Did you say dance class etiquette? Belly dancing should be fun. You mean I have to behave
in class? Yes, oh, please, please, please. I have always had a set of rules I follow when I attend a
workshop or dance class. I have noticed that other students’ rules are not like mine, or maybe,
they just don’t have any. My rules are innate, perhaps drilled into me in my formative years of
classical ballet training, where teachers demand and get respect. I try to instill the following ‘ten
golden rules’ in my dance students. I am really interested in how other teachers and students feel
about dance class etiquette. I encourage other dance teachers to share this article with their
1. Show respect for your teacher. In Eastern disciplines such as martial arts and yoga, the
teacher is revered, worshipped and given great loyalty and respect. Teachers have worked long
and hard and made many sacrifices to master their arts. Many have dedicated their lives to this
dance, their chosen art form, often will a lower compensation than if they were to have
dedicated their lives to another field.
2. Be on time. There perhaps are excuses for being late to class; you have to work late, your
sitter is late, etc; but if you are the student that is consistently late to class, then you need to ask
yourself why and take steps to prevent your tardiness. Being late to class disrupts other students
and the flow of instruction from the teacher. You forego the very essential warm-up. How
would you feel if your teacher arrived ten or fifteen minutes late? Find out what time the studio
doors open and try to be in class 10-15 minutes early. This is will give you time to change into
your dance attire, use the bathroom, get a drink of water, chat with your friends and if you
require certain types of warm-up because of an injury then you will have time to properly
3. Position yourself at a dance workshop relative to your dance experience. In an article in
Middle Eastern Dancer, international dance star, Horacio Cifuentes, commented on differences
between American and European dance classes. He said European dance students begin their
training in the back of the room and earn their positions in the front. This is a good idea. If a
classroom is large, students may not always be able to see the teacher and will watch students in
front of them. If you feel confident that you will be able to catch on quickly and perform
movements accurately, try to grab a spot up front; however, if you are a beginning student or do
not grasp movements quickly, you will probably be more comfortable dancing toward the back
of the room. Also, keep in mind, that many teachers will rotate rows and have students dance in
a circle; if this happens, you need to readjust your position quickly in the classroom.
Note: This is a rule for workshops, not a rule for your regular dance class with your usual
teacher. In your weekly dance class you will want to be as close to the front of the room as
possible no matter what your level of dance experience is.
4. Wear suitable attire. Avoid wearing too much jewelry, excessive coins or too many
costume accessories to dance class. Beginning students tend to do this a lot, because it is an
opportunity to dress in costume and it is fun. Save your excess sequins and bells for recitals and
performances. When trying to learn new movements, too many bangles will distract you and
nearby students. You will not be able to stretch properly. Also, floor stretches can be really hard
on expensive costume material. Some dance instructors do not permit students to wear coin hip
scarves at workshops. Why this may seem unreasonable to some students, the instructor may be
teaching a topic that is more lyrical than belly dance such as classical Persian dance and
therefore a jangling hip scarf will impede the softness of the movements and be a distraction for
the instructors and as well as other students. Dance tights and a hip scarf are adequate and more
suitable for most workshops and classes. Leggings, midriff tops and long, full skirts are also
appropriate. It is important to be comfortable and to be able to achieve a broad range of motion,
unhampered by excess material or jewelry. If you teacher requests other garb, make every
effort to fulfill her wishes; wear the 10-yard skirt for Rom gypsy skirt dance; wear the kneepads
during the floor work portion of the class; omit the skirt if your teacher needs to see your legs;
you are paying your teacher for her instruction - make every effort to follow it.
5. Keep talking and giggling to a minimum. This is probably my most flexible rule. Part of
the fun of dance class is the giggling and laughing which often occurs. I tend to encourage
laughter during my weekly classes. After all, feeling good is one of the benefits of the dance;
however, when I attend a workshop, I try to keep talking and giggling in check. Avoid talking to
other students during class. Keep your attention focused on the instructor. If you have a
question, ask the instructor.
6. Avoid being a know-it-all. Yes, you have had another teacher somewhere who called
that movement “The Washing Machine.” Your teacher was the authority on the subject and now
you are. Keep in mind, this dance has been passed on from one dancer to the next since the
beginning of time. The movements do not have standardized names. Teachers generally call a
movement what their teacher calls it. There is no right or wrong name! Do not openly challenge
her expertise! If you have question about how a movement is executed, by all means, ask it -
just make sure you do it in a respectful manner. If you are attending a class at a level that is
lower than your own, do not start improvising and doing something different that what the
teacher is instructor just because you feel bored. An example of this I see time and time again,
is when a more advanced students attends a rudimentary class or Introduction to Belly Dance
Workshop; the teacher is reviewing the basic moves: hip slides, hip circles, head slides, head
circles, rib slides, rib circles, etc; the intermediate-advanced student starts improvising and
instead of doing a basic hip slides she adds a three-quarter shimmy to the movement. All of a
sudden, all eyes are on her hip shimmy instead of on the teacher who is trying to teach the class!
Keep your eyes and body orientation trained on the teacher and follow her movements; try to
perfect what you are doing. Every dance discipline has dancers review and review the basic
movements that are the foundation of a particular style; if you are bored, then you are not
concentrating and open to the discipline of repetition that will ultimately make a difference in
your dance performance.
7. Do not drop out of class. If for some reason, you absolutely can not continue the class--
you are too tired, too hungry, cramps, etc. -- try and observe the class and take notes. If you feel
you must leave, try and do that in such a way that you are unnoticed. When students see other
students walking out the door, they will wonder where the dancer has gone and why she has
left? Sit in the corner and take notes if possible. Do not converse loudly with other students.
If and when you are able to return to class, do so quietly and take a spot in the back of the
room. At the end of class, follow the teacher's cool-down movements. If you have other
stretches that you need to do, make sure you do them when the class if over and not while the
teacher is still instructing.
8. Let the teacher teach. If you are a teacher, under no circumstances should you voice an
opinion in another teacher’s class. I know it is hard to resist helping the floundering girl next to
you, but it is not your place. Let the teacher do the teaching. Button your lip. If the teacher asks
for your opinion or expertise, concisely give it and then give your complete attention back to her.
9. Keep an open mind and please do not complain. Be open to new ideas and possibilities.
Try to focus on how your new teacher can expand your dance repertoire. Do not compare her to
other teachers. Do not complain about a movement being too difficult. Do not question where
the teacher positions you in a choreographed number. She has reasons, developed from years of
experience, to justify the decisions she makes. If you have suggestions or ideas that you think
will help make your dance class better or if you have any problems concerning instruction of the
class, talk with your teacher about this in a respectful manner at an appropriate time. During
class time is not the time to voice your opinion about anything, unless of course your teacher
asks for it. When students criticize and complain during class, it not only disrupts the teacher's
instruction, it creates an air of negativity which is difficult for the instructor and other students
to recover from.
10. Watch the teacher’s performance or demonstration. If the teacher is kind enough to
perform or demonstrate for the class, watch in silence. Once, I observed a teacher performing a
veil dance so beautiful I could have cried, except I wanted to scream at the miserable girls
behind me. While she graciously performed, they chattered incessantly. This behavior followed
arriving late to class, complaining about difficult movements, and quitting early because of
fatigue. They should have stayed home.
By giving teachers the respect they deserve, you will be getting something back -- your
money’s worth and the respect and gratitude of your teachers.