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Extended Classes FAQ

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Class Content & Expectations - Progress/Advancing in Class

Below are the most common questions I get from new students about class content and progression. These FAQ's push beyond the most basic inquiries, and delve a little further into some questions which students may have when first coming into my class, as well as on an ongoing basis as a student of mine. Some questions won't always make sense to a brand new student, and are tied to experiences you may have later down the line as you study with me. I encourage you to return to the Extended FAQ throughout your dance studies to see what new information you can learn. And I am always interested in expanding the information I share with you, my students, so if you have any questions you think would be a good addition to this section, please write me.

What style of dance do you teach?

The style I teach is "Tribal Fusion Bellydance". It is a blending of both group improvisational bellydance and choreographed world dance stylings. In performance, it appears to be choreographed, but is in fact primarily or entirely being created purely in the moment improvisationally. This is made possible by a developed system of simple and subtle nonverbal communication, which "cues" the dancers to perform individual moves in limitless combinations, right there on the spot.

Our style is rooted in both American Tribal Style (ATS), as created and codified by Carolena Nericcio and FatChance Bellydance in San Francisco, CA; and the format of Gypsy Caravan as developed by Paulette Rees-Denis in Portland, OR. I have been personally trained by each of these amazing dance artists, and have been officially certified by each to teach their specific styles. I have gratefully blended elements of each format to create a style unique to us.

Read More to see more of the Classes FAQ.

What does each class level cover?

Level 1: Foundations is an introduction to the foundation vocabulary and skills used in American Tribal Style Bellydance (ATS), as developed by Carolena Nericcio of FatChance Bellydance in San Francisco, CA. Students will learn correct posture and isolations of hip, chest, and arm movements. Each week we will explore one slow step and one fast step. We will also begin to introduce basic partnering skills and the concepts of group improvisation. While this class is focused for the first-time student, the skills we study in this class form a vital base for all learning at the higher levels, and are important for all levels on a continuing basis for refinement.

Level 2: Foundations Plus builds extensively on the skills learned in Level 1, so is best after several sessions of Level 1 and/or taken concurrently with Level 1. We will expand our movement vocabulary with more steps and combinations, and will explore various group formations, learning to more confidently lead and follow when dancing together. At this level we begin to branch out from the ATS foundation movements and further explore the influences of many different groups and styles which lay the groundwork for dancing in the inFusion Tribal style.

Level 3: Combos & Concepts starts to really put the skills learned in Levels 1 & 2 into practice with more group dancing, including dynamic duets, trios, and quads, chorus concepts, and mock performance preparation. Emphasis is on technique refinement, advanced steps and formations, and more complex group concepts. We will explore the dance at a deeper level, working together to problem solve and develop individual creativity within the improvisational format.

In addition to tribal improvisation, specialty classes and sessions will introduce a broader skill set encompassed by the art of bellydance, including precision isolations, traveling and layering, and more detailed combos and choreographies. This work, in tandem with tribal improvisational skills, is the foundation of Tribal Fusion Bellydance. Tribal Fusion is a challenging and exciting discipline, combining the artistic possibilities of choreography with the unique connectedness and spontaneity of improvisational dance. Students will have the opportunity to develop both group and solo performance skills, whether or not their goal is to perform in the future.

For these classes to be beneficial to all involved, students must have studied with Shay/Double Take Bellydance through the full course of levels 1 and 2 and have a mastery of the foundation vocabulary and skills before moving into this level. This class requires instructor permission to join. If you are a visiting dancer or feel you have a special need, please contact Shay before attending the class, as we will not be able to negotiate special requests in the few minutes between classes.

Do I have to have a bare belly to participate?

Not at all! Wearing what you are comfortable in, which will also allow me to see your posture, is more important than having a bare belly. But do keep this in mind--in class, your bare belly is in context. I, personally, would not take a stroll down the street with a crop top on--it just wouldn't look or feel right to me *personally*. But in class, nothing feels more natural than to have my belly bared and shimmy for all I'm worth. I am among trusted friends in class (and if you don't feel that way on your first night, you will very soon!), and baring my belly is appropriate for the activity I am doing. It also allows me to better see my posture and alignment, and as your teacher it is easier for me to see it to help guide you in correct posture and movement.

Again, let me reiterate that you do NOT have to bare your belly for bellydance. Not now, not ever. There are costuming options for all levels of modesty and all preferences for style. In class, so long as you are not wearing baggy tee shirts, which obscure your body line, then anything you feel comfortable in will do--fitted tee shirts, tank tops, leotards, etc. Bared or not, your belly is a beautiful thing--a seat of power which bellydance draws from. Feel free to show it off or keep it covered at any time in my classes!

