Review of Hannan Sultan’s Elegant Turns and Arabesques

I’ve had Hannan Sultan’s Elegant Turns and Arabesques for a couple of years. Up until now, I’ve mostly just peeked into it, sometimes to see how she describes the technique for a spin I’m having trouble with, sometimes even to try and work with it. However, I’ve been hampered by not really having enough space to practice properly — chaîné turns take room! — so was always a bit dissatisfied.

Enter today, and the opportunity to rent some studio space near the in-laws’. I knew I needed to practice, since I’m away from troupe training for an unconscionably long time, and have some sad, sloppy turns to deal with. And by a stroke of luck, I got the studio for four hours today — an unexpected luxury. Imagine — a sunny studio, with a perfect floor, mirrors, and a nice sound system, all to myself!

Working with Elegant Turns and Arabesques in a proper studio made all the difference. I suppose if you have a large, empty room at your disposal, you will also do well. But know before you start out that the turns and combinations Hannan teaches are really meant to cover room, and you will get the most out of the DVD if you can drill and repeat without bumping into a sofa.

The program itself is about 68 minutes long. Hannan explains at the start that you will really need to drill these techniques on your own to get them, and recommends stopping the video to practice or working on the moves independently. This is true for all dance instruction, but boy is it ever true for turns, which just genuinely take a lot of practice to be anywhere near passable. (At least if you’re me and turn-untalented.)

After a brief Introduction, Hannan discusses Posture, Visualization, and Arms. In this latter section, she reviews and demonstrates basic posture, talks you through a visualization to help direct the energy in your body, and quickly demonstrates how the arms are supposed to move with relationship to the shoulders. This was a quick section, and is really more valuable as a reminder than as detailed instruction. I have done something like the visualization she describes in troupe training (my teacher also studied with Aziza, so I wonder if there’s a connection there), and it is indeed a powerful tool that changes the nature of the movement. But it would have been more valuable in this video if Hannan had reminded us of the visualization during the turn practice.

The next section is on Turns and Arabesques, and covers the following techniques and moves:

Spotting
Three Step Turns
Cross Turn (I know this as a Tip Turn)
Chenee Turn (a.k.a. chaîné)
Chenee Variation
Low Turn
Flamenco Turn
Corkscrew
Barrel Turn
Arabesque
Jazz Arabesque
Backward Arabesque

Hannan teaches facing a mirror, and quite smartly has a ankle bracelet on her right foot so you can always tell which foot is which. She breaks down the turns carefully, including the starting position, goes over how to spot and reminds you to do so, and then drills it several times on both sides. And she sometimes has clever, funny ways of making you remember something — the mullet move is one I’ll treasure every time I work on my arms during spins.

The big takeaway for me, and the reason why I will love Hannan for ever, is that this video really, truly made a difference to my chaînés. I followed her instructions for spotting and doing them, and just practiced and practiced until they started to feel good. She teaches a variation of the chaîné in which you are on releve but with bended knees, and has you drill a combination of straight-leg and bent-leg chaînés. This turned out to be a great way to drill more chaînés together, since the slight change in point of balance helped me keep my focus. Pretty soon I found myself doing five, six, eight chaînés before getting dizzy or not landing right, whereas I’m usually dizzy and out after three.

Some other notes… instruction on the cross turn was good, but she mentioned the most important bit later, during the flamenco turn: keeping your thighs pressed each other. The barrel turn she teaches is a version with a single turn; it’s pretty, but I need to get a handle on multiple barrel turns. I adore the flamenco turn. It’s kind of fiendishly hard to get all those components working together, but after practicing for a while on my own I got a version which, though not right, made me feel wonderful.

The arabesques were also well taught and heavily drilled. I’m a big fan of the jazz arabesque, with the foot skimming the ground. The backward arabesque remains challenging, but is one of those moves you just need for oriental dance.

The final section has four Combinations, in which Hannan puts together turns and arabesques already taught. There are four of these, ranging from simple and fun to truly challenging. What’s really neat is the final combination, for which Hannan teaches you a number of variations that you can do when performing the combo with a veil. In effect, she winds up teaching several more turns (or rather, arm positions that change the look of the turn). She also introduces several steps here that are not turns or arabesques, but that are very pretty — in fact, one of my favorite moves in the whole DVD is in this section! All in all, the Combination section is what gives the DVD even more growth value, as these are things you really have to work on to get them looking smooth.

How could the DVD have been improved? Well, I thought most of the sections had a good amount of drilling, but a small minority ended too abruptly. I would have liked more tips on balance and the dynamics of the turn, since these are my weak spots. That said, I found that through the practice, these weak spots got less weak anyway.

The positives are solid instruction from a beautiful dancer, with some truly lovely moves and combinations thrown in. After working with Elegant Turns and Arabesques I spent some time improvising. Whereas I usually shy away from turns and arabesques, now I was flitting around the studio with glee.

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