Little ballerina

Two Ballet Memoirs

I think I may be turning into a balletomane.

It always just sneaks right up on you, doesn’t it?

Well, alright, it isn’t just that. I’ve been taking ballet, and I’ve been trying to think through what makes adult ballet so pleasurable, while childhood ballet was so dispiriting. And in the process, some fellow dancers and dance-lovers have been giving me book recommendations.

I am eating these books up like there’s no tomorrow. Seriously, last night I sat on the steps beside my bedroom at 1:30 am, hall light still on, because I wanted to finish one of the books I was reading.

This week’s obsessions were Toni Bentley’s Winter Season: A Dancer’s Journal and Joan Brady’s The unmaking of a dancer: An unconventional life.

Winter Season is Bentley’s journal over one season in which she was a member of the corps du ballet of the New York City Ballet. Bentley is at a low point in her career. She has an inkling that she isn’t going to be one of the ballet’s stars. Still, she is obsessed with beauty, and most of all, the beauty of dance. What this means for her is that she is happiest when sitting behind the side curtain, watching one of the principals dance.

Bentley is also torn between life and dance. Life, in this case, means everything outside of dance: friends, parties, food, love. There are some dancers who treat dance as a job, she says, but many are completely wrapped up in the world of the theatre, and she is one of them. How much harder, then, to see women younger than her moving into the top roles.

Still, she is generous towards the young ones, still in love with the sheer beauty of it all. I looked her up and she wound up spending about a decade with the NYCB, so she must have reached her peace with it.

The unmaking of a dancer is a very different kind of beast. First, it’s really the story of a very eventful life, one that happened to a woman who just happened to be a ballerina. Joan Brady had two brilliant parents, brilliant but impossible. Her father was an economist at Berkeley who attempted suicide and later had a debilitating stroke. Her mother was an overbearing and jealous woman, though as brilliant as her husband. She twice sabotaged her daughter’s career (at least in Brady’s telling of the story). What did Brady do? Marry her mother’s former lover of course.

Brady was also a budding ballerina, competing at the San Francisco Ballet School with her friend Suki Schorer, who turned out to have a successful career in ballet and became a noted teacher of Balanchine’s style. After missing out on a company job in San Francisco, Brady went to New York and studied — where else? — at the School of American Ballet, which feeds into the NYCB.

The difference between Brady and Bentley is that Brady doesn’t seem to like dancing much at all. While Bentley is still in love with the ballet, if not with herself or her own dancing, Brady seems not to enjoy the art at all. Ballet seems to have been an escape from home for her, one she was reasonably good at and kept going on with, despite not having a real passion for it. She seems more wrapped up in jealousy and criticism of other dancers than in the dance.

And yet it is so important to her to know that she could have excelled at the dance, if her mother had not intervened. The book ends with her in her late thirties, auditioning for European companies, having dyed her hair and lied about her age. She gets into one, or so it seems. And she tears up the acceptance. I kept thinking that this wasn’t a woman who wanted to dance — it was a woman who wanted to be good enough.

The major presence hovering over both memoirs is B — George Balanchine, of course, the utterly charismatic choreographer and co-founder of the NYCB. Bentley’s memoir is suffused with an intense feeling of admiration for and obedience to Balanchine. She’s not sure if she’s good enough for the religion, but she certainly still believes in its god. Brady is taught less by Balanchine, and so has less experience of him, but her memoir does include some fascinating reflections on the development of Balanchine’s style, which became associated with American dancers.

I tend to expect memoirs, especially art memoirs, to be written by the winners — those who were passionate enough, dedicated and disciplined enough, to excel beyond anyone else. But it’s almost more interesting to read the stories of the almost-theres: women who would have been exceptional in most places in the North America, but were only so-so in the context of the New York City Ballet. I’m fascinated by the stories of women who realised their best would simply not be good enough, or, worse, that they were not capable of giving their best at all.

Photo from www.morguefile.de.

