Quickie Review of Yogalates with Ines Vogel

If you had told me a year or two ago that my son would one day sleep till 7:30 am, I would have called you a liar. If you had told me that I would get up at 5:45 am so that I could exercise before the kiddo woke up, I would’ve called you a maniac. But that’s exactly what I did today.

The previous day I had picked up Ines Vogel‘s Yogalates DVD at my local Rossmann drugstore. (Word to the wise: Germany has the best drug stores.) And I was determined to try it.

Yogalates exercises with Ines Vogel

Yogalates sounds like something that shouldn’t exist. On the other hand, it’s also sort of great. Vogel notes at the beginning that yoga and pilates have different forms of breathing, and she instructs you to do the pilates-style breathing, into the chest. Otherwise, the hour-long workout is a neat flow of yoga and pilates moves. And in fact, they work great together. She cues almost every breath, and combines flowing movements, static stretches, and strength work from both disciplines. Vogel also gives lots of tips on correct form, but frankly, I know enough to know that more are necessary. (There were lots of situations where a live instructor would have told me to square my hips, for example.) The DVD itself is shot in a bright studio. Ines Vogel demonstrates the moves along with an assistant, and one or the other will do an easier variation of a move — but the variations are not guided in words.

Yogalates exercises with Ines Vogel

What I love about this is that I have to divide my precious exercise time among too many things: bellydance, ballet, yoga, pilates, and even a bit of cardio. If I can feel like I touched two bases with one practice, then I’m a bit happier. And the workout was good, letting me sweat a little, but also giving me ample time to stretch various body parts. Lower back pain that was there yesterday is no longer there today, for example. Upper back pain is still there, but way better. But although there are no crazy difficult moves, you do need to be beyond beginner to know how to do them right, or at least be working towards correct form.

The DVD is in German. But for those of you who understand German, or are happy to follow along with the screen, it’s a great (and quite cheap) buy!

Yogalates exercises with Ines Vogel

Review of Zayna Gold’s Healing Through Movement

Zayna Gold’s workout, Healing Through Movement, was designed to help patients with IBD or other digestive disorders such as Chron’s and Colitis, and Celiac. I don’t have any digestive disorders, so I can’t judge the workout from the perspective of its target audience. However, I am very interested in workouts and programs aimed towards people who are not in perfect health. I think you can keep moving even when you are a bit sick, and sometimes it’s one of the best things to do. But it requires a bit of guidance.

Zayna Gold demonstrates arm exercises with weights

Healing Through Movement is essentially a strength-training workout consisting of four parts. Cycle One: Upper Body is a standing series of basic arm exercises using light hand weights. Cycle Two: Lower Body gives you classic lower body moves such as squats, wide plies, and lunges. Cycle Three: Full Body Workout combines moves from both of the first two sections, so you might do arm lifts while squatting, for example. Finally, the Core Workout is a pilates-based mat series, with exercises on your back and from plank position.

Zayna Gold shows how to make plank harder

For people who have done any exercise at all, most of the exercises will not seem particularly new — though there were a number in the Core Workout section that were indeed new to me. What’s really outstanding about this program is the quality of Zayna’s guidance. For every single exercise, be it ever so simple, she gives you detailed cues  to move your body in a safe way, to use your breath to guide the movement, to work from the core. Even though I was working on my own, with only the DVD and a mirror to guide me, I felt very much in control of my body during the exercises, because they were never rushed, and always thoroughly explained. Zayna has a pleasant, matter-of-fact manner, so it was never grating to hear her talk me through an exercise — rather, it felt like I had a teacher right in the room.

Zayna Gold shows full-body workout

Throughout, Zayna offers modifications and options for people who find a particular position (say, lying on the back) uncomfortable. The cycles are designed so you can repeat them if you want a tougher workout in a particular part of the body. I can imagine, for example, doing Cycle 3 and the Core Workout twice as a mini circuit.

I really liked that this program was just so doable. In forty-five minutes, you have done strength training — enough to sweat — for most of your body. You don’t need fancy equipment, because even the mat and weights are things you can do without. And you don’t need a lot of space, because everything is utterly stationary. It’s the perfect travel workout, in other words. The next day, I felt a light, pleasant muscular pain in my entire body, and if I’m not mistaken, I was standing a little taller too.

Zayna Gold shows pilates core moves

What I think could have been improved: First, Zayna’s counting was often very different from what she actually did, which was occasionally confusing. Second, I think there really should have been a stretch at the end. I wound up doing my own series of yoga moves to stretch everything out, which felt wonderful, but I think with that kind of weight training a guided stretch should be included. That said, it’s a workout I can see myself returning to. I like how efficient it is, how careful the instruction is, and the core workout is simply great.

I received a review copy of Healing Through Movement. You can get a copy directly from Boston Body Pilates. It’s also currently available on Amazon, but at three times the price.

