End-of-year thoughts

First, a confession: I am, apparently, the kind of person who enjoys Latin-dance-themed workout videos.

For a long time I was a bit of a snob about video dance instruction. I wanted the real thing, not some workoutified, sweatified, neonified version of real dance. I didn’t want to do lunges in the middle of a merengue, nor did I think that exercise instructors had much to tell me about hip movement.

This evening, though, after days of gorging on heavy Christmas food (hello, fondue! why hello there, Sauerbraten!), it felt like the right thing to do to wake up my muscles. So I pulled this cheap-o German DVD, Latin Dance Workout, from my shelf. It cost about five Euros, and might have been truly terrible. But it wasn’t.

I mean, there were almost no explanations of steps, it was fast-paced, and at a few moments a bit hectic. You could tell they were determined to film in one shot, whatever small mistakes happened. But it was also led by a Brazilian trainer who can really dance, Lucas Correia Freitag, most of the moves were fun and dancey enough, and after it was all done I felt as though all my joints had been pulled apart and reassembled in a more logical manner. My mood too.

Lucas Correia Freitag in Latin Dance Workout DVD
Be the shoulder shimmy you want to see in the world

So my thought for the new year is that I should not overthink this dance and movement thing. I’ve tried working towards goals and organizing my dance practice and thinking about how to improve. It doesn’t lead to much but guilt.

Maybe I need to bring my expectations all the way down to zero, and just do whatever feels right in the moment: dance, or yoga, or stretching, or weights. Ten minutes or forty minutes. Whatever works.

The same goes for this blog, which I neglect because I have the desire to write long, detailed, useful reviews and posts. I’m wondering if I can do shorter posts now and then, and just put them out into the world!

So, what are your ideas for how to structure movement in your new year? And what are your favourite workout programs that might not seem like much at first sight?

Veil and Drum Solo Workshops with Aisa Lafour, and other dance notes

My dear readers, I’ve been a busy dancer. I had an incredibly intense week about a month ago — lots of work, lots of kid, lots of dancing in the evenings, either in class or with a video or doing improv, and then on top of that, a super Saturday of workshops with Cihangir Gümüstürkmen. (I will write about this soon.)

Then I was tired. Just exhausted. I didn’t want to dance anymore, I took about a week and a half off. You know the feeling — not inspired, not motivated? I really just wanted to go home in the evenings and spend time with my family, and not be in the studio. I also felt a little sick. I thought, what’s wrong with going to bed ridiculously early for a while? (Answer: nothing. Nothing at all.)

I read my emails from Alia Thabit and Rosa Noreen, and felt guilty for not doing my improv or my Delicious Pauses homework.

I watched a bit of a few videos. Ranya Renee’s Baladi DVDs, and Autumn Ward’s Beautiful Technique. Listened to baladi songs while going about my business, and practiced taking apart the music. Realised that I have a ton of music, but not enough baladi. One night after work I wrote a little piece for the RAQStv essay contest. The prompt was to write about our practice, about how we fit dance into our lives. I wrote about how I try, but so, so often fail.

But you know what? Sometimes taking a break is good. I actually felt re-energized when I went back to classes. A few things clicked that I had been struggling with before. I won the RAQStv contest. And this past Saturday, I took part in two workshops with Aisa Lafour sponsored by Hayal Oriental Moves.

The first workshop was veil technique for beginners, along with a choreo to the gorgeous song “Yearning” by Raul Ferrando. I have very little experience of veil in class (or, well, anywhere else), so I was glad for the opportunity to do a workshop on veil that assumed nothing. Aisa had us start at the very beginning, walking back and forth with the veil, watching how it moves, and learning how to arc it up above us to get it behind or in front. Then we moved on to technique for a few traveling moves, and the rest of the technique was done in the course of the choreo. What I particularly appreciated — and want to remember — are the little performance details Aisa put in. Things like moving softly down as the veil falls, so as to mimic the veil’s movement with one’s own body. I adore these kinds of details, the refinements that make dance really beautiful and more than just a bunch of movements.

While this was all going on, I had Realization of the Day #1: bellydance, oriental dance, however you want to call it, is so ridiculously complex, involves so much training, attention to the tiniest muscle movements, practice with props, learning music, and yet most of the general public thinks it’s nothing more than hoochy mama butt grinding.

