Frequently asked









What is the difference between Middle Eastern Dance and Bellydance ?

Belly dance is a name that many M.E.D. teachers try to distance themselves from.  It gives the wrong impression of what we do, and conjures up images of the Harem, wiggling our bellies and exploitation.  Unfortunately many people have no idea of what Middle Eastern dance involves and so use the term Bellydance instead.  I have no problem with either term--some of my classes are Middle Eastern dance, while others are Bellydance--the basic structure and the moves taught are the same.  We can also call our dance raqs sharqi, or Arabic dance, but the truth is that we take a mixture of folk and modern moves from the whole region and use them to make a dance that is fun.  You can decide if you want to study the art of dance from the middle east, or if you can change peoples perception of a Bellydancer…..


Where can I find a local class ?  

If you can't come to my classes then take a look at the links page under teachers listing.  Each of the web sites listed contains contact details for teachers in other regions.  You could look out for posters and flyers at local events, such as dance festivals or fetes.  The listing of MED teachers is a country wide problem, so please help me help others.  If you know of another web site with listings, or a teacher not listed please ask them to contact me.


Could I do bellydance ?

Yes !  Anyone can do this dance, I have students of an age where it would be impolite to ask, right down to 14 year olds.  You don't need a belly, but equally it can't be too big !  We have dancers for whom this is a first step on route to better fitness, to those who have added our dance to their weekly fitness routine--and some who don't do it for fitness at all.  Because I understand that you know your body best, I will let you go at your own speed, while showing you how to keep safe and get more of a work out if you want it.  Our dance is designed to work a range of muscles, and yet is gentle and relaxing--this makes it perfect for anyone with limited range, we simply work together,  think logically and artistically to make the dance work for everyone.  You don't need any past dance experience, and my classes are very welcoming to all. .


Why can’t I telephone you to chat about the classes ?

There are a number of reasons I ask that you don’t telephone me.  Firstly its a very expensive way to chat and I try to keep the class cost as low as possible.  Also we all live busy lives and sometimes it takes longer to organise when we are both free than to actually talk.  Added to this I live in an area with limited telephone reception so often get messages hours or even days late !  Email is better because you know the person you are talking to can pick the message up when they have time.  I also find that mostly people ask questions that are already answered here on the web site or that can only really be answered by coming along to class and trying it out.  Using email I have time to check that the information I’m providing is right, add in links, or documents and you have confirmation in writing that answers your questions - this leads to very little confusion compared to a rushed telephone conversation.  I can also update this site a couple of times a day if I need to, meaning that any last minute changes will be on here before you leave for your class.


Can my child come to class ?  

I can not teach children in all of my classes.  Teaching children is a very specialist skill, which I am not qualified or insured to do.  I am happy to teach teens  as long as they are accompanied by a family member, and once 16 they can join any class.  Before mid teens, I believe,  children do not have the maturity for the emotional side of this dance and I would be uncomfortable talking about sensuality, love, longing and body image with young children.  I have, however, found that girls of around 14 gain a lot from being introduced to this dance--both in confidence and body awareness--and it's a great way to introduce topics such as pelvic floor exercises, fitness and flirting to young women.  Before this age I would advise parents to find a good ballet or jazz dance class with a teacher who has a balance between fun and gaining recognised awards.  These classes will help improve posture, musical awareness and use of space, while also starting a lifelong love of dance.  Young men who wish to do this dance should contact me along with the parent they wish to bring--grown up men are always welcome--see my page on Men and Middle Eastern Dance.


I afraid I do not welcome children coming to class to watch, and this seems to be popular with the majority of my students (many people come to class for time away from their own children !).  


Do I have to perform ?

Some people can't wait to perform, while others may never want to, and I accept and appreciate that.  Middle Eastern dance is a performance art, and as such I organise a number of events each year where you can get some performance experience, none of which are compulsory, although they should all be fun.  I also invite visiting teachers to take workshops locally, and organise trips to performance and workshops in other areas.  If your aim in coming to class is to perform at a forthcoming event, let me know and I can help you prepare.


How do I know I will learn it properly ?  

