5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Belly Dancing

If you had told me 20 years ago that one day I would be a professional belly dancer, I would have rolled my eyes and said “yeah right!”. If you had added that I would also be teaching, I would have laughed in your face. And a lot of people would have said/done the same thing, HAHA! But here I am, 20 years into my dance journey.

Wow! It doesn’t seem long ago that I ordered belly dance workout videos to try at home. After about a year of self study, I was given a gift certificate for classes at Karavan Studio for my birthday. The rest is history! I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to study at Karavan and with all of the teachers I admire so much. Thank you to my OG teachers Karen, Jeanna, Cara, Cindy, Shimi and Angela!

I have learned a lot about belly dance throughout the years and at the same time, still feel like a beginner in many ways. I think what’s important though, is that there is no end to the journey. You will never run out of things to learn. That being said, here are my top five things I wished I had known when I started dancing!

Wash/Rotate your costumes

Yeah…so this is a little embarrassing but, did you know you can wash those things?! LOL. Our costumes are so beautiful and intricate, we don’t want to damage them. But lots of use + outside gigs in San Antonio = costume needs a bath. The best way that I have found is to use a little bit of Woolite detergent for delicate clothing in a bathtub of cold water. You can use a little extra detergent and a toothbrush to get out the tough spots. Give it a rinse in fresh water and then air dry on a rack. You can also use a spritz of cheap vodka for odor control or in between washes.

And what do you mean you don’t keep your costumes forever? They cost a small fortune. And it’s my favorite color! And I love it! Sigh. I still have some of the first costumes that I ever wore. I didn’t realize for years that many pro dancers rotate their costume wardrobe pretty often! As much as we might love our costumes, selling or retiring them to make room for new ones means that your shows stay fresh. This is not only for your audience, but for you too! Imagine if we used the exact same music for every show we did for years and years. Then think about how it feels to wear something brand sparkly new!

You will spend a lot of money

While we’re talking about costumes, let’s mention how much money you will spend. There are ways to dance on a budget, but can be difficult with all of those gorgeous costumes tempting you, hehe! When I first started dancing, my only line item was money for classes. I made my own costumes for a while/ As I started getting into the performance aspect of it, I added another line for professionally made costumes. And then there’s the stage makeup. And shoes if you’re into that. And the props. And the workshops. And the travel expenses. And the…It can all be done! But realize that sometimes you may be spending more money than you make.

There are many styles of Belly Dance

This may seem like a “well, duh” headline. But maybe there are others out there like me who never really thought about where belly dance came from. I was just looking for a fun way to move my body! Maybe there are folks out there that think it’s only something done in Egypt or just think of it as something from the movies. In fact, I talk to people all the time who are curious about where it all comes from. There’s LOTS of styles when it comes to belly dance! Dances from Iraq may look very different from Tsiftitelli in Greece. While it’s all Middle Eastern, it’s not all the same.

This is also important when it comes to gigs! While you might not get booed off the stage or anything, your Lebanese audience might wonder why you’re dancing Khaliji gulf style at their party. Don’t worry, they will still love you. So it helps to know your audience and which music/dance style they might appreciate the most! Starting out I got a little taste of everything, but now I am better able to focus and identify specific dance styles within the Middle East.It’s fun being able to spot the differences in steps and music now! I find myself leaning towards Greek style belly dance more and more these days.

Start learning zils right away

Baby Sara, 2007 maybe?

This is something that I DID learn very early as a dancer and wish more dancers would too! At my very first paid gig, the restaurant owner came up to me after my show and said “that was great, but next time bring your zills.”. My what?! I had no idea how to play finger cymbals but I wanted to make my new boss happy, so I ordered some and started practicing (by videos!) right away.

Looking back, I am so grateful that he made me do that. In my opinion, it is much easier to learn zills and start moving your body with them right away, rather than dancing for years and then having to add them to your muscle memory. It used to be darn near required for a belly dancer to use them. They can add so much musicality, interest and diversity to your performance. Please, let’s bring them back!

You may completely fall in love

Watch out! You may find that belly dance isn’t for you or that you need to take a break and that’s perfectly okay. But you may also fall in love and become completely addicted! Dance may become an immensly important part of your life. In fact, it can be life changing! I know it has been for me. You will make new friends and spend lots of time in classes and rehearsals. You will learn to appreciate exceptional music, amazing cultures and yummy food! You will build good self esteem, confidence, love and respect for your body and all it can do. There are worse obsessions out there. Just watch out for those costumes 😉

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