ballet with constanze janssen

Movespiration weekend with Khalida

Months ago, I decided my end-of-summer treat would be a weekend of workshops at Khalida’s studio called Movespiration. I knew Khalida a bit, through her DVDs and from online conversations. I’d reviewed her Shimmies DVD and worked a bit with her All About Arms program, and over email we geeked out a bit on dance and movement. So when she said she wanted to bring her favorite movement teachers into her studio for two days, I thought it would be worth going along for the experiment.

I also liked the idea of easing into bellydance by trying it again along with other dance and movement forms. And frankly, after so much stress this year, I thought it might be great just to focus on my body, no matter what the practice was. These were my two goals for the weekend.

What I knew was that we would do some taekwondo with Master Chae Seung-Eun, ballet with Constanze Janssen, and bellydance with Khalida. In fact, the two days I spent in Würselen were even more varied. Master Chae is also an expert in Haidong Gumdo, Korean sword fighting, and one of our classes with him was devoted to this art. Constanze did ballet barre exercises and centre work, but she also led us through a modern-inspired floor barre.

Sandra van Frankfoort-Mamentu, who was in the workshop as a participant, took the lead on Sunday morning and led us through a tai-chi warmup. Even Khalida’s own classes were varied: we did do a bit of bellydance movement and technique, but Khalida also introduced us to a wealth of exercises and body techniques: lymphatic drainage, tricks to improve alignment or release certain muscles, practices for increasing turnout and flexibility and reducing pain. (She taught us so many things, in fact, that at one point I had to sit down after a session and just write them all down as fast as I could.)

My biggest surprise of the weekend was how much I enjoyed the martial arts we practiced with Master Chae. Now, I’m not a very high energy person, nor do I think of myself as particularly strong, so I was a bit nervous about what taekwondo would be like. The exercises we did were exhausting, but in the best possible way. I found, to my surprise, that I loved punching and kicking. I had the good fortune to work with a partner (Lou of Brussels) who practices taekwondo, and she pushed me hard. It was wonderful. With every kick and punch I felt I was getting some of the year’s stress out, felt like I was cleansing myself of negative emotion and frustration. And at the end, although I was sweaty and had pushed myself to the limits of my energy, I actually felt revitalized.

The same was true for haidong gumdo, which we practiced using foam-covered swords for the most part, and blunt wooden swords for cutting paper. This required more precision and speed than I could muster, but also had that element of force. It felt like something I desperately want to do again. Later, as I was telling Master Chae how therapeutic I found it, he said calmly, “It looked like you had some things to get out.”

Atisheh cutting paper with korean sword

Cutting a newspaper with a blunt sword takes a bit of practice

Ballet was a learning experience too, though in another way. I’ve been taking beginner ballet classes for a couple of years now, and figured I knew the basics. In Constanze’s class, I found so much to improve just in my posture and pliés that I was sweating from the first minutes. It was such difficult work (even keeping my stomach in is still a challenge), but so important in terms of how it felt to work with that strength. My balance and turns are still terrible, and I think part of that is that I’m still not pulling my muscles in the way I need to to rice up out of my legs. On the other hand, floor barre, while challenging, was a lovely release, with lots of stretching and flowing movement.

It will take a number of weeks to work through what I learned during the Movespiration weekend. There are a few things though that I want to reflect on:

  1. Sometimes it’s great to go really far out of your comfort zone. I would never have thought that I’d enjoy taekwondo as much as I did. But not only was it great psychologically, it also felt good as movement. I wonder what it would be like to take that knowledge that I actually enjoy putting maximum energy into something and bring it to dance.
  2. I think it would be a fun exercise to take a similar type of move and practice it in two or different ways, switching between movement traditions. Like: doing a tai chi walk, a ballet walk, and a bellydance walk one after the other. Or alternating taekwondo kicks with grands battements. Or playing with tai chi, ballet, and bellydance arm paths.
  3. I love stretching programs that are intense and feel like something is really happenig, but I need to learn more about the ways smaller movements and alignment changes can affect flexibility.
  4. So much of what we learn in bellydance has to be drastically unlearned for ballet. I knew about legs — we practice keeping legs slightly (sometimes very) bent in bellydance, while ballet is all about the straight leg. Then there’s the stomach, which needs to be flexible for bellydance, and pulled in tight for ballet. But I was surprised to see how useful it can be to keep the glutes really tight too in ballet, which of course would be harder to do in bellydance. I’m not sure if there’s a good solution to switching, other than consciously practicing both.
  5. It might be worth incorporating some journaling into dance: thinking more clearly about what I want out of any given class or practice session, and articulating for myself what kinds of things I want out of the dance itself.

