monitored throughout the lesson and adjusted when
needed. As some dancers are dancing on barefoot, the main dance area is cleaned and checked to ensure it is
free of objects.
Students are also advised to have no more than a light
dinner and no later than about one and half hours before class and to bring a bottle of water with them.
Although time will be allocated for rest and hydration, students are also advised to drink water whenever
they feel the need during the class.
Recreational dancers come in all shapes and sizes and the
age range of the students is usually from 20 to 60. Students will be asked about their health and physical
condition and issues will be noted. Students with existing medical conditions are advised to consult their
doctor before taking up the class. On an ongoing basis, students are also advised to bring any current injury
to my attention in class so that I can modify the dance step and make it safe and appropriate.
Warm up and cool down are important elements in dance
training. Warm up in class will last for 10 to 15 minutes and involve dance related movements that mobilise
joints, improve pulse rate and lengthen muscles. Cool down is essential after every dance activity. A 10
minute cool down minimises muscle stiffness and soreness and brings the body back to a pre exercise
condition. We begin cool down with a low intensity dance movement followed by stretches to improve
flexibility. The objective for cool down is also to release tensions to the joints that were excessively used
consequently assisting in total body relaxation.
Correct dance posture is fundamental to safe belly dancing. Hence it is important to
emphasise and train good postural alignment right from the beginning. When students with no prior experience
in belly dance join the class, they may come with different postural alignment and body structure. For
example, a student could have “slumped shoulders” which could be the after effect of every day slouching
continuously over an office desk. Correcting these posture misalignments from the start improves overall
balance in body weight distribution and better alignment reduces the chance of an injury
Helping students to understand the muscle used is essential in safe belly dance training. For
example, when learning to do a hip lift, some students rely on their knees to execute the move instead of
using their hip and oblique muscles. They could ultimately hurt their knees and the muscles used for the move
will never be strengthened. Demonstrating the right way to engage the appropriate muscles not only improves
muscular strength but also promote good muscle memory.
Understanding how students learn is also paramount to
effective teaching. There are three types of learners; visual learners learn by seeing how it’s done, auditory
learners learn by listening to rhythms and counts and kinesthetic learners learn by absorbing moves through
hands on approach. Most students possess a combination of these learning styles hence techniques will be explained using these three learning styles.
Techniques are demonstrated before being broken down into
smaller training segments for students. Time is taken to teach and help students into perfecting techniques
at their own pace and care is also taken not to make them feel inadequate if they can’t execute moves
correctly. Learning and perfecting techniques should be done in slow progression therefore perfecting
techniques over time helps students gain an enhanced a sense of personal
Students’ strengths and limitations are taken into
consideration with the aim of providing the appropriate advice to develop their skills. Individual attention
is also given during classes to give students the opportunity to ask questions which also helps those who are
shy and apprehensive about learning a new dance style.
Learning a new style of dance takes time. As belly dance
is a dance discipline, dance teachers have the responsibility to introduce this ancient art form to
recreational dancers in a way that is not only fun and interesting but to ensure that safe dance practice
plays an equally important part when teaching students.
Edel Quin, BA(Hons), MSc, FHEA, Trinity Laban Conservatoire
of Music & Dance, Safe and Effective Dance Practice Course notes
Harris & Elbourn (2002). Warming up and cooling down:
practical ideas for ensuring a fun and beneficial exercise experience. Champaign, IL: Human
Kinetics 2 :12 1-7 (warm up) 3: 26-29 (cool
Priscilla Clarkson, PhD (2003-2005) Nutrition Fact Sheet. Fueling the Dancer. Available at
International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. 2/2 http://www.iadms.org/associations/2991/files/info/dance_nutrition.pdf
Virginia Wilmerding, Ph.D. and Donna Krasnow, M.S. (2009) Motor Learning and Teaching Dance.
Available at International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. 2/6 http://www.iadms.org/associations/2991/files/info/motor_learning.pdf
Glenna Batson, P.T., Sc.D. (2010) Understanding
Balance. Applying Science to Dance Training Available at International Association for Dance Medicine.
Margo Abdo O’Dell (1996) Improving Teaching Skills. Available at The Best of Habibi
Keti Sharif (2004) Your guide to teaching belly dance. Available at Keti Sharif Belly Dance
Products & Cultural Resources http://www.ketisharif.com/article-courseplanning.html
Excerpts from Princess Farhana forthcoming book, “The Belly Dance Handbook”