I have studied with many of the top teachers in the world and take my continuing study of this subject very seriously.  I have obtained qualifications, from both City and Guilds and the specialist course by ASMED in the teaching M.E. Dance (three years of studying all topics from individual styles of dance to individual styles of learning).  I continue to learn and adapt how I teach, looking for best practice in all that I do.  As a n Adult Education teachers I was monitored by the centres and by other key staff on a regular basis.  Adult education requires that students are monitored and their lessons planned and structured, and I have continued to use these structures in all my classes.  I have now been teaching full time for twelve years and would probably frighten myself if I worked out just how many hours of classes I have taught--this means there are very few situations I have not faced at one time or another and very little surprises me anymore.


What are the health benefits ?  

It is certainly true that students report many benefits from learning this dance, although I have no medical proof to call upon.  In general anything that increases your heart rate for 20 mins and keeps you mentally and physically active is good for you.  This dance is very elegant and helps to increase the self confidence, which has changed how people look at themselves, their relationships and their work.  Weight loss is not a primary aim, but some dancers find that a couple of classes a week are a fun way of exercising and help them towards their targets.  The focus on the whole body can help with flexibility and ease minor aches and pains in the back and wrists particularly.  The use of core muscles in many of the movements helps promote inner strength which can help with stress incontinence, PMT and pelvic control.  Its also very good for everyone to take time each week to do something for themselves, the benefits of a few joyful hours are hugely underrated !  Bellydancers do tend to be very strong, beautiful and confident--what more could you want ?


Can I dance while I'm pregnant ?  

Yes, I am happy for you to dance through your pregnancy, on condition that you have discussed it with your doctor and that you have already done 6 months of bellydance in the run up to your pregnancy.  Because of the increase in flexibility of the joints and the disruption to balance during pregnancy it is a bad time to take up a new form of exercise.  However we have had many "belly babes", whose mums have used this dance as a preparation for pregnancy, danced through and returned to tone up after the birth.  I was advised to drop the dancing while expecting my youngest, but returned soon after and I am willing to be sympathetic to anyone else who has to give up something they love for those few short months--he is more than worth it !  It helps me no end to know that you are expecting as early as you know (so I don't make you work too hard !).  There is a general thought that dancers shouldn't shimmy in the first trimester (work on perfecting your arms instead), or over stretch at any stage (swap hip twists to lifts, don't over reach above the head, moderate stretches and keep head/rib slides gentle and soft), - as ever work at your own pace.  Its also a time to draw strength and support from your classmates and make time to relax and enjoy dancing.


How do I sign up ?  And how much will it be ?

I moved to the USA in 2011, and plan to start classes in January 2012 in Pleasanton and Dublin.  Until the venues are confirmed I’m not taking bookings, but if you would like to join my mailing list and be the first to hear about my classes please email me at sshrapnell@gmail.com


Are the Drop in classes really drop in ?, can I just turn up ?  

Most people like to email me first, which is nice, but if you just have the urge then come along !


What if the Drop in classes are full ?

This has never happened in the past 10 years, although sometimes we have come rather close !  The size of the class depends on the size of the room and where possible I have the option of moving the group to a larger room in the same venue should we outgrow the room we currently use.  I can also use a pre-booking system, that gives everyone the chance to both pre- book or turn up on the night, but if we move to this system you will hear all about it !


How do I get to be a better dancer ?  

There are lots of things you can do to improve your dancing once you have done a few terms.  Some of my best dancers are those who regularly go back into foundation--by recovering the basics you perfect your core moves, build strength and grow in confidence.  I am more than happy to teach to ability so will correct you more than the new student standing next to you (this can feel a bit like you are being picked on, but its worth it).     It also helps if you take classes or workshops with other teachers--they will show you different styles and explain things in different ways.  I promise I wont get upset if you study with others for a while !  You might also gain from performing--try different kinds of audience.  Dancing for a group of children is very different from dancing for other dancers--and mix who you dance with.  Go along to a Haflah to watch others dance and to relax and party--that's when we discover our best moves.  Finally as with all dancers you will need to practice--this can be as easy as drilling a move while watching TV or practicing your tummy work in the car (Van drivers might give you a funny look !) - always start with a warm up and pick music you love.  If you would like a personal development plan or an idea where to go next with your dancing I can provide you with a one on one lesson.


