Review: Shamira’s Bellydancing: The Sensuous Workout 2 "Pure Technique"

I have a number of bellydance videos, but I find myself coming back to Shamira’s Sensuous Workout 2 over and over again. Why? Because I can use it in different ways at different times.

Shamira demonstrating basic bellydance moves

Shamira presents 22 basic moves. What’s great about it is that she then teaches a few basic combinations for each move. You might be taught a hip jerk (as she calls it), and then you’re taught how to do it at full and double time with both hips, how to walk forward with it, and how walk sideways on your toes with it. For each combination she’ll teach different arm movements. Lovely.

While the moves Shamira teaches on this video are by no means all the moves there are to bellydance with, it’s a nice combination of basic moves and ways to walk with them, so you can get a feel for the dance. Also, for dancers who have learned some of the basics but have no idea how to put it all together, the Sensuous Workout 2 is a great resource. I recently put together a short choreography, and this was the video I went to for movement combinations I liked.

Shamira in pink costume practicing bellydance moves

When you’ve practiced the moves, you can go on to the choreographies/dances. They’re done in one go, really more like an exercise video than a step-by-step choreography instruction. I haven’t tried all of them, but even the easiest one will leave you with a nice feeling in your obliques. The DVD is set up so that you can click on a choreography and it will show you the moves you should have studied before dancing it. If you click on one of those chapters and do it, it returns you to the screen of that particular choreography.

Shamira is not the most athletic dancer. (She’s clearly toned, but doesn’t move in a super-muscular way.) But she’s definitely one of the most graceful you’ll see. In a way, the real value of this video is in her hand and arm work. It isn’t always spelled out, but once you get the basic moves, try and pay attention to what she does with her arms. My personal opinion is that much of the soul of the dance is in the graceful hands and arms, and Shamira is a wonderful model for this. Even if you know many of the basic moves, putting them together into graceful combinations is where the magic is.

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: Jehan’s Sacred Bellydance

I bought Jehan’s Sacred Bellydance on the recommendations of other reviewers (like Mala), so in a sense, this review should be superfluous. However, I wanted to write one anyway for two reasons: first, to address certain aspects of Jehan’s belief system that may be offputting, and second, to add a few notes about who I think this set is good for.

First, the “sacred” stuff. If it’s your bag, great. If, like me, you’re pretty convinced you’re not a goddess (just a decent human being), you might be turned off by Jehan’s beliefs — which do, indeed, come up throughout the video. I urge you to overcome this aversion. It’s a great video, and you don’t have to pay attention during the goddess stuff. On the other hand, I also have to say that I respect Jehan because I get the sense that she is communicating something she believes deeply, not just putting on a trendy pose. And her positive remarks on women really are pretty appropriate for bellydance!

Jehan bellydancing in turquoise costume

Now, who is this video for? I actually wouldn’t recommend it for learning the basic dance moves, but I think it’s great once you already know the moves, and want to add finesse, power, and expressiveness to them. If you want to work on your arms, following along with Jehan’s flowing movements is great. (And your arms will HURT, incidentally. In a good way.)

The brilliance of the video is that, although it’s an “encyclopedia,” the segments flow together nicely. For this reason, I’ve used it more as a stretching workout than to learn from. And here is why I want to suggest that EVERYONE, dancer or not, buy this video. If you have been sitting in a chair for too long, if your body is tired and tense, Sacred Bellydance is amazing at stretching and relaxing it all out. And not just the back and arms — the neck, fingers, hands, feet, toes, everything! I’ve pretty much only used Sacred Bellydance in this way, and it makes me feel amazing.

Jehan demonstrating camel in bellydance

One final thing. Although bellydancers come in all shapes and sizes, the ones publishing videos are usually on the commercially thin side. Jehan is a womanly woman, and I think this is important. You might feel more comfortable watching her if your body is like hers, but more importantly, it’s good to see how correct posture looks on a body which is rounded… well, where women’s bodies *should* be rounded.

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.

Ballet for Oriental Dance with Autumn Ward

I took part in Autumn Ward’s “Ballet Technique for Oriental Dance” workshop yesterday at Salsa International. I have pain in the weirdest muscles today (my pecs hurt, if you can believe it!) and places in my hip, and my credit card also hurts because of the Sharifwear sale they were having…. but all in all, it was great.

You obviously can’t learn much ballet in two hours, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise. I thought this class might be something like an introductory ballet class, but it was nothing of the kind. Instead, it was much more interesting: Autumn discussed some aspects of ballet that have been incorporated into oriental dance, and how they might vary from the ballet forms. This also included some descriptions of ballet technique — she made us do some very interesting exercises for getting a proper pointed foot, for example.

Autumn talked about arm positions in ballet and how we vary them for oriental dance, and made us do a partner exercise where we had to use our arms, in position, to resist against our partner. (Hence the painful pecs and back muscles today, which I take as a good sign!) We worked on that hipdrop-kick movement that gets used so much in bellydance, and on getting a graceful leg extension.

And, we spent a lot of time on turns. I’m probably the most turn-challenged person on the face of the planet, but I loved her instruction. First of all, she talked about how ballet drives spins and turns from the legs, while oriental dance drives them with the arms or the hips. She went over arm technique, and right away I realised how much I had been missing by not using my arms. And although she mentioned spotting, she didn’t start with it. My trouble is that spotting, if anything, makes me more dizzy and confused, and makes me forget about what my body is supposed to do. I found I did alright when I just focused on my body — my footwork, and powering the turns with my arms — but the moment I tried to introduce spotting I lost it all.

We also covered arabesques, spinning inward and outward, and when each might be used. All in all, it was a wonderfully useful, tight class. I’m not a brilliant spinner now, but one can’t be after two hours. Stil, I now have a much better idea of what to do, and strangely enough, I have this desire to run around a room spinning — I can see how it could get addictive!

The Princess in Milford

Yesterday, a treat: Princess Farhana was giving workshops in Milford, CT. I really enjoyed this, both because of the Princess’s way of running a workshop and because of the warm, welcoming attitudes of the women attending. It helped me realize that the competitiveness I had felt at the NYC class was not just something I had imagined, but also, quite happily, that there are other ways of experiencing a dance class with other women. Farhana had us all say at the beginning how much experience we had so that she knew how to deliver the instructions, and we ranged from 3 months to six or seven years. This could have been weird, or a moment for showing off, but instead everyone applauded the “bellydance babies,” and I had the feeling that having less experience was just not something to be embarrassed about in this environment.

As for Farhana, my god is that woman fun. She has a style that I can only describe as “studied vulgarity,” and I mean that in a very good way. She playacted at being domineering and angry when we did the moves too quickly, she described some of the hand-to-head poses as the “one hand headache” and the “two hand headache,” she swore a bit too, but it was always with a sharp sense of humour. That was one side of her performance. The other was composed of dancing that was just lovely and graceful, a real acknowledgment of us as individuals, and a sense of warmth.

The class itself was quite relaxed, and quite varied in content: a big section on abdominal muscle control, some quite lovely combos which then had abdominal work layered on them, and finally, a short amount of time with veils. I didn’t buy anything: to be quite honest, I’m still a little weirded out by the intense shopping aspect of workshops. This was only my second, and while I really love shopping and getting bellydance videos, props, etc., it still seems kind of weird to me to gather around a table of wares instead of dancing.