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Belly Dance Choreographies for Beginners

We teach fairly difficult choreographies in our beginner classes. We do this for a reason, so if you’re in one of these classes, I hope that you’ll stick it out, you can do it with practice, and the rewards are coming. It may seem harsh to some, to teach a ‘beginner’ choreography with complicated sequences and picky technique. Thinking back to high school and college, when I was learning choreographies for various extra-curriculars, and even some of the beginner belly dance choreographies I learned later in life, several of them had one thing in common: they were difficult (requiring me to really practice the moves), or they were cheesy (in a bad way) and I felt a little embarrassed to dance them, even after I had learned them well enough. When I learned that Jules had a similar experience in show choir and as a beginner in belly dance, I began theorizing that perhaps this is common in choreographies taught to beginners across multiple styles. I will note that I cannot speak for ballet, as I did not take ballet as a child (where a recital might have been a possibility) and the classes I took as an adult did not teach choreography.

In our mission at this school to help students develop a dance practice for themselves that they can enjoy and be proud of, we don’t want to spend your valuable time teaching you routines that we all think are cheesy. So, we teach choreographies that we like (and hope that you’ll like, even though you’ll have to practice more). I personally have always worked harder to learn choreography that I liked, found challenging, could see myself actually performing, and could be proud of having learned.

Since every school can define things differently, I’d like to share with you our thoughts on how we define what separates a ‘beginner’ choreography from others:

The movements are taught.

In a beginner class, students will receive a breakdown of the movements used in the choreography, usually in the warm up. This will not be as detailed a breakdown as they would get in a technique class due to time constraints. Students that believe they need more help to pick up the underlying technique should consider attending the technique class as well. In an intermediate or advanced class, students are expected to already know their belly dance technique, with the exception of any particularly specific or unique stylizations which get a brief breakdown. Choreography classes get less and less movement/technique breakdown as they get more advanced.

No requirements are imposed for range of motion or strength.

Choreographies with beginners in mind will not include dance movements that require particularly taxing or dangerous feats of flexibility or strength. No splits, no back bends, no drops, no requirement on how high a battement (kick) needs to be, etc. If there is floorwork being taught, which is rare, there will be modifications available for those that have joint issues or do not yet have sufficient strength to execute the movement safely (it is the student’s responsibility to mention these issues in order to make sure they are given a modification.) In more advanced choreographies, certain movements may be required and students will be expected to train up to the appropriate strength, speed, or flexibility level before they can perform (or in some cases before they can learn) the choreography.

Modifications are Available.

As mentioned before, modifications are available in the case of floorwork in all beginner classes.

Modifications are also available for more complicated movements, and it may be optional to drop a layer in class and practice it more at home. When preparing for performance, if there are layers that some students are still not able to execute, those layers may be dropped. (An example of a layered movement is a ¾ shimmy on top of a foot pattern with prescribed arm movements – in such a case the ¾ shimmy might be dropped.) The same concept applies to particular movements – if it just proves to be too difficult for the group after they’ve had enough time to practice on their own and ask clarifying questions in class, an easier move can be substituted for the group performance.

Minimal Layering

Choreographies in beginner classes generally will not have extensive or complex layering. This does not mean there will be no layering. Layering a shimmy with hip, arm, or chest movements is pretty common in our beginner choreographies. Because it’s such an essential part of belly dance, we feel it’s good to just practice that and get past it early on so that layering something on top of a shimmy won’t be a stumbling block later on. Layering can (and does) get much more complex as a student advances. Timings, foot patterns, arm patterns, finger cymbals, hip, chest, head, and abdominal movements can all be layered on top of one another (each having its own downbeat and direction options). Thankfully in beginner choreographies we usually stop at layering shimmies with one other thing. 🙂

Beginner doesn’t mean easy.

In order to have a choreography that you are proud of having learned, are excited to perform, and have put the work into in order to learn it well enough to perform it for others, odds are it wasn’t easy. The difficulty of the routine has little bearing on whether or not it can be appropriately taught to beginners (safety precautions regarding range of motion and strength still apply). You get out what you put in, and if you feel like a choreography is not exciting or not challenging, you are less likely to put much into it. So yes, many of the routines we teach in our ‘beginner’ class are difficult for a beginner. If you don’t have to learn something new and work for it, exactly how proud are you going to feel of your accomplishment? Not very proud at all, I figure, and I want you to be proud of yourself, so I hope that we challenge you to push yourself. The rewards have always been worth it to me, and I hope they’ll be worth it to you as well.

When it comes to belly dance choreography, particularly for beginners, it all comes down to one simple concept:

If it isn’t cheesy, it wasn’t easy.


