Review of Ruby Beh’s Pilates for Bellydancers

I’ve been traveling lately, and it hasn’t left much time for dance, or for any kind of working out. It’s pretty terrible, going from pretty regular movement to nothing. So tonight, after I put the kiddo to bed, I decided to try out Ruby Beh‘s newish instructional on RAQStv, Pilates for Belly Dancers. I wanted to dance, but even more, I wanted to give my abs a little attention.

Ruby Beh showing pilates hundred

What I found is an answer to a lot of my dance problems of the past year. One of my challenges lately has been moving from the idea that bellydance is totally “loose” (I’m not really sure where I got this, except by some dumb opposition to ballet), and building up abdominal strength, learning how to keep my core engaged, and hardest of all, learning how to breathe with all of this. I don’t think there’s a single dance class I attend where the teacher is not constantly on me to keep my core “zipped up.”

Well, that’s what Pilates for Belly Dancers is all about. Ruby starts out slowly, really slowly, with posture and practice breathing both standing up and lying down. I loved the meticulous tiny movements that at least started giving me a sense of how the breathing and muscular contractions should feel. She then guides you through some classic pilates movements (the hundred, roll-ups, etc.) but interweaves exercises that help you gain control of the specific muscles useful for bellydance.

After a workout that is challenging if done attentively, Ruby has you practice some basic bellydance moves with special attention to the core. Finally, she teaches a short combination. In both of these segments, she explains what effects can be achieved with a strong, controlled pilates foundation — the fast spin that can stop on a dime, the quick-changing footwork that doesn’t make you bob up and down.

The video is 1 hour and ten minutes long. There was a brief but satisfying stretch to cool down with in the bonus content material, which also included the pilates section from Ruby’s Flawless Floorwork: The Lost Art of Belly Dance Floorwork DVD. The filming is clear throughout, though there is one blooper that was not edited out and a few camera cuts are confusing. Think filmed class, not pro DVD. Still, I had no problems following along.

In short, I was thrilled with the program. Ruby’s generous with pointers on form, and she will sometimes give modifications. She has the experienced instructor’s ability to know, magically, through the screen, just what I’m doing wrong and to correct it. She also has a knack for coming up with lots of illustrative similes to help conceptualize a movement.

All in all, it was so good for me to spend an hour really paying attention to what my core was doing at all times, how all other movements, whether exercise or dance, related to it and drew on its strength. Like Ranya Renee, Ruby talks about engaging the kegels too, though I haven’t heard this talked about in my classes. I haven’t been as delightfully concentrated during a pilates program in a long time. I wish I could buy this on DVD, but at least it’s being offered as a two-month rental on RAQStv.

Stream(lin)ing my practice with Datura Online

Today I hooked up my computer to my projector and tried something new: doing an entire practice using streaming online programs. I’m used to live class, I’m used to just popping a video in and working with it, but I didn’t quite know what to expect. I’m working on a comprehensive review of Datura Online (and have review access for a month for that), but I wanted to work with the offerings out there to customize my very own practice session, just the way I want it. So here’s what I did:

I scrolled to the “topics” section of Datura Online, selected the “Warmup” option and picked a basic little warmup with some ab exercises for toning; in a second tab, went to “Movement” and then “Shimmies” because I’d seen a basic tutorial on layering 3/4 shimmies onto traveling steps; opened up another tab, pulled up RAQStv and loaded Maria Sokolova’s mini-class from Project Belly Dance so I could get a bit of dancing in; and in a final window, got a quick cool-down with yoga focused on the lower back from Datura. I had everything opened in its own tab, and I organized the tabs in order, so that I wouldn’t have to pause too long between segments.

I’m going to talk about Maria’s lesson in a different post, so I can focus on the Datura offerings here.

Warmup: Ab Warm Up + Conditioning: #1 with Colette Todorov (12:22 min)

To warm you up, Colette has you do slow, deliberate high steps, adding a few arm moves and twists to add a bit of challenge. It’s the kind of thing that looks very easy, but if you’re holding your stomach in as she instructs, becomes more challenging — especially at the end of a long day.

The real goodness is in the ab exercises. I loooved this bit. It’s short and sweet, but involves doing four different kinds of pilates ab exercises. However, instead of repeating each one for a long time and then switching, Colette has you do combination sets — first four slow, controlled reps of each move, then two. There was burn. It targeted the obliques and the lower abs too. Not the kind of thing that will give you washboard abs, but fun to do, and easy to work into a bellydance practice.

Drills: Basic Traveling with 3/4 Shimmies with Ashley Lopez (20:16 min)

This is a standalone section of a longer workshop on the 3/4 shimmy. I was drawn to it because the preview showed Ashley doing a simple, unaccented 3/4 shimmy. This is what I’m learning in one of my live classes, but is pretty different than what I have on most of my videos, and, indeed, from what I’ve learned in other classes.

Surprisingly, Ashley begins by getting you to do a regular shimmy, then try walking with it, then try smoothing it out. At my level, this is a bit easier said than done, and I had trouble figuring out how I was supposed to do that. Then she goes back to basics — phew! — talks about driving the shimmy from the obliques, and does it very slowly. Once the slow shimmy is going, you start walking forwards and backwards with it. And eventually, Ashley has you walk in a large square doing the shimmy at full speed, then try the shimmy on releve. Finally, she does the 3/4 shimmy on the down, and goes through the drills again.

What I liked: Ashley explains and demonstrates why this shimmy is useful. I find it a less exciting shimmy to watch and do than the “hip up hip out” kind of 3/4 shimmy, but her point is that once you get it down, you can accent whatever you like. She has helpful tricks, like clapping on the “1” before you even start lifting your foot. And, she gives pointers on form, as well as occasional tips on what to focus on if you’re just starting.

What I still wanted: I think it would be helpful to have an exercise to isolate the obliques in the movement, and the rev up to full speed was too fast for me. (Mind you, since I didn’t watch the entire workshop, I don’t know if she does a slower breakdown elsewhere — but I’m reviewing the videos as I find them.) I think this video would be a great drill for someone who already has a 3/4 shimmy going, but wants to polish her form and work on layering it onto traveling moves.

After I was done with the video, I wound up going to a full-length mirror and just working with the shimmy. I found that moving away from the screen was actually useful, maybe even necessary. Once I took Ashley’s tips but just watched myself, trying to get the form right, I started to see and feel improvement. Eventually, I got faster, and I was even able to walk a few steps with it. So I will most likely return to the video, but after I’ve drilled the shimmy for a bit on my own.

Cool Down: Basic Short Yoga Sequence with Rachel Brice (9:07 min)

This is a quick way to stretch out and relax your back after a practice. The exercises Rachel chose here are for both the upper and lower back. They resemble some of the moves in my Viniyoga back videos, but with an extra twist or two. Basically, the cool down is composed of slow motion stretches and movements, timed with inhalation and exhalation, and the result is a delicious feeling of relaxation. Simple, sweet, a winner.

So, it was a good time this evening. It was amazing what could fit into each short segment. The beginning and closing videos were very handy as-is, while the 3/4 shimmy drills needs some, well, preliminary drilling on my part to be do-able. (I will most likely work with the entire workshop for that, so I can get a sense of how Ashley builds up to full speed.)