Review of Heather Wayman’s Belly Dance for the Busy, Everyday Woman

Hmm…. I wonder who that busy, everyday woman in the title of Heather Wayman’s new DVD is? Look, dear readers, you know I try to write reviews that give you a sense of what it’s really like to work with a DVD. For a normal person. A regular, non-pro dancer, with a practice that goes up and down. But this time I went a little overboard with the method acting approach to bellydance DVD review. In the past while, I was so busy, and so everyday, that I could barely get to dance. Due to ongoing babysitting mayhem, one cold after another, and a husband working out of town, I’ve been missing my live classes, and often finding myself so pooped after a day of work and childcare that I can hardly bring myself to pop in a video. Heather Wayman, bellydancer So I’m the perfect test case. Heather Wayman’s Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman is designed for beginners, for women who don’t have a lot of time to devote to their practice, for women who can only do a little bit at once. And this is exactly how I worked with the program. I never did it all the way through. Instead, I made smaller programs for myself by combining the warmup, one or more segments of instruction, and the cool-down. Before I get into the details of the DVD, let me give you the big picture. I had two big question marks going in: would this program be accessible to beginners, and would it really work around a busy schedule? My answer to both is yes. If you have never taken a bellydance class, with a little concentration you could follow Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman. But while most beginner DVDs give you a lot of moves but don’t show you how to put them together, Heather shows you just a few moves, but puts them into a basic choreography you can dance. It’s a different approach to beginner instruction, one that incorporates music and transitions, but doesn’t give you every move in the book. As to the busy schedule, the fact that the segments are short did make me think that, okay, even though I was tired, I could just do the warmup and one segment and still have danced a bit that evening. Once I got my computer set up I tended to dance for longer than I intended, which was nice, but not always. But here was the surprise: even when I only danced a little bit, when I did make it back to class my movements were smoother, faster, better coordinated. This happened several times, and I was amazed to notice that even a short, well-structured program could make a difference to the dancing I did in class. In other words: you can do something, even when at your busiest, and most tired. Heather Wayman demonstrating beginner bellydance moves But now let’s get to the nitty gritty. Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman consists of an introductory sections, nine learning modules, and a closing section. Introduction Heather begins by describing the program, how to work with the DVD, and how the mirroring works. Mirroring is always important, but for a beginner choreography, even more essential. She then goes through proper dance posture. Her description is brief enough to remember, and she repeats it several times, and continues giving posture reminders throughout the program. One of the things Heather does that’s unusual for a beginner’s DVD is to explain why you should hold your knees or back in a certain way — either because it affects the look of the dance, or because it can prevent injury. Mirroring, posture, healthy movement — these things are, in my opinion, essential for beginner DVDs. This is followed by a short warmup. While it is not particularly long, it is also not just stretches. Heather does get you moving enough to raise your heart rate, so you’re actually warmup. What struck me about the warmup is that it’s all done standing, and even with the aerobic movements, can be done in a small space. Great for the home learner who doesn’t want to pull out the yoga mat or push the furniture around.

Heather Wayman demonstrates beginner belly dancing

The Modules Modules 1 to 6 help you build towards a choreography by introducing around three movements and putting them into a small combination. So, for example, module 1 introduces chest lifts, vertical chest circles, and shoulder rolls. The combo is then repeated with cues, with cues and music, then just with music. And every single one of these sections is reachable in a submenu, so if you want to practice in just one way, you can. Heather works through the verses of the song, and includes enough repetition of combinations that you wind up covering quite a bit of the song with a few basic patterns. The music is fun, and the moves are cute and go with the music in a clear, easy to grasp way.

Heather Wayman shows belly dancing moves

Especially when I began working with the program, I wondered: would a total beginner do okay with this? In a sense, it’s hard for me to tell. Heather’s descriptions of movements are very thorough, often even pointing out what muscles are used to drive a move. That can be helpful for some beginners, but others just need a lot of drilling, or more basic instruction. Shimmies definitely take a lot more time and work than they’re given here. But while this video does not offer a lot of individual drills, Heather does give a lot of tips on on typical beginner mistakes or “pitfalls”, which would allow you to self-correct. The thing that I thought was particularly clever was to offer a choreo that has changes of direction, level, and intensity. When we first learn bellydance, we tend to do a lot of “four of this, four of that” choreographies, usually facing forward (to the mirror). It’s hard, at the start, to see how you can do interesting things with the movements. While Heather teaches a limited number of moves, she’s implicitly teaching how they can be varied and built into a dance — and I think this is really important. The final three modules do not teach moves like the others. Module 7 focuses on Taqsim. In this section, Heather describes taqsim, and offers examples of how to dance to the taqsim beginning of the song. (The choreo lessons begin after the taqsim.) In Module 8, Heather goes through the choreography again, counting it out, then doing it with music and cues. And in Module 9, Heather goes through the combinations and moves already covered and suggests corresponding arm movements. Special Features Under the Special Features menu, you get a series of options. The first is a written list of the combinations. Next up is a mini-lesson on possible ending poses. From this menu you can also choose to dance along with a vide of the choreo taken from the back, or you can watch the dance as a costumed performance. And finally — a gag reel. But wait kids, that’s not all! Heather also offers bonus content on her website that I had a peek at. This is only available if you buy the DVD from Heather’s website. It’s material that didn’t make it onto the DVD for reasons of time, and it includes:

  • Choreography notation in an Excel spreadsheet
  • A stream of the edited music
  • Downloadable files of the individual combos from the back view into a mirror, in a loop for practice
  • The same videos, but watchable in the browser
  • A video with alternative arms and stylizations for the combos
  • A set of bonus taqsim demonstrations to other music

Heather Wayman's costumed belly dance performance

Other notes I’ve taken a live workshop with Heather and corresponded with her via email and Facebook. (And this was, by the way, a review copy I worked with.) She has a healthy dose of bellydance nerdiness, by which I mean that she thinks. This DVD shows the marks of her thinking about how to make the material useful and approachable to the beginner in every possible way — menu options for each little section, various ways to practice the full choreo, etc. I sometimes found this a bit confusing (I couldn’t quite tell why some things were modules and other things were special features), but overall, I think having a DVD with lots of different options is a Good Thing, and a great use of the technology. The other thing I really liked, and that I very much hope other DVD producers will note, is the kind of music used in the DVD. What do I mean? Heather uses three different songs — one for warmup, one for the choreo, and one for the cool-down. All of these songs are on the same CD, Raksa With Amir: Music for Bellydance. You only need to buy one. Oh yeah, and the CD is moderately priced, is available digitally (because is a beginner really going to wait for an obscure vendor to mail them a CD?), and if you don’t want to spend nine bucks on the whole CD, you can just buy the songs individually. And the music is good. The choreo Heather teaches does not take up the whole of Halim Mix, but it occurs at the beginning, so someone looking to perform it would not have to do complicated cutting. Is it for you? If you are beyond the beginner stage, or are looking for a comprehensive collection of moves presented in a systematic way, this is not the DVD to challenge you in the way you want. If you are truly a beginner, or have only done a bit of class… if you want to start putting moves together into a manageable choreography, or even learn how to modify basic moves to make them look interesting, Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman would be a good choice. You can get it at Amazon, but the bonuses are only available if you order direct from Heather at 10441961_10152095942980518_6287854576637646118_n

Back in the Groove

Sunday was a red-letter day for me — I went to my first dance classes in almost a year. The North Texas Middle Eastern Dance Association held a nifty fundraiser: seven local teachers volunteered their time to teach a series of “Cheap Thrills” workshops, at ten bucks a pop for non-members. I thought that this would be a perfect way to get back in the groove of dancing, so I hauled myself to Grapevine despite a sleepless night and rather a good deal of laziness.

My abs are still feeling a bit sore from the surgery, so I decided to pick two workshops that seemed like they wouldn’t be core intensive: “Dancing With Emotion” with Rivkah, and “Arms, Frames & Transitions” with Heather Wayman. The workshops may have been inexpensive and brief, but each was packed with material.

Rivkah had us do exercises to express sadness, anger, and joy. I found the first two, but especially sadness, incredibly difficult. I’ve never taken an acting class, and all the stagework I’ve done was in rather silly college theatricals in pretty absurd roles. At the same time, despite how vulnerable this kind of work left me feeling, I also think it is one of the most important things to work on in dance. I really can’t stand busy, overly-athletic dancing with no emotion behind it. It’s boring, it gives me no pleasure to watch. But when a performer can really embody an emotion — Zari’s dance in Secrets of the Stage Volume One comes to mind — the result is entrancing.

When we practiced dancing to a fun song and conveying the sense of delight in the music, I couldn’t help but remember a scene in Wim Wenders’ documentary Pina in which one of the dancers has the same task. I found myself emulating his moves, albeit with a bellydance vocabulary. Focusing on emotion made me dance in a completely different way, looser, less worried about variation, less hung up altogether. I’m not sure it looked good, but it certainly felt good.

Heather gave us a full program of arm poses, ways to move from one frame to another, and exercises for structuring and experimenting with dance. She introduced us to some of the tricks she’d picked up while doing Nadira Jamal‘s Mastery Mentoring Program. My favourite exercise of the class was picking three poses and then improvising the movements between them. This seemed like an excellent way to introduce more dramatic punctuation into a dance that would otherwise have rather boring arm work.

Doing these workshops, I remembered one of the things I love so much about dance class, proper dance class instead of videos. The whole world outside the studio disappears. There’s nothing like focusing on the tiniest detail — the pointing of a foot, the precise way of lifting a hand — for wiping all the tedious everyday worries from my mind.