Review of Samira Shuruk’s Raqfit – Belly and Bollywood Dance Fitness Workout

It’s time to talk hard realities. Hard, hard realities.

Readers of this blog know that I’ve been able to do a lot more dancing in the past couple of years than ever before in my life. It’s been wonderful, taking at least two classes per week, sometimes even more. And yet, there’s this horrible voice in the back of my head that has whispered to me, “Given all this movement, why are you not thinner?”

Well, of course the answer to that involves my love of cooking and eating. But here’s the other answer. I moved cities recently, and have had several months of stress, inconvenience, inadequate child care, struggling to get things going again. So no dance classes. At all. I haven’t been to a class in almost three months. And guess what I’ve learned through this? It turns out, I was thinner! This stress with no exercise thing has been devastating for my figure. (So has the medicinal wine.) And now I know what I would have looked like these past two years had I not done all those classes!

Okay, so I knew that when I came back to working with my videos, I’d have to pick something with some cardio. So I chose a DVD that’s long been on my review list, Samira Shuruk’s Raqfit – Belly and Bollywood Dance Fitness Workout. I knew it would be peppy and energetic, and even though it was already 10 pm and I was exhausted, I was determined to get some exercise in.

samira raqfit cover

The short version? Raqfit is a fantastic workout program, one that will keep the interest of dancers over many repetitions. It is well cued and intelligently designed. Samira takes the best aspects of the ways cardio programs are designed, and combines it with reasonably challenging and varied dance moves from bellydance and Bollywood. I don’t think it’s the best choice for an absolute beginner. If you have no experience with either of these dances you are best off working with a slower-paced program first. But if you are an advanced beginner or beyond, and want a workout that gets you truly, truly sweating but that still feels like dancing, Raqfit is just right.

Raqfit has a technique section that’s about 8:30 minutes long, and which covers some of the basic moves, especially from the bellydance segments. These are good guidelines as to how Samira does the moves, say the hip bumps or the shimmies, in the workout. But this run-through won’t be enough if you don’t know how to do them at all.

If you play the entire workout, it runs around 54 minutes (this does not include the technique). This includes a warm-up, four basic dance-based aerobic segments, two of which use bellydance moves and two which use Bollywood moves, a smooth, elegant standing cool down, a short pilates-based ab workout, and a quick but effective stretch for leg and abdominal muscles.

Here’s what I think is smart, and which (hint to DVD producers!) all DVD producers should do. The DVD also includes pre-programmed “mixes”. So you can do all the warmup and cool down stuff with just the two bellydance workouts, in 36 minutes. Or with just the Bollywood workouts, in 34 minutes. And there’s a “Raqfit Challenge” in which you do everything, but with no breakdown of the dances, so it only takes 29 minutes. So you can choose how to use the DVD based on your dance preferences and the amount of time you have.

That said, I loved the explanations. You know how aerobics/cardio videos will show you one step, then add something to it, then add another variation, and then have you repeat the thing until you go nuts? Samira does this, and it turns out that it works fabulously for dance workouts. Why? Because if you need to stay at an easier level, you already know how to do that — you just don’t add the extra arms or whatever. You don’t have to look at what the “beginner” person in the back is doing, you just know to stick to the basics because that’s how you started.

And this is sometimes necessary. The dance moves are varied, with turns, changes of direction, asymmetrical choreography, movement on diagonals… the movements are high paced and repeated enough to get you sweating, but there is also a lot of work for the brain to do. I paid more attention to the bellydance moves, but they also were not just the usual hip bumps and drops you see in workouts. Instead, there were pencil turns, hip twists on releve, small hip circles layered on traveling steps, slightly Suheir Zaki-ish vertical hip drops… and in general more things done on top of traveling steps than I’m used to in a workout DVD.

In other words, it’s not a DVD you can do perfectly on the first go, but you can grow into it. It’s worth adding that Samira cues everything, all the movements are mirrored, and she often says “the side closest to the tv” instead of saying “left” or “right,” which actually makes it easier to follow. She also reminds you to keep your abs engaged when it’s particularly necessary. I am still trying to figure out how she can look so happy and graceful while I felt like one of those hippos in Fantasia!

As to me, being out of shape, I had to struggle to keep up, and I did take breaks. Also, a little person got out of bed to interrupt me when I was twenty minutes from the end, but I persevered. But by the end I felt great, happy that I’d finally gotten moving. And the next day I had a delicious amount of post-workout burn all over my body. And the biggest surprise was looking in the mirror, and seeing that things already looked a little more, well, under control than they had.

Mistakes to avoid when producing a dance or exercise DVD

Maybe you’re producing your very first video, maybe it’s your fiftieth. Chances are, you’re going to make some mistakes… mistakes that have been made before by other people, and that you could have avoided. Mistakes that will lead either to customers ignoring your DVD, or to them being unhappy with it.

