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15 amazing dancers share their secrets to developing a personal style

Personal style tips from 15 belly dance experts

Personal style is something I think about a lot. It is actually one of the main reasons I’m starting a dance trip around the world – to find my own style. From conversations I had recently with fellow dancers, I understood I’m not alone. so I approached some of my favorite professional dancers for advice.

I asked them the following question:

what are your tips for developing a unique personal style?”

I was blown away by the insights they had to share, so if you too wish to develop and enrich your own style, Read the tips and advice below, by (in alphabetical order): AriellahBelladona, Cera Byer, Deb Rubin, Ela Rogers, Elizabeth Strong, Henna, Jenna, Michelle Manx, Mira Betz, Natalie Nayun, Princess Farhana, Steven Eggers, Samantha Emanuel, Tempest.

Then, I’d love to hear your answer to the same question in the comments below.


Ariellah

Ariellah-belly-dancer

 

It is my belief that before a unique personal style can be developed, it is essential we must all first be masters at the foundational technical skills of our particular genre of belly dance. We must know, understand and execute the movements intimately and with a deep and thorough understanding. It is for this; the technical authenticity, understanding and respect of the art form that creates the backbone of any dancers mastery, from which they can then progress to layer their unique style upon this base.
It is at this point, then, I would suggest the dancer decide what it is they want to express… Ideas you gather from books, fashion, theater, art, and observing people can support your movement. Experience life and you can offer this experience, this understanding, this perspective, through your dance, to your respective audiences…Find your story, what do you want to say?
Dance from your heart and with truth and…dance with real emotion. Discover what dance brings out of you and share it with the world. Take classes from many different instructors, but have one that is consistent, so as to constantly check in with your progression and get very specified and detailed feedback, yet discover all sorts of new ideas, methods, ways in which to move and think differently in your dance by taking many different belly dance classes. I would also encourage cross training in different classical dance forms to gain a variety of dance vocabulary to bring that much more dynamics to your dance and that much more understanding of dance in general. (a broader scope, if you will)
Breathe in life and your dance will reflect this. Allow yourself to be…allow your being to come through in your performance pieces…select music that moves you and moves you to no end…and then allow that love of that music to come through in your dance…allow yourself to move and express in ways that only YOU can do… uniquely. Be true to the emotions and ideas that you want to express and all will fall into place. Your authenticity and sincerity and original-being will shine through, no doubt.

Belladonna Boheme

Belladonna bellydancer

My suggestion is to practice, practice, practice! To take from as many teachers and styles that inspire you and learn to see the differences in what they do so you do what you do on purpose.

Also to be sincere. Work in a way that works for and makes sense with your body and what you want your dance to say. Don’t just do something to be different do something because it is an extension of you and your unique experiences, thoughts, feelings,take on the world and how you can contribute to the world.

Cera Byer

Cera bellydancer

If what you’re looking for is to develop your own style, or enrich your style or technique, practice alone. I’m sorry there’s not a more glamorous answer, but that’s really the whole formula. Work work work, alone, in a studio, at your house, at parks, wherever, but work. Video tape yourself. Take notes on what you see & make those notes your guidebook. Know that inspiration is more likely to be found during work then before it, so just get alone on the floor and mine yourself for information.

Make stuff all the time – good stuff, awful stuff, mediocre stuff, but don’t stop. The way you get good at making stuff is by making stuff. The way you improve at dancing is by dancing. Treat everything as inspiration. Watch avidly. Read. Cultivate yourself and bring everything to your practice. Practice on your best days and your worst days and everything in between. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Deb Rubin

Deb-Rubin-bellydancer

First and foremost, deeply study the dance form. Study the roots. Study ATS, Study bellydance. Study tribal fusion fundamentals. Get the fundamentals and technique of the dance form in your body, so that you can embody it naturally, and speak intelligently about what/how/why you are doing what you are doing, who your influences are and why. Study musicality—both Arabic as well as modern influences. Study theater. Study other styles outside of bellydance.

Then, after you have studied and trained for years and years…. put all of it aside. Let it all go. Trust that it is in your body. Go into a quiet studio, turn on the music, and just let yourself dance. Let yourself express the music as it feels natural for you. Videotape yourself improvizing. Watch the video and see what themes develop, what do you do that is ‘uniquely you?’, what movements do you repeat? What do you like, or not like about what you see?

