Learning to dance is like learning a language, because dance is a language. How long does it take someone to learn Spanish, Arabic, and English? A Long time! And it varies from person to person. It is important to be patient, non-competitive and to enjoy each level of your own progress, step by step.


First you have to tune your body, like an instrument. Your body will be your instrument in your dance. This means you have to discover the necessary muscles for the movement, and learn to control them. (The same as you learn to move certain muscles in your mouth to make sounds in a new language). Then come steps (like words), combinations (sentences), and finally choreography (like a short story). And this is just the beginning. How fast you will progress will depend on your past dance experiences, physical conditioning, willingness to take risks and try new moves, sense of humor, and determination.


Here are some suggestions of things that you can do to make your class and practice efforts more rewarding and help you succeed.

  • First, allow yourself at least one year. Sometimes it takes this long just for things to make sense.
  • Attend Class Regularly. For every class you miss, it is more difficult to catch up. . If you are a new or slow learner, poor attendance will have a negative impact on your progress and undermine your confidence. If you can, take a private lesson to catch up.
  • Let your instructor know if you have any physical handicap or medical condition and do not do any movement that hurts.
  • If possible, take two classes a week. The second class will give you a review of what you learned earlier and help reinforce your newly found dance skills.
  • Don't rush to move to another level. Taking a basic class twice makes you a better dancer in the long run. Return to the basics once in a while.
  • The closer you are to your teacher, the better you can see and hear and this will also pressure you to pay closer attention . Don't socialize during class. Stay focused.
  • Listen to the music of the dance style as much as you can, being attentive to the rhythms, instruments, phrasing, etc.
  • Practice every chance you get. Choose one movement at a time and work on just that move. Trying to remember all you cover in class in overwhelming, but you can get one thing at a time.
  • Work on basic isolations, and understanding which muscles create the movement.
  • Even if your teacher gives written notes, add your own in class to help you remember at home.
  • Think about the basic movements you learn each week in class and how to do them beginning with the head to down to the feet. If your teacher has a technique video, use that to help you practice.
  • Know your Learning Style. Are you a Visual, Auditory, Cerebral (Intellectual) or Tactile/Kinesthetic learner? Work with your teacher on breaking down the movements in ways that you can understand. Different teachers have different styles, but most teachers are willing to try new methods to reach their students if the students make an effort also.
  • If in doubt ask your teacher, not your neighbor.
  • Be aware of your posture, weight, center at all times.
  • Keep your dance stuff in one place, like a bag or briefcase, and bring everything to class. It is also easier to feel like practicing when you know where everything is.
  • Dress appropriately. Don't wear clothes that restrict or obscure your movements or that don't give you proper support. Use clothing that emphasizes the movements. In Belly Dance, wear form fitting clothes and a hip scarf. Ballet shoes or dance sandals are better for support, but some dancers dance with socks or barefoot.
  • Some classes require immediate use of finger cymbals and later you will be using veils, and other props.

Everyone can dance regardless of age. Nevertheless, many factors that have more to do with physical condition than age itself do play a role on which dance style and moves are better suited for a certain body style, physical conditioning, and age. Although there are some dance styles that are restricted to certain sizes and age groups, most ethnic and folkloric dances are all inclusive, although the dancer may need to choose a style best suited for their body and personal interest.

    Considering our stereotypical beliefs and empirical observations (there are always exceptions) the younger is the body, the suppler it is. This is a good time to train the body safely to do moves that demand a great deal of flexibility of the torso and limbs. Also, because children are less fearful, they are more willing to take risks in learning challenging movements like cartwheels, splits, jumps, etc. The younger the child, the more important it is to have someone with adequate training to guide him/her as they learn these difficult moves and avoid temporary or permanent injury. A child dances with physical energy, and generally is not as perceptive of the rhythmic and emotional nuances of the dance. Frequently, the music is in the background, while s/he dances learned movements and sequences.    
    Teens and Young Adults    

Teens and Young Adults who are active, tend to be very energetic in their dances. They tend to prefer more externally driven movements, with more locomotion, turns, level changes, and faster moving combinations. They seem less likely to enjoy repetitive moves or steps. They also tend to enjoy popular music, even when using classical they prefer a version with a more modern sound. They enjoy lots of movements, dramatic backbends, floor movements, etc. (These are observations based on the majority of students I have had or seen perform. It does not apply to everyone).


When I plan classes for this age group, I usually teach modern choreographies (pertinent to the ethnic style). If teaching for a longer period of time, I try to bring in something traditional, thus introducing another aspect of the culture).


Mature Dancer


Dancers who begin their studies later in life bring a different set of experiences. They may not catch on to the physical aspects of the dance as quickly as a younger person, but they bring a wealth of experience in emotional expression, musical understanding, and an ability to transfer the knowledge acquired in one field to another. They have decades of observation of life, art, music and dances to use as their resources, and are often quite creative when they let themselves be.


Some of the barriers encountered by mature dancers are: the less active the person has been, the stiffer the body will be, making it more difficult to learn and execute the movements; and adults tend to be very analytical, and also self-critical. They are less apt to take risks fearing to “make a fool of themselves” (I say this only because I KNOW!!!). But, what is foolish about letting yourself have a good time, let your mind be free, and feel again like a child, even if for a few short minutes? Most of all, what is foolish about exercising in a way that makes you body and mind get healthier? This experience should be nurtured as it promotes a healthier lifestyle. Most movements do look awkward at first, the same way as when one is trying to learn a new language and make a new sound. This barrier is overcome by persistence and hard work.

    Dancers of all ages and levels bring a different type of energy to the dance and a different form of enjoyment to the viewer. No human being is exactly like another. Why would we except anything but uniqueness from each dancer? We should celebrate our diversity in size, age, color, and whatever difference makes us be who we are. This includes how we express ourselves and how we let our creativity be set free.