Wouldn’t you like to make a DVD that your customers will buy, and then be so satisfied with they’ll leave positive reviews online and recommend it to their friends? In writing this blog, I’ve looked at a lot of videos, and I see the same problems come up. I sometimes wonder why producers don’t think of these things, but I suspect it’s because those of us who use dance and workout videos have a different perspective on them than the people who make them.

This checklist is primarily intended for producers of dance DVDs, but quite a few of the tips apply to general workout videos too.


Quality and Length of Content

Think about what you have to offer: are you covering ground that’s already been covered by a million other videos, or do you have something new to offer? Do your research, whether on Amazon, or by reading reviews in blogs and magazines. Moreover, do you have enough content? I’ve loved some shorter DVDs because they had a unique approach or taught me something truly new, but there is a line below which it’s not really decent to ask someone to pay full price for a DVD. Don’t count performances or non-instructional extras when you figure out what you’re offering.

Content in DVD Sets

If you’re putting out multiple videos, make sure the overlap between them is minimal, so your most loyal customers — those buying more than one — will not feel ripped off. If the sets build on each other, make it easy to see that. If they work independently, make it easy to figure that out too.


Your technique should be perfect. This should go without saying, but alas, it doesn’t. If you don’t have amazing technique, you probably should not be demonstrating moves for instruction on a video. In a class environment, you can correct mistakes you see even if you still haven’t mastered the move, but with a video you can’t. And if you have special knowledge you want to share, either make a lecture video, or get someone with better technique to do the demos. But here’s another thing: if you choose to have backup dancers/yoginis/etc. doing the moves with you, make sure their moves are also carried out exquisitely, even if they’re modified for difficulty. We learn what we see, and if we see you do bad technique, we’ll absorb just that.


Don’t leave your students in the lurch — give them some advice about how to use the video, what they need to make it work, how to plan their practice sessions. This is especially true if you have a lot of material, if it’s especially difficult, or if you’ve made a complicated DVD menu. This is also an opportunity for you to teach them how you approach practice, which is often just as valuable as technique.

Warmup and Cool Down

People disagree on this one — not everyone thinks there needs to be a warmup and cool down on every video. I get that. But I will say that I think it’s pretty great if there is one, and if it’s easy for me to press “play” and get a full practice session, with warmup, instruction and/or drills, and cool down.

Space and Supplies

Imagine yourself buying your video, and trying to use it. What does it require? Does someone need lots of special props and supplies to do it? You’re probably filming in a studio — are you doing large traveling moves that someone might not be able to do in a small living or rec room? I’ve often seen cardio workout videos that require you to cover lots of room, which is possible in a gym, but difficult in the space I’ve cleared out in my living room. What about flooring? If you have a lot of spins or moves on the floor, have you thought about the fact that your audience’s practice space might be carpeted? It doesn’t mean you can’t include them, it just means you have to deal with that issue, either by suggesting a hardwood floor, or by providing a variation of the move.


Please, please make sure your movements match the music. This is as true for exercise videos as it is for dance instructionals. It’s just that much easier to follow along if everything is in time. And if you’re teaching dance, dancing to the music is something you’re also teaching whether you address is explicitly or not, so make sure that part of things is perfect. Perfect.

More Music

If you’re teaching a choreography, please for the love of God choose music that’s currently available, and ideally, available without too much effort. Your customers should not have to order a CD from abroad to get the track — try to choose things they are likely to be able to buy online, or at least in the same country. Then provide credits, so your customers can find that music easily. If you’ve cut the track to make it fit the choreography, then give your customers easy-to-follow instructions to edit the track, or make it possible somehow for them to get a legal edited version.


I think of this as the mark of the pro. Either film yourself (or the talent) facing the audience, but move your left arm when you say “right” so they can follow along, or film yourself from the back facing a mirror. Bonus points if you’re teaching dance for showing a move both from the front and the back, and drilling it both ways.

Formatting and Production

DVD chaptering

The first rule is to do DVD chaptering, unless you really just mean for the program to be done as a single workout or practice session. But even better is sitting down and thinking about how someone might use the DVD the first time around, and how they might use it a second, or tenth time. Make it easy to skip the introductory bits. Make it easy to do all the drills without the instruction. If you can provide different built-in programs so they can choose a short version or a long one, even better. I’ve even seen dancers include different angles of the same program.

More chaptering

Have frequent chapters, it makes it easier for us to repeat a section. Put all of them in the menu, or in submenus, so we can get to them easily.


Write down the exact length of each section/program/workout both on the DVD cover and in the menu. Make it easy for people to see if they have time to do the DVD, or if they can fit one section of it into their day. Make sure this timing is accurate — on many DVDs I see it’s not.


