Review: Aziza’s Ultimate Bellydance Pratice Companion

Aziza’s Ultimate Bellydance Pratice Companion is like nothing else. A self-contained, intense bellydance drill practice and workout, it will make you want to throw all your other dance and exercise DVDs in the closet and just do this everyday. No, really.

She’s as happy as I will be

First, the basics: the setting is a staged workshop, and you see Aziza over the heads of the participants, as it were. There are online clips of the video in which it seems as though Aziza might be hard to see — expanded on the larger screen, this is never the case. Aziza mirrors you, calling left as she moves right. The student dancers are a nice effect: while they are skilled enough to keep up with Aziza, they still need her encouragement and correction now and then.

The practice is composed of 6 sections: a warm-up, ribcage drills, hip drills, arm practice, an insanely lengthy, never-give-up, shimmy drill, and finally, a cool down.

The warm-up is thorough, involves a lot of breathing, parallel-foot plies, gentle head movements, bends and arm work, and really does get you ready to practice. (To give you a sense of it, Ava Fleming suggests you do this warmup before using her own DVDs, so it’s a keeper.) Posture is covered in detail, but relatively quickly. To jump to the end, the cool-down is even better, involving good leg and back stretches to stretch out the muscles you’ve just used. Aziza gives posture reminders throughout the program, and is careful to guide your knee placement and to encourage gentle movement of the head for safe exercise.

The ribcage and hip sections include what I find a very fun drill which involves moving the body part in question in six different directions, in a variety of different ways. You really have to use both your back muscles and (especially) your abdominal muscles to keep your posture and do the movement.

The arm section consists of a series of port-de-bras combinations. While still valuable, the arm section is the least unique and innovative part of the DVD. It does, however, have an exercise for learning to move your hands slowly while moving another part of your body quickly. I could imagine this being useful for flamenco dancers as well.

And then there’s the shimmy drill. Imagine shimmying. Now imaging shimmying some more. Now imagine doing all sorts of movements with your arms, head, and torso while you shimmy. Now imagine making all sorts of shapes with your hips while you shimmy. Now choo-choo shimmy. Now shoulder shimmy. Oh, now back to normal shimmying, with increased force! Now repeat all the exercises from the ribcage and hip sections while shimmying. After enough time, if you just keep on going, your body enters this zen space where all it knows how to do is shimmy: that’s where you start being able to layer things, and you almost don’t mind. You think it’s about to be over, and then Aziza makes you write the alphabet horizontally with your hips (while shimmying). And then vertically with your ribcage. And then you shimmy some more. And at the end, you find out you were shimmying for twenty minutes, and you can’t believe it, because you know you never would even have attempted such a thing if you knew what was in store for you.

In case I haven’t made it clear enough, this video is a gem: so is Aziza. She has charm and a sense of humour, and a kind of sadistic gleam in her eye when she’s promised one more repetition and says, “I lied! Another one on your right.” The two performances at the end are just the kind of flirtatious, playful Egyptian style bellydance I love, and it occurred to me as I watched them that trying to imitate those dances would be an entire other workshop! However, this video would really be good for anyone working on their drills, and Aziza’s focus on driving the movements with muscles would probably sit well with many tribal or fusion dancers.

After such a glowing review, I almost feel it necessary to say that I don’t know Aziza at all. I just think that this video has so much to give to so many different kinds of dancers that it’s an unregrettable buy. I tried for a long time to find it used, and now I know why I couldn’t: this isn’t something you let go.

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