Kyria dancing pregnant on beach

Guest Post from Kyria: How instructional DVDs helped me become the bellydancer I am now

Dear readers, Kyria is back with another wonderful, deeply informative post on how she uses bellydance DVDs in her practice. See the previous post for her top ten DVDs for intermediate and advanced bellydancers. And check out her website, www.buikdansereskyria.com

Kyria bellydancer Netherlands

Before I dive into my lengthy love story with instructional DVDs, let me start by saying that although I’ve been a professional bellydancer for ten years, I will never have much of an international career, be part of the Bellydance Superstars (whatever happened to them?) or believe I am the next best thing. I have regular breakdowns when I critique myself on practice and performance videos, after which I pick myself up and make a plan to work on my weak points. At times, I wonder why I still bellydance because it is so much work to keep up and maintain good form and consider giving it all up. And then a student tells me how she looks forward to class every week, I browse through pictures of the friends I made and the events we organized and I fall in love with bellydance all over again.

Let me introduce myself

I meet up with dance friends, I organize haflas and perform for a small and intimate audience. I get hired for private parties, sometimes in a castle, most often in someone’s living room or a party center. I went on dance trips to Egypt, Turkey, or less exotic locations like Belgium, Great-Britain and Germany where I met wonderful women who all love to dance. I see my students grow week after week and doing research for my classes is one of my favorite ways to fill my lunch breaks at work.

I am part of two troupes: the Dalla Dream Dancers, a troupe dedicated to offering high quality group performances in Folkloric and Oriental Style. We came to be after working together on several theater projects and thinking ‘this is neat, let’s make this a regular thing!’. We also work on performances for theater shows and such. The second troupe consists of teachers in my area. We’ve connected over our mutual interest and have created a fair share of haflas, workshops and performances in the past six years or so. Sometimes we meet two times a month, sometimes we meet once every two months depending on what’s cooking.

My main dance style is Egyptian/oriental and though I take weekly ballet classes and have a background in jazz ballet, I prefer to dance to Arabic music with the bellydance movement vocabulary.

Welcome to my life.

One of the biggest challenges of being a professional dancer is how to continue my education. I love going to workshops but due to constraints in time and finances I can only attend a limited amount of workshops per year. Early on I discovered the wonderful world of instructional DVDs, helping me to keep on learning on a tiny student budget. An added bonus is that instructional DVDs contain excellent examples of teaching styles and different methods and technique that I can use to shape my own practice and the classes that I teach. It took me a while to get the hang of it though.

Getting started with instructional DVDs

Let’s go back in time to when I was a bright-eyed intermediate student, looking for a challenge. I was taking two bellydance classes a week and was on a budget. Through eBay I bought my very first instructional DVD: a four-DVD set by Dolphina.

dolphina bellydances

I did like her taste in back drops and practice attire though

Putting the DVD in the tray of my computer (I didn’t own a DVD player at the time) in my student room, I was excited that I could practice in my own home. It wasn’t long until I realized that from the four DVDs, I really liked one (warrior) and some of the others contained material that I disagreed with or didn’t work for me. Let’s just say that I am not the type to imagine goddess-like scenes during my practice. Some of the advice on technique and posture also didn’t work for me. If you want to try Dolphina’s instruction, go to her YouTube channel. She recently put some of her DVDs on YouTube for you to practice with.

How I got hooked

In my country, we weren’t big on credit cards or online shopping at the time. A local Arabic music shop in my street carried several instructional DVDs and I bought copies of Veena & Neena’s instructional DVDs. Yes, I know that those DVDs are not aimed at bellydancers but in 2003, it was hard to find affordable instructional DVDs. The IAMED DVDs were great, but they cost over 40$ a piece, plus international shipping and import taxes. I had to start small.