I think a unique personal style develops over time. it is not something that you can cognitively choose, or decide upon in your brain. And it is not something that you can invent overnight. Try different things. See what resonates with you. Allow yourself permission to ‘mess up’. to ‘completely suck’. Take risks. Ask for critical feedback. And go in the direction by which you are most inspired. In my opinion, one’s musicality–how a dancer hears the music and interprets it through their body–is a big factor in defining one’s own personal style. The more you can refine your musicality, the more your own style with come through.

Ela Rogers

ela bellydancer

Personal style, to me, stems from being curious and passionate, and participating in many styles and genres of art. It’s like trying on shoes… You can try on many, ones that feel good, some that feel wobbly and difficult to master, and some that you’re just not sure of…and that’s okay – at least you’re trying them on!

It is also important to remember that it is YOU, trying these on, and no matter what particular style you are delving into, you are always the center of your endeavors. No one can be you, and you are a beautiful gift to this universe! I can go further with this analogy, by asking, how do you feel in these, here, particular shoes? How do you move in them? Do you feel empowered, excited, or pretty in these shoes? Or do you prefer another pair? That, to me, is what art is all about, especially, the art of movement and dance.

When you find styles of dance & art that you fully connect with, they become elements in your arsenal that you can always pull from, to create a fusion that comes from your own recipe. Stay unique, be yourself, and honor your mind, body, and spirit!

Elizabeth Strong

LizStrong Bellydancer

Be in love with your dance. These days it is difficult not to get swept up in the fads and superstars, and the desire to be a professional performer/teacher. It can be tough to stay true to yourself, neither imitating nor rejecting other dancer’s styles and movements. I find it is easy to feel invisible in the belly dance world with so much going on and fads changing so quickly.

Find places to dance and people to dance with that feel good to you. Take in art that feels good to you whenever possible – beauty in, beauty out. Dance as much as you can so you can broaden your dancer’s palette and find movements and music that feel fun and good to you and your body. Let it always be a mystery, and try not to worry about the destination so much.

Henna, Datura Online

Henna bellydancer

Watch a lot of bellydance and take classes from lots of different teachers.  The more exposure you have to different styles, the more you will figure out what you are drawn to.  These things are already there in you waiting to be expressed!  I always say that you need equal amounts of input and output.  So you also should improvise a lot!  This can be to music that you like or music that you are trying to understand better.  There will be a period of time where you are imitating other dancers and that is ok.  So long as your goal is not to dance like “so-and-so amazingly famous dancer” and you keep your inspiration varied, you will not look like one other dancer.  Finally, make your video camera your best friend.  You’ll find things you love about your own dancing that you can enhance, and things that are not working quite yet.  Watch dancers, dance a lot, and take video.  Repeat steps one through three for the rest of your dancing career!

Jenna

Jenna bellydancer

To make your dance unique, study with different teachers within the genre, and then train outside the genre, as well.  Take only what speaks to you from each source — it’s ok to leave behind what doesn’t suit you.  Dance it until you own it, be confident in adding your personal touch – a different arm, a head angle…anything.  But you must believe that what you bring to the table is worthwhile, or when you perform it, it will not ring true.

Michelle Manx

michelle bellydancer

Photo by Chris Gomez Photography

When considering a new/personal stylization of bellydance, it is extremely helpful for the dancer to be well-versued in various techniques and stylizations of the dance, over the course of many years.  In addition, it’s beneficial to check out other forms of dance.  Cross-training with classes, such as yoga and Pilates is also extremely helpful, in terms of strength and flexibility.

If you are considering the idea of fusing concepts into bellydance, I highly recommend that it’s something that is well-researched and studied.  Of course, it helps if you are 100% comfortable with the concept and context of the subject you plan to fuse with the dance.

I highly recommend slowly fusing elements of your concept into your current style to see how they work.  Use performance and practice videos for self-assessment.  Seek advice and feedback from honest, trusted dance friends, teachers, and mentors.  Please only seek advise from people that truly want you to succeed.  Always be true to yourself and your personal aesthetics, interests, and tastes.   Have fun!

Mira Betz

mira-betz-bellydancer

I have hours of tips on this subject, as anyone who has studied with me can attest to. I believe any dancer looking for a unique “voice” should first be sure they are fluent/proficient in bellydance dance technique. A strong foundation is what great houses, I mean, castles are built on! From there it helps to have a strong, safe mentor to guide you through a process of awakening your vision and realizing your dream.

I ask my dancers: Who are you? What do you have to say to the world? and most importantly, WHY? I say develop the inner artistic voice, know yourself so you can successfully express it. Sounds simple, but it takes a lifetime.

A more simplistic but effective tip is to study with more than one teacher. Everyone has something great to offer and being influenced by many great teachers can help develop a “look” that is more varied.

