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

Khalida dancing drum solo with Issam

Review of Shimmies with Khalida

(Before you read this — subscribe to my newsletter and get the latest updates!)

One thing I’ve learned? It makes a difference when a dancer is as obsessed with DVDs as I am.

Khalida is a Belgian bellydancer living in Germany. She’s a gorgeous dancer, and, like us amateurs, works with a lot of DVDs. I frankly kind of love that — I always imagine the pros are getting private lessons in Cairo all the time, but in fact, many of them also like to take advantage of the incredible wealth of knowledge and instruction you can get on DVDs, at a fraction of the price of a workshop.

So I had high hopes when I opened up Shimmies with Khalida. I also really wanted to work on my shimmies, which are just kind of okay — I can do what I need to for a choreo, but they could be much stronger. What did I think? The DVD is… how to put it? Brilliant.

Khalida bellydance solo

The first thing to say is that Shimmies with Khalida features almost two hours of content. Sure, you could work with everything all the way through, and I did that one evening for what was a fantastic workout. But you can also adapt it in all sorts of ways. There are many different types of instruction here, including conditioning for shimmy work, technique instruction (with mini-drills) in a variety of shimmies, and a 21-minute shimmy drill. You can basically pick and choose what you want to work on. And here’s where you can tell that Khalida is an avid DVD user: not only is everything chaptered and available via the menus, but she gives you the amount it takes. For everything. So if you have twenty-five minutes, you can do squats conditioning and the long shimmy drill for example. Or if you want to do a shorter cool-down, you can choose one of the sub-chapters instead of both. And if you just want to brush up on 3/4 shimmies, that’s easy to do too!

Shimmies with Khalida typical menu

So let’s go through the program. After a brief introduction, you have a detailed posture explanation and a short but effective dancing warm-up. After that, you have one of the coolest sections of this DVD, and something that really sets it apart, about 19 minutes of conditioning exercises for shimmies. These include squats conditioning, a beautifully intense mini-workout with port-de-bras, soothing standing stretches, a brilliant seated shimmy drill in which Khalida teaches you tricks to keep shimmies even, followed by yoga-inspired seated stretches (though actually these include lunges and standing moves too).

khalida2

The sitting conditioning exercises — my favourite way to practice!

The Technique and Exercises section covers eight shimmies:

Basic hip shimmy
Egyptian shimmy
Shiver shimmy/freeze
African shimmy/bounce
Shoulder shimmy and twist
Choochoo shimmy
3/4 shimmy “up”
3/4 shimmy “down”

Khalida’s instruction is clear. She begins from scratch, though I don’t think this is really a DVD for beginner dancers, as she tends to build up quickly. In most cases, she doesn’t go to maximum speed though — an exception being the 3/4 shimmies, which I couldn’t even dream of keeping up with. Usually, her focus is on even movement, something I found useful as I’m usually just trying to speed up. In a number of cases, Khalida offered tips that I’d heard nowhere else, like moving your hips like a steering wheel for the basic hip shimmy. The choo-choo is a problem shimmy for me, but her instruction for this got me further than I’ve ever been before. What’s neat is that these instructional sections also include mini-drills, which might have you layering the the shimmy on hip work or doing arm moves while shimmying.

Khalida demonstrates choo-choo shimmy

Khalida demonstrates choo-choo shimmy

The next section shows the Aziza connection — Khalida has her own extended shimmy drill, in which she revisits all the shimmies she taught, but combines them into a long practice flow. Again, she layers them, adds arms, and adds movement across the floor. And here’s the thing I noticed when doing the whole DVD in one go — the drills she provides in the extended drill are not the same as in the instructional sections. They are new. So if you do both together, you are doing new, challenging drills all the time. I found I could follow along with most of it, though there were points — 3/4 shimmies again — where I was lost. But that also means it’s a program to grow into.

Khalida's extended shimmy drill

I’m relieved Khalida has also worked up a sweat in the extended shimmy drill

The workout part of the DVD closes with a soft cool down, and a delicious dancerly stretches session.

I love this DVD, not only because I think the instruction is excellent, but because there’s such attention to detail. Khalida has a friendly, cheerful, but not over-perky demeanour. She gives frequent tips to keep the shoulders down and chest up, as though sensing what I need. Many dance or workout instructors doing more complex patterns might neglect one side in favour of another — what struck me about Shimmies with Khalida was that in almost two hours of instruction, that happened once, maybe. If the right side works, so does the left. And the production itself is beautiful and clear, filmed in a large, bright studio, with a big mirror behind Khalida showing you how things look from the back.

Finally, the special features. These include two performances by Khalida, one of them with Issam on drums. There are behind the scenes pictures, an interview with Khalida, and some promotional material.

I received a review copy of this DVD, and I’ve also chatted with Khalida on Facebook. All that aside, Shimmies with Khalida is a truly excellent DVD, and frankly a great workout too. I love the conditioning section, and also that you can customize practices using the DVD. And there are simply so many different drill ideas here. You could do an instructional section a few times over for good practice, or you could take a drill and then do it to music on your own. Or you could just do the extended shimmy drill once a week to keep everything smooth. There is lots to work with.

You can get Shimmies with Khalida at http://khalidashop.com/, and there is also a listing on Amazon. You can also now stream and download the DVD at https://gumroad.com/khalida, which loses the chaptering magic, but adds the convenience of working with it wherever you are, on a computer or tablet.