Wow – what a great weekend! We were very honored to host Lacey Sanchez of Florida Tribal Dance and her lovely assistant Aivin for an intimate tribal fusion intensive this past weekend at our studio in Northwest Gainesville. All in all, we went through 10 hours of instruction ranging from key techniques used in tribal fusion to tips and tricks for layering,  influences from industrial music, performance concepts, and more. Lacey is a talented and enthusiastic instructor, and such a joy to have around. Aivin is also a sweetheart and a very talented dancer. I hope we’ll be able to see them both again soon! 

In addition to the workshops, this weekend was also Gainesville’s first ever Shimmy Mob on Saturday.  One of our own students, Tara, was the team leader and coordinator for Gainesville. Our school was able to contribute by donating studio space for practices, which one of our instructors graciously volunteered to teach.  The Shambling Shimmies School of Belly Dance also hosted a hafla and fundraiser on Saturday night, which was a blast! The funds raised by the party and the efforts of other Shimmy Mob sponsors that donated % of sales or raffle prizes went to Peaceful Paths.


May/June Update to EgyptianOmegaShaabi

Style and Technique with Omega:

May 15th – June 19th will be a six class sha’abi choreography series.  The choreography will be performed at the monthly Satchel’s Shakedown hafla on Tuesday, June 25th.  Performing is optional, but of course strongly encouraged!  Drop-ins are still welcome during this series; however, it his highly recommended that you attend all classes if you wish to perform.

The sha’abi choreography we will be learning is to the song “El Leilah (Tonight)” by Diia (available on the compilation Bellydance Superstars Vol. V).  The song is about having a good time and not letting life’s problems get you down.  The style of the dance is Egyptian bellydance mixed with Cairo-style street dancing.  The vibe is upbeat, flirty, and fun.

Please make sure you are a member of the Shambling Shimmies Students Group to get all the latest details about costuming for the performance, rehearsals, and practice videos.

Series Dates/Times:



May 15 – June 19


Satchels Performance:



June 25


Important Links:

Shambling Shimmies Facebook Page

Shambling Shimmies Student Group

Egyptian Style and Technique Facebook Event Invite

Shambling Shimmies Class and Event Calendar




Suhaila Salimpour Level 1 Intensive

Heather here to tell you about our latest adventure – the April 2013 Suhaila Salimpour Belly Dance Format Level 1 Intensive & Certification Test in Ft Pierce.

To start off, I will tell you that this was a pretty rigorous experience. Suhaila is pretty serious about building strong technique. I’ve been working with Suhaila’s online classes for a couple years now, and at her intensive last year (in between cursing interior hip squares under my breath and trying not to fall out) I decided to try to certify for Level 1 this year (glutton for punishment) – so the last year of my training time has been spent with getting myself capable of passing the certification test in mind.

The intensive itself included 15 hours of dance training, focusing on the material that a dancer must be proficient in, in order to pass the Level 1 test. I believe this must be designed to break your body and your brain if you haven’t already been training strength, posture, belly dance isolations and finger cymbals right and left handed. I get it though, building a wide repertoire of movement gives you more to work with as a dancer, to express the music however you feel called to.

After the 2.5 days (and 15 hours) of conditioning and dance drills, we were released for lunch, with those going through the test coming back after in order to spend another couple hours doing the test. The test itself is in 2 parts – written and practical, and as I understand it, a minimum percentage must be gained on both parts in order to pass.

It was a definite adrenaline rush just to finish the weekend and finish the test – even though I didn’t know if I had passed or not until a day later. After the first day ($@#% interior hip squares!) I really wasn’t all that sure I would make it, and was concerned that all my practice still hadn’t been enough. It was tough to push through the soreness and nagging concern and keep working, but it was worth it. The experience of spending so much time doing something I love (even/especially when it’s challenging), with a group of like-minded and equally hard working people, was awesome.

Group photo on day 3

Group photo on day 3

Despite the physical and mental struggle, I’m proud to say that Jules and I both passed, in addition to surviving!

So that’s a little bit about what the workshop itself was like. Throughout the intensive, there were occasional short lectures, and there were three points Suhaila made during these ‘story times’ that really resonated with me.

She talked about being a young girl and seeing this dancer in her head doing things that she just couldn’t do due to a back problem, and how she had initially created her format in order to make herself able to do the movements she saw her imagined self doing, by approaching them in a different fashion.

What that means to me is this: All this hard work helps make the dancer you see in your head the dancer that other people see when you dance. It’s worth it.

Later, jokingly during a particularly difficult drill, she said something about how dance class is where you learn to struggle properly. I really like the idea of struggling properly, for some reason.

How I apply this to myself is: No one starts out great at everything, it’s about the process – the journey toward your goals. Keep pushing, and keep your chin up.