Natalie Nayun, the Bhoomi Project

Natalie-Nayun-belly-dancer

Take as many different classes as you can. Learn how to move your body in a million different ways. Then listen to your heart and dance what you feel and what you love. If it comes directly from you it is uniquely yours and no one else’s. And by taking many classes and styles of dance you are giving your body the tools and techniques to express whatever it is you want to express.

As you continue to dance and grow as an artist your art will continue to change and grow too. Let your dance change and evolve, don’t try to force it to be something because you like the look of this or that style, just keep learning and practicing and dance from your heart.

Princess Farhana

Princess-Farhana-bellydance

Photo by Dusti Cunningham

Keep learning dance- don’t ever stop! Watch as many dancers as you can, but don’t copy them.

Try to  take what you have learned through study and observation and  then  put your own twist on it… expand the movements, play with them, see what feels right on your body… let your imagination  run away with itself.

Put on music and “just” dance… see where it leads you!”

Steven Eggers

Steven Bellydancer

Be patient, it takes time. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what my personal style is. Honestly, I think it is an ever evolving process.

Stay true to yourself. Do what you like to do. Don’t follow the trends. It’s great to get inspiration from others but at the end of the day, just do what you do. If you are always trying to do the popular thing or trend you’ll never develop or enrich your own style, you’ll be developing or enriching someone else’s.
Continue your education. It’s important to continue to take classes. I think it’s important to cross-train too. Take many different styles of dance. It is easy to get stuck in a rut. When that happens I go and take a ballet class or a circus class or just something that is way different from what I normally do.
Don’t be afraid. As artists, the things we fear most are the things we have to do. Sometimes In life you just have to go for it. You have to decide when it is one of those “now or never moments” and just go for it!

Samantha Emanuel

Sam-bellydancer

Take as many classes/workshops as you can in as many different styles of movement you can find! Your own style will develop as you find material that speaks to you.

You can find inspiration in any class of any level, get out of your comfort zone, it’s good for you!

Tempest

Tempest-belly-dancer

My advice is to study with a variety of different instructors, particularly those of different styles/backgrounds – and don’t be afraid to try something new or different.

If you only ever study one style with a similarly-rooted group of people, it makes it very difficult to truly find your own personality and style. Challenge yourself with unfamiliar things, and consider what looks best on your frame and look, and suits your personality – vs. copying an idol’s.

Lastly, be open to change – you may start off with one idea of how you think you want to be, and find that that may change along the way – and there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s part of the journey.


Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear your answer in the comments.

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22 Responses to 15 amazing dancers share their secrets to developing a personal style

  1. Sophia Ravenna July 3, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

    Thank you for such an inspiring article featuring some of my favorite dancers! I’m at the stage in my career where I’m starting to think about my own voice, so this is SO helpful!

    Right now I’m at the point where I’m looking at the sorts of things I love (dance movements, music, art, stories, costumes, colors, scents, everything) and how I can combine that into a cohesive whole to become my own unique dancer.

    • Sharon Mitzy Sheen July 7, 2013 at 8:02 am #

      I liked that in your list you included stories and scents. It’s great that belly dance is such a versatile art form, and almost every combination is possible!

  2. Ashbeth July 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    If asked this i would answer that as with so many things it is a cyclical process and that as with our selves our dance style is hopefully never permenantly set as we have the potential to constantly grow and to leave yourself space for that will keep your dance natural and true to you, as you are at that time.

    First: study whatever you can where you can, your own area of dance, other areas, theatre, performance, music, give your self breadth of experience

    Then: learn as many as appeal in as much depth as you have reasonable capacity for. give yourself depth of understanding. Learn it some if it so well that you let it become something your body knows better than your mind could ever keep up with, internalise it all as a part of yourself.

    Then later: the consolidation part of the cycle is when you let them form their own fusion (rather than a forced contrived one) by simply improvising and letting all that is now in you take expression when it wants. This is a good time to try new music from new areas and see what it does to your dance.

    Tools that others suggest such as videoing yourself are very useful at the right time – so long as you can manage to not be overly critical of yourself, to remember you are watching to learn what is good and what it not so good, and even stuff you really don’t like is good -it’s good you did it to video so you can work out how to adapt it so it looks as good as it felt.

    The bit where many fall down is the last stage: After a while of consolidating if you feel bored don’t assume it’s over, sometimes a brief winter is needed of rest and not expecting anything new, not working, not forcing yourself, sometimes there is a plateau. If you don’t give yourself a lull when you need one you’ll probably do it subconciously by injuring yourself, or possibly falling out with other dancers you work with. Look after yourself physically at this time and keep up some dancing, but don’t make it a burden or chore.

