May 10, 2011

30 Days to a Better Belly Dancer?

...okay, technically May has 31 days and I know that I cannot guarantee how much someone can accomplish in one month but I do know that I posed a challenge to my students to drill and practice each and every day for 5 minutes.  I even set up a handy-dandy spreadsheet to help track their progress and mine.  Now I know that even if someone completes the minimum of 5 minutes a day, it only adds up to 155 minutes, or 2.58 hours.  And yes, I acknowledge that to become a better belly dancer you need to work more than 2-3 hours a week.  But my goal was to simply create a regular belly dance practice. Consistent...daily...focused...practice.

I'm certainly guilty of waiting until the last minute to work on performance pieces or to work on technique.  I dream of having a schedule and a life that would allow me 1-2 hours a day to dance, to sweat, to learn and continually grow.  Although I have the best intention in the world, my schedule and my life seems to supersede  those aspirations and goals.  I've also learned something about myself over the years.  I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of gal.  I can either spend all afternoon working on something...or I can't seem to find a few minutes.  This is less about my schedule and more about my timing, my personality and my daily habits.

I trick myself into doing housework by breaking up tasks into 15-20 minute segments.  I set a timer, and then head off to the kitchen to wade through dishes.  When the timer goes off, I can either continue my work or go do something else.  Even if I head off to another task or distraction I still feel good about having 15 minutes less housework looming over my head.  So I thought, I should apply this to my dance practice and see what happens.

And here we are...5 minutes a day of drills or focused practice.  My goal was not to see who could outlast the challenge and hit every single day, but rather to see who could start carving out time in their schedule to work on a move or a combination or a technique that has been on their mind and not in their body.  I chose 5 minutes because it was: (1) the smallest amount of time that seemed reasonable, (2) an attainable goal, and (3)  the equivalent of a short performance piece.

One week in, my students seem to report mixed results.  Some nearly made it through the entire week, some only managed a couple of days.  The only common theme was the dejected look on their faces when they said they didn't hit the goal every day.  I myself have danced every day, but certainly not with the focus on drilling or refining technique...I've danced but with a little less than the intended focus.  I realize that after one week of the challenge that I too, feel a bit dejected, as if I have failed in the process.  Maybe I wasn't really leading by example..  Especially today when I have to admit that I did not dance, did not practice and put off crawling into bed tonight simply because I'm not caught up on my to-do list.

All too often we set our sights on wonderful goals and we feel optimistic and energetic going in, but quickly lose steam.  Especially if we feel that we failed early on.  I've seen several people advertise various belly dance challenges, and although I didn't join in...I watched from the side, curious to see how far they would go, and quietly cheering from the sidelines.  For me, this simple challenge is not about making leaps and bounds in my dance practice, but creating a process...a ritual...a habit, not a rushed frenzy at the last minute.  It helps me to think less in terms of what I missed out on, and focus on what was accomplished...the knowledge that every day I focus on my dance is one day more than I did a week ago...a month ago, or a  year ago.  So, although I'll hit the pillow tonight with fewer shimmies under my belt, I do hit the pillow with renewed faith that tomorrow I can regroup, refocus and keep dancing.


  1. I have this problems sometimes and I find that if I give myself some "wiggle room" it really helps, especially if I miss a day.

    For instance I would make my goal "5 minutes a day for 5 days a week." If I miss on Tuesday I don't just give up, I make sure I schedule time the rest of the week.

  2. This is exactly how I feel right now. After 5 years of grad school chaos, I am really ready to focus on my own growth. Sure, I was dancing during school, but it was all teaching or shows and sometimes I went on autopilot. Autopilot does not count as dance improvement! I have my DVDs, private lessons and list of topics I know I need to work on. Now I just have to do it!