Practice Between Classes

A student recently emailed me asking for advice about how to practice. She was chatting with a dance classmate on the post-class train ride home, and realized neither of them were sure how to practice between classes. I wrote her back, she seemed please with my response, and I thought others who attend weekly in-person dance classes might be interested as well. Here is what I wrote:


I understand about not knowing what, or how, to practice. Here are some initial thoughts/advice that has worked for me over the years, as well as many of my students:

Bring a notebook with you to class, ideally a dedicated dance/movement notebook, and write down what you remember immediately after class (on the way home, when you get home, whatever works). It can be movement, combinations, feelings, one-liners, impressions…whatever is sticking with you. Get it down while it is still fresh.

Within a couple of days be sure to look at those notes again to ‘decipher’ them, and rework or rewrite them as needed so they make sense as time goes by.

(Note: I am a pen and paper person, but this could be done on a tablet or phone as well, I am sure!)

Related idea that takes a bit more time/resources: Video tape yourself when you get home from class doing what you remember. Invaluable.

Listen to Arabic music. Lots of it, not just when you are in practice or dance mode, but for fun when you are puttering around the house, doing what you do. Let it ‘normalize for you as a genre.

If you hear a song you like in class, ask me about it!

Go between focused practice and free practice. In other words, once you get your own notes started you can be methodical about making a plan for what you want to work on. But I also hope on days you want to dance but aren’t sure what to do you will get comfortable just putting on a song and dancing to it without a plan (though sometimes a practice plan forms from there as you go, and that is great, too).

Watch dancing. See what you like and see what you don’t like, and then try to decide why. Is it charisma or costuming? Get past that and try to look at the movement, the reaction to music. Live is great, but video is fine, too. You tube is amazing for this!

Hope that helps with a bit of a start.


Published by

Monica Bee

I like crossword puzzles.

6 thoughts on “Practice Between Classes”

  1. Hi Monica. Your students are lucky to have such a thoughtful teacher! Your plan of action for between classes is a whole feast of opportunities to ‘inhabit’ the music and to bring it to 3D life through dance. I can imagine your students enriching their experience through bringing Arabic music into their everyday lives, so that the ‘exotic’ edges are not so sharp, and the heartbeat of the music is easier to feel.
    All best wishes

    1. It is always a joy to have students who are active learners and ask these sorts of questions.

      I passed the decade mark of teaching ongoing weekly dance classes a few years back, and have learned that students who come to class already loving or knowing Arabic music, or who start enjoy it from hearing it in class, are at a real advantage when it comes to learning, and perhaps more importantly enjoying and embracing, the various dance forms that can go with it.

      I fret a bit, and am genuinely bewildered at best, when belly dancers and the like say they don’t like Arabic music (yep, it happens). Aside from it being a diverse genre that surely one can find something to like within, I have to wonder…why not take up another dance form then?! I imagine myself as a (perpetually!) nascent flamenco student telling my instructor I like the moves, but not the pesky guitar or all that dang clapping, and oh, the singer sounds so miserable. O_o

      But that is a musing for another day. 🙂

      1. Gosh – so the students who don’t like the music are following your direction as to which moves to make? And the music’s like the background sound in a gym? Double gosh.

        I can imagine that the microtones of Arabic music might sound unusual to Western ears, but it’s a bit like a toddler deciding they ‘don’t like spinach’ and growing up refusing it, no matter how tastily it’s cooked. I suppose, once you decide that you ‘don’t like Arabic music’ then a barrier comes up in your brain every time you hear anything that you identify as Arabic.

        But anyway – thought you might like the dance moves (about 2 minutes in) to this El Tanbura video

        All best wishes

  2. Well, I daresay people who attend my classes like the music!

    An Egyptian friend was once staying at my house while visiting the States, and as we chatted she made an offhanded comment that has never, ever left me. To paraphrase, she said sometimes foreign belly dancers look like they are doing aerobics to the music. There can be such a disconnect, and such a focus on ‘doing steps’ rather than dancing. I knew exactly what she meant, and for anyone reading who feels hurt by the thought, I promise it was said without malice or even judgement, and it became a big part of how I approached the work of my own dance expression. The music is so at the core of the dance style that to ignore it — even if you love it — is going to limit expression. Lyrics, instrumentation, melody, rhythm, place of origin, era, having context for the song and singer and band…all part of it!

    A never ending journey.

    And yes, the Port Said styles are so great! Love that vid. ❤

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