Ahem, cough, cough. If you’re wearing green, don’t film yourself against a green background. If you’re wearing black, don’t film yourself against black curtains. I’ve seen both of these, from dancers I adore. Again, this is a matter of putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. Maybe she has weird lighting in her practice room, or is using a laptop that doesn’t show contrasts as well from a distance. Maybe she’s using a projector, and the contrasts are also not that strong. Maybe she’s taken off her glasses, and can still see pretty well without them, but not every detail. (Maybe all of these examples are from my own experience…) Make it easy on her eyes, please. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that while I think black backgrounds look cool and modern up close, they should be avoided for the home video market altogether. Put your dancer against a bright, light background, either a studio or plain white, and have them wear clothes that make movements easy to see.

More Visibility

Camerapersons are wild creatures, and need to be led with a firm hand, lest they go astray. You’re teaching a choreography, and there they go focusing just on your abdomen. You’re demonstrating hands, and suddenly the camera is pointing at your feet. Did he get tired? Did his head and arms droop and bring the camera downwards? I don’t know. But look, during this complicated traveling move, suddenly the camera has become intensely interested in your facial expression! Discipline your cameraman — or woman — and make sure that camera is pointing where it needs to at every single moment.



If you have enough time to make a video, you have enough time to make a trailer for it, and make it widely and easily available. Put it on your site, put it on YouTube and on Amazon. Oh, and in the trailer, I don’t want to see you dancing or see shots of you looking pretty — what I want is to get a sense of what material is covered by the video and see a clip of how you teach or demonstrate. This should be the substance of the trailer, not the performance or your general thoughts on the dance, because the instruction is what I’m going to love or hate when I use the video.


Make sure the name of your DVD really fits what it offers. Don’t call it a beginner DVD when the moves are advanced, or when you only have a very fast breakdown of them. Save the word “beginner” for people who have never done whatever it is you’re teaching in their entire lives, ever, and are now standing in their sweat pants in front of their tv learning their first steps from you. Use “advanced beginner,” “intermediate,” etc., as appropriate, if you’re expecting a bit of background.


Don’t make BS promises. Look, I know maybe it’s good business sometimes to make them, but please, just for me, don’t. Don’t tell your customers they’ll lose weight doing your program when they almost certainly won’t. Don’t promise them enlightenment or goddess-hood, unless you can guarantee it. Don’t tell them they’ll be a perfect dancer after one DVD. Because you know what will happen? They’ll find out that you were lying, and will leave unhappy comments all over the internets. Maybe you were offering something of value, but you misrepresented it, and so you didn’t do your own work justice either. You can promise them fun, you can promise them a new experience, or quality instruction, or a great tool to use in their practice. You can promise them relaxation, and you can even say, “if you do this x number of times a week, and pay attention to your diet, you’ll have positive results.” You can promise them a challenge. But be honest.

Your Thoughts?

Consumers of dance and workout DVDs, have I missed any big mistakes? What do you wish producers knew?
Producers and artists, what are the big mistakes you learned from? Anything here you disagree with? What do you wish customers knew?

photo credit: GS+ via photopin cc

Review of Elements of Yoga: Earth Foundation with Tara Lee

Tara Lee’s Beginners Yoga and Beyond: Elements of Yoga: Earth Foundation is meant to be a grounding practice. As Tara explains in her introduction, it’s supposed to help you let go of the stresses and anxiety of daily life, to find a balance and connection to the earth.

Tara Lee, yoga instructor

I tend not to get excited about the symbolic poetic effusions of yoga instructors, but I will say this. I worked with Earth Foundation after a period of no yoga at all. (Isn’t this always the case somehow?) I had been traveling a lot, my body was stiff, tired, inflexible… I wanted a yoga program that would stretch me out nicely without making me fall over. I wanted something that wouldn’t be too painful. In short, I wanted something forgiving. And this DVD hit the spot.

Tara Lee doing upward dog yoga position
What, did you expect blue skies and a tropical beach?

Earth Foundation is divided into three practices of about twenty minutes each, plus a 5-minute shavasana. In fact, the sections really build one well-constructed hour-long practice, though I guess you could do just one if you were pressed for time. Practice 1 starts out gently, with breathing to get centered, and continues with a series of slow, delicious dynamic stretches that get your body warmed up. Plenty of pauses in between too, with more breathing and relaxation. A number of the movements in this section were similar to exercises I know from Gary Kraftsow’s excellent Viniyoga programs, and since those have basically saved my back, I was inclined to trust the usefulness of this section. I may be getting you warmed up without too much trouble, but it also carefully strengthens the back muscles.

Tara Lee doing thigh work in her yoga DVD

Practice 2 begins with soft twists and forward bends, and moves into a long sun salutation. While it is not painfully challenging, I did feel myself working, getting warmer and even a bit tired. There are some deeper stretches like pigeon, and some delicious strength work. It’s all a bit more challenging, but still doable on a quiet evening. The third practice is more vinyasa flow, this time with warriors, triangles, and lunges. The latter part of this practice is another nice sequence of exercises and stretches for the back and hamstrings.