This is where I am right now. I took this week to rest and let things settle — and have a bit of fun — but tomorrow I return to ballet. I’m curious to see how what I learned affects my approach, and eager to start experimenting with some of the adjustments I learned in class. I’d also love to do more taekwondo. I’m not sure I have time for another regular commitment, but I’ll see if there are any introductory lessons close to me.

And what I will definitely try to do is attend Movespiration again. Given how much we did and learned, it was an incredible value. The variety of practices we tried out took so much concentration that it felt like a real mental vacation from daily life — and that was just what I needed.

Atisheh and Khalida

Me with Khalida, who gave me an impromptu lesson on posing!

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Playing with Khalida’s All About Arms (Hands Technique)

I think we’ve all been there in our dance lives, no? For whatever reason, we stop going to regular classes, or stop practicing on our own, and we feel further away from the dance than ever. I mean, that’s the frustrating thing with dance — although there’s muscle memory and all that, it takes so little to fall out of shape. Out of whatever shape you were in. In one of the ballet memoirs I read recently there was a line that went something like this: “Miss one day of class, and you notice. Miss two days, and your teacher notices. Miss three days, and the audience notices.”

Well, you’d definitely notice my bellydancing, because I haven’t taken regular classes in almost two years.

khalida hands 2

have been taking ballet, which I’ve grown to love, but I miss oriental dance, all its variety, all its wonderful music, the way it feels so natural to my body. So recently I complained on Facebook about how I didn’t really even know where to start anymore with bellydance, having been so long out of practice. I have DVDs to review too, but my poor shape makes them harder to take on — and more stressful too.

I got a bunch of advice, and Khalida offered to send me her new arms DVDs, a sort of hardcopy version of a class she offers by streaming and download. And I said sure, because I figured that even if the rest of my body was lazy, maybe my arms could play. They also tend to be pretty neglected in ballet.

Tonight, after four weeks — four weeks! — of just no dancing at all due to all the work and traveling I’ve had to do, I finally got my act together and did the first class in the series, “Hands Technique.”

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. It was pretty great though. After a brief posture check and warm-up, Khalida basically goes through about a million stretches and exercises for fingers and wrists. She even shows you how to do a massage of your own hands. This class is almost 50 minutes long, and the first 20 minutes are taken up with warming, stretching, and exercising hands and wrists.

khalida hands 4

I’ve never seen anyone do this on a video. It’s usually three stretches and then, “here are fifteen things you can do with your hands.” The reason I loved this is that I have major wrist problems from computer use, so even basic hand and arm work has become difficult for me in the last year. But my wrists are sooooo loose now, and I was able to move them freely after all those stretches. At one point as I was doing them I thought, “This is what everyone should do at the end of the week. Just spend an hour stretching the poor hands and wrists that got stiff at a computer.”

The rest of the class is dedicated to two sections, one on hand waves, and the other one on hand and wrist circles. In each case, Khalida shows multiple ways of performing the movement, often with very tiny variations. There’s a distinct Persian flavour to some of her movements too, which I love. For difficult movements, like lotus hands, she’ll explain the movement in several ways. At the end of each of these sections is a flowing practice section set to music.

When I say this class was not what I expected, it’s because I didn’t think there would be so much material, and such a level of detail, in what is basically just one of four classes. While you can definitely do this video in one go, and I mostly did, I still found myself stopping it sometimes so I could go to the mirror and check out how things looked, what a difference small variations made. I think this would be good for a dancer who is past beginner level and who wants to work on strengthening and varying her hand work. I also think it would be very good for teachers looking for new exercises and ways of explaining movement.

khalida hands 1

Khalida’s class made me, personally, realise two things: one, my arms don’t have that much endurance anymore (man, I got tired during the practices), and two, hands and arms were one of the things that made me fall in love with bellydance in the first place. If I want to go back to the dance, this may be just the way to do it.

You can find out more about the All About Arms class series at Khalida’s website.

 

Review of Aslahan’s Taming Your Zills

You get a zills DVD. Or you go to class. And suddenly you are learning ten different rhythms, trying to layer them onto movements, and feeling that it’s all impossible.

At least, if you’re me.

I’ve done a bit of both, and most of the time, I can’t figure out how I’m going to get from here (no zill ability) to there (dancing with zills in a non-monotonous and coordinated way). I have a tough time with learning rhythms. Over various drum workshops and drum DVDs I’ve realised that it gets better with practice, but I need to learn things slowly. I certainly can’t jump into full rhythms and dancing.

Enter Aslahan. Her DVD, Taming Your Zills, is something different. She does not try to teach you a dozen rhythms and a choreography to go with them. The goal of her DVD is to get you to internalize some basic zill building blocks and be able to move while playing with them. That, frankly, is already a lot. She’s an improvisational dancer, and so it’s no surprise that her lessons and drills are particularly valuable if you want to be able to move freely to the music and still accompany yourself by playing zills.

