Review: Asharah’s Modern Tribal Dance

I need to say to begin with that I’m really not fond of the dancing on Asharah’s Modern Tribal Bellydance. I’m not that crazy about tribal fusion anyway, but I’ve definitely seen tribal fusion I’ve liked a lot more than this.

So, weirdly, as much as I don’t like the dancing here, I think the video itself is pretty well done, and can actually foresee myself using it. The main reason for this is that its “Warmup & Conditioning” section is actually a 45 minute exercise and stretching video for dancers, and it’s pretty much the answer to my dreams. Seriously, I’ve imagined what I’d like in a program (often because of exercises I’ve had in live classes), and this is it.

This section alone could stand alone as a full-priced DVD, and would be worth the money. It’s a combination of movements from three groups: yoga, ballet (i.e., the kind of stretches you have at the start of a ballet/ballet- inspired class), and Suhaila-type seated abdominal and chest work. Nothing terribly new, but having them all together in one place is incredibly cool. There’s deep plie work, thorough leg stretches in every possible direction, the shoulders and neck are not ignored, and neither is the back. Asharah also gives frequent knee placement reminders, so although the practice is challenging, it won’t kill your back or knees.
The next section is a Technique & Isolations section of 55 minutes. In this section, Asharah goes over pretty basic movements in bd/tribal fusion vocabulary, but explains them in detail with the appropriate muscle contractions. She’s very Suhaila-based (and, in fact, thanks Suhaila in the credits). Here she covers:

– Shoulders and arms
– Chest squares
– Chest circles
– Glute contactions
– Glute contactions – up
– Glute contactions – down
– Vertical hip 8s down-to-up
– Vertical hip 8s up-to-down
– 3/4 shimmy up
– 3/4 shimmy down
– interior hip squares
– interior hip circles

These are pretty basic moves (I know the last one as an “omi”), but it’s good to have the breakdown and practice, especially for those of us who are far from being experts anyway.

Next comes the “Modern Tribal Movement” section (30 min), in which Asharah teaches how to break down a single movement into three or four smaller segments, so as to achieve a strobing or robotic effect. She does this with: shoulders & arms, chest slides, chest locks, undulations, and vertical hip 8s up-to-down. I haven’t watched this section all the way through, and like I said, I don’t really like how the result looks in dance, but it did strike me that some of the exercises were similar in concept to those on Aziza’s Pratice Companion. So, weirdly, although I don’t want to dance like Asharah, I can imagine using this section as a drill and exercise tool.

Finally, there is Combination instruction of 30 min, which you can also play with practice music. And an 8 min yoga-based cool-down. And performances.

I suppose it figures that if you put three freakin’ hours of material onto one DVD (runtime is 180 minutes, no joke), you’re going to please a lot of people. Asharah is relaxed and straightforward on the video, and there is really just so much material to work with, at such different levels, that it’s an incredible value. I think people who are actually *into* tribal fusion will probably adore this video, although they might find the isolations section a little basic. However, even people who are not can use this DVD as a dance training video, rather than a dance instruction video. The actual dance section makes up 30 minutes out of 3 hours — the rest is really a conditioning program for dancers.

(Full disclosure: I received a review copy of this video from WDNY.)

Review: Shamira’s Bellydancing: The Sensuous Workout

Bellydancing: The Sensuous Workout is wonderful, if you know what to expect from it. It’s not super long (46 min), and it won’t fulfill every desire, but it does what it does very well.

This is one fierce costume, if I do say so

Let me start with the negatives, and save people some money. Do not get this video if you want:

– A high intensity workout. It’s not, it’s just not. I do break a sweat sometimes, especially if I try to follow along with her arms, but you won’t feel challenged if you dance regularly.
– Thorough bellydance instruction. It really helps knowing the moves before, though she does introduce them in the “Basic Movements” section. I advise using this after another video, even after her Sensuous Workout 2.
– Lots of bellydance moves, complex technique.
– Shimmy work. Her shimmy section is very short. The video is much better on circles, hipwork, traveling steps and turns.
– Finally, and this is the reason I took off a point, while there is a warmup, it’s short (no neck stretches, for example), and there’s no cooldown. So you have to add to that on your own. Also, I really think every bellydance video should go over posture, just as a matter of course.