The struggles will be there – keeping your attitude right is how you struggle properly.

The thing she said that struck me the most was that she wants to teach dancers to dance like themselves, rather than teaching them to dance like her.  (I think this was in the context of why her format focuses on technique rather than stylization, but I honestly don’t recall.)

This was incredibly validating to me because just a month or so ago, Jules and I were talking about this very subject and how we don’t want to teach people to dance ‘like us’ – we want them to dance like themselves, and to have as many tools as possible to do so.  I’m not interested in flattering myself by training people to dance like I dance.  It has been incredibly rewarding to watch our students at the studio as they have taken the techniques and exercises Jules and I have taught them, and used them to express themselves through dance. When I heard Suhaila echo a similar sentiment – I felt like it validated how I hope to teach.  To hear that someone at her level has a similar philosophy was naturally very affirming.

The motivational quote I made for myself out of that concept is: Teach people to dance like themselves, not to dance like you.  It’s not about you, it’s about them.

Overall, it was an incredible experience, and I’m honored to have been part of it, and to had have such wonderful people with me through the process (especially Jules, but also some of our friends from Hip Expressions Johanna and Kimberly). I’m all fired up to start working on Level 2! Suhaila will be coming back to Florida next year to teach a Level 1 intensive in the Jamila Salimpour Belly Dance format, so I’ll be working on that as well. Jamila’s format is a major piece of belly dance history in the United States, so I’m very excited to get more into it.

XOXO ~ Heather

Next week (April 3, 2012) we won’t be holding our usual Thursday night classes, Belly Dance Boot Camp and Belly Dance Party Jam. We’ll miss you gals, but we have a good reason!

We won’t be holding classes that night because Jules and I are going to be spending the evening driving down to Fort Pierce for a 3 day level 1 intensive with Suhaila Salimpour! At the end of a gruelling 15 hours of training (and at least 1 nice party!), we’re also both planning to test for level 1 certification.

Being so far from Suhaila’s home studio in California, we’ve been studying with her online classes. (If you think you might be interested in learning more about those, you can check them out at

The way in which we teach belly dance technique at our studio here in Gainesville is heavily inspired by Suhaila Salimpour’s format, so pursuing further study and certification in her format makes sense for us. Our philosophy is that cultivating strong underlying dance technique is very important in any dance form, for a few reasons. Strong technique provides a dancer with a solid vocabulary of individual movements, an understanding of the body mechanics to execute them, and a framework to learn new movements. Once this vocabulary and skill set is established, a dancer will hopefully find it easier than they otherwise would to learn new dance material – whether that be in the form of specific movements, dance stylizations, or choreography and combinations.

The skill of being well-equipped to learn new things is valuable in many fields, and I think that dance is no different. This is important to us because we are fusion dancers, and strive to have the broadest movement vocabulary possible, drawing from many different styles of dance, in order to interpret and express the music to our audience.

To learn more about Suhaila Salimpour, check out her website ( and her blog (

Hope to see you on the dance floor!



Satchel’s Shakedown!

Last night we had our monthly student showcase, Satchel’s Shakedown!, and we had a great time as usual.  There were performances by a group of students from Inna’s American Tribal Style class (one of which was accompanied by didgeridoo!), as well as students from the Shambling Shimmies Improvised Tribal Style class, a wonderful duet from a couple of students, and solos from the instructors.  There were even some excellent audience members that were kind enough to join us onstage and learn a couple moves during the audience participation part of the show!

Native or longtime residents of Gainesville already know that Satchel’s Pizza is definitely something you must see – the venue is eclectically decorated, the pizza is delicious, and the employees are wonderful.  There’s even a junk museum out back (Lightning Salvage), which houses the stage where the showcase takes place.  If you are new to town – definitely go check them out at

We were also honored to have a very nice person (Elise Giordano according to the photo credit) from the Alligator in attendance, and a photo from the show was featured in today’s edition!


There was also a reporting student who interviewed a few of the dancers for a school assignment (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten because I did not write it down) – if you see this, email me using the contact link at the top of the page and I’ll update the post with your name!  I definitely enjoyed speaking with her and am sure that she’ll get an A+ on her assignment.

What a blast!  You really should have been there – but don’t fret, you have another chance.  The monthly showcase takes place on the last Tuesday of every month, and you can get details on shows and other events on our calendar or on the events listing for our fan page on Facebook.  We hope to see you at Satchel’s!