Taming Your Zills is a smart DVD, and a must-have for anyone starting out on zills, as well as for anyone who has begun but doesn’t feel comfortable with them yet. In sixteen lesson, Aslahan takes you from the basics of holding the zills and playing what she calls the gallop (often called a triplet), to moving various parts of your body while playing increasingly harder patterns, and even to dancing to your own zilling!

Aslahan 1

It’s not a DVD to do in one go. Aslahan explains in the intro that you should really take time to work with each lesson and internalize it before doing the next one. The lessons themselves are brief, but they are followed by substantial drills or “exercises”. Here’s something I like: not only are the lessons and drills chaptered, so you can easily repeat an exercise, but you can also reach the exercises directly from a separate menu.

Here’s something I really, really like: the drills are not all the same. Aslahan has exercises in which she has you practice patterns. She has a series of drills for you to learn to move your arms or your hips with different patterns. In some exercises, she will play a pattern and you repeat it, thus teaching you to recognize patterns by their sound. There are a few improvisational drills too, at basic and advanced levels.

Along the way, Aslahan offers a wealth of useful tips: how to know which hand you’re using when you’re just starting out; good ways to incorporate zilling into particular songs; how to dance a whole show while keeping your zills on; dealing with zills in hair; and how to vary the volume of the zills by holding them differently (and when you might want to do so).

Because of its organization into lessons, Taming Your Zills is a great DVD to incorporate into a practice routine. In about ten minutes, you can complete one lesson and its exercise, so you can also work on the rest of your dance. I also like that the exercises vary between full-body dancing drills and ones that can be done with arm movements only, or even just with hands. This means that when I’m a little lazier or tired, I can practice a bit without getting out of my chair.

Aslahan 2

While Aslahan only covers three actual rhythms, she gives you the tools to build on what she shows. I really like being able to play along with someone or with a video, but I also found myself pausing the video and practicing on my own at different paces. It’s a DVD to use for a while. You could do the drills along with her but substitute different dance moves, or you could take the patterns she uses and practice them with other rhythms you learn.

Aslahan’s Taming Your Zills is a pedagogically smart and very useable instructional DVD. She makes me even me feel that, little by little, I could learn to dance with zills! Two performances round out the video and offer inspiration.

You can find Taming Your Zills on Amazon, and you should also check out Aslahan’s site, www.aslahan.com!

Lauren Zehara Haas teaches

Guest Post from Lauren Zehara Haas: Bringing the Joy of Movement to Medical Populations

I’m delighted to introduce a guest post from Lauren Zehara Haas, a writer and dancer who is organizing the upcoming Global Hafla for Humanity international fundraiser and building an informational site at www.bellydanceu.net. Lauren is the author of the Belly Dance Journal and of the DVD Stage Presence. I hope you’ll enjoy and share Lauren’s reflections on teaching movement to people going through or recovering from illness.

Lauren Haas

The first time I taught a belly dance program for breast cancer survivors, I was a bit intimidated. Teaching movement practices in medical situations always feels like both a great privilege and a tremendous responsibility; I hoped I could give this group whatever they wanted from my class.

I arrived early and the director showed me to a carpeted room with chairs around the perimeter. I set up my sound system in one corner, sat on the floor, and started unpacking the veils I’d brought with me. Soon the first pair of women peeked into the room.

“Are you the bellydance teacher?” they asked with a giggle.

“I am, come on in! What are your names?” Turning a room full of uncomfortable strangers into a room full of laughing friends is what a belly dance teacher does best. The more women arrived, the more comfortable I felt.

About 10 women had trickled into the room and we were getting along beautifully when the first truly sick looking participant came in. She had a scarf tied over scalp and deep shadows under her eyes. She entered slowly, seeming very unsure of herself, which immediately alerted me that she was new here, and the others, so much more comfortable in this room, must be further along in their recovery.I got quite a shock when I realized I knew this woman.

“Liz? How ARE you? I’m so happy to see you, I’ve been so worried!” This woman had quietly disappeared from one of my yoga classes six months ago. Liz indicated her headscarf in response; no words were needed. I hugged her gently and told her I was so happy to see her and was looking forward to teaching her a little bellydance. My heart was filled with the honor of being allowed to teach these women who had all so recently danced with death. The purpose of this program was not to teach them to dance, but to help them reconnect with life.