Ready to take that first step to baring your belly, and want a little support? Try SugarPetals. They make these fantastic body suits with PowerMesh tummies which are not only a good modesty option, but are SOOOOO comfortable! I wear them all the time, as do many of my students. Great for class wear, stretchy, comfy, washable, and a ton of colors to choose from. If I sound like a saleswoman, it's only because I love them so much! For maximum versatility, I recommend the "Mesh Middle Unitard" in black cotton/lycra with tank-styled top and tan or black colored PowerMesh middle, but really any color you like best will work great.

I am pregnant, and wondered if I can still take bellydance classes?

The first answer I must give is "check with your doctor"! Everyone's bodies are different, every pregnancy is different, and only a doctor can give you the official go-ahead.

That said, I have had dozens of pregnant bellies in my classes over the years, some women happily dancing right into their 9th month. I personally find a pregnant bellydancer to be one of the most beautiful images on earth! Like everything else with regard to your body and physical activity, pregnant or not, you should take it at your own pace--listen to signals your body is sending you, and adjust accordingly. Tribal bellydance can be as gentle or as aerobic as you want it to be, so join us and have fun!

Am I too old/too young to bellydance?

There is absolutely NO age limit, high or low, to enjoying bellydance. Misconceptions abound, from the idea that one must be that Hollywoodized 20-something with the flat tummy and long exotic black hair, to the idea that bellydance is somehow "too sexy" for young women (like the grossly misrepresented MTV images of "bellydance"), to the idea that bellydance is only for old housewives trying to seduce their husbands. None of these images or ideas accurately portrays the amazing eclectic mix of women from all walks of life who enjoy bellydance in their lives. I have had girls as young as 7 in class, and women over 70 (though they aren't telling ;)!

Girls and Young Women

It is a particular privilege to be able to give the gift to dance to a young woman before she enters her teens--to help her love, own, and respect her body before she reaches that delicate age range. This dance is good for the body, and more than that, it is amazing for your mind and spirit. For young women, it is a rare opportunity to be surrounded by female role models who love their bodies, in all shapes and sizes, and celebrate their space in the world through their dance. To see so many women moving and sharing and appreciating the body they have been given is a (sadly) rare thing, and it is powerful to be surrounded by this experience; as an adult surely, but even moreso as a young woman who is being sent so many opposing messages about her worth and her body.

My only considerations about young girls taking my class is that so long as they are attentive and non-disruptive, they are welcome in class. You may choose to accompany your daughter or granddaughter--this is a fantastic activity to share in together, and I have a lot of mommy-daughter pairs in class every week, in all age ranges! If you choose not to participate, then I ask that for children 10 and under a parent or guardian be present in the hall throughout the class. For 11 and up, you may choose to drop your daughter off for the duration of class. You are welcome and encouraged to observe the first night of class regardless, though subsequent classes observers are not allowed, out of respect for new dancers struggling with new concepts who may feel uncomfortable being watched. Please come and introduce yourself the first night of class, so you can get to know me a little. Parents should be aware that the occasional racy comment or curse word does slip out now and again in class--my classes are primarily adult women, and the environment is treated as such. Surely I am no Dennis Leary! LOL But I want to make sure I mention this so that if that makes you uncomfortable, this class may not be for you and yours.

Women of "A Certain Age"
For older women, too, this is a fantastic dance form to undertake. Your range of movement, flexibility, and stamina is built gently but surely over each week. And we all need some affirmation now and again as to our undeniable sensuality and strength--at no age are we immune from negative self-talk and the harsh messages of the media. Bellydance is a cure for the sickness of allowing the commercial world determine our beauty and worth!

No matter if you have danced before or not, or how long it has been since you last challenged yourself physically on a regular basis, you will find that bellydance is suited to all women. It is a dance which honors and celebrates diversity in our bodies and abilities, while uniting us in purpose and aesthetics. Unlike other dance forms, which demand that our bodies conform to the ideals of the dance form, bellydance is an art which instead conforms to and compliments our bodies, just as they are.

In my classroom, we celebrate the matriarchal lineage that this dance follows back through history, and I consider it an honor to be able to share this dance with women of wisdom and experience beyond mine.

All Ages in Between
I strive to make my classes accessible for all ages, all women. There is a place for everyone, from 12 to 22 to 42...and beyond! The only way you can know for sure is to come and see for yourself. That's why I offer your first class for free--so you don't have to take my word for it.

I have taken classes with other teachers before. Can I join the Level 2 or 3 class?

Try not to think of the levels as only skill or experience based, but also as collections of information. If you skip 1 and/or 2, you won't get the chance to adequately explore the concepts encompassed in those levels. While these levels may contain more or less information, or move faster or slower, being familiar with the concepts we cover in each is vital to being successful at the next level.