All in all, this is an approachable, but still satisfying, program. It’s marketed to beginners, and while you do need to know a bit about the poses, you don’t have to be in top shape to keep up. Nor do you need any uncanny flexibility. Someone very stiff could just do practice 1, and someone looking for a full workout should do the whole hour.

What I found particularly charming was the Englishness of it all. Tara has the accent of course, but even more delightfully, the “exotic” background is English countryside! It rather reminds me of a park I used to live near, and because it looks like a lot of places I’ve lived, it makes the yoga more approachable. I don’t get to practice yoga on a lot of Tahitian beaches, so why should I watch others do so?

The bonus features include three segments around ten minutes each: a more advanced balancing sequence for this “earth” program, along with a breathing segment for “air & water” and a difficult core workout for “fire.” I haven’t looked at the other DVDs, but I’m assuming they all have the same bonuses. Finally, there is a 17-minute interview with Tara, in which she describes how she found yoga and became a teacher. She also explains how her studies in shiatsu led her to focus on the elements, which became the basis of her DVD program. She comes across as thoughtful and intelligent. I should admit she really won me over with her description of yoga as a tool not only to deal with stress, but to get a sense of yourself as you, separate from the roles you inhabit in the world. Both yoga and dance do that for me (dance perhaps even more so), and it’s good to be reminded of how important that is.

I received a review copy of Beginners Yoga and Beyond: Elements of Yoga: Earth Foundation with Tara Lee.

Review of Sarah Zahab’s Postnatal Strength Workout

Before I get into the review, I just have to share: today is my son’s first birthday. This has been the most exhausting year of my life, but also an incredible one in many ways. About a week ago, he learned to walk unassisted, and so I’ve not only managed to keep a baby alive for a whole year, but he’s now a proper toddler!

It’s hard being a new mom. You know you ought to work out, but it’s tough. There’s the constant fatigue, there’s a needy baby who demands all of your attention just to stay alive, and it’s hard to decide what to do even when you have a few minutes.

Sarah Zahab’s Postnatal Strength Workout aims to solve a lot of those problems by incorporating the baby into the workout. But you know what?

It’s also hard being a blogger, trying to decide on just the right screenshot, when there are so many adorable moments.

So, alright, I’ll settle on this one, a baby who has gone rogue, in a Canadian t-shirt (go, Canada), gleefully taking over the show. The Postnatal Strength Workout DVD (of which I received a review copy) is a totally professional, well conceived workout that is both doable for postpartum women and scalable for a greater challenge. But Sarah and the other people involved in the making of the video clearly also have a sense of fun. I think it’s a great idea to bring babies into the workout, but mine never, ever stays still. It made me incredibly happy that the babies in the video didn’t either, and it just made the whole program seem more approachable. “This is being a parent,” it seemed to suggest, “but you can still carry on with the pushups.”

So let’s get into the meat. After an introduction in which Sarah describes how and when to do the workout, you get seven sections:

Warmup (about 3 min): Sarah introduces her co-exercisers, who show easier modifications of the moves. There is posture instruction, stretches with breathing, and squats, and guided kegels.

Baby Workout 1 (about 3.5 min): This section is intended for babies of all ages. Most of what they have to do is hang out on the floor while the moms exercise, but the positions allow the moms to interact with the babies. Here there is a focus on gently but carefully working the abdominals, push ups, and planks.

Baby Workout 2 (about 5.5 min): For babies who have head control. This section has more creative use of the babies, since they actually serve as weights! Sarah gives tips on how to hold the babies (and how to react to them if they don’t go along with the program!), as well as giving frequent technique pointers. I really enjoyed the exercises here, including squats, press-ups, some really intense ab twists, and bridge. One of my favourites was a double crunch with the baby belly down on the knees. I love the fact that these moves could also be done in the middle of a day, when spending time with one’s kid. And, since my baby already weighed over 20 lbs when I did this section, it was some serious strength training!

Body Weight Workout (about 9 min): This section just uses your own body weight. However, I still had the baby around — he stayed for the whole workout — and that worked fine even if I occasionally had to run after him. It includes some well-guided low squats (these can really hurt my knees if I’m not careful about form), push-ups, shoulder squeezes, a variety of hip lifts and crunches, leg taps, and… more kegels!

Ball Workout (about 9 min): This was a super fun ball workout, and I have to say, even though I am no longer newly postpartum, it was enough of a challenge for me to feel a burn on this one. Again, this is also all about the abs, which is exactly what a new mother needs to work on rebuilding, but there are also exercises for the backs of the legs, arms, and of course, the kegels.

Stretch (about 6 min): Pretty classic set of stretches, including some really nice moves for the lower back. And, oh yeah, more kegels! I’m guessing Sarah thought kegels were boring and needed to be split up over the workout — a good idea of putting necessary pauses to good use.

