In 2007, Corinna and I worked together and got to talk about her passion for bellydancing over tasty vegetarian eats at Fresh. All these years later, I am very happy to see she has turned her passion into something she can share with others by offering classes in Ajax Ontario (just a short drive east of Toronto) through her newly established business, Corinna’s Bellydance Academy.
While I have always been intrigued by belly dancing, I have been hesitant to try it due to my lack of coordination and lack of confidence. The thought of moving my arms, torso, and legs at the same time in an artful way is down-right daunting and frightening, and the times I have done this have been quite awkward and unpleasant. So, as quick as I was to try out classes like Zumba and Les Mills Body Jam, I was quick to drop them. Now, as I develop my Kundalini yoga practice, and become more in tune with movement and rhythm, I’m hoping to try some bellydancing or other forms of dance.
With this blog post, I am hoping that Corinna can help me overcome my fears, and maybe yours, to step out of your comfort zone to try bellydancing.
How long have you been bellydancing? Are there different styles? Do you follow a certain style?
I have been bellydancing for about 13 years now. A friend of mine saw an ad for a class in our local area and asked me to join with her. I did, and instantly fell in love with the art form – I’ve never looked back!
There are many different styles of bellydancing. The dance originates from the Middle East, but even within the middle east the style varies depending on the particular country or region … and then there are variations between whether it is raqs sharqi (the most familiar style of bellydance, like the kind you would see in a restaurant performance) or any number of the different folkloric dances. Although all of the styles are each unique, they actually have a lot more in common with one another than their differences.
My most significant training has been in Egyptian bellydance, so I am very much rooted in this style. I’ve been fortunate enough to study with several amazing Egyptian style dancers over the years, and I’ve taken a few workshops with some of the stars from Egypt (Tito Seif, Aida Nour).
That said, I have also dabbled in a few other styles of bellydance, in particular Turkish and Tribal Fusion.
What is the toughest thing about bellydancing for someone new? Any tips on how to overcome that?
Good question! Obviously the toughest thing is going to be different from person to person, but consistently I have found that brand new students struggle the most with just learning to relax and giving into the process.
When you watch a good bellydancer perform, a lot of movements look really simple … but in reality there’s a lot of work going on! I find that some students get frustrated when movements don’t happen right away, or they see other people picking up the technique quicker than them. It’s perfectly ok. When you are learning bellydance, you are developing a new relationship with your body … learning how to keep some parts perfectly quiet and relaxed while making other areas work in new ways you may never have done before.
I often tell my students that learning how to bellydance is like learning how to walk. When you were a very young child and took your very first steps did they look easy? Of course not! It took lots of practice, some stumbles along the way, but over time with consistent practice it got easier and easier and began to look natural … same thing with bellydance … the more you practice the movements, the more muscle memory you will build up, and eventually it will start to flow and look easy and natural in your body.
The best tip I can give someone is just to practice. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. I find that when learning new movements the best way to practice is to stand in front of a mirror. Break the movement down step by step. Think about how each part of the movement feels in your body, and also how it looks in the mirror. Once you’ve perfected the movement at a very slow pace, you can start to slowly build up the speed and flow of the movement.
What are the benefits of bellydancing? How has your practice changed in the years?
Gosh, there are so many! Improved posture, muscle toning, stress reduction, it boosts self-esteem and confidence, it aids in emotional wellness, improved coordination. There’s probably even more, but these are the ones that come to the top of my mind.
When I first started bellydancing, I took as just something fun and different to try. As my love for this dance form deepened and I took more and more classes I discovered there was so much more to this dance on many different levels … and that there was so much I wanted to learn.
My practice is constantly evolving. I’m forever a student. Over the years my focus has shifted from time to time depending on my interests and what is going on in my personal life.
In the beginning, I spent a lot of time exploring the different styles of bellydance. After a couple of years I decided I wanted it really learn this dance in a serious way so my focus shifted to working on improving my technique so I could be a good dancer.
When my daughter was born, bellydance became my sacred child-free time. It was something that I did just for me – it got me out of the house, it got me socializing with other women (without a baby in my arms), and it helped me to start to feel good about my post pregnancy body again.
Right now, my personal practice has a lot to do with stage presence and character development, so that I can connect with audiences that I am performing for in a deeper and more meaningful way …. developing my “X Factor” you could say. At the moment, I’m spending a lot of time cross training in acting, and improv.
How should someone prepare for their first class? What should they wear? Do you need to practice a lot on your own to get better?
Come to class with an open mind and ready to learn and have fun! Wear comfortable clothing. Yoga pants (or leggings) and a fitted t-shirt or tank top is perfect … and no, it’s absolutely not necessary to bare your belly in a bellydance class!
As for the amount you need to practice, it totally depends on what you want to get out of the class. Like anything, the more time you practice on your own, the better you’ll get and the faster you will see progress.
If you are in the GTA you can join Corinna’s class fall Monday evening in Ajax. Visit her website at www.corinnabellydance.com for full details.
Thank you Corinna for sharing your story and these tips! Next time in an in the GTA, I will definitely join you for some bellydancing.