It’s time to talk hard realities. Hard, hard realities.
Readers of this blog know that I’ve been able to do a lot more dancing in the past couple of years than ever before in my life. It’s been wonderful, taking at least two classes per week, sometimes even more. And yet, there’s this horrible voice in the back of my head that has whispered to me, “Given all this movement, why are you not thinner?”
Well, of course the answer to that involves my love of cooking and eating. But here’s the other answer. I moved cities recently, and have had several months of stress, inconvenience, inadequate child care, struggling to get things going again. So no dance classes. At all. I haven’t been to a class in almost three months. And guess what I’ve learned through this? It turns out, I was thinner! This stress with no exercise thing has been devastating for my figure. (So has the medicinal wine.) And now I know what I would have looked like these past two years had I not done all those classes!
Okay, so I knew that when I came back to working with my videos, I’d have to pick something with some cardio. So I chose a DVD that’s long been on my review list, Samira Shuruk’s Raqfit – Belly and Bollywood Dance Fitness Workout. I knew it would be peppy and energetic, and even though it was already 10 pm and I was exhausted, I was determined to get some exercise in.
The short version? Raqfit is a fantastic workout program, one that will keep the interest of dancers over many repetitions. It is well cued and intelligently designed. Samira takes the best aspects of the ways cardio programs are designed, and combines it with reasonably challenging and varied dance moves from bellydance and Bollywood. I don’t think it’s the best choice for an absolute beginner. If you have no experience with either of these dances you are best off working with a slower-paced program first. But if you are an advanced beginner or beyond, and want a workout that gets you truly, truly sweating but that still feels like dancing, Raqfit is just right.
Raqfit has a technique section that’s about 8:30 minutes long, and which covers some of the basic moves, especially from the bellydance segments. These are good guidelines as to how Samira does the moves, say the hip bumps or the shimmies, in the workout. But this run-through won’t be enough if you don’t know how to do them at all.
If you play the entire workout, it runs around 54 minutes (this does not include the technique). This includes a warm-up, four basic dance-based aerobic segments, two of which use bellydance moves and two which use Bollywood moves, a smooth, elegant standing cool down, a short pilates-based ab workout, and a quick but effective stretch for leg and abdominal muscles.
Here’s what I think is smart, and which (hint to DVD producers!) all DVD producers should do. The DVD also includes pre-programmed “mixes”. So you can do all the warmup and cool down stuff with just the two bellydance workouts, in 36 minutes. Or with just the Bollywood workouts, in 34 minutes. And there’s a “Raqfit Challenge” in which you do everything, but with no breakdown of the dances, so it only takes 29 minutes. So you can choose how to use the DVD based on your dance preferences and the amount of time you have.
That said, I loved the explanations. You know how aerobics/cardio videos will show you one step, then add something to it, then add another variation, and then have you repeat the thing until you go nuts? Samira does this, and it turns out that it works fabulously for dance workouts. Why? Because if you need to stay at an easier level, you already know how to do that — you just don’t add the extra arms or whatever. You don’t have to look at what the “beginner” person in the back is doing, you just know to stick to the basics because that’s how you started.
And this is sometimes necessary. The dance moves are varied, with turns, changes of direction, asymmetrical choreography, movement on diagonals… the movements are high paced and repeated enough to get you sweating, but there is also a lot of work for the brain to do. I paid more attention to the bellydance moves, but they also were not just the usual hip bumps and drops you see in workouts. Instead, there were pencil turns, hip twists on releve, small hip circles layered on traveling steps, slightly Suheir Zaki-ish vertical hip drops… and in general more things done on top of traveling steps than I’m used to in a workout DVD.
In other words, it’s not a DVD you can do perfectly on the first go, but you can grow into it. It’s worth adding that Samira cues everything, all the movements are mirrored, and she often says “the side closest to the tv” instead of saying “left” or “right,” which actually makes it easier to follow. She also reminds you to keep your abs engaged when it’s particularly necessary. I am still trying to figure out how she can look so happy and graceful while I felt like one of those hippos in Fantasia!
As to me, being out of shape, I had to struggle to keep up, and I did take breaks. Also, a little person got out of bed to interrupt me when I was twenty minutes from the end, but I persevered. But by the end I felt great, happy that I’d finally gotten moving. And the next day I had a delicious amount of post-workout burn all over my body. And the biggest surprise was looking in the mirror, and seeing that things already looked a little more, well, under control than they had.