Over the next hour, I gently guided the women in moving their hips and following Middle Eastern rhythms. We kept our arms below our hearts to accommodate their lower energy levels, and when I handed out the veils I taught low, one-armed movements so those who were recovering from mastectomy incisions could adapt to whichever side suited them. We sat down to practice finger cymbals halfway through the hour, so they could catch their breath. We laughed a lot, and they were all smiling when they left the room. No one had a bigger smile than me; mine felt like it was bubbling up from the soles of my feet.

If you’re ever asked to teach a movement class to a medical population, I urge you to say yes. You may never have a more rewarding experience. But you also need to take responsibility for managing these populations responsibly. Here’s how:

  • Do your homework. Start by asking the person who is hiring you “What should I know about this group’s physical limitations to teach them safely?” but also do independent research on Google. Use search terms like “How to adapt exercise instruction for people with ______.” The yoga literature offers a lot of information on adaptations, and you can usually extrapolate this to other movement forms. Ace Fitness also offers good resources, even if you’re not an ACE certified instructor.
  • Present yourself as authoritative but open. Tell the group “I’ve done some research, and I’ve brought a lot of ideas. But you are the experts on your recovery and limitations, so please stop me if there’s something I need to know.”
  • Be awkward. Uncomfortable subjects will come up in medical groups. Push through them anyway. If you avoid talking about body functions and other tough topics, they will avoid it too, so be open and create a no-holds-barred environment for them. Laugh at your own awkwardness. They will love you for it.
  • Warm up slowly. Give your students time to talk, to laugh. This is a social experience for them even more than it is an exercise class.
  • Keep it fun. Your job is not to rehabilitate, or even to give them a great workout or teach them how to dance properly. Your job is to help them reconnect with the bodies that have betrayed them. Help them have fun in their bodies. Give them laughter, and encouragement, and lots of success experiences. Measure your success by how much joy you feel in the room.
  • Encourage adaptation. It’s not enough to start the class by saying “feel free to rest at any time, or adapt the movements to suit you.” You have to prove to the group that you mean it. Humans are social animals, and they will push through pain in order to stay with the group and do what the leader asks. When you see someone sit down for a moment, or change the move to suit them, give a verbal reward like “I really like how you’re taking care of yourself right now” or “That’s a brilliant adaptation, I like that. Would anyone else like to try it that way?”
  • Continuously offer adaptations. If there are three ways to do a movement, show them all, but then return to the simplest variation for the rest of the drill. Students who feel competent can do the move without a model more easily than people who are struggling. Ask questions like “Would anyone prefer to do this move sitting down?” or “Is this move causing any discomfort for you?”
  • Monitor their energy level. Keeping arms below heart level and not lifting the feet very high will reduce the workload on their bodies. If the group seems tired, bring them back to a simple drill and talk with them for a while, or offer a water break.
  • Ask for honest feedback. You are going to love working with these groups, and you’ll want to keep getting better at it.
Kyria dancing pregnant on beach

Guest Post from Kyria: How instructional DVDs helped me become the bellydancer I am now

Dear readers, Kyria is back with another wonderful, deeply informative post on how she uses bellydance DVDs in her practice. See the previous post for her top ten DVDs for intermediate and advanced bellydancers. And check out her website, www.buikdansereskyria.com

Kyria bellydancer Netherlands

Before I dive into my lengthy love story with instructional DVDs, let me start by saying that although I’ve been a professional bellydancer for ten years, I will never have much of an international career, be part of the Bellydance Superstars (whatever happened to them?) or believe I am the next best thing. I have regular breakdowns when I critique myself on practice and performance videos, after which I pick myself up and make a plan to work on my weak points. At times, I wonder why I still bellydance because it is so much work to keep up and maintain good form and consider giving it all up. And then a student tells me how she looks forward to class every week, I browse through pictures of the friends I made and the events we organized and I fall in love with bellydance all over again.

Let me introduce myself

I meet up with dance friends, I organize haflas and perform for a small and intimate audience. I get hired for private parties, sometimes in a castle, most often in someone’s living room or a party center. I went on dance trips to Egypt, Turkey, or less exotic locations like Belgium, Great-Britain and Germany where I met wonderful women who all love to dance. I see my students grow week after week and doing research for my classes is one of my favorite ways to fill my lunch breaks at work.

I am part of two troupes: the Dalla Dream Dancers, a troupe dedicated to offering high quality group performances in Folkloric and Oriental Style. We came to be after working together on several theater projects and thinking ‘this is neat, let’s make this a regular thing!’. We also work on performances for theater shows and such. The second troupe consists of teachers in my area. We’ve connected over our mutual interest and have created a fair share of haflas, workshops and performances in the past six years or so. Sometimes we meet two times a month, sometimes we meet once every two months depending on what’s cooking.