Bonus (about 5 min): After a check for diastasis recti, or abdominal separation, Sarah guides a few exercises for building abdominal strength that are safe to do in the first six to eight weeks after giving birth. After this section, the video moves directly into a few outtakes and bloopers.

All in all, Sarah Zahab’s Postnatal Strength Workout is a useful program you can do in bits (this is why I included rough times) or all together for a longer, but still manageable workout. Zahab suggests that if you want a greater challenge, you can repeat sections, which I probably will when I do the video again. I like that she’s constantly keeping you on form, and that she’s aware of women who have had vaginal deliveries or c-sections. She also has a really warm on-camera presence, friendly and motivating without being annoyingly perky. (Well, and the occasional twinges of a Canadian accent remind me of home.) The one thing that worked less well for me was the camera angle, which sometimes made it difficult to see what the modified exercises were. This video would have been just the right amount of challenge for me about eight weeks after birth; a year later, the ball workout and the exercises using baby as weight still made me work.

You can get Postnatal Strength Workout at Amazon, or directly from Sarah Zahab at http://www.sarahzahab.ca/.

Review of Samra’s Shimmyrobics

There’s a bit of a story to this review. A long time ago, in a bookstore far, far away, I found a DVD in the discount section called Belly Dance – Total Workout For Body Shaping (don’t buy from this link, but do read the comments!) It was three bucks, it didn’t look too promising, but I am a bellydance DVD addict and can not let anything go by. There’s always something to be learned.

When I got home and popped it in, however, I realised that the woman in the video had nothing to do with the woman on the cover of the case. In fact, even weirder was the fact that the video itself was a rhythm instructional, not a workout at all!

Part of the situation is explained on the Amazon page by Samra herself. The video is basically a copy of her video “101 Shimmies Volume 2,” sold under a deceiving cover and title by an unethical distributor. It’s not a workout, and in fact her attention was for the video material to be combined with instruction from her other DVDs. Someone just using this will be rather surprised by the lack of any basic teaching of moves. What’s more, she doesn’t receive any royalties from sales of the video. From our correspondence, it seemed she was even more upset that a confusing, poorly-branded video was out under her name.

I thought part of what I could do is work with the actual videos, and see what they have to offer. Now, these are old school videos. Samra herself told me that the production company was a small town affair, and this is true. The editing, production, music cueing, is all far from glossy or smooth. But what is actually in the content?

I’ve worked with Shimmyrobics twice so far, and in two rather different ways. The first time, I did the video all the way through, albeit in pieces. It’s almost two hours of material, beginning with a one-hour instructional section. What follows is a short, but pretty thorough warmup, five workout combinations, a cool down, and an advanced workout which is the five combinations strung together. When I first worked with the video, I was a bit annoyed that the warmup came after the instruction, although the chaptering certainly allows you to click on the warmup first. However, the second time I did the video, I just did the workout, and in that case, it was easy just to click on warmup and stay with the program until the end.

The instructional section has a ton of material. Even though I’ve seen a lot of it taught in other places, there were some new moves or combinations of moves for me, and also certain moves where the description was particularly enlightening. I still have to work on my choo-choo shimmy, for example, but Samra’s explanation of it is one of the most helpful that I’ve found so far. She also includes some moves from her other dance influences, like a backwards African shimmy and an African stylization of the chest shimmy. (In fact, these were some of my favourites in the workout!) Samra’s descriptions are detailed, and often include pointers on safety. The full run-down:

Head: forward and back; side-circle tilt.
Shoulders: lifts and drops; rolls; thrusts; quiver and shimmy.
Ribcage: slide, shimmy, circle.
Abdomen: pops – in, out.
Knees: side, flex, moderately straight, circle.
Feet: point/flex, circle.
Hands: close/open, shimmy, palms up or down.
Hip slide shimmy
Muscle shimmy
Freezes and Vibration
Knee Shimmy
Walking Shimmy
Hip Patterns (various hip bumps, lifts, and drops)
Hip Circles
Hip Bumps
Walking Hip Lifts and Drops (the latter a little like the Soheir Zaki step)
Running Choo-Choo
African Choo-Choo
Omi Circle

The workout has five combinations. For each combo, Samra does the steps individually and drills them for a while, then strings them together and repeats them in four directions. Rinse, repeat. After the first teaching of a combo, on-screen text lists the moves. I liked some of the combinations more than others, but taken together, they really did get my heart rate up, and even gave me a bit of next-day burn!

Two things I wasn’t as excited about were the repetition of combos in the four directions, and the fact that the music accompanying the workout is just a basic rhythm, without a real connection to the moves. I later read on Samra’s website that the latter was intentional, and that she expects students to use the moves with their own music. Accordingly, the second time I did the workout, I had my trusty mp3 player ready with my iPod in. I started pausing the video between the combos, putting on some really danceable pop (Natacha Atlas, if you must know), and practiced the combos to the music. And I did not stick to the four cardinal directions. Instead, I took the moves from the combo, changed up the number of times, the order, and did the traveling moves in a variety of directions and floor shapes. It became really fun, and a chance for a bit of structured improvisation!