However, this video is fantastic if you want:

– A light, not too strenuous way to get moving and have fun. It might be a good way to start an exercise program, or to get moving if you’ve been sick or not dancing for a while. I have much fancier bellydance videos in my collection, but since dancing is my hobby, not my life, I wind up playing this one much more than I ever expected to. It’s just great when you’re not that energetic, you don’t want to strain your back or knees, but you want to get moving and feel the spirit of the dance.
– A sense of the grace and beauty of bellydance. Shamira’s style is not to string together a hundred movements in ten seconds, so if that’s what impresses you, get something else. She uses a few movements (especially in this video), but she puts them together in a lovely way, and gives you a sense of how you might make combinations out of them.
– Easy traveling and stationary combinations. It’s nice practice.
– Incredible hands and arms. It’s funny: to me, the loveliest part about Shamira’s dancing are her hands and arms, but she doesn’t really talk about them on the two Sensuous Workout videos too much. If you’ve got the steps of the video down, try following along with the arms — it makes it much more challenging, and gives the video the potential to be used for a longer time.

To conclude, Shamira’s dancing, even in this “workout” DVD, represents to me much of the reason I first got into bellydancing. She’s graceful, expressive, and playful. I think even dancers who know many more moves than are represented on this DVD can stand to learn a lot from her, if they pay attention.

Review: Gerson Kuhr’s Core Training for Belly Dancers

I wasn’t sure at first whether to buy Core Training for Belly Dancers. I wondered whether the exercises were all that different than the usual ab work, and if one actually winds up using it frequently enough to make it worth paying $30 for a twelve-minute workout.

Gerson Kuhr and two bellydancers

I eventually decided to take the risk and buy it, and I have to say, I’ve been extremely pleased. It doesn’t give an intense burn like a 40 minute ab video, but it is very focused, the exercises are unusual enough not to be boring (though crunches are in there too), and it does give the feeling of being tighter after doing it. I also really like that he has a pelvic tilt exercise (for the transverse abdominis muscle) and two lower back exercises to balance out the ab work.

Also, while I don’t do it every day, I’ve found that this is the one video I turn to when I want to do *something* physical that day, but am too tired/don’t have enough time to do an hour or something.

Bellydancers demonstrating static back stretch

The enclosed booklet has descriptions of all the exercises with photos and muscle explanations. Brilliant!

This is not a video which promises magic weight loss or a complete transformation. But it is a good little ab workout, and you’re likely to do it more often than the longer, more intense videos. Little by little, that work takes its effect. I should also mention that, pharaoh outfit aside, this video would be useful for *anyone* looking to slip a little ab exercise into their schedule. None of the moves are bellydance moves — they’re just ideal for dancers who need a powerful core.

Review: Peter Martins, New York City Ballet Workout

I rented this video around the same time that I started a “Ballet Body” class at my local gym. Also, I had been doing Callanetics, which is ballet-inspired. So I was really in the mood for something just like the New York City Ballet Workout.

Other reviewers on Amazon have mentioned the fact that the ballet terms are not explained (annoying, but you can deal with it), or that the narrator often does not give proper cues (actually very annoying, since he sometimes gives them, but at the wrong time, making it confusing even if you know what to do). Here are my problems with it:

1. I found the warmup horribly insufficient. That was not a warmup. That was barely a stretch.

2. The long and unskippable pauses between sections make sure that any warmup will be useless.

3. The beautiful, artsy dark background and shots make it really difficult sometimes to see what the dancers are doing. How about some bright lighting, like the kind they have in their actual studios?

4. There really aren’t enough repetitions of each move. Not even the crunches. I’m sorry, sixteen crunches is not going to do anything for anyone’s abs. I really wish they hadn’t tried to fit in so many different moves and combinations, and had just chosen a few good ones and made the most of them — and by that I mean explaining proper technique, showing modifications, and doing them enough times to get the muscles to work a little.

I guess that any exercise is better than no exercise at all, but I have a hard time imagining seeing any physical improvement from this DVD. My class at the gym has more repetitions and more of an aerobic component, which allows for more of a workout. Meanwhile, Callanetics (or yoga) is much better at building flexibility and muscle tone. I think the New York City Ballet Workout would be lovely for someone who wanted to see different ballet moves, and I loved the extras, but there are better dance-inspired workout videos.