Class Etiquette Develops Character

by Jasmin Jahal, May 2003 (back)

The practice of Oriental Dance is made up of both internal and external systems. Both of these systems require years of devotion, practice and thought in order to reach mastery. One feature, which is fundamental to both systems, is the development of Character.


When you initially begin to practice Oriental Dance, the focus is primarily on learning the movements and body positions, building strength and endurance, and trying to expand the initial perspective that brought you to class in the first place. With time, some measure of ability and understanding is acquired. As your dance experience grows, it will become apparent that the principles you are learning in class operate on many different levels. Oriental dance unleashes a floodgate of feelings as you explore your feminine power. Suddenly, you may be faced with unusual challenges that you did not expect from the lessons, often resulting in emotional responses from within. At this time, having no paradigm with which to handle these challenges, you may find yourself not coming to class anymore, or you may react with behavior that is inappropriate for class. Fortunately, you and all class participants can depend upon a code of etiquette and protocol for guidance.

Dance class develops three areas: your energy, your endurance and your concentration. In other words, you are training your Mind, Body and Spirit. First, it is necessary to train the external and to recognize your limitations on all three levels. Then, train at the edge of these limitations to push back the boundaries. Steady gains in concentration time and emotional expression will result. It is important to monitor your growth. It is also important to have a teacher who knows you and guides you, almost like a family member, as the class environment begins to feel like your dance family. In training the internal, seek to develop sensitivity to others’ physical power, balance and energy. Be sensitive to the power of their characters. Evaluate other people’s character, whether they be your teacher or classmate. This will give you insight to their possible actions. The internal work of fine-tuning your own character will balance your qualities, your strengths and your weaknesses. This work helps you to quiet the mind, find your center, and release your tension. The goal is to find inner connection and consistency in order to be the best dancer you are capable of becoming.

The study of Middle Eastern dance is no less a discipline than any other dance form. Even if you have no intention of ever going professional and are taking a belly dance class simply because you enjoy the movement and have fun, you need to bear in mind that a code of class etiquette must be enforced and maintained. Why? To show respect for the art, for the dance, for your instructor, for the other students and especially for yourself! Any style of movement taught in a formal environment, from Western art forms like Ballet to ethnic dance forms like Flamenco to Eastern studies like martial arts, demands a level of respect between all the individuals within the classroom in order for the class to be focused and effective and in order for the art form to be learned and practiced safely and successfully. The following code of class etiquette makes the classroom environment contain an atmosphere where growth at all levels may occur for all participants. At the same time, it develops one’s character which will ultimately affect your entire life.

Here are a set of guidelines for proper class etiquette in a format that is easy to copy and hand out to your class participants:



- Arrive punctually with plenty of time to change into your dance attire before class begins. This includes tying on your hip scarf, so the jingling coins are not a noisy interruption.
- If you are early for your class and have the privilege of watching another class in progress, please keep quiet. The music is never too loud to drown out your whisper.
- Wear the proper attire to your class. If your teacher requests specific attire, then do so without question. For example, your teacher may prefer leggings over harem pants because in snug clothing she can see your knees and more easily correct your alignment.
- Have your veil, cymbals, and accessories available and ready.
- Avoid wearing hip scarves that are falling apart and litter the floor with coins and beads.
- Do not tread wet shoes and belongings onto the dance floor.
- Try not to be late to class or leave early without explanation.
- Never assume it is OK to advertise another school or put out flyers for anything without permission.

- Once class begins, be quiet and pay attention to the instructor. Do not talk, joke or whisper to classmates.
- If you have a question, ask no one but your instructor.
- Trust your instructor’s judgment. If in doubt, defer to your teacher and allow herto guide you.
- Remember that teachers are human and can make mistakes.
- Don’t be afraid to let your teacher see your inner character, because then you will earn her respect.
- Never chew gum or eat during class.
- If your instructor assigns homework, do it to the best of your ability.
- If you are ill or injured, inform the instructor before class begins so she is aware of your limitations.
- Never openly criticize your teacher. Sarcasm and disrespectful behavior of any kind have no place in the classroom. If you feel you need to act in this manner, you need to leave the class.
- At the end of the class, thank your instructor. Leave with all of your belongings.

- If you must enter late to class, quietly take your position in the back of the room. Do not interrupt class and disrespect others by going to the front of the room or standing in front of someone who was there on time.
- At times your class may be split into groups or each student may be asked to practice movement individually across the floor. At such times, when it is not your turn on the dance floor, you should focus on those who are dancing. Instead of daydreaming or talking, visualize yourself so that when it is your turn, you will do it right.
- Treat others with respect and courtesy. You do not have to be friends with everyone, but you can at least be polite.
- Group lessons are an opportunity to discipline your ego.
- Be aware of maintaining your own dance space. It is never enjoyable to practice with someone whose arms flail wildly or cannot control a turn and bangs into everyone around her.

- Give your entire focus to your instructor and the class content. You will learn more and get more out of the class if you treat every group class as if it were a private lesson.
- Practice good posture at all times. Avoid leaning or sitting down unless your instructor grants permission to do so.
- Keep your mind open for all new information and perspectives. Pre-formed notions may be incorrect.
- Perseverance and tenacity are a sign of strength. Never give up.
- The most important relationship in that classroom is between you and your instructor, even if you are taking the class along with your mother or best friend.
- Accept correction as positive criticism. Your instructor is not picking on you. A good teacher makes clear, direct correction and is not afraid to be honest. View criticism as an opportunity to grow.
- Put your troubles aside and clear your mind. Allow class to release your tension.
- Pay for your class responsibly. If your check bounces, make sure you pay for it as soon as possible without a bad attitude or argument.
- Cleanliness and personal hygiene show that you honor yourself by example.
- Do not disagree with your instructor. Never openly criticize your teacher. If you feel you are always disagreeing, you need to find another instructor.
- Courteously ask intelligent, thought-provoking questions.
- Be honest and loyal to your teacher, your classmates, and your school.
- Take pride in your school, your teacher, your classmates, yourself, but always maintain humility, no matter how good a dancer you become.





©2003 Jasmin Jahal