My main dance style is Egyptian/oriental and though I take weekly ballet classes and have a background in jazz ballet, I prefer to dance to Arabic music with the bellydance movement vocabulary.

Welcome to my life.

One of the biggest challenges of being a professional dancer is how to continue my education. I love going to workshops but due to constraints in time and finances I can only attend a limited amount of workshops per year. Early on I discovered the wonderful world of instructional DVDs, helping me to keep on learning on a tiny student budget. An added bonus is that instructional DVDs contain excellent examples of teaching styles and different methods and technique that I can use to shape my own practice and the classes that I teach. It took me a while to get the hang of it though.

Getting started with instructional DVDs

Let’s go back in time to when I was a bright-eyed intermediate student, looking for a challenge. I was taking two bellydance classes a week and was on a budget. Through eBay I bought my very first instructional DVD: a four-DVD set by Dolphina.

dolphina bellydances

I did like her taste in back drops and practice attire though

Putting the DVD in the tray of my computer (I didn’t own a DVD player at the time) in my student room, I was excited that I could practice in my own home. It wasn’t long until I realized that from the four DVDs, I really liked one (warrior) and some of the others contained material that I disagreed with or didn’t work for me. Let’s just say that I am not the type to imagine goddess-like scenes during my practice. Some of the advice on technique and posture also didn’t work for me. If you want to try Dolphina’s instruction, go to her YouTube channel. She recently put some of her DVDs on YouTube for you to practice with.

How I got hooked

In my country, we weren’t big on credit cards or online shopping at the time. A local Arabic music shop in my street carried several instructional DVDs and I bought copies of Veena & Neena’s instructional DVDs. Yes, I know that those DVDs are not aimed at bellydancers but in 2003, it was hard to find affordable instructional DVDs. The IAMED DVDs were great, but they cost over 40$ a piece, plus international shipping and import taxes. I had to start small.

Veena and Neena bellydance

The instruction included genie arms ☺

The Veena and Neena DVDs worked well for me, going over most basic moves and a couple of combinations. I can honestly say that at the time, I had no clue about my own dance skills or if I made progress or not. All I knew is that I loved bellydance and that these DVDs got me hooked on practicing at home. The great thing about not being a professional is that I was still able to take weekly classes with various teachers, receiving corrections on posture and technique. When I turned professional in 2006 (as usual in retrospect too soon and lacking in technique and various other skills) I signed up for a two-year course on becoming a bellydancer. I also knew that I couldn’t take classes with other local dancers anymore due to conflicts of interest (teachers were afraid you’d copy their classes or choreography and teach them as your own). By profiling myself as a professional, I needed to show that I had the skills to teach my own class, create my own choreographies and work on solo performances. Thus I entered the workshop scene and started investing in more expensive instructional DVDs.

The next level

I highly recommend signing up for a longer program if you are interested in oriental dance. Even if you don’t want to be a professional dancer, it is great to get in depth knowledge in the various styles, rhythms, instruments and other facets of bellydance. By now I had ‘graduated’ from the Veena & Neena DVDs and was looking for a different challenge. I had to make a couple of wrong turns when it came to choosing bellydance DVDs before finding what worked for me.

The fitness type bellydance DVDs were the cheapest ones and I soon found out why. They barely contained bellydance! Instructors would string together a couple of moves and called it a workout. After a couple of errors, I bought a couple of second hand IAMED DVDs on Bhuz. What a relief to get high quality material in a neat package! Each DVD contained enough concepts and material to work on for weeks. I liked to run the DVD and press pause, then practice to make sure I got it before moving on. What I was lacking was regular, structured practice of the basic moves. I needed to keep my omi’s smooth and accents sharp. But how?

Getting my act together

The biggest influence on structuring my home practice came in the shape of three big names in the dance community. The first one was the 3-DVD set from Jillina that came out as the BDSS were rising to fame. The choreographies were challenging and different from what I had learned. It really helped me to look my own choreography skills and use of footwork and make changes.

The second one was also a BDSS DVD: Tribal Fusion with Rachel Brice. This DVD contained several drills with a fair amount of yoga. I got my mat out once or twice a week and started doing my asanas and breaking my moves down into smaller pieces.

The third was the fitness fusion DVD set by Suhaila. My earlier experiences with bellydance fitness DVDs in mind, I didn’t expect much, but I was pleasantly surprised. Suhaila’s method for breaking down movements and drilling (mixing it with stretches and a bit of yoga and Pilates) impressed me with the need to cross train. I couldn’t take local bellydance classes but I could join the local yoga school and a Pilates class!

I still like these dancers, though in the meantime they have developed even better DVDs that I like to use on a regular basis.