And then my veil got caught on one of the ceiling lamps.

The second workshop was a drum solo to “Drum On” by Ali Darwish. This was a really peppy, fun routine, with a number of different shimmies, some fast spins and travel accents, and a few cute Latin elements. I particularly enjoyed a funny butt shimmy Aisa described as coming from Brazilian dance, and which she called the “rabbit.”

It was above my level, but I love having a sense of what I might learn, review, try again work on. Here in Berlin, a lot of workshops are pretty explicitly geared to levels, which I’m not as used to from the US. There, people just went to workshops. On the one hand, it makes sense, since instructors can teach advanced material to advanced dancers. But I also think there’s a lot to be gained from doing workshops a bit above one’s level, since they give you an understanding of where you have to push yourself to get to.

Then I had Realization of the Day #2. Readers of this blog know I’m not a huge fan of learning choreos. I’m a slow learner, and I often get frustrated trying to remember and keep up with everyone else. But I realised on Saturday that learning choreos is not just about a certain approach to dance, or even about learning transitions. It’s also that certain moves are just not so likely to pop up in drilling or technique lessons, but somehow do make their way into choreo instruction. These might be transitions, or traveling steps, or stylizations, or they just might be somewhat lesser-used moves that the “home” instructor hasn’t covered yet.

Anyway, the point was, for once I found myself really enjoying the process of learning a choreo. Some parts of the song really clicked for me, others I had a lot of trouble with (and believe me, I know those are precisely the ones I need to practice!). But all in all, there were just a lot of really delicious movement combinations that were fun to do. And the more we rehearsed them, the sweatier we got, and the looser the muscles did too, so some of the passages also became easier to perform.

When we were working on a particularly tricky bit, Aisa mentioned that she’d had a hard time at first with the combo, and had to practice to get it. This kind of thing is so good to hear when you’re struggling to pick up a phrase. She then talked about how she often choreographs above her dance level, so as to challenge herself. I thought this was also a wonderful reason and way to do choreography. If improv is about finding your safety moves and working with them, why not choreograph to bring more moves into that repertoire?

So now, some classes, workshops, DVDs, and writing later, I am once again a happy dancer. And I know precisely what I need to work on.

My son, future dancer

One of my goals as a parent is not to impose my own desires on my child. I’ve seen it happen too often that parents try to live out their unfulfilled dreams through their children, usually to the frustration of those children. The trick is: what’s the line between trying to revive a lost cause through your kid and just sharing your passions and hobbies with them?

I’m starting to realise the extent to which this is true since, spending a lot of time with my baby, I keep imagining possible futures for him. And unlike those moms who imagine their kids becoming doctors or athletes or lawyers or other important muckymucks, I’ve become convinced that my son has the right build to be a dancer. He has these beautiful, slender legs that I’m convinced will be long, he’s strong and seems to want to stand on his own despite his six weeks (tomorrow), and when feeding, sleeping, or just hanging out, his hands will fall into the most graceful shapes. For an example, see picture.

It’s not that I want or expect him to become a professional dancer, but I like the idea that he will enjoy dancing. The truth is though, even this quite basic and understandable desire is about me. You see, music and his reaction to it gave me one of the most important moments of joy, of connection as a mother, in the last few weeks.

Back track a few months. Baby — just a fetus at the time — was starting to respond to sounds and music outside the womb. My husband and I were watching Fatih Akin’s documentary of Istanbul music, Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul. I was lying on the couch, and my husband had his hand on my belly, feeling the occasional shifts and movements. Late in the movie, there’s a scene on the outskirts of Istanbul, in a bar filled with Romani musicians. The musicians are well sauced, and the music is frenetic. One of the Roma interviewed talks about the spirit of the music, how in hearing it, you simply have to get up to dance. When classical Turkish music is played, he says, people just sit and watch.

All the time, the song is rising in a crescendo, the baby is moving like mad, and when the final beat strikes, he gives a good, solid kick in perfect time! My husband and I both feel it and look at each other in amazement. This only grows in the next scene, a short of classical Turkish music — true to form, the baby stopped moving immediately and stayed still for the rest of the movie.

