Before Carol Tandava stepped into Oreet’s SharQuí class back in 2004, she had struggled for years with severe abdominal and back injuries as well as painful internal scarring from surgeries. Though she had loved to dance since childhood, she was quickly body-shamed out of ballet when her pre-teenaged body developed curves and height. So, in her teens, she had stopped dancing altogether.
In her early 30s, she took a few bellydance classes, but it didn’t “click” until meeting Oreet years later. In that first class, Oreet told her how she had learned to dance from her grandmother; that the dance was not about the “male gaze” but was a way for women to honor and celebrate our curves, keeping us strong and healthy from the inside. What a revelation! After years of sucking in her belly to achieve a rigid ballet posture, Carol found lavish – even mischievous – enjoyment in learning these new “gooey” abdominal movements.
SharQuí’s rigorous hip and torso drills began to wake up and strengthen muscles she didn’t know she had — and not only did Carol start feeling better physically, she began to see her body differently, and develop a new sense of beauty that was no longer controlled by the narrow standards of popular culture.
She and her fellow students seemed to become more and more beautiful with each class. But why? Yes, the movements were visually fluid and gorgeous, but there was more to it: The moves felt beautiful – which gave her appreciation for her body, rather than judgment towards it. And when we feel beautiful, we become beautiful.
As a SharQuí instructor, her first priority is to help her students see their bodies through this beautifying “bellydance lens,” to focus on the feeling of each movement, and to celebrate the body through dance.
Of course, technique is important too, and she offers gentle reminders throughout each class about posture and form using positive imagery, like opening the heart (for a lifted chest), freeing the hips (for a strong shimmy) and, of course, letting their bellies dance!
In teaching, Carol also uses a rhythmic cueing style, where she chants each upcoming step in time with the music. This keeps the class flowing and helps the students remember the choreography like lyrics to the song. Students also get a kick out of funny names for certain combinations – like “drunken parrot” for a swaying shoulder shimmy, or “ride the pony” for Saiidi steps – which keeps everyone laughing while they sweat.
With a strong background in theater, another way Carol has shared her love of bellydance is through her solo show Blood on the Veil: A Bellydancer’s Journey, which she has toured throughout the US since 2012. In this two-hour monologue with dance, she relates a harrowing tale of injury, and recovery through bellydance.
She has been honored by excellent reviews from audience and critics alike, but what makes her happiest is when audience members develop a new respect for bellydance, and even pick up a hip scarf and start shimmying!
Belly dancer in a Ballroom World
“So, how long have you been dancing? Do you have a specialty?” Jim asked, while leading her onto the dance floor. “I teach SharQui – The Bellydance Workout”, Charissa answered, as she stepped confidently into his tango frame. “So you’re a bellydancer? Hmm. That seems like an odd transition”, he responds. “Does it? You should try out my class. You’d be surprised how quickly I can help you learn how to stabilize your shoulders”, Charissa stated.
At first glance, Ballroom seems the antithesis of belly dance. So, when she started at Society Hill Dance Academy, Philadelphia’s premiere ballroom dance studio, she knew she would be met with some skepticism and curiosity. Charissa even had some doubts. She didn’t think her SharQui certification would have any effect on her ballroom students. Yet, within her first year it became apparent how SharQui had not only made her an asset to the studio, but had prepared her for her career in the ballroom community.
As a SharQui instructor her understanding of anatomy makes it easy to safely teach controlled movements like isolations, which are a pivotal to rhythm dances. In addition, she owes her balance and agility to the core strength she earned in belly dance. Finally, it was in SharQui class that she found her musicality, which is arguably the most important element of dance in general.