Meeting the instructors in real life

When Jillina and Rachel came to Amsterdam to teach workshops, I got a chance to experience their teaching method in real life. It was such a pleasure to see the dancers that I’ve been ‘training’ with on DVD in a big dance studio. Getting used to their training method helped me to make the most of the workshop and retain as much as possible. I got to ask Jillina for advice on how to keep advancing and she was adamant: take ballet classes. So I signed up for adult ballet classes in 2008 and continue to take these classes until this very day. She was absolutely right: I have learned so much from my wonderful ballet teacher. Footwork, arms, carriage, posture and lines. But ballet is not bellydance: sometimes the concepts conflict with each other.

With Rachel Brice there wasn’t time for me to ask personal questions, but she credited and mentioned Suhaila Salimpour in her workshops. This sparked my interest and I decided to purchase more Suhaila DVDs and if she ever taught workshops in my vicinity (read: Belgium, Germany, Netherlands) I’d go. I finally got my opportunity in 2015 to take a three day intensive with her in Brussels.

suhaila and kyria 2015

[If you want to read more, I wrote an extensive blog about doing the intensive. It’s here: https://kyriascostumes.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/suhaila-salimpours-level-1-intensive/ ]

After taking workshops with Aziza in Duisburg at the annual festival organized by Leyla Jouvana, I was so impressed that I bought her practice companion DVD. The DVD is really, really good and her real-life workshops are even better. I like to take workshops with her whenever she is in the vicinity, every year or so. She keeps on adjusting and creating new material and ways to explain things that can keep me occupied for years.

Staying in shape

The last couple of years I have been noticing that I like to revisit DVDs that I worked with in the past. My vast collection now spans over three hundred DVDs and serves as a library that I can go to when I am looking for inspiration or have a theme I want to work with. To stay in shape I regularly use exercise DVDs like Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred, power yoga, Yoga Booty Ballet (it’s wrong on so many levels yet very entertaining) and the New York City Ballet Workout.

Now that I am pregnant I finally have an excuse to buy prenatal bellydance DVDs and try those as I am going through the different phases of pregnancy. I am eager to see where my journey in dance will take me next but instructional DVDs will be part of it. Currently I am reorganizing the filing system for my DVDs and creating a schedule to stay in shape during my pregnancy and after the delivery. I work full-time and have little time left to attend classes, so DVDs are the perfect solution for me. I am exploring options like streaming classes but so far, I prefer DVDs or digital downloads as they are always available and are not dependent on a fast and smooth connection.

Kyria dancing pregnant on beach

Six and a half months pregnant and still dancing

Kyria bellydancer Netherlands

Guest post: Kyria’s top ten DVDs for intermediate and advanced bellydancers

Dear readers, I’m thrilled to bring you today’s guest post from Kyria, a bellydancer from the Netherlands. Kyria and I have chatted online about our shared obsession with bellydance DVDs, and I asked her if she could provide a professional dancer’s perspective on how and which DVDs to use for at-home training. 

This is the first installment: a guide to Kyria’s favourite DVDs and how they fit into her practice. Which of these do you use? Are there others you also recommend? 

Kyria bellydancer Netherlands

I started bellydancing fifteen years ago, when video instruction was practically unheard of in the Netherlands. At best, dancers who travelled to Egypt brought back bootlegged VHS videos of famous dancers. We played these over and over again and tried to copy the moves and figure out what the dancer was doing.

I learned to bellydance through weekly classes from various live teachers, which was invaluable because beginning dancers need corrections and feedback in order to learn correct form, posture and technique. And boy, did I need correction! I still do, that’s why I take weekly ballet classes and go to workshops. Being a professional dancer means being a lifelong student.

I enjoy learning new things and believe that regular practice and exercise not only make me a better dancer, but they also keep me sane and healthy. However, due to work and life I sometimes don’t have the opportunity to follow classes with a live teacher. That’s why I build my instructional bellydance DVD library. Not dancing or not learning is simply not an option for me.

Streaming, downloading and the good old hardcopy DVD

Lately the market is expanding into streaming live classes and services that allow subscribers to download or stream instructional classes. This is a great way to try out classes, and it is very flexible and suited to individual needs. For me streaming doesn’t work as I hate it when the connection falters, but if your internet connection is fast and flawless, it’s a great service. I am also pretty hardcore in the sense that I like to own material. If the mood strikes me and I want to practice or research, I want it to be available and in my possession. That’s why I prefer DVDs.