The verdict? If you want something really smoothly produced, this is not the video for you. However, there is so much info on it, that beginning dancers especially are likely to find something new or useful. And the workout really is a workout. If you’re willing to play with the video creatively to make it part of your own practice, you will enjoy it.

You can get Shimmyrobics at Samra’s website, www.samrasexpressions.com. (Don’t buy it from Amazon under the fake name!)

The truth about bellydance as a workout

I’ve always been skeptical about the claims that bellydance alone can be the way to a toned and fit body. Now, there are a lot of producers of bellydance-based workout DVDs, and their ad copy tends to make the big claims: lose weight, be hot, and so on. The thing is, unless you’re doing it at a very high level — i.e., high energy performances, rehearsals and classes for hours a day — bellydance is just not that intensive.

That’s why I was delighted at the fresh candour of a video on the topic posted on Life is Cake, a WDNY facebook page with interviews and random thoughts:

In it, Neon, Tanna Valentine, and Andy Troy talk about bellydance as a workout program, and they all come to pretty much the same conclusion: it’s wonderful as a way to get moving, but to get to a certain level of fitness, you pretty much need to be doing some extra exercise, to say nothing of watching your diet.

Now, I do think bellydance-based workouts can be intensive. I’ve occasionally broken a sweat or felt the satisfying results of serious abdominal work using DVDs. But, as Neon suggests, that often comes at the cost of some of the “danceyness” of the workout. Some DVDs also have a separate pilates or yoga component, as does one of the live classes I am currently taking. I think this is a fantastic way of getting two workouts in one, as it were.

The real point though, in my opinion, is that the light exercise offered by bellydance is just as, if not more important than hardcore gym ratting. Neon, Andy, and Tanna all note that it’s better to get some movement done than none at all, and that bellydance is accessible and pleasurable to (mostly) women who might not otherwise do weights or heavy cardio. For one thing, there is some preliminary evidence suggesting that regular light exercise can be even more effective for weight loss than hard workouts, as it is energizing rather than exhausting. More importantly though, accessible exercise is the most realistic option for most people, and it’s the most sustainable too. There are certain forms of movement — yoga and swimming also come to mind — that are gentle enough to do till ripe old age, and that can be varied enough to be maintained through many injuries or poor health. Bellydance can be done at a high level of professionalism, but it’s also just a deeply pleasurable way of moving for all of us. And it has an advantage over yoga and swimming, namely, really good music.

Finally, there’s an advantage that dance classes have over gym exercise. Neon seems to hint at this when she talks about incorporating the artistry of the dance into workouts. The thing is, the precise focus of a dance class makes it deeply absorbing. For me, at least, it makes the rest of the world disappear for 60 to 90 minutes. (Yoga has some of this precision of movement too.) If I’m on an elliptical, I can’t really shut the rest of the world out. The best I can do is listen to some music or look around at usually rather hideous surroundings and try to ignore the pain. I love swimming laps, but the monotony of swimming makes it hard to escape my own thoughts. (Though I do think it’s wonderful for achieving a zen-like attitude to my thoughts!)

But when I’m in bellydance or ballet, there is nothing outside the studio. Whether I’m focusing on pressing against the floor when executing a tendu, or on achieving the gooey, internal movement of an omi, I am exquisitely present, in the moment, and at one with my body. And this feeling is what makes me go back to class even when my body is tired from a long day, protesting that it doesn’t want to move anymore. It doesn’t get more sustainable than that!

Review of Sarah Skinner’s Bellydance Shimmy Workout for Beginners

Sarah Skinner’s The Bellydance Shimmy Workout is a really smart, useful program, and one that could be adapted to a number of different dance practices. At its core are five shimmy drills of five minutes each. The idea is that you could do one a day if you were pressed for time and wanted to get a bit of regular practice in. In fact, the very last drill incorporates all kinds of shimmies, so you can work on a bit of everything in just five minutes. The drills include upper and lower body shimmies, basic bellydance moves and traveling steps, layering, and traveling with shimmies. While this isn’t a video a beginner is likely to be able to do, I do think The Bellydance Shimmy Workout is a great tool to go from beginner-level shimmies to advanced beginner and further.


I am personally unlikely to get my workout clothes on and the computer set up just to do five minutes of dancing. But I’m thinking maybe I should change that. And I could imagine incorporating one or two of the five-minute drills into a longer practice, perhaps with another technique or choreo video.
What I like even more is that if you play The Bellydance Shimmy Workout all the way through, it’s more than just a collection of workout segments. You have a warmup and cool down, a great strength-building drill for dance, and oh-so-necessary stretches between each of the shimmy drills. Do the full hour, and you have a real workout, but done in beautiful, dancey, WDNY-style: cardio, stretching, strength, coordination, balance, dance technique, all in one package.
In fact, I think you could even take the warmup, strength drill, and one shimmy drill and use them as a solid prep for some improvising… now that would be a fun dance practice.