Claudina Calligraveil double veil bellydancing

Review of Claudina’s Calligraveil: Single and Double Veil Dance Instructional

Readers of this blog may have noticed that it has spanned a few geographic locations. My very first posts were written when I lived in Connecticut, I then lived in NYC but didn’t write very much, moved to Dallas where I got pregnant and started writing about prenatal workouts during my leave, and I now live in Germany. (Are you tired yet? I’m tired.)

One of the goals I set for myself when I moved here and started taking classes from local teachers was to seek out and review more DVDs by European dancers. I know that many English speaking dancers are willing to get foreign-language bellydance instructionals, even in languages they don’t know, like Russian or Hebrew! But in fact, many dancers are now putting out videos in bilingual or even multilingual versions (like Meissoun of Zurich). And if you play the DVD on your laptop and it’s region free, you don’t have to worry about the PAL/NSTC issue that we used to have with VHS. It’s been my experience that there are some fantastic dancers and really great teachers here, and I’d very much like for them to be known more broadly.

Claudina Calligraveil bellydance performance

So, in keeping with that goal, today’s review is of a double veil DVD by the Weimar-based dancer Claudina, Calligraveil: Single and Double Veil Dance Instructional. Calligraveil is fully bilingual: menus and voiceovers (and there are only voiceovers) are done in both English and German. In fact, if you’re sick of language period, you also have the option of watching the tutorials with music alone.

The first thing to say is that this is an exquisitely beautiful DVD. Really, it’s one of the most gorgeous productions I’ve seen in any dance DVD. It’s also pretty challenging. There is an hour and a half of instruction alone, not counting the extras, so it’s really more of a reference work to learn from over a longer period than a workshop-type instructional. Because Claudina teaches every move first with just one veil, you can use it at the most basic level to learn or practice single-veil moves. However, you can also go beyond that and practice them with two veils. The DVD is thoroughly, carefully chaptered, so it would be easy to pick just one section and rehearse it over and over again (and I did some of that as I worked with it), or to skip over the harder, double-veil sections, until you’re ready for them.

Claudina Calligraveil bellydance performance

The DVD begins with two costumed performances by Claudina, one featuring Isis wings and matte, gauzy double veils, and another with shimmering veils. These are primarily spinning moves, and Claudina makes them look easy. As I discovered when I worked with the DVD they are not, in fact, easy. A short introduction tells you to warm up, and explains the props you’ll use to learn: tea cups, long silk veils, and a cane.

Claudina Calligraveil bellydance double veil props for instruction

The tutorial section, which is an hour and a half long, consists of ten lessons:

1. Introduction: Veil Selection, Arms and Posture, Warm Up
2. Veil Basics I: Handling Single Veil, Dervish Turn, Traveling Turn
3. Veil Basics II: Handling Double Veil, Isolate the Veils, Catch the Veils
4. Figure 8: Basics, Single Veil, Double Veil
5. Swirl: Basics, Single Veil, Double Veil
6. Circle: Basics, Single Veil, Double Veil
7. Serpentine: Basics, Single Veil, Double Veil
8. Butterfly: Basics, Single Veil, Double Veil
9. Moon: Basics, Single Veil, Double Veil
10. Final Tips: Cool Down, Improvisation, Experimentation

Basically, you have a few lessons teaching you how to hold one veil, how to do the fingers for two veils, where to grab the veil (and here Claudina showed a trick that will help me with single veil too!), how to switch fingers on the veil, and how to let go and catch both single and double veils in the air. She also quickly has you practice dervish and travel turns. The end has a small but nice cool-down, and there are a few dances in which Claudina gives suggestions on how to dance with the veil, how to improvise, how to experiment with veil materials. This woman is clearly a master of the veil!

Claudina Calligraveil bellydance double  veil instruction

The central lessons, numbers 4 to 9, each focus on a single veil technique. Claudina introduces the movement very gradually. She will do it first without any props, frequently changing position so you can see her from both front and side. Then she has you practice it with an appropriate prop, for example tea cups when the goal is to keep hands facing up, the bamboo cane when you need to keep your hands equidistant, and long white veils to help you see the shapes of moves. Then she teaches you how to perform the move with a single veil, and finally, she moves to the double veil version. All along, there are variations on each move.

Claudina Calligraveil bellydance double  veil instructionThe two things you need to know about these lessons are: they are very well taught, and they are pretty hard to do. Any single tutorial is more than enough for a day’s dedicated work. And although Claudina has a slender figure, I realised she must have an enormous amount of strength to handle so many different kinds of veils with such grace and power. I managed to do quite a lot of the DVD, but I realised at one point that my shoulders wouldn’t be happy with me if I pushed myself any further. I need to get better at single veil first, and develop some arm strength. However, if you are willing to take it more slowly than I was, and really work with each tutorial, the sections themselves are really taught thoroughly and from the ground up, and because of the chaptering, should be easy to practice. I also loved the idea of using different kinds of props to practice before actually handling the veil, and am now wondering where I can get those long strips of silk.

Claudina9

Calligraveil would be good for advanced beginner and intermediate dancers who want to improve even just their basic veil skills, and great for intermediates and up who are looking for the challenge of double veil.

You can order the DVD at www.claudina.de, and it comes in a neat, environmentally-friendly, cardboard pop-up case that my toddler son finds irresistible. And: I received a review copy of this DVD.

Claudina Calligraveil bellydance double  veil instruction

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.