Belly dance videos have come a long way since I made my first purchase, over ten years ago, of a Veena and Neena video that consisted mainly of them hopping side to side for what seemed like an eternity. We got better “basics” videos… then we got better workouts, and better drills… videos focused on all kinds of specialized forms of the dance (can you say “tribal style iranian-texan fusion with double feather poi and an isis tail”?). But one of the most inspiring innovations in the industry, from where I sit as a consumer and lover of dance, has to be the videos that deal with high-level dance concepts: how to refine movements, the tricks of performing, and how to convey a feeling or tell a story with dance. Rosa Noreen’s new DVD, Delicious Pauses: Negative Space in Movement, is just such a program.
Now let me start by saying that I have my biases when it comes to bellydance. While there are many fabulous dancers who practice forms of it, the ones that make me happiest to watch — and who most make me want to dance — are those who dance with a certain kind of simplicity. Now, that doesn’t mean simplicity is easy to achieve, but rather that they imbue the most basic movements with expression, fluidity, tension. And this is actually hard work. So right from the start, I was drawn to the concept behind Delicious Pauses: using drawn out movements, dramatic stops, and “negative space” to keep the audience engaged and interested.
The DVD itself has three sections. The first is a theoretical introduction, in which Rosa Noreen describes the kinds of pauses she will teach later in the DVD, along with some other principles of her methodology. I won’t give away the whole bag here, but I will say the most interesting for me was her use of breath to aid either a sense of calmness or a dramatic move. I’m used to thinking about breath in yoga, but have never managed to do it much in dance, and this video really made me see how integral a part of dance conscious breath (and not just remembering to breathe) can be.
If you’re like me, the theory will leave you interested but confused. This is where the second section comes in, a series of detailed exercises in which Rosa Noreen has you practice the different kinds of pauses. Now, this is very methodically done: for, say, undulations, she reviews all the principles, shows you how different pauses might work with an undulation, has you practice them in a follow-along drill (no talking, just on-screen text), and then has you improvise using the same movements.
I loved how incremental this strategy was, and how it kept building up on itself. Rosa Noreen repeats the concepts a lot, but it turns out they mean different things when applied to different movements. Having the theory and then showing all the ways it can be applied using practical exercises is just excellent teaching, in my opinion. And while only the main sections are in the DVD menu, the chaptering is detailed enough that I could easily skip to a certain section or repeat what I needed.
What I found was that once I hit the “improv” segments, my body started taking over… but it also started almost unconsciously incorporating the different kinds of pauses into other moves as well. This is really superb training for improv, because it’s not about doing a million moves, but about being able to vary the basic moves in interesting ways. By the end of this video, you can do six variations on a horizontal hip figure 8 without really even thinking about it too much!
The final section includes two combinations that have you practice the pauses and concepts, this time in a slightly different way — for example, with a languorous sweep of an arm, or a intentful pose. To be honest, they didn’t look like much when I watched them, but I did find when doing them that they also “taught” in a different way than the theory and exercises. The combos are presented and drilled in super small increments, then added together, re-explained, and drilled. For someone who has an easy time learning choreography, this would probably be tiresome. I am not that person, so I happen to be happy for very slow choreo teaching, and kind of wish every teacher did it this way!
Delicious Pauses is only about 75 minutes long, but it contains material that will be worth going over repeatedly. Although all the instruction is with bellydance moves — and you do have to know the moves already — the concepts could be more generally applicable to dance. I’ve watched it through once and then worked with the exercises and choreo once, and already I feel different performing the same moves. I have a better sense not just of what it’s like to slow down (and in fact, it’s harder to slow down than to speed up), but the kinds of effects and sensations I can get from varying regular speed, staccato, and slow movements.
This is really smart stuff, and lot of thought and care has been put into the making of this DVD. We’re light years beyond Veena and Neena’s “genie hop.”