Hip, stomach and arm isolations are not only fundamental to belly dance but also to rhythm dances like Samba, Cha-Cha, Salsa and Rumba. Ballroom Dance teachers know very well how frustrating (and potentially dangerous) isolations can be for budding dancers and knowing how to teach the SharQui format requires her to be able to identify the muscles involved in creating isolations so that students can safely internalize and execute them. “The fact that I can communicate this information gives me confidence in the integrity of my teaching and makes it easier for my students to grasp”, Charissa claims. “As a dancer, the balance and agility that I developed as a SharQui instructor not only makes it easier for me to maintain that connection with my partner but also to respond to acceleration, deceleration or impromptu directional changes”, she continues.
For Charissa, one of the most beautiful things about dancers is the aptitude for musical expression. A simple twirl of the wrist, a leisurely développé or a swift head flick can add so much volume to a performance and to the viewer’s delight. In the world of ballroom dance teachers are often so fixated on patterns and foot placement that they overlook expression. Despite the emphasis on athleticism, she learned how to emote as a SharQui student and continues to do so as an instructor. “As a teacher I encourage my students to do the same. Whether it is a breathy chest drop or a sweeping waltz, I give them the permission to engage their audience while also engaging in it myself.” To this day, I am still amazed by how much I owe to the SharQui format. I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I ever made”, she says.
No Tricks…Just Quality
“The quality of movement is so much more important to me than a huge bag of tricks”, Marisa states.
All too often she’s seen people progress too quickly, which leads to sloppy dancing – mainly due to an unconditioned body or more likely lack of patience for the process of practice itself. This is why she chose to become SharQui certified. She says, “The format teaches students how to drill. Drilling forges new pathways in the brain.”
Her students are surprised over the sweat they get. She adores taking people into the world of practice and the arts. Many tell her it becomes an instant love affair and say, “I was shimmying while doing the dishes at home,” or, “I couldn’t wait for the next class.”
While she completely understands not every student is looking for the finer details or the level of technical perfection she’s after, the format of class sets the stage for students to see how possible it is to dance confidently and beautifully.
Her advice to instructors is to challenge yourself to practice your routines without music and slowly. This will test your understanding and technique more than being able to run your routines quicker and quicker. “I don’t deny the body has somatic memory. It’s a beautiful thing when our body responds because of stored muscle memory, but the body won’t store memory if movement happens too quickly without being able to stay in sensation. Slow down, take your time, and sense your entire body all the way through each and every movement”, advises Marisa.
Marisa feels that bellydance is a sensuous dance and sensuality comes from feeling the body. “Be able to feel things like: my weight is on my right side, my obliques are engaged, I am on the ball of my foot, I am looking over my shoulder”, she continues. She feels all of these sensations are teaching your body the routine once your mind did the work to write your combinations out.
And most of all, Marisa feels, never stop growing. Step into other classes, styles, change it up. All of your experience comes with you when you step in front of a class. She remembers the very first few classes she ever taught before SharQui. It was brutal. She didn’t know her left foot from her right and had no connectivity. There were so many missing pieces and wondered what she was doing. She can’t believe how many years later it is, and that she’s still doing it, and now work is finding her more often than her having to look for it. She absolutely loves what she does.
Subbing And Going All In!
Sofia first heard of SharQui when Oreet started teaching class in the Greater Philadelphia area. She had been taking belly dance classes on and off since 2008, and thought SharQui would be a nice way of combining traditional belly dance moves with the pace of an aerobics class. So she started taking classes with Oreet, fell in love with the format, and a year later she decided to get certified. “I didn’t have a plan to start my own class necessarily, but I was available for substituting others’ classes”, Sofia states.
Having taught fitness in the past she felt fairly comfortable leading a class including breaking down combinations and building on them piece by piece to ultimately reach a full class choreography. “My geeky, engineering brain works well in that respect (lol)”, she says.
Now what she didn’t bank on was that strange feeling of teaching the same class in which she’s usually one of the students. And guess whose class she’s usually substituting?! “As if being the student who is teaching her peers isn’t strange enough, imagine that feeling of filling in for Oreet!! Yikes!” she says with a smile.
