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!

Advertisements

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.

 

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

This style is my style: A Guest Post by Chantal Dos Santos

I met Chantal at the Randa Kamel and Ranya Renee workshops sponsored last May by my studio Hayal. Since of us are dancers from Canada living in Germany, we had quite a bit to talk about. One of the topics that kept coming up was the difficulty of finding one’s own personal style in a crowd of influences. I’m delighted that she’s agreed to write my very first guest post on this subject!

Chantal has been bellydancing since 2006, and has expanded her range with studies in a number of other dance forms, including flamenco, African dances, Russian Romany, and contact improvisation. She’s now based in Nuremberg, where she performs and teaches — among other things a course on bellydance combined with pelvic training, a course in which many women with traumatic experiences explore movement. You can learn more about her work at www.cdsmovement.com.

Read Chantal’s post, and then let us know — how do you go about finding your personal style? What have been the challenges? What has helped you learn what to incorporate into your dance?

This style is my style: A reflection

Chantal Dos Santos

Years have gone by since I’ve taken up bellydancing and in that time I’ve seen rounded arms and soft knees straighten out into right angles and muscular accents; I’ve seen ballet training become a prerequisite as pirouettes and arabesques have found a home in the basic footwork and travelling steps of oriental dance (next time you are at a Randa Kamel workshop, count how many times you hear these two terms. I dare you to try and keep track!) Thanks to our modern world full of YouTube videos, blogs, social networks, Skype, and the relative increased mobility of people, one who is fascinated by bellydance does not have daydream of a exotic world far away. Everything you need is a couple of clicks away. But how does one sort through all of this input, and organize it into one unique personal style? This is the step that I’ve reached in my dance practice.

I’ve found I’ve reached a point where the learning curve is very steep. A lot of teachers have left their mark on my dance style, so now I’m at the critical point where I’m sifting through what seems to be a mountain of moves and distilling them into one cohesive set of movement vocabulary. Kind of like trying to create a palatable 3-course meal out of a random assortment of ingredients in your kitchen. Thankfully there is more than half an onion and a shrivelled old pepper among the ingredients in my cupboard, but even the most luxurious dark chocolate will leave a bad taste in your mouth if you sprinkle it with caviar.

For a bellydance enthusiast, I watch an embarrassingly low number of bellydance videos and rarely attend shows. Ever since I’ve relocated to Germany, I’ve kind of observed the bellydance scene from afar, taking the opportunity to engage in other dance forms and somatic movement workshops. I’ve carefully avoided becoming part of the scene. Being part of a “scene” has its positives and its negatives for sure….too much input can be as bad as not enough input. When is enough enough? Fifi’s Jewel, Dina’s large hip circle, the floats of American Cabaret …where does a girl who just wants to dance fit in? Honestly if someone else has done it before, I don’t really want to do it. When I look at a good dancer, I don’t see just the movements, but rather the joy in movement. The way the movements flow together, the character and emotion they bring to a performance, the nuances that make them unique and memorable.

Technique training is and always will be the cornerstone of a dancer’s practice. Without it we can’t reach the level where we are free to express ourselves. I look at it like any spoken language: you first need a certain amount of vocabulary in order to communicate, and continuing to acquire vocabulary increases your ability to express yourself.

I’m thankful for teachers who push students to be their own dancer, and give students the tools needed to get past any fear and discomfort and hone their own style. This past Summer I went to an amazing 6-day Feldenkrais / Contact Improv retreat (hugs and kisses Thomas Kampe and organizer, Sicularte!). The most important point I took away from it were two simple sentences: “You are the expert of your own body. Everything you need to know is inside of you.”

So, I am much more selective now about which workshops I pay for. I have no more qualms about saying “He/She is a great dancer but that topic is not what I need right now”. Now when I choose a workshop, I am focused on what I want to get out of it and also open to the possibility of a pleasant surprise: maybe be I will hear a word of wisdom, or learn a move that gives me a great feeling in my body. That’s what bellydance has to be for me: a great feeling in my body. Whether I find that feeling in straight and muscular, or soft and earthy will play a big role in what comprises my personal style. I’m on my own now, armed with stacks of DVDs, a bellyful of training and a pinch of courage, on the journey to find what feels great, and eventually my personal style. Let the discovery begin!