Veena and Neena bellydance

The instruction included genie arms ☺

The Veena and Neena DVDs worked well for me, going over most basic moves and a couple of combinations. I can honestly say that at the time, I had no clue about my own dance skills or if I made progress or not. All I knew is that I loved bellydance and that these DVDs got me hooked on practicing at home. The great thing about not being a professional is that I was still able to take weekly classes with various teachers, receiving corrections on posture and technique. When I turned professional in 2006 (as usual in retrospect too soon and lacking in technique and various other skills) I signed up for a two-year course on becoming a bellydancer. I also knew that I couldn’t take classes with other local dancers anymore due to conflicts of interest (teachers were afraid you’d copy their classes or choreography and teach them as your own). By profiling myself as a professional, I needed to show that I had the skills to teach my own class, create my own choreographies and work on solo performances. Thus I entered the workshop scene and started investing in more expensive instructional DVDs.

The next level

I highly recommend signing up for a longer program if you are interested in oriental dance. Even if you don’t want to be a professional dancer, it is great to get in depth knowledge in the various styles, rhythms, instruments and other facets of bellydance. By now I had ‘graduated’ from the Veena & Neena DVDs and was looking for a different challenge. I had to make a couple of wrong turns when it came to choosing bellydance DVDs before finding what worked for me.

The fitness type bellydance DVDs were the cheapest ones and I soon found out why. They barely contained bellydance! Instructors would string together a couple of moves and called it a workout. After a couple of errors, I bought a couple of second hand IAMED DVDs on Bhuz. What a relief to get high quality material in a neat package! Each DVD contained enough concepts and material to work on for weeks. I liked to run the DVD and press pause, then practice to make sure I got it before moving on. What I was lacking was regular, structured practice of the basic moves. I needed to keep my omi’s smooth and accents sharp. But how?

Getting my act together

The biggest influence on structuring my home practice came in the shape of three big names in the dance community. The first one was the 3-DVD set from Jillina that came out as the BDSS were rising to fame. The choreographies were challenging and different from what I had learned. It really helped me to look my own choreography skills and use of footwork and make changes.

The second one was also a BDSS DVD: Tribal Fusion with Rachel Brice. This DVD contained several drills with a fair amount of yoga. I got my mat out once or twice a week and started doing my asanas and breaking my moves down into smaller pieces.

The third was the fitness fusion DVD set by Suhaila. My earlier experiences with bellydance fitness DVDs in mind, I didn’t expect much, but I was pleasantly surprised. Suhaila’s method for breaking down movements and drilling (mixing it with stretches and a bit of yoga and Pilates) impressed me with the need to cross train. I couldn’t take local bellydance classes but I could join the local yoga school and a Pilates class!

I still like these dancers, though in the meantime they have developed even better DVDs that I like to use on a regular basis.

Meeting the instructors in real life

When Jillina and Rachel came to Amsterdam to teach workshops, I got a chance to experience their teaching method in real life. It was such a pleasure to see the dancers that I’ve been ‘training’ with on DVD in a big dance studio. Getting used to their training method helped me to make the most of the workshop and retain as much as possible. I got to ask Jillina for advice on how to keep advancing and she was adamant: take ballet classes. So I signed up for adult ballet classes in 2008 and continue to take these classes until this very day. She was absolutely right: I have learned so much from my wonderful ballet teacher. Footwork, arms, carriage, posture and lines. But ballet is not bellydance: sometimes the concepts conflict with each other.

With Rachel Brice there wasn’t time for me to ask personal questions, but she credited and mentioned Suhaila Salimpour in her workshops. This sparked my interest and I decided to purchase more Suhaila DVDs and if she ever taught workshops in my vicinity (read: Belgium, Germany, Netherlands) I’d go. I finally got my opportunity in 2015 to take a three day intensive with her in Brussels.

suhaila and kyria 2015

[If you want to read more, I wrote an extensive blog about doing the intensive. It’s here: https://kyriascostumes.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/suhaila-salimpours-level-1-intensive/ ]

After taking workshops with Aziza in Duisburg at the annual festival organized by Leyla Jouvana, I was so impressed that I bought her practice companion DVD. The DVD is really, really good and her real-life workshops are even better. I like to take workshops with her whenever she is in the vicinity, every year or so. She keeps on adjusting and creating new material and ways to explain things