Bright Star World Dance, Portland
Rosa Noreen’s Grace Academy, Portland
Rosa Noreen is no stranger to dance. Inspired by her mother, who worked as a “can-can girl” in Alaska as part of annual Gold Rush re-enactments in the late 1960s, Noreen, a Portland resident, has been dancing since her youth.
“I started doing ballet when I was about 6,” Noreen said. “I was very serious about that for a number of years, but as a teenager I got injured and had to pretty much quit dance (for seven years). That was very difficult, because it was very much a part of my identity.”
And it still is. Noreen, 34, has not only continued to do ballet, but she is also teaching ballet and belly dance at Bright Star World Dance in Portland. She co-founded it five years ago and says it is Maine’s only studio focusing on belly dancing.
According to Noreen, her mother also performed ballet, jazz and tap, and taught ballet in Machias after the family moved to Maine from Juneau, Alaska, in the late 1980s.
“The ballet barre I have in my studio now was made for her by my dad, a woodworker and shipwright,” said Noreen.
“After college, I moved to Portland and happened to be driving down a street after a yoga class, and stopped at a stoplight on Forest Avenue, and through a window I saw all these women dancing, wearing skirts and sparkly things, and just having a really wonderful time dancing,” said Noreen, who grew up in Jonesport.
Noreen has since taken several local dance classes through the years before opening her studio, where she primarily teaches ballet and belly dance. The studio, which has several instructors, also offers Pilates, Zumba, hip-hop, and more.
“I studied with every local dance instructor I could find, and to get a truly rounded education in belly dance and Middle Eastern folkloric dance, I also travel all over the U.S. and Canada to learn, as well as to perform and teach, these days,” Noreen said.
In 2011, Noreen appeared at the Las Vegas Bellydance Intensive as a featured instructor and performer and has performed solo all over the U.S. She is also the creator of Raqs Borealis, a quarterly performance series at her studio, and the Solstice Spectacular, a variety show in Portland showcasing professional belly dancers and other entertainers.
“I have been invited to return to teach at the Las Vegas event this September, as well as at festivals in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Florida over the next few months,” said Noreen, who has released two instructional DVDs that are available to purchase in all 50 states, as well as in 24 different countries.
Noreen also offers a variety of workshops and events through Rosa Noreen’s Grace Academy based in Portland.
She spoke with Maine Women about what inspired her to teach dance and why she would encourage other women to pursue it.
Q: How did you become a dance instructor?
A: When I began dancing, I did not aspire to teach. It was a fulfilling and all-consuming exercise just to learn. Through my early years of ballet training, it didn’t cross my mind. And when I started learning belly dance, there was just so much to learn, so many different styles and cultural influences. But as I continued in my studies, I found myself thinking about different ways to explain movements, of different ways to put them together. So, when I was approached about teaching at a studio about 45 minutes away from my hometown, I was excited to take the opportunity. I didn’t want to compete with any of the five teachers in my hometown, so that sounded like a good fit. Eventually, a teaching opportunity arose in a town about 20 minutes away, and a while later, I started teaching in my own town as the local schedule and the number of active teachers changed.
Q: What inspired you to teach?
A: Dance is a lifelong gift. You can begin to learn at any age, and it will help to improve your posture, your balance and stability, your flexibility, and your spatial awareness. It is a wonderful way to exercise without going to the gym. And, depending on your dance form, you are often introduced to a new culture through movement and music. My main ballet teacher was a scientist by profession, and she also ran a successful dance school. She was an excellent role model for me as I was growing up – a smart and passionate woman who taught us dance in a healthy and encouraging way. She has now reached retirement age, and it’s inspiring to see how dancing her entire life (she is still teaching in Ellsworth) has helped her to maintain good physical habits like excellent posture and balance.
Q: What skills are required to be a dance instructor? What makes a good dancer?
A: Performing and teaching dance are very different skills. In order to successfully teach, you need to have good technique in order to understand what needs to be communicated to your students. But good performers are not always good teachers.
As a dance teacher, you need to be able to explain movements to people of all different learning styles. Some people are visual learners; some need hands-on direction; some work well with analogies. You need to be able to gauge the needs of a group. Even in a class of all-new beginners, some people will learn some movements more quickly than others, so you need to be able to keep the whole room engaged and moving forward.
Your students need to trust and respect you as a leader, so you need to have good classroom management skills. Among other things, this means setting expectations for attendance and on-time arrival, as the warm-up is important both physically and mentally. This also means keeping the room focused on the instructor instead of letting multiple conversations take place around the room during class.
You also need to continue to learn. If you’re also currently a performer, you need to keep up your technique by taking classes and workshops taught by others. Teaching your own classes is not the same as being a student. If you’re no longer a performer, it’s important to continue pedagogical research – learning more about teaching.
Q: Why would you encourage other women to pursue this field? What is your advice?
A: Teaching dance is not a small endeavor. It is a responsibility that we must take very seriously, as movement can either help or hurt others. A good teacher is not made at weekend training. Weekend intensives are a good start, but there is so much more to learn about teaching, from anatomy to learning styles to class construction to the business of running classes. I love seeing the light in a student’s face when they have an “ah-ha” moment. It is extremely fulfilling when your student is able to do a movement or a combination that you’ve been working toward together.
Teaching requires generosity, firmness, confidence, and mental flexibility. It is empowering and gratifying to share movement with others. I would encourage those who are interested in teaching dance to take as many classes as possible in different styles. Learn what you think makes a good teacher. Do as much research as you can, attend trainings, craft a unique class that you are proud of, and share it with the world.
Rosa Noreen is a professional belly dancer and belly dance/ballet instructor in Portland, who fell in love with the art as a child. Courtesy photoRosa Noreen teaches an adult ballet class at her studio, Bright Star World Dance, in Portland.Courtesy photo