Shambling Shimmies Dance Company Core Values

Several months ago we were blessed with additional instructors joining us at the school, and as they set about designing their classes, we wanted to try to define our philosophy and the values that drive us so that we could strive together toward a common goal – running an excellent belly dance school in Gainesville that participates in and contributes to the local dance community.  If you’ve stumbled across this post because you are looking for belly dance classes in Gainesville, Florida, I hope that this information tells you more about who we are, why we dance, and what we have to offer.

Our mission is to create an integrated belly dance school serving the Gainesville area – where every class we offer adds to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  As we add classes and instructors to our team, we add more perspectives and viewpoints on the dance.  We believe this is valuable as it helps us and our students become better dancers, and a better community.  We want to bring together, learn about, and share the many types and styles of movement that contribute to belly dance today, rather than creating divisions between them.

We are a dance school.  We don’t run classes on material that isn’t directly supportive of dance, building the skills/strength/flexibility needed to perform dance, restorative exercises to keep our bodies able to dance, and so on.  We don’t want to be a multi-purpose training facility with a collection of separate classes going on, and we do not want to be a fitness-focused facility.  We are and will continue to be a dance school.  Improved fitness may be a byproduct, because dance is a physical activity, but fitness is not our goal as a school.

This of course does not mean that people seeking fitness are not welcome – you’ll certainly get exercise in class – and hopefully you’ll have a good time as well while you learn to dance.  Belly dance is generally a low impact activity executed with careful attention to posture to avoid injury, so practicing it can impart many benefits, both physically and emotionally, depending on what you are seeking and what you put into your practice.  Dance (of any style, I suspect) is all about using your body as an instrument to express the music and the feelings the music evokes.  As instructors, our primary goal is to help you equip yourself with an excellent arsenal of movements and information that you can call up when you need them.

The school is neutral.  The school does not espouse or endorse any particular political, spiritual, or religious views, and does not include them in course content.  Bringing people together to enjoy belly dance is what is important to us.  Everything in our classes is presented as a primarily physical practice to help achieve some dance-related goal.  Everyone is welcome, no matter what views or beliefs you have.  (At the same time, there is an expectation of basic decorum and courtesy as would be expected in any other place of learning.  No student has the right to infringe upon the classroom experience of others.)

Bodies are treated with respect.  We are not selling weight loss, muscle tone, or having the body you’ve always wanted.  We aren’t selling looking or feeling sexy.  You may receive those benefits, or you may not (you may not even view them as benefits, that’s up to you).  Everybody (and every body) is different and that’s awesome.  We’re a dance school, what we want to do is guide people as they build the physical and mental skills necessary to dance their best, and hope that we can make it fun and nourishing for them.  We hope that our product is joy in music and movement.

These are the core values that we try to guide ourselves by as we select and structure classes at the studio.  Students may happen to find spiritual fulfillment, emotional solace, better abs, or any of a variety of things as they learn and practice belly dance, but those things are not our focus.  Our focus is simply on dancing well, improving our dance continually, and being joyful in it while we help our students do the same.

So that’s it – we sell happiness.  Or at least, what makes us happy.  We hope that you’ll come and visit us, and that you’ll enjoy it as much as we do.

Spring Workshops with Karen Sun Ray March 9th

Come join us on Saturday March 9th for Tahitian and Egyptian dance!

Sign up and order your tickets online at

See workshop descriptions after the photo.

karen flyergainesville

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Tantalizing Tahitian Treat
10am – 12pm, $35 in advance, $40 at the door

In this workshop you will learn the magic of moving your hips fast and saucy! The versatility that Tahitian dance has to offer with its variety of tempos to play with will challenge the most seasoned dancer while laying a great foundation for those just starting out.

This workshop is perfect for the dancer who wants to add a greater level of control and body vocabulary to their bag of tricks. Tahitian dance has a very graceful, powerful and playful quality to it that will bring out the joy you have for dance. Be ready to sweat and feel some new muscles as we take a tour of the islands playing with traditional movements and combos. Bring a pareau (sarong) and a towel; let’s make those skirts fly!!!

Move Like an Egyptian: Then and Now
1:30pm-3:30pm, $35 early bird, $40 at the door

This workshop is ideal for the dancer who wants to add some spice to their dance. Whether your focus is Cabaret or Tribal styles, the foundations of belly dance are the same. Be ready to move, isolate and explode onto the stage like an Egyptian.

We’ll be going through a series of combos to different types of music, giving you a wide variety of styles to play with, while also working on technique:
#1: Smooth and Flowing (Classical Egyptian)
#2: Explode onto the Stage (Modern Egyptian)
#4: Folkloric Stylings
#5: Drum Solo

There is a package discount for attending both workshops! ($60 in advance, $75 at the door)

Please join us back at the studio in the evening for a casual dance party.
7:30-8:00 mini-rhythm and moves review
8:00 – 10:00 party