    Know that after the winter comes spring, after your plateau there will be a time when you’ll go and find lots of new things to give yourself more breadth again, which will lead to new areas to develop more depth in, more heat of the summer if you will, which will of course lead back to the autumnal harvest of your improvisation bearing new fruits.

    Some cycles take a matter of weeks, sometimes it can be many years.
    Push when you need to, and be patient too.
    Listen to your instinct.
    Above all enjoy it.
    Love your dance and it will work through you,
    quite possibly in ways you’ve never imagined.

    • Sharon Mitzy Sheen July 7, 2013 at 8:05 am #

      Great Insight, Ashbeth. I think I’m in the plateau stage right now, and that I just need to accept it. And I look forward to the next stage!

  3. ZEBA July 5, 2013 at 10:27 pm #

    Thank you dancers ! as you all suggest, practise with your heart. I am inspired by your advise. Again thank you.

    • Sharon Mitzy Sheen July 7, 2013 at 8:08 am #

      Thank you for visiting my blog, Zeba (-:

  4. Nadira Jamal July 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    I think the most important step in developing your personal style is letting go of your “shoulds”.

    Your shoulds undermine your priorities. They steal time and energy from what you really value in the dance, and they kill your creativity.

    What really stinks is that when you study something because it’s a should, you lose out on the benefits of cross-training.

    For example, my big should is thinking that I need to master Egyptian style, or I’m not a “real” belly dancer. I love watching Egyptian, and I enjoy “playing dress-up” in that style, but at my core, I’m an old-school AmCab dancer.

    When I was entertaining that belief, I took Egyptian-style classes because I was afraid I wouldn’t be “good enough” otherwise. That killed my creativity, and took a lot of the joy out of the dance.

    Now that I have let go of that should, I spend a lot less time on Egyptian. But when I do work on that style, I can approach it with love and curiosity, and I get a ton of inspiration.

    Without the “should”, my core style is better, and my Egyptian is better too.

    Letting go of your shoulds is hard, but it can be done. Just becoming aware of them takes away some of their power over you.

    • Sharon Mitzy Sheen July 16, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

      You definitely gave me something to think about. I know I have too many “Shoulds”… (including your own example!)

    • heather May 19, 2014 at 6:58 am #

      Thank you that really makes sense to me also :)

  5. Djinny August 17, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    When I want to copy a big famous dance artist – the ultimate long range goal is not to copy their style and be just like them. No one wants to be a carbon copy of something that is already done. It is the SKILL level and the ability to do certain moves that I am trying to acquire. Sometimes I will see an excellent skilled dancer experiment, have fun and explore because they are simply bored with their high level of ability and expertise, when an intermediate dancer like myself is just trying to master the plain skill, to build on my foundation. I wish I was that skilled that I could be that bored! LOL

    I think that everyone’s style naturally emerges because of so many different things like body shape, inner movement, energy and personality.

    As student dancers, we go down our check list of things we do well, can’t do at all or do poorly and strive to be as competent as the a professional dancers. Yes, we are copying, but the goal is not to become a non-original copycat, but instead to master that elusive technique, ease, grace, flexibility etc.

    We want an audience to know that we have worked hard and aren’t just dressed up and dancing around to look pretty, but instead want to show the results of hard work and study while at the same time being likable and entertaining.

    • Sharon Mitzy Sheen August 22, 2013 at 9:01 am #

      You are so right, Djinny. This is how I feel, too.
      I especially liked this sentence:
      “It is the SKILL level and the ability to do certain moves that I am trying to acquire”
      Thanks for your comment!

  6. Cassandra Hans August 27, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

    Amazing article!!! Amazing Dancer!!!

    • Sharon Mitzy Sheen August 28, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

      Thanks for reading my blog (-:

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  8. Barbara Donahue July 31, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

    Hi, My path ballet, modern dance, Belly Dance. You can’t take info out, you can only put it in so I am definitely a layered fusion dancer. I agree with everyone above. My fav quotes 1) To dance is to dream while you are awake 2) Repeat a movement 3 million times ( or more) till it is mindlessly yours 3) Unpeel your onion 4) Always try new ways 5) Teach and find more of the insides of every movement 6) Study with many 7) Never stop experimenting 8) Keep your instrument finely tuned 9) Read all the Belly Dance books…….Thank you for this article. I have a very beautiful big studio & Bohemian Get away in a remote seaside RI town. If you are near by or are traveling thru contact to take class or to teach a workshop …….Happy summer !!! Love Barbara

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