Growing in you dance has really been on my heart lately. I have been feeling really challenged to do all I can, not only to improve my dancing skills, but also to uplift my students.

Nothing makes my heart happier than when I watch a student really blossom.

So if you have been following our adventures, you probably realise I should be writing about my trip to Germany and the final festival I attended. Or I should be sharing some more of my research about where our dance came from, I do apologise and promise to get back to those blogs this month coming.

One of the perks to being a boss, is that we get to see each of our students grow and I can prioritise and share those things that touch me deeply.

At Zahra’s, Jessica and I make every effort to ensure that each student is in a class that suits her level and will help her achieve her goals. Which is anything from getting out to be social, some much needed “me time” or working on becoming a semi-professional or professional performer.

Being a performer is not in everyone’s DNA, some of us have that natural persona for performance, others of us have to work on it.
From a technical point of few, there are many movements that need to be mastered. It’s not all about the props (the props are so cool though!).  We know that not all props are loved by everyone.

I tend to be a little strict when it comes to props. We push our advanced girls to create two dances a year (of their own choreographies, and we are always available to help) but one may be a prop and the other must be technical.

We also don’t introduce any form of props to students in a class setting until they have been dancing at least 1 year, that first year we focus on technique. Arms are for most of us the hardest bit to control, generally because unlike many of the movements the arms are not something you do naturally.

It’s kind of like touch typing, you have to train your fingers where to go. With dance, we need to train our arms and hands to form part of the picture, nothing throws me off more than a lovely piece with floppy fingers.

The other thing I insist on is strength training. Beautiful floorwork doesn’t just happen, unless you have strengthen your arms to hold your weight.

Jessica and I gave a dance fitness class last year, with the focus on strength and stamina training. We ran out of time slots this year and sadly had to drop it, so we have had to include those lessons in the classes that we feel need them so that the students master the technique.

As a Health and Fitness Instructor, I subscribed to various fitness journals and choose a few of my favourite exercises that I request each student to do at least one other day a week at home.

Speaking of practicing at home, it happens to be one of those thingies that boggles my mind.

Over the years, I have met and interacted with many dancers. Each one special in her own way, now I believe that if you want to grow and improve, you need to constantly be practicing and working with peers who can help and guide you.

Now, don’t get me wrong I love YouTube and often pop on for inspiration, but it is a poor substitute for a real-life teacher. Correct exucution of a movement can only be achieved if you have a peer watching you and helping you use the correct muscles.  So if you are really struggling with a movement, spend a few extra minutes with your teacher and have her really examine how you are doing the movement. Then go home and practice and practice.  A good teacher will be able to see if you practiced or not.

Back when I was still a student, I remember another student, who claimed to practice every day. I remember asking my teacher why her dance wasn’t improving faster. To my mind, that amount of practice should have seen her leaping ahead of our class. My teacher shook her head and said, “it doesn’t help to practice without making sure your technique is right first”.

So my advice to those of you out there that want to grow this year, practice, make sure that you are in the correct class to achieve your goals. Spend a few minutes before or after class with your teacher and have her really assess that movement that has been bugging you.

Nothing happens without hard work.

These are a few of my favourite strength exercises.

Melanie Wallis

Melanie started dancing and performing for Janka’s Oriental Dance Studio in 2006.  Under the mentorship of Janka Kliment, Melanie began her training to become an Oriental Dance teacher in 2008 and completed it under Asja Samia in 2011.  Melanie is also a certified health and fitness instructor.   Following Janka’s return to Slovakia in 2013, Melanie and Jessica chose to carry forward the vision of their friend and mentor.  They purchased the studio and continue to teach the art and beauty of the dance to all aspiring belly dancers.