The quality is, as is to be expected with WDNY, high. Sarah Skinner and her two backup dancers are beautifully dressed and well filmed. Sarah’s voice cues are right on and encouraging, with good reminders to breathe. The music is upbeat and gets your energy going for some serious shimmying – some new agey stuff, some Balkan, some clearly Middle Eastern. You also have the option of doing the workout with music and no voice cues. The variety of shimmies covered is really good – it’s not just about a knee-driven shimmy and a choo-choo, but you get to practice ¾ shimmies and the Arabic hip walk.

I do have one beef with this otherwise excellent video, though, and that’s right in the title: “for Beginners.” The Bellydance Shimmy Workout for Beginners is not for beginners. I’m not saying a beginner couldn’t work with this video and have fun, but if she expects to be able to follow along with much of it, she will be disappointed. Shimmies are hard to get. While some dancers pick them up fast, many take years to really learn the more challenging ones. They really are not a matter of watching them a couple of times and following along.
The “cutesy butt” shimmy!

The video includes a brief (circa 15 min) tutorial on the basic moves and all the shimmies used during the workout. This is great as a review of shimmies, but it’s not lengthy and detailed enough instruction for someone who doesn’t know a shimmy at all. Sarah’s teaching is clear and beautifully filmed, but you’re really not going to learn to layer a ¾ shimmy on a traveling step in a minute’s instruction. It’s just a matter of packaging. I know in the world of live bellydance courses beginner classes can go on forever and cover truly difficult material, but I think expectations are different with a video.

If you’re not an absolute beginner though, and you want a shimmy drill, this video’s the thing. I’m thinking of putting The Bellydance Shimmy Workout on high rotation. It’s exactly what I need to progress in my dance, it’s short enough to do on a regular basis but long enough to get good and warmed up, and, well, it makes me happy!

I received a review copy of The Bellydance Shimmy Workout

Review of Jennifer Gianni’s Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy

As I was working with Jennifer Gianni’s Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy, I had two thoughts:

1. While prenatal workouts are mostly light workouts that other, non-pregnant people could enjoy, especially if they have an injury or are suffering pain, postnatal workouts are pretty specific. Man, I thought kegel exercises were detailed — it turns out that the kind of exercises you do once the baby’s out are way more internal and precise.

2. This video has some really fun Swiss ball exercises, the kind that make having that silly rubber bubble worthwhile.

I previously reviewed Jennifer Gianni’s Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Pregnancy, and while I thought it would be good for someone advanced in their pregnancy and needing very gentle exercises, I also found it quite a bit lighter than what I could do, and sometimes a bit fussy in the set-up required. Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy, on the other hand, is a much better fit for what I was looking for. (Both are review copies, by the way.) It’s still not about sweating, but getting the exercises set up is much easier, and the moves themselves are a bit more challenging.

Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Post Pregnancy also includes the “Fusion Essentials” intro to proper form. And then it’s straight into the workout!

The workout itself begins with pelvic floor exercises. These are very well taught, even though it’s always kind of a challenge to translate these kinds of descriptions of very internal muscular contractions into real practice. The idea is to build up the pelvic floor to offer stability and resistance before doing abdominal work that presses down on it. The exercises are taught slowly, gradually, and with different kinds of breaths. There are enough reps to really get a feeling for things.

You may not be able to tell, but this woman is working her pelvic floor.

The rest of the workout consists of gentle but targeted and, for a new mother, intense pilates-style moves on the ball. For many of them, Gianni will start with a variation for very new postpartum moms, and then build on it for women in the advanced postpartum period. I thought this was a great way to both teach moves and make the video useful to women at different points beyond pregnancy.

Just about every part of the body has an exercise — the upper back, the abs of course, the legs and glutes. There are even some exercises that build on the pelvic floor work done at the start of the workout. And there is one truly delicious upper back/shoulder stretch. When I started doing it, I thought “oh, this is so good for anyone breastfeeding,” and sure enough, Gianni’s voice piped in and said the exercise is ideal for nursing moms! And although a number of the moves require a wall, I was able to use a couch and a chair successfully, as I did not have a free wall available.

Best of all, a number of these were really fun. I’m not a master of Swiss ball workouts by any means, but I have done a few of them so far, and I find that the ball is often a bit unnecessary. It could be replaced by a chair or weights depending on the move. Gianni has you do some rolling and balancing exercises that really only do work with the ball. They were so much fun, that I think I will put the baby on his playmat tomorrow and bounce around next to it on the ball!

Fusion Pilates Birth Ball for Pregnancy is also available from http://www.fusionpilates.com/.