Using YouTube As A Belly Dance Instruction Source

Once instructional videos were the way to learn styles not offered by local teachers or to learn the techniques of famous dancers. These days most everything is on YouTube and video purchasing is dropping. How is this changing the bellydance community? I would say that the results aren’t in yet- youtube is still fairly new, but using it as a teaching source has both big strengths and big weaknesses.

Let’s start with a strength. You can find ANYTHING on Youtube (even if you can’t spell). Any style, practically any dancer, any year, it’s out there somewhere. The opportunity to learn about the dance is extensive. This is clearly a strength, but it’s also a weakness! You can find anything, whether it should be found or not! There’s no real editing or filtering- lots of crud makes it on-line. You can get mislead by bad examples and pick up things that you didn’t intend. Still, because there’s so much of it, if you’re patient, you can see enough to compare the videos and know what you’re looking at.

What about a weakness? It’s short- videos are limited to 9 minutes. That’s hardly enough to call a class. Traditional instructional videos run 90 minutes; enough for a good thorough demonstration and drill. Still, a YouTube snippet is enough to demonstrate a movement. And sometimes it’s mercifully short!

Another good point? It’s FREE! Since most dancers are chronically short of funds (probably from buying too many costumes), free is good. Of course, you get hit by ads sometimes, but where doesn’t that happen these days? The sheer volume of information available for free is amazing.

But a bad point? The quality of the filming is usually not so good, either because of bad resolution, bad camera angle, stupid editing, or all three. (Save me from snazzy spin-ins, fade-outs, and chopped up screens!) Frequently you can’t see what’s really going on and may miss a crucial element. For example, I was uncertain about the hip movements for kahlijee-style because the resolution was just not good enough to see that detail in most videos.

Back to the good: you can get alot of clips that come from the Middle-east itself. You can see what’s going on in the dance sceen there… NOW! And the language differences are not too much of a barrier, now that there’s Arabic translators on-line. Best of all, you can do it when you want it, in the comfort and privacy of your own home (assuming your home is comfortable and private!)

Bad: You can’t interact with the dancer/teacher- you don’t get to ask questions, see it again slower, see it from another angle, get the dancer’s feedback. You gotta keep up or turn in your hip scarf, honey!

And the side effects on the dance community: YouTube is cutting into live teachers’ classes. If they can’t keep a class going, there isnt going to be any ongoing classes anymore. You’ll be stuck with paying for private lessons to get interactive training. Also, the professionals who make good quality videos are being hurt by people who settle for ‘good enough’ videos for free.

So, having said all that, I’ve been mining YouTube to learn styles I’ve been curious about. It’s a slog to find the good stuff but I’m happy with my progress.

The comments on the videos are a mixed blessing- I know people who never read them just on general principles, but I did learn something important from what I thought was a snarky remark (the dancer was not moving her hips as she danced, which in the commentor’s eyes made her dance ‘like a girl, not like a woman’: in other words, girls dance more simply, but the dance should have hip movement).

Where will it all lead? If we start seeing a whole lot of new styles and movements on stages around town, you’ll know YouTube is having an effect….