What DVDs I would recommend for practice at home for an intermediate to advanced dancer? Here are my criteria for regular practice:

  1. I pick DVDs that are intermediate level or up. I have a need for speed and quality and want my practice to be as effective as possible;
  2. I like to shop around in (belly)dance styles so sometimes I use an Egyptian DVD, other times ATS. Don’t get me started on my fitness DVDs!
  3. I like to go through a DVD at least 5-7 times, to really absorb the concepts, technique and choreography. It’s like following a semester of real classes: one class is not enough to fully understand and learn the material. I revisit my DVD collection as often as I can;
  4. Sometimes I have fifteen minutes, sometimes I have 90 minutes. I like DVDs that offer me flexibility to create a session that fits my time schedule.

My DVD recommendations for at-home practice:

Jillina – Shape Up n’ Hip Out!

This is my go to DVD if I want to do some cardio, dance and be challenged by some combinations. The brilliance of this DVD is that it contains three twenty-minute work-outs: beginner, intermediate and advanced. All three are good. When I am in a hurry I do the intermediate and advanced one. Jillina is a very generous and warm instructor and I’ve taken multiple workshops with her through the years. She delivers every time with exciting and interesting choreographies and has excellent didactic skills.

Rachel Brice – Serpentine

This dancer knows how to teach! I hope to do a weeklong with her someday. In the workshops I took with her in the past she hadn’t advanced yet to where she is now as an instructor. The two-DVD set contains drills, choreography and some talks and information on several subjects like the backbend. This kept me busy for months. Easy to pop in and choose what you want to do for the day. My only minor negative point is that the yoga warm-up and yoga cool-down are too long for my taste.

Jenna – The Heartbeat of Bellydance

Rhythms, a couple of choreographies and live drumming. What’s not to like about this one? The performances are taped in a cramped studio so I don’t think they convey well on this DVD. Great for intermediates to get to know rhythms and dance to the different rhythms. As a professional dancer, repetition of rhythms is always a good thing. The choreographies are not that complicated but Jenna has a personal style that is different from mine (so lots to learn) yet similar in musicality that I keep coming back to it because it is fun.

*my personal pet peeve is that I am big on musicality. DVDs that use awful music, that are edited with the dancer being out of sync with the music or dancers that have a musical interpretation that opposes mine are not on this list. I grind my teeth and put up with blegh music if the quality of the instruction is high or the content is awesome)*

Ranya Renee – The Baladi

The elusive baladi is captured on this DVD set. It is hard to videotape, explain and show baladi on a DVD but Ranya does an excellent job. She shows the instruments, explains the progression in the music, and offers nifty visual explanations on what muscles to engage and on to the actual dancing. I love that this is an instruction for improvisation and the baladi is one of my favourite styles. I have to be in the mood for this DVD and let the material simmer a while to get results, but it is one of the few DVDs that aim to create a strong connection between dancer and music. Improvisation and musicality are essential for a professional bellydancer.

Aziza’s Ultimate Bellydance Pratice Companion

Buy it. Now. I’ve been using it for over seven years and I enjoy it every. Single. Time. Aziza is engaging, charming and knowledgeable and makes a 21-minute shimmy drill fun. This DVD can be used by beginners, intermediates and advanced dancers, making it rather unique in the world of instructional DVDs. Her workshops and Dreamcamp are also amazing and I highly recommend her. I took my first workshop with her in 2009 and I still go as often as I can as she keeps on working on new material and concepts.

Suhaila – Bellydance for Beginners 4 Volume Set

Suhaila Salimpour’s style might be your cup of tea, or it might not. This DVD set gives you a taste of her philosophy, in bite-sized work-outs. Each one contains a bit of drilling, combinations, and a short choreography. I did a three-day intensive with Suhaila which is much more focused on her method and philosophy. But, as a dancer with limited time, this set gives me a taste without needing to emerge completely in her concept. Even if Suhaila’s dance style is not your thing, her ideas about drilling, muscle isolation and layering are fascinating and quite useful. Plus glute squeezes can be done anywhere! Her glute squeeze technique has brightened up many long meetings at work.

Jillina – Instructional Bellydance with Jillina 3 DVD Set

For the choreography junkie in me, Jillina delivers excellent material that satisfies my hunger for surprising combinations, music interpretation, and footwork. Her footwork patterns are influenced by ballet, modern, jazz, and the Reda Troupe style of dance. Footwork is what I need to create my own improvisations and choreographies and beginner DVDs usually include a very basic level. If you are at a point where you want more, try this DVD set.

Jenna – Bellydance – The Next Level

I like this DVD because the warm-up is perfect for my body and Jenna is very good in explaining concepts. The drills section is great for an oriental style drill, and there are two choreographies I can work with to internalize the material. The drum solo is fun. My only comment is that the music is hard to come by as a European dancer, so I stream it from a Spotify playlist for my own practice.