Can I go straight into the more advanced class ?  

It's a bad idea not to start with the Foundations even if you are already a dancer of other styles or you have done this kind of dance in a family setting since childhood.  You will need to understand the names I give the moves and how we use them to relate to the music and in the different styles--its much easier for me as a teacher to cover this kind of information in a Foundation (beginners) class where everyone needs to know it than in the more advanced where often only one topic is being looked at.  If you have already done classes with a teacher elsewhere then we can judge your level roughly by how long you have been dancing and how many classes a week you have been doing--if you want a personal assessment that can be arranged--but if you have been dancing for less than a year the Foundations is probably the best place for you to start out - you can always move up.


Can I bring a friend to watch ?  

I'm sorry but you can't bring extra people to the classes--I like to  welcome students who are not up to dancing to come along and sit in the lesson, but they have paid for the teaching and are part of the class.  Bringing others to watch is unfair on the other students who often feel uncomfortable with being watched and on me as a  teacher being put in an difficult situation.  Many students have never danced in front of anyone in their life and a class, while learning a new skill and trying out movements,  is not the best time to learn this skill.  If you have any other reason for wanting to bring someone along then please ask me well ahead of the class, but do not be disappointed if it can't happen.   


Can I come and watch to see if I like it ?

See the answer above.  You are most welcome to come along to one of the drop in classes anytime but I would like you to kick off your shoes and join in at the back (or front !).  In exceptional conditions (health reasons) I would be willing to ask a group if they would mind being observed, but this would be at a time of my choosing and probably not with a Foundation group.  Please don't just turn up and look through the window--that's about the hardest thing to handle for students who are trying to learn.  Imagine if it was your first lesson and someone came and sat in to watch.  Shows are for watching, classes are for joining in.


Can I get more out of this than just dance lessons ?  

Oh yes !  As a group we organise trips to see shows and bands, we have video evenings and a Ning social network group - or you can go to www.bhuz.com which has chat areas for all interests.

Bellydance touches many other interests such as costuming, history, travel, photography, make up…. Whatever your interests, you have skills the rest of the group would like to share as we learn from each other.


I'm really only into one style of dance (Tribal/Cabaret/Egyptian) do I have to try the others?  

At a Foundation level I like everyone to do at least 10 minutes of many different styles--you don't know what you like until you have tried it.  But some people only want to focus on one style and that's fine.  If you are happy to travel between venues you should find your favourite style available at most times.  Its also worth looking out for workshops and using them to balance with your technique classes.


What should I wear ?  

You will find dancers in my classes in everything from jogging pants and t-shirt to full Bedlah (two piece, beads/sequins….), I am happy for you to wear whatever you feel comfortable in.  I tend to have my tummy out (!) often, because I find it helps students to see the moves more clearly.  During the warmer months it can be more comfortable to wear a crop top, but again its down to personal preference - all tummies are acceptable in my classes.  A good sports bra is essential for almost everyone, but anything tight or forming on the tummy or hips could be restrictive and is best avoided (including jeans).  Not all floors are clean so some students prefer to wear soft soled shoes (like ballet pumps), and a length of material tied around the waist, or a hip belt helps us keep the focus of the moves.  Ballet shoes or bare feet, yoga pants, jogging pants, leggings or a skirt, t-shirt of some kind, sports bra and material for the hips.  If you want to feel right at home then you can purchase one of our dance school t-shirts on the Classwear page.


What else do I need to bring ?

You will also need to bring some drinking water--although some centres have fountains, and you are welcome to take a water break whenever you need one.   Bring a bag big enough for all your stuff and store it in a quiet corner of the room.  After class its easy to chill, so please bring a suitable cardi or jacket to help keep you warm.  Some of the groups move on to a coffee shop or pub after class, so a little extra time and money gives you options.


Thank you to the students for agreeing to have their photo included.


Frequently Asked Questions