So I invite all new students to come to Level 1 classes to start their exploration of tribal bellydance. While my classes in tribal bellydance are based in "traditional" forms of bellydance, you will find it is very different from anything you have studied before. The skills required in my classes depend on a specific and specialized vocabulary of movement, including very particular body alignment and layering, which you can only learn by studying the style from the ground up. If you have studied FatChance style ATS specifically, please feel free to contact me to discuss your appropriate level.

All that aside, different teachers have very different approaches to the dance, which are important to be familiar with before moving up in their classes. If you have studied other forms of bellydance, you may progress very quickly; or you may find Tribal and/or my classes are so different that it will take more time than you imagined to master the many nuances of this unique art form. Every student is different, and I encourage you to be patient and enjoy the journey!

I feel like I am not progressing as fast as I thought I would/as fast as those around me. This is hard! Any advice?

You are not alone! A lot of students come in with certain expectations about their class experience, and specifically how they will advance in the dance, and they find in a short time that it isn't entirely what they expected. There is a LOT of information to absorb in each and every level of this art form! And it can be self-defeating to expect yourself to learn at the same pace or in the same way as the person next to you. We all need to pay close attention to our own progress and give our studies its due time to seep into our consciousness and our bodies.

Most students spend three sessions to a year in Level 1. Most students stay at the Level 2 level for more than a year or two, as there is a lot of new information to absorb at this level. Many students choose to take the first two class levels in conjunction--refining the previous level while taking on the challenge of the new level. Some may take less time to advance, and some may take longer. My advice, not only with my class but in any class, is to always start at the beginning and take your time. Don't rush the process of learning, strengthening, refinement, and above all getting "into your body", bonding with your classmates, and absorbing the skills at each level before pushing yourself to move up.

For my part, even after dancing for as many years as I have, I love taking foundation level classes from other teachers, for the chance to learn their unique style, and to refine my own skills and see the movement from a new perspective. It is not a sign of being "lesser" or "lower" to be a Level 1 student. Instead, it is the mark of a serious and respectful student to consider each class and each teacher a unique opportunity to revise and refine our skills. All of us, no matter where we are in our dance, benefit from revisiting the foundations often.

What should I expect to know before moving from Level 1 to Level 2?

Goals of a Level 1 Dancer:
  • have FUN! Smile and laugh often
  • get "into" your body and in touch with new muscles and ways of moving
  • attain greater grace, strength, and physical control
  • understand that your personal development will be in your own time in your own way - never compare yourself to others, only to how you are progressing each day, week, or year
  • learn to isolate and smoothly execute foundation movements
  • begin to refine transitions, advancing from individual movements to "dancing"
  • develop a "tribal mind" - to be able to organize and access individual movement information
  • connect with other dancers and together create an environment of joy and safety
  • learn that dance is a journey of many challenging and rewarding steps, not a goal to be chased
  • ask questions as they come up, and did I mention "Have fun!"

What should I expect to be learning in Level 2?

Goals of a Level 2 Dancer
In addition to Level 1 goals, a Level 2 dancer strives to...
  • keep having fun! Never take yourself or the dance too seriously. It should always be a source of joy first and foremost.
  • further develop grace, strength, physical control, and increase endurance
  • refine foundations through continued classes and study in Level 1 material
  • develop greater confidence in leading and following
  • integrate new Level 2 concepts with courage and patience with yourself as you learn new things. Sometimes going up a level feels like "starting all over again"; but accept this challenge with an open mind and you will grow exponentially in your dance
  • learn to hear the music and respond to the phrasing and emotional pulse through appropriate movement and staging choices
  • learn to really "see" your fellow dancers and connect in the moment--be fully present both physically and mentally, and learn to share in that with your fellow dancers
  • develop deeper connections with your fellow dancers through mutual kindness and encouragement
  • understand that determination, humility, enthusiasm, and patience are the hallmarks of a strong student, and we are all of us students throughout all our lives. Never rush the journey.

Also important, a committed Level 2 dancer should consider the following...
  • develop a home practice, with as much discipline and regularity as you feel capable of
  • start a dance journal with class notes, thoughts, ideas, etc. If you have never done one before, ask your teacher for ideas on how to begin.
  • explore the history of the dance, past and present. The internet is an amazing tool--use it! Your teacher is also a great resource, so ask questions when they arise for you.
  • explore other styles of dance, through classes, workshops, and online research such as YouTube (but a strong tribal dancer must keep their movement within their chosen format pure - a unique challenge!)
  • become more actively involved in the dance community through attending workshops and shows
  • understand that confidence paired with simplicity is a powerful combination in a dance and a dancer. Less truly is more.