Sofia feels fortunate that most of her classmates are extremely supportive when she subs. They make her feel comfortable, and she’s extremely grateful that they’ve embraced her teaching when we’re so lucky to have Oreet as our regular instructor. Sofia adds, “There’ll always be that one unhappy student, but I don’t take that personally because I get it….Oreet is our instructor and she is basically the main reason why we are all signed up for THAT particular class and time”.
On the occasions when she’s substituting Oreet’s classes, she defaults to trying to teach the way Oreet would teach, but ultimately she needs to be Sofia. So the takeaway? Always challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone, and go all in! Sofia says, “Once I get going, the class does flow rather well, and my fitness background ensures that my classes are sweat-inducing and are sure to give you some serious calorie burn”.
Taking SharQui Out Of The Class
When the SharQui format was introduced to her in November 2015, by the late SharQui instructor (may she rest in peace), Joanne Domenici, she was amazed and excited. Years prior she had resolved to teach bellydance to women as a way to heal by how we relate with one another. Luckily for her, the SharQui certification became available online that following February and she began instructing SharQui in March of 2016.
“When I tell people what I do there is an amazing response! Teaching belly dance as a workout is such an ice breaking conversation starter!”, she states. She began selling the idea to everyone she had the chance of taking the conversation further with both women and men.
Many times Stefanie would meet people who were extremely interested in the class (at least in trying it) but there was an obstacle in their path. There was something getting in the way of them trying just one class. Either it was living too far away or having a membership at a different gym. “Gym memberships is one of the biggest obstacles because most don’t want to step into a small studio and take only one class. Yet the the biggest obstacle that affects class attendance is the intimidation factor”, Stefanie says. She feels that students fear competition, ridicule, embarrassment and more, when entering a class setting.
The solution…?? She created a private space simply using her computer with Facebook LIVE and Google hangouts. She calls it In The Midst Dance Club – an online dance club that would allow anyone who desires to learn bellydance and get fit in the comfort of their own home. She has seen women dance in their kitchen, bedroom, living room and hallway.
In The Midst Dance Club (A Facebook group), has over 40 members of roughly eleven of which are active participants. It’s a way to give a free service to all who wish to attend, and give herself another day to teach belly dance – her love.
Her philosophy: If you love dance and desire to do more of it, please don’t allow anything to stop you from living your dream! Where there is a will we will make a way.
You can find out more about her classes here.
ANYONE Can Join Her Class
SharQuí has influenced her life in so many ways. When her thyroid gave out and weight control became a big issue, SharQuí has been there to get her up off her butt and move. When she prepares for a performance, teaching SharQuí classes gives her the fitness level she needs to practice HARD and hone the skills she needs so she can go out on stage and enjoy the performance rather than being stressed.
And then there are her students – those amazing people who show up week after week and those that show up for the first time. They inspire her to give them her best effort every single week. “There are some Saturdays I would rather stay in bed but knowing they are depending on me to show up gets me up and moving”, she admits. “I can be tired, or feeling a little under the weather and these ladies lift me up and make me glad I came”, she happily states.
Her philosophy is that ANYONE can join her class. Her youngest student was almost 2 ½ and the oldest in her 80’s. Bad knees, stroke recovery, hip replacement or expectant mother, all have been in her class and she loves the challenge of helping them find their path to movement. Sandra also enjoys sharing belly dance history, culture and music, but mostly she loves to make her students laugh.
Learning a new skill can be difficult for students and you can see the frustration on their face or in their body language. “I will laugh at myself when I stumble over my words or my feet and try to lessen their self-consciousness. I jiggle when I shimmy and I giggle when I point it out because my goal is to have fun, not be perfect”, Sandra states. Her biggest thrill is that “aha” moment when the movement clicks into place and the student’s face lights up!
*If you are in South San Jose, come check out South Valley Family YMCA (http://www.ymcasv.org/southvalley/) and she will get you a guest pass to her class on Saturday mornings at 11:15.