A question came through this morning on a list for bellydance teachers & troupe directors that I belong to. The question was “how long is your warm-up?” I love questions like this because they give me the opportunity to share some of the teaching technique & philosophy that I have learned over the years. It is so important for experienced teachers to have the opportunity to share their knowledge with new teachers. Especially in bellydance, with no standardized curriculum nor governing body. We must govern ourselves and take opportunities to raise the bar wherever possible. This means mentoring the next generation of teachers. So here is some cyber-mentoring from Celebrations Bellydance!
The warm up I use in class is not typical. I like to start my beginner & intermediate classes off by having them briskly walk a large circle around the classroom as I walk counter to them. Walking counter to them allows me to greet everyone, look into their faces and check & correct their posture as needed. I add large arm movements to include the shoulders, back & chest into the warm up, and then different step patterns – eventually adding appropriate dancing arm movements to the steps. I do this through one or two Arabic pop songs. It gets the blood moving and the muscles warm, serves as a practice for simple travel steps for the intermediate student and is a fun & painless way to start the process of coordinating arms & legs for the beginner. The students in the advanced class warm themselves up. Students at the advanced level should no longer require the instructor to warm them up. They warm up while I run to the toilet, etc. Many studies have been done on warming up as related to athletic performance and to injury prevention and I believe (based on these studies and personal experience) that the most important thing warming up does for the bellydancer (besides start the body working) is to put her in a good mental state to focus and learn. In other words, the warm up provides the transition from the outside world to the dance class. Usually I follow this with gentle stretching. You can think of a gentle stretch as being like what you do when you wake up in the morning. You roll your shoulders, move your back side to side, twist a little and tip your head from shoulder to shoulder. Don’t be more vigorous than that with a cold muscle. Stretching a muscle that has not been previously working (that is not already nice and pliable) can potentially cause injury. After this walking warm up, I start class off slowly, always with the basics, and building up into more complicated drills before we start learning new material. Yes, this is “warming up” the body with the same movements it will be using, but more importantly it is warming up the mind for dance. So where do stretches belong? I put more emphasis on the stretch at the end of the class. Typically I spend 10 minutes at the end of class doing floor stretches on the yoga mats. If we have time, we stay down on the mats and close with a taxim follow-me using hands and arms. It’s a nice way to finish the session. Students often tell me that the quiet time at the end of class where we are down on the mats doing our stretches is one of their favourites.
So my formula in a nutshell is: walking with large arm movements, adding foot patterns & dance arms as you advance. Include gentle stretches, keeping in mind that muscles are not yet warm. Follow this with easy drills that move along into more intense. Then add your new material. End with deep stretches on the mat.