We joked many times later that he liked gypsy music. In fact, as a fetus, he tended to react to fast dance music in general. Fast forward to five weeks after birth. I am tired from interrupted nights and what feels like constant feedings. I am gradually growing in love with this beautiful little creature, but I don’t quite know what to do with him yet. Newborns aren’t very interactive, after all. And then, one day when I’m feeling down, I remember the music he liked in the womb.

So I get the iPod that usually plays rain sounds all night, search for some “gypsy” music, and play it for him while he lies on the bed. We listened to Romanian and to Flamenco music, and his little arms and legs flew in every direction. Sometimes I guided his movements, sometimes I let him just react to it on his own. And can I add that random baby flails sometimes look like flamenco arms? Just sayin’.

Maybe he was reacting to the music, grooving in his own baby way. Maybe he had no clue what was going on. I never can tell with him. But it was a real moment of connection for me, reminding me that the little boy who now runs my life was once in my womb, dancing in time to the beats outside.

Review: Puela Lunaris’ Flamenco: You can do it! Sevillanas

I became interested in Puela Lunaris’s DVDs through World Dance New York, which is better known for its bellydance instructional videos. And while Lunaris has done work on the Zambra (the style of flamenco most closely associated with oriental dance) it is important to note that Flamenco: You Can Do It! – Sevillanas has nothing whatsoever to do with bellydance. In fact, the sevillanas are not even flamenco. They are an old, very strictly structured Spanish social dance which is sometimes performed in flamenco shows, but is also done socially in Spain. This DVD not only introduces the dance, but does an excellent job at showing how it can be performed alone, in a pair in a relaxed, social manner, and in a more showy performance style with fans.

The good:

As much as I generally do not like choreographies, this is the dance for them, since every sevillana is the same. The first choreo section is an extremely lengthy breakdown of all the movements necessary for all four sections of the sevillana dance. Lunaris is painstaking in demonstrating the steps, repeating them many times over, and then adding arms. There is instruction on posture, arm movement and placement, arm variations, the different styles of hand floreos.

Lunaris often also shows variations that can be introduced, not in the steps per se, but in the upper body styling or arm movements. This is where the dancer can express his or her individuality, since the steps are fixed. She also briefly describes how men’s arm and handwork differs from women’s.

In the second choreography, Lunaris has mini workshops on fanwork and on dancing with a partner, and runs through the entire choreography again using the fan. She uses her partner to show not only how dancers move around each other during the sevillana, but also more stylistic variations.

It should be clear by now that this DVD is a treasure, an absolute treasure. I am currently taking beginner flamenco classes and learning the sevillana as part of these. They are quite complicated, at least at first, and any online reference material has not been very good at explaining the dance part of it. To have a DVD at this price not only run down the entire choreography but also show variations is truly exquisite. The two performances at the end are an extra treat.

The bad:

As well-organized as WDNY DVDs generally are, I find myself wishing for more, especially when it comes to Lunaris’ videos. The current organization allows you to watch a demonstration at full-speed with music, then have a lengthy breakdown, then have choreography and practice with music. This is great, but it bothers me that some of the basics of the dance, like how to do floreos for example, are hidden away in a long choreography, with no way to guess at where they might be. There should be an easy way to jump to the descriptions of a few basic techniques, if not have them in a different section altogether.

More specifically to this DVD, since the sevillana is such a repetitive dance, all of the instruction would make much more sense if the dance were broken down in table form and available as a screen or even for printing. It would make the choreography much easier to learn.

How to use this video:

First, watch the first choreography all the way through. Just watch it. Watch the performances to see how it all fits together. Then start doing it, but take it slowly. In a normal class, this is material covered over months — the fact that it is all on one DVD makes this video valuable, but it is also unrealistic to expect to learn it quickly. Just focus on the feet at first, and only later practice adding the arms, and then, slowly, the hands.

That said, the sevillana is more approachable than flamenco dance. I.e., it’s easier to look good dancing the sevillana. Lunaris’ is a great introduction for those with no experience of it, and a wonderful reference work for those who are learning it in a live class. She has a charming on-screen persona, and she is careful to give you a sense of the culture, attitude, and context of the dance as well, so you understand the spirit as well as the movements. If you are willing to practice a little, you will not regret buying this video.