Finding Your Sweet Spot: Tips for More Effective Belly Dance Drilling

November 19, 2013 2 Comments

We all love progress – it’s exciting to finally  master a new move or layer we’ve been working on . As an instructor, I am genuinely as excited as my students when I see them solidify new skills. Getting there is the hard part, and the decisions we make about how we drill and practice can either help us hinder us along the way. The key is to practice in your “sweet spot.”

Every skill has a learning curve, and that skill may be part of a larger progression of skills with a learning curve of it’s own. For example, the beginning belly dance student learns hip ups standing on two feet, then may learn to walk with single hip ups, then in 3/4 pattern, then add an arm path… you get the picture. When the student can do clean hip ups with good posture, continuing to only practice them in simple form will not help her develop new skills. This is her “easy zone” aka  the “lazy zone.” If she tried to jump straight to a walking 3/4 with arms, most likely she would experience a lot of frustration, and very possibly retreat back to the safety of standing ups. But in the middle is the “sweet spot” -the magical drilling zone where she hits it right about 40% of the time at first. Persistence, good guidance and a sense of humor will eventually make this skill clean and solid too. Then the process begins again.

All of my belly dance classes are multi-level. A few years ago, I had separate levels but due to studio scheduling, I consolidated to multi-level classes. Although I could easily go back to my old format now, I’ve learned to love and see so much value in a multi-level learning environment.  Keeping the content accessible for everyone requires planning, balance and keen observation in the classroom, but I have found the results to be completely worth it for my students. The trick is to be prepared to keep everyone working in their  own”sweet spot.”

As a student, determining your “sweet spot” in a class or workshop may be up to you to figure out. If you find yourself getting frustrated with a drill or combination, take a minute and do a quick assessment of the skill at hand. If there are several components, can you drop one element and have it still be in your challenge zone – for example not do the layered shimmy or leave the arms off till you get the hip work? I spent a number of years teaching Montessori school and the guiding principle is “isolate the difficulty.” This is the guiding principle I use when I design class drills and combos too. I try to communicate clearly to my class and workshop students the main skill I want them to get from a drill – the rest is gravy. Take it if you need more challenge, leave it off if you are getting frustrated. In most settings, I’m able to walk around and help people adjust their level. Sometimes, seeing how to do that for themselves is a great takeaway in itself.

We should also take a moment to look at the opposite situation. What do you do when you feel the material presented is not challenging? In my opinion, we are never above drilling our foundation movements. There is always something to be refined, observations we can make about our body mechanics or posture. If you find yourself in a class situation that rarely challenges you, talk to your instructor.

Many students find it especially tempting to stay in their comfort zone with their personal practice – and that’s not how we make progress! With no one around to crack the sparkly whip it’s a good idea to have a few tricks to challenge yourself when you find things getting a little too easy.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Change your speed. This doesn’t only mean going faster. Sometimes going slower teaches us new things about a movement and keeps us from racing through the hard parts. Try taking 16 counts to complete a figure 8 with a layered shimmy!
  • Play with timing. Use “quick-quick-slow”  or similar patterns guided by your music’s rhythms.
  • You can almost always add a shimmy layer! This can be layered on the drill movement or sustained while drilling something else. (Ex: snake arms + hip shimmy)
  • Add a dynamic arm path.
  • Take it for a walk! Most stationary drills can be made to travel forward, backward, sideways and turn around yourself.
  • Embed an isolation. For example work a 3/4 twist into a horizontal figure 8 or double rib drops into a chest circle.

I have given these as examples of ways to turn up the complexity in drills, but the same sort of elements can be dialed back if you need to make adjustments to class or workshop material that is not a good challenge fit for you.

Be patient with yourself, practice smart and enjoy the sweet reward of growing in your dance!

Mahin (121 Posts)

Professional instructor and performer of Middle Eastern belly dance, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and author or the “Daily Bellydance Quickies”. Belly Dance Artrepreneur, Workshop instructor, performer, event producer, and bellydance writer.

  1. Denise
    November 19, 2013 at 8:09 am

    Great article-for super new students, what might be your suggestions? My beginner class was nurturing and simple. Many times it appears instructors pay more attention to their own likes/dislikes and lose focus on creating a successful environment for their students. How simple is too simple, and on the flip side, how many new skills can you keep adding without losing new dancers? New beginner students usually need time and practice of super basics. Perhaps their class should be separate?

    1. Mahin
      November 19, 2013 at 8:49 pm

      It IS up to the instructor to keep the class relevant for all levels they decide to include. Also, some students are better at working where they should be rather than trying to keep up with more experienced dancers. I encourage people to work on what is appropriate for them and have not had many issues with making that effective for the students. There is also nothing wrong with a total beginner class – both have their unique advantages. Which is better often depends on the student’s mindset and attitude toward learning.


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