I often get the question from students asking, “what level am I at?” Dancers want to know if they are a beginner, intermediate, advanced, or professional. One of the first questions you should ask yourself is, what is your goal with Raqs Sharqi? What is your goal with belly dancing? Because if your goal is to be on a professional performance track or teach or do something that perpetuates the art form, then that question has more relevance. If your goal is just to enjoy it, dance for fun, and dance socially in your own home or with a small group of friends, then I’m not sure that it actually makes a difference as to what level you are. If finding out what level you’re dancing at helps motivate you in such a way that you want to learn more, practice more, and dance more, then that may be a great reason to ask.
Starter Questions for Evaluating Your Belly Dance Lesson
Let’s say that you want to teach, and you are asking yourself if you are a beginner, intermediate or advanced and what you need to do better. One of the first things you want to address is how is your technique.
Here are a few started questions:
How are you generating the movement?
How are you executing the movement?
How are you able, if someone were to ask you, able to teach someone else the movement?
I think the more versed you are in your technique, the higher up, level-wise you are. All of the levels are purely subjective and opinionated because you can have someone who is only executing a beginning technique, and they are phenomenal. Then you can have someone who’s executing an advanced technique, and it’s okay; it could be better. Take this information with a grain of salt because this is purely subjective and opinionated of a subject.
When specifically looking at your technique, you can ask a few questions like:
How is my technique?
How am I doing it?
Can I execute it well?
You can also ask your teacher or look through your video and ask:
How does the movement come across with my body?
Do I look fluid?
Do I look seamless?
Do I look like I have a good sense of control over the movement when I do it?
Do I make these moves look like they work on my body?
These are concepts that help get you into the next level of dance with your technique.
Who Are You Asking To Evaluate Your Level of Dancing
When you’re asking for an evaluation of what level of dancer you are, it’s important to consider who you’re asking. You can be asking yourself, your teacher, or even another dancer. When you ask that question, you need to understand the lens the feedback is being given through.
As a teacher, if my student comes and asks me, “what level am I?” I’m going to ask why they want to know. If they are an intermediate dancer and want to get to an advanced level, I would have a different response than if they just want to clean up their technique. Those are two separate answers of which I would give my students. You want to make sure that you’re very clear on who you’re asking and how they’re conveying back that message to you.
History of the Art Form
One of the next things that you want to consider on whether you are a little bit more elevated in your knowledge of this art form, is how much history can you speak to, how much culture can you speak to, about raqs sharqi and oriental dance, or belly dance as we call it in general. Suppose you have an introductory level of knowledge. In that case, you’re probably in the beginning stages, and all it takes is a little bit of research, talking to native people, and really tuning into your community and people who have a great wealth of knowledge. There are so many resources out there that you can do to advance your level in this area.
If you could write a page on a website of where the history of our art form comes from and the culture around it, you would probably be considered more intermediate or advanced.
Knowledge of Music
Another thing to consider is how much knowledge of music you have. If I asked as your teacher how many classic songs can you name, would you know just one or more than three? And do you know the composers? Do you know what the lyrics mean? When you have more exposure to this art form, you can become a little bit more intermediate or advanced.
When you are just beginning, you’re not exposed as much, and you don’t have the time to learn that information all at once. It keeps you more at a novice level. The more time you spend diving into the music, the music structure, instrumentation, and regions of where music is coming from, the more advanced you can become in your dance. Music knowledge, along with culture and history knowledge, impacts your technique. When you take the time to gain this knowledge, you can add to your level of belly dancing.
This brings me to the bigger point. I don’t think looking at one facet can give you that answer so cleanly. A lot of people actually base what level they’re at on just technique alone. How are they physically able to execute the movement? I don’t think that’s very accurate or very representative of this art form because it’s not just movement.
When you’re asking yourself and looking at the whole picture, you should see that you can be a beginner in one facet and intermediate in another.
Maybe you are a beginner in movement, but you’re intermediate in music because you’ve been listening to it forever, but you just don’t know how to dance to the music yet. Maybe in history and culture, you’re super advanced. It could be swapped, and you’re a beginner in history, but you’re very advanced in your technique. The most important thing to remember is to keep in mind your goal in asking in the first place. That way, you can accurately give yourself a response, which gives you the information that will help you push yourself forward in the direction you want.
Consider the Performance
And of course, one aspect to consider is performance, right? Typically, when you’re learning, you go up the ladder from beginner to intermediate, to advanced, to professional, and all that good stuff. When you’re performing, if you really want a well-rounded picture, choose when you’re asking someone that you admire to give you a proper response, then choose a piece of music that would represent all of the different facets that we’ve talked about. Even more, consider your stage presence and how to connect with people because raqs sharqi is a social dance. It’s something that we use to connect with people as well.
A lot of this comes into performance. When you’re wanting a response, think about a performance that you can encapsulate all these different facets, as much as possible, video it and get feedback that could give yourself a more well-rounded answer.
Overall, what level you are depends on your goals, who you’re asking, and which area of this art form you’re talking about. One thing I’d encourage you to do, no matter what, is to ensure that your actions and representation elevate this dance and its people.