Are there any videos you recommend for home practice?

There are many many MANY bellydance videos on the market, but only a handful are really relevant to the work you will do in class with me. The most vital videos I can recommend for a new student are the beginning level videos from FatChance Bellydance and Gypsy Caravan.

Our Level 1 class coincides most closely with the FatChance "Tribal Basics: Volume 1", and will provide an excellent companion to your studies as the movements on the video and in class will be nearly identical.

You will definitely gain skills faster and have better retention with a little practice time at home each week between classes. It need not be incredibly formal or lengthy. Just revisiting the concepts for a short time a few days after class will reinforce both your mental memory and your muscle memory.

How do I know when I'm ready for the next level?

Different students learn at different paces, is the short answer. Regardless of the length of time it takes, moving to the next level is based on the student's familiarity and comfort with the information at each previous level. And that takes time! Can you name all the moves at that level on sight, and lead and follow them with proper posture and body alignment? Some level of confidence in this knowledge (not necessarily 100%) is the key to being ready to take on more at the next level.

There is a frequent misconception that if one takes a Level 1 series, the next step is to start taking the Level 2 series, and so on. The truth is, a dancer new to this dance and format can expect to take Level 1 for a AT LEAST few sessions (three or more) times before moving up to Level 2 comfortably, which moves faster and demands a familiarity with the movement vocabulary taught in Level 1.

Some students find that a longer period of time spent at a particular level is beneficial before moving forward, and I encourage you to take it at your own pace, and consult me for recommendations if you like. I do allow students to make the decision to move from Level 1 to Level 2 for themselves, so if you want to try Level 2, you are welcome to try it. For Level 3, moving up is allowed by instructor permission only. The best way to know is by communicating to me your interest in moving up, and I can let you know if the time is right.

Here is a link to shira.net (a fantastic online bellydance resource!), which is a little Q&A on the subject of moving forward in classes. While it is talking about a non-Tribal bellydance class, the same good advice applies!:


Once I have progressed to the next level in class, why would I want to continue taking the previous level class?

Everything we do in an earlier level is built upon by the next, so in many ways we are only as strong as our strongest basic skills. We never truly "move beyond" a given level, but instead are better prepared to deepen our understanding and build upon that foundation with new information. We are able to see the dance in a new light, from a stronger, more confident, more knowledgeable place. And in continuing to study and drill these foundations we refine our vocabulary and partnering skills to enrich our dance experience and make us a better dancer overall.

Sandi of FCBD put it in excellent perspective:
"For me, its kind of like going to yoga classes for a long time. You do the same poses and hear the same words, but you're always able to get better at the poses each time through that verbal guidance. That's what happens with constant practice too. I find that I'm not always successful doing yoga at home on my own because I don't have the guidance and the energy of the other students around me to push me to do it correctly or motivate me to keep the pose for longer.

With ATS, I would always go into a class to not only understand what the teacher is saying, but to get into my body more and try to work on my problem areas."

Additionally, dancing with students who have not reached the same skill level as you will make you a stronger leader and follower. There is no question that dancing with an equally experienced dancer is easier and makes you look good, but by dancing with someone at a different skill level, your strengths as a lead or follow are put to the test. You can learn a lot from these mixed level dance experiences, and they in turn will learn a lot from you!

I offer discounts on multiple classes per week to reinforce this fact. I really encourage any student who wants to strengthen their dance to attend classes more than once a week, and to be humble enough to know that taking "lower level" classes is not "going backward", but is instead a key component to moving forward.

What if I want to take classes from multiple teachers/in other styles?

I heartily encourage my students to explore as many classes with as many teachers as they have time and resources for! Taking classes and workshops in diverse styles will make you a more well-rounded dancer, and can only help you in your advancement in your dance. Seattle has a wealth of instructors and resources, so avail yourself of them!

That said, when and if you decide to perform tribal group improvisation, it can be helpful to narrow your regular weekly studies to one format with one instructor. Tribal group improv demands the ability to recall a very specific set of movements, executed in a very specific way, and requires split-second response times. When trying to develop this muscle memory and swift recall, it can be difficult to be trying to sort through and keep separate information from multiple formats in your head and body.

My advice is to take your time exploring as many teachers and formats as you have available to you, and when and if you decide to pursue group improvisation as a personal style, choose the teacher, class environment, and format that resonates the most with you to focus your time and energies with. If that is me, that would be wonderful! And if it isn't, that's just fine, too. I want my students to pursue their personal bliss, and in dance that is guided most by their trusted teacher and the fellow students they dance with.

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