At this point in time, there is no standardised accreditation process for belly dance teachers. This has the disadvantage that even someone with only little dance experience can start teaching, but has the advantage of allowing a lot more flexibility within the industry in different styles of belly dance. While some of the larger schools have their own internal teacher training program, this is not nationally recognised.
Here is a possible list of questions to help you work out whether the belly dance teacher you are considering is right for you. It may also inspire you to ask ones I haven’t included!
For the sake of ease I have assumed the teacher is female. This is not an assumption that all good teachers are female!
What is the dance teacher’s background? How many years has she been dancing? How long has she been teaching? Is she still studying, or attending workshops? How many classes do they teach a week? What’s the main type of belly dance she teaches? Does she have a website where you can find the information you want?
Make sure that the teacher has been learning for several years, not just one or two. A person who is still teaching after a few years is obviously staying in business so must have enough students. Check that the style she teaches is one that you want to learn. A website is a good way to get the ‘feel’ for a teacher. She will usually have some information about herself, and the types of classes she teaches.
What type of experiences does she offer the students? Does she offer a range of skills? Does she either put on or encourage attendance and participation in haflas and festivals? Does she encourage students to perform?
Check that the teacher is going to teach you what you want to learn. If you hate performing and just want to dance for the fitness benefits, then check that is what you can do. If you would love to perform, make sure there are opportunities in which to do so.
Does she encourage students to learn a range of dance styles? Does she encourage students to take workshops or classes with other teachers? Has she had a variety of teachers herself? Does she notify students of upcoming events?
Students should not end up as little clones of their teachers. A well rounded education helps develop more skill and a chance to develop your own style. A good teacher also does not feel threatened by students going to other teachers for additional tuition.
Does she emphasise proper posture? Does she explain moves clearly in a variety of teaching modalities? Has she trained in different teaching techniques? Does she break down a move into understandable and achievable bites and builds up the difficulty? Does she keep students challenged? Does she allow for the range of abilities in a class?
Belly dancing takes people right out of their comfort zone into very scary territory, and a good teacher knows how to reassure, and make it achievable for the new student. She needs to keep students physically safe by ensuring proper posture and technique is used. She also has to recognise when a student needs to be challenged and to up the pace for them. This gets difficult when there is a range of abilities in a class.
Is she familiar with the cultural history and context of belly dance and can answer questions. Does she endeavour to correct misinformation and beliefs and instil and inspire a love of the dance and its culture?
A teacher does not have to be fluent in Arabic or be able to translate any song in order to have an understanding of a culture. A good teacher needs to be able to convey the mood of the music and explain the different rhythms and instruments used, and how to interpret that with the body.
Does the teacher run the classes well? Does she have clear business guidelines? Does her classes have clear structures with a beginning, middle and end? Are her classes planned and set out in a logical sequence from week to week? Are there class goals?
Okay so she doesn’t have to run her business like the CEO of a company, but there is more to teaching a class then just teaching a class! To manage the business, and organise classes and have plans for what will happen in the future is the sign of a thoughtful and organised teacher.
Does she admit there are things she does not know, or areas she herself is working on? Can she point out other sources of information, or find out answers to questions she doesn’t know?
A good teacher is confident enough in herself and her abilities to be able to admit she doesn’t know the answer. She is also secure enough to be able to point her students in the right direction or welcome the chance to find out about something she doesn’t know. She does not have to be the all-knowing super woman to inspire respect!
Lastly and most importantly: do you ‘click’ with her? Do you find her manner welcoming? Do you enjoy the classes? Is she approachable and friendly? Does she make it FUN!
I hope this helps both with helping students find teachers and inspire teachers to give better classes!