Zoe Jakes – From A to Zoe

Lots of drills and classes with Zoe Jakes, with great tips on flutters and abdominal isolation. The nice thing about Tribal Fusion is that it has a different way of using and combining moves, and the stylisation is completely different compared to bellydance. When I feel like going out of my comfort zone, this is a good one.

Michelle Joyce – Killer Ziller

I didn’t include specialty DVDs in this list because I wanted to give a general list. I am not going to include DVDs on veilwork, assaya, khaleegy, Turkish, etc. I make an exception for zills as they are not specialty but a basic piece of knowledge for a professional bellydancer. They are a musical instrument that need to be trained as often as possible while dancing. I like to slip on my zills during regular DVDs and play basic zill patterns to get them into my system. This DVD offers a range of zill drills, combined with dance moves. It is perfect for regular practice and increasing awareness of playing zills while dancing.

Interesting links

Learning to bellydance from video – Shira

Eight dvds for home practice– Ananke

Learning bellydance by DVD – Jade

Online bellydance classes that I used, liked and recommend

Datura – Good stuff, from various teachers. Includes video’s in different styles, and you can choose between renting one video or subscribing for full access.

Suhaila Salimpour school online (if you are into her format. if you don’t know what her format is, try her DVD set first!)

Cairo Bellydance – For the experience of a workshop in Egypt from the comfort of your own home. Mostly juicy Egyptian bellydance, straight from a dancer living and performing in Egypt.

Sources for DVD’s

RaqsTv – Hard copy or digital download

Cheeky Girls Productions – A huge collection of instructional and performance DVDs (sometimes available in download). By dancers, for dancers.

World Dance New York – Plenty of bellydance instructionals, world dance dvds and pilates/yoga. Great value for your money.

Hollywood Music Center

About Kyria:

Kyria is closing in on celebrating her first decade as a professional bellydancer. Her (Dutch) dance website is at www.buikdansereskyria.com.  She lives in Utrecht, The Netherlands with her husband and dog and eagerly looks forward to a new addition to the family at the end of 2015. She is a member of two belly dance troupes: Sense of Bellydance (Utrecht) and the Dalla Dream Dancers (The Hague), teaches weekly classes at the Utrecht University and enjoys making belly dance costumes. She blogs about her costuming projects and all things belly dance at kyriascostumes.com.

Nadira Jamal's roller coaster

Nadira Jamal’s Rock the Routine — reflection and a special offer

The first time Nadira Jamal ran her Rock the Routine course, I was there.

I was also the mother of a three-month-old baby and had just moved to a new country, but I was there.

So it was unlikely from the start that I would see it through, but I did work with the program as long as I could.

Nadira’s just announced that she’s running the program again, and this time, alumni can join — both to do it, and to be a resource for new participants. And I’ve signed up. Here is why.

Rock the Routine is a course designed to teach you how to perform a full, traditional six-part routine. You know, old school Am-Cab. You go through strategies for the Introduction, Veil, Middle Section, Chiftetelli, Drum Solo, and Finale. You not only learn how to keep an audience’s interest throughout an entire show, but improvisation strategies for each individual section, along with music tips — the whole deal!

Now, I’ve only done troupe performances, never a solo of my own. So it’s pretty unlikely I’ll be doing a full six-part routine on a stage anytime soon. But for me, it’s not really about the routine per se.

What I liked about Rock the Routine were all the little, manageable assignments. Nadira basically teaches you how to improvise dance in a structured way. Or how to structure choreographies, perhaps with some give built into them for improv. I do want to perform solos this year, and since I don’t really like to perform other people’s choreographies, I need some help. I need to know how to start.

Some of the exercises are five minutes long. Some are fifteen minutes. They’re doable little bits that are practice in putting moves together into a dance, and in a way that’s effective, interesting for an audience, and establishes a certain mood. This is what I want.

My one criticism of Rock the Routine when I first did it was that it moved way too fast for me. I suspect I wasn’t the only one, because Nadira took our feedback and slowed down the pace of the course. So I’m also looking forward to doing the course at a more reasonable tempo.

So that’s me. What about you?

Well, if you’re interested in doing Rock the Routine too, you can sign right up at:

http://www.bellydancegeek.com/rock-the-routine/

As with many online courses, you can do a basic version or a premium version that includes participation in a Facebook group for support, and the full routine playbook as a download.

This year, you can get an upgrade to the premium version for free. All you do is add the PREMIUM package to your cart. Then you enter the coupon code ATISHEH in the shopping cart and hit Apply. After that, you continue the checkout process.

If you do, I get a small commission, and you get the upgrade for free. (Sneaky Nadira is getting us alums to spread the word, you see. But everyone wins if we do.)

So that’s it. I’ll be there, working on my improv skills. Will you join me?

(The header image is from Morguefile!)