While it’s been a lot of fun trying different prenatal workouts — and a lifesaver in terms of how I feel — the analytical side of my brain also enjoys seeing how many different kinds of programs are out there. I’ve already reviewed several prenatal prep DVDs with dance components. In fact, Naia, Sera Solstice, and Amira‘s programs all use bellydance, which I’m increasingly convinced is just perfect for both pregnancy and labour movement itself. Earlier today I took a Lamaze class on natural comfort measures near Dallas, and almost all the moves the instructor suggested women do in labour — hip bumps, pelvic tilts, hip circles — are basic components of bellydance. She even suggested a kind of shimmy for helping with back labour, or with a baby that is malpositioned!
This is a long intro to Jennifer Jiménes’ Let’s Dance Together – Prenatal Dance Fitness, but that’s because I want to explain what makes this program different. I received a review copy of the program, and Jennifer included a note in which she explained that it’s more about developing “inner trust” in your body than typical dance fitness. The difference begins with the staging. Instead of a single instructor facing the camera, or, say, three different practitioners modeling trimester variations, this video has a group of pregnant women, dressed brightly, sitting, standing, and dancing in a circle. Already doing the video feels less like instruction and more like participation. In fact, this is one of the few videos I’ve done which I felt encouraged me not even to look at the screen — and this is a good thing. It’s hard to relax and turn inward when you’re looking up at a screen.
The program begins with a gentle warmup that stretches out every bit of your body, with some really nice seated exercises for the legs and a variety of flowing movements done on all fours to relax the lower back and pelvis. The latter chapters include a labour prep section, including an exercise to help you maintain stamina through pain, and a meditative cool down. But what I really want to talk about is the dance segment.
Now, when I go to a dance class or watch a dance instructional, I want to be taught something. When I’ve been to dance classes where students were asked to free dance at the end of class, I was invariably stressed out by the experience — not because I don’t like to improvise, but because I feel too self-conscious, especially when others are there. If you’d told me that this video had a significant portion devoted to free dance, I would not have been excited. But in truth, I wound up loving it.
Why? Well, first of all, it’s not totally free dance. You’re invited to explore movement, but Jennifer calls out different parts of your body to focus on, as in “dance with your shoulders!” Both times I did this video, I was amazed at how creative I could be with that amount of prompting — I found my body performing moves I’d learned formally in dance classes, moves I’d seen other dancers do, or just totally new motions I invented because they felt good. It was, cheesy as it sounds, liberating.
|The bright colours strike a Merce Cunningham vibe…|
It feels wonderful to be heavily pregnant and realise that your body still can do things that feel so lovely. But I think this kind of exercise could be great beyond pregnancy too — how much better would those stressful improv moments in dance class have been if the teachers had guided the movement like this? A lot of dancers love choreography but are scared of improv, and I think a gentle practice like the one in Let’s Dance Together is a perfect way of breaking out of the choreography box. I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the second dance segment, which was a kind of circle dance with scarves, but the “Free Dance” portion was enchanting and made me want to do it again and again.
Did the program lead me to trust my body more, or to feel better prepared for labour? I think it’s hard to answer that question before actually giving birth. I will say this: I think the workout, and especially the free dance section, are excellent at giving you practice at figure out what kinds of movement make your body feel good. The fact that you’re not following someone else’s count or precise movements, but taking each of the exercises and doing them in a way that stretches and strengthens your muscles in the best way for you, is, I suspect, good practice for labour, when you have to set your own pace and figure out what works in easing the pain. And if labour is a dance, as I’ve sometimes heard it described, it has to be improvised.
Jennifer Jiménes’ Let’s Dance Together – Prenatal Dance Fitness is available on Amazon via the link, or from Jennifer’s website, Let’s Dance Together.
“Both times I did this video, I was amazed at how creative I could be with that amount of prompting”
YES YES YES YES YES!
One of the big “ah has” for me when I started thinking about how to teach improv is that when you have too many options, you're much more likely to freeze up.
Limiting your options sounds constraining, but it's really freeing. It shuts out all the noise, and gives you enough space to actually make a decision.
Then the next question is how to limit your options. The pick-a-body-part method is a good one. I also like categorizing movements by “feeling”, so if the music is saying “earthy”, you pick from your pool of earthy moves.
Nadira, thanks for commenting! And yes, I was even thinking of adding to my review something along the lines of, “bellydance instructors should call out shoulder moves, hand moves, etc.,” but I suspect a lot do — just not the ones I've been to. I also have a vague memory of there being something like this suggestion on Shira's site.
My best metaphor is probably from writing poetry. When I've tried to write free verse, the result has always been boring, because all that came out what what I intended to write in the first place. (And truth be told, I don't think much of most other people's free verse either!) If I start introducing metre, or a rhyme scheme, suddenly, unexpected things happen. I do this with my students too, and they are also surprised at what they come up with.
What also surprised me while doing this kind of free dance was how much I was drawn to what felt like potentially “ugly” moves, perhaps moves I'd more associate with modern dance a la Pina Bausch, rather than with bellydance. (I've had no modern training, btw, so inspiration has been purely visual.)
I like the idea of mood too… I will play with this!
Thank you soo much for the fantastic review – I can honestly say this is the most thorough review of my DVD yet! Cudos!!!
I can only guess it's because you are actually pregnant and “really preparing ” for labor and finding ALL of the ways you can do this!
What you said —- “The fact that you're not following someone else's count or precise movements, but taking each of the exercises and doing them in a way that stretches and strengthens your muscles in the best way for you, is, I suspect, good practice for labour” ——-
This is soooo true – Authentic Free-form movement is one of the ONLY ways I have found to simulate what it feels like to be in labor – in labor you need to totally – “LET GO” – Let your body be your guide – Follow your intuition! If you are always “looking outside of yourself” for guidance – then guess what happens in labor? You end of “giving away your power”
NO-ONE IS INSIDE YOUR BODY BUT YOU – NO-ONE ELSE, NOT YOUR DOCTOR, MIDWIFE, NURSE, DOULA, HUSBAND – NO-ONE KNOWS WHAT YOUR BABY, AND YOUR BODY NEEDS … more than YOU!!!!
Monitors don't cut it!!!
I remember how shocked I was with the birth of my first baby – when I went into labor. They hooked me up and left me there – for HOURS! I felt alone and scared – As a dancer I had always controlled my body – IN LABOR YOUR BODY TAKES OVER – That was a rude awakening …I was terrified of letting go of control and letting my body guide me. – I was in real trouble – my first labor lasted 50 hours!
After I learned to trust my body – through intuitive – free form movement – and ecstatic dance – My second two births were a piece of cake – My second was only 2 hours, and my third only 90 minutes!!
WHAT WORKED WAS PRACTICING MOVING MY BODY THE WAY “IT WANTED TO MOVE” And releasing control!!!
For my first birth I had tried everything – prenatal yoga, belly dancing, fitness classes, dance classes, visualization and mind techniques – you name it …
Nothing prepared me better for labor – AND MOTHERHOOD! Than free-form dance. Also as a MOM – you need to know how to “go with the flow” – Usually nothing goes as planned!
Let's face it ladies – We need to learn how to follow our Inner Spirit – trust our bodies – and let go of control –
AND I CAN TELL YOU – FREE-DANCING WILL GET YOU THERE –
PLUS DANCING WITH YOUR BABY AND KIDS IS A TOTAL BLAST!
So “Let's Dance Together”!!!!
Much Love ~
Jennifer Joy Jimenez 🙂
Jennifer, thanks so much for the comment!
I'm very happy to have the advice from a woman who's had a few kids! I have to admit that despite the courses (hospital, lamaze), the reading, the videos, the prepping, I'm still pretty scared of labour. Less so than a while ago, but there's quite a bit of fear there. It sounds like “letting go” is actually pretty hard, especially during pain. But I'll work on getting in touch with my intuition!