This History page is devoted to topics on the history and origins of belly dance, as well as new directions that it's taking. If you have a topic you would like to see covered, or have thoughts or opinions on anything you see here, please let me know. I would love to hear from you!
Certification in Belly Dance?
Over the last few years, there has been a push for certification programs in the area of Middle Eastern style belly dance. Well-known dancers such as Hadia, Suhaila Salimpour, and Yasmina Ramsey have all come out with teacher training certification programs. So do we really need this in belly dance?
The arguments against it generally point to the origins of the dance. As a social dance, belly dancing was typically something that women learned simply by mimicking mothers, aunts and cousins at weddings and other celebrations. There were no registered classes or workshops. You simply "followed the leader" to learn the moves. (As some students have pointed out, this is still a typical way of teaching for many Egyptian stars, such as Raqia Hassan and Fifi Abdou).
It was only after Badia Masabny put this social dance into a stage setting at her famous "Casino Badia", and later the "Casino Opera", that belly dance was magnified into the staged art form we know today. Now, dancers are expected to learn from classes and workshops. Teachers are expected to know how to explain the moves, the music, the culture, and have a basic working of anatomy to help them teach safely.
So where does certification fit in? Proponents argue that certification is needed to elevate teaching standards in belly dance. Too often, they argue, students become teachers well before they are ready. Often, they do not have enough experience or a solid understanding of the movements, music and culture. This leads to poor instruction, unsafe teaching practices, and a general disregard for Middle Eastern belly dance as a proper art form.
Having seen far too many of these poor-quality teachers in my 14 years of belly dance, I have to agree with the "certification-ists" that some form of standards should be put into place. The trick then, is how to do it.
To date, the teachers that have put together certification programs have built them around their own styles of dance and teaching. This is not invalid - all the teachers listed are fantastic dancers and amazing teachers, so training dancers to teach as they do is not a bad thing. But - they are all excellent teachers with their own style of dancing and teaching. How can one choose between them?
I think that going forward, it would be nice to set a standard teaching certification program that is NOT based on any one style of Middle Eastern dance. After all, the basic movements are the same, whether you are tribal styled or raqs sharqi. And regardless of how you explain it, a chest lift is a chest lift is a chest lift. To learn a certain style, you still need the basics - stylization comes along after you've mastered them, when you work towards mimicking your favorite instructor.
So then, how about forming an association, nation-wide or international, where certification is based on the judgement of a panel of your peers - dancers who have already proven themselves as capable and masterful teachers. Much as PhD students present their dissertations and are questioned and tested by a jury of people they respect, dancers could present their teaching style and explanations to a panel of master dancers. If the teaching is clear and understanding is shown, then certification is granted.
This would be a massive undertaking. Trying to coordinate dancers is often like trying to herd cats (and as the owner of two of the later and teacher to many of the former, I should know!) and egos can sometimes get in the way. The biggest hurdle would be finding the "master teachers" - who should be the "judges"? How to validate the first few to come in? But we have to start somewhere, and I think with the right attitude, we could make it happen.
Yours in dance,