Review of Kaeshi Chai’s Expressive Bellydance Veil

Years ago, when I lived briefly in New York City, I managed to catch a few bellydance workshops and classes here and there. I took classes at Serena Studios (I think I still have my card with a few unstamped spots on it), and took a veil-oriented class with Elena Lentini in which I managed to wind up more tangled and dazed than I care to admit. During one of the workshops I took, I remember noticing Kaeshi Chai quietly doing her thing at the side of the room, and being impressed that a dancer who was already well known was continuing her training with us plebes. So when I saw Kaeshi begin her veil video by acknowledging her influences, among them Serena Wilson and Elena Lentini, it was a full-blown dose of New York nostalgia.

Kaeshi Chai’s Expressive Bellydance Veil is a compact introduction to a range of veil moves. I approached it as a beginner in things veilish, having had very little veil work in class (hence my confusion in Lentini’s studio), and not having worked with any other veil DVDs yet. Kaeshi begins by describing different kinds of veils available and explaining how to steam it. (Useful!)

As for the rest of the video, I think it’s best to think of it as a sort of movement encyclopedia. She introduces basic veil moves (like “around the world” and “butterfly”) in one section. This is followed by six combo sections, three with veil moves that begin from the front of the body, and three beginning in the back. In each combo, Kaeshi actually presents another three veil moves, and then puts them together into a small combination, which she repeats a few times.

The instruction is careful, but quick. Kaeshi will often show how a move looks, then demonstrates it slowly, often setting the veil down to explain the hand or arm paths without it. Then she has a few more practices, sometimes giving little tips along the way. A couple more sections after the combos show you how to move into a vertical hold on the veil, and show veil ropes, turbans, and whips.

My experience was that I was surprised by how quickly I got some of the moves, and how frustrated I got with others. The DVD doesn’t have a lot of drilling, so I think to make it work you really have to focus on little bits — take it one move at a time — and just practice, practice, practice. I’ll clearly need quite a few tries to get a sense of the weight of my veil and how not to get it in my face every time I do the butterfly. I would also suggest doing a warmup focused on the upper body before beginning, since your arms, shoulders, and neck will benefit from being loosened up, and then ending the practice by stretching these muscles.

The final segment of the DVD is a costumed performance by Kaeshi that uses all of the moves she presented in the DVD. It’s very lively and peppy, not the sort of romantic and languorous dance one often expects with veil, and it was nice to see that the veil can be used for a variety of effects.

Because I’m almost an utter beginner, pretty much all of the veil moves were new to me. There were no veil wraps, which I actually have done in class, but there were to-me-unexpected moves like whip and rope that used the veil for a fast, dramatic effect. Will you like the video? The DVD is well chaptered, and Kaeshi is personable on screen. At 50 minutes, it moves very quickly through a lot of information, so you have to be willing to stop and drill on your own. And while there is a bit of attention to how certain veil moves or arrangements might work with particular bellydance moves or steps, the focus here is clearly on what you can do with the veil itself rather than on creating a whole dance.

I think this video would be good for someone who would like a manageable introduction to holding and using the veil, or who wants to add some new veil moves to their repertoire. I don’t think it would satisfy someone looking for a long, everything-about-veil video with lots of drills and choreography. As for myself, I really enjoyed it because I was able to fit it in at the end of a long day, and can imagine returning to practice individual moves, which is my level right now. But it also made me curious for more on how to put a dance together!

Expressive Bellydance Veil is also available from Hollywood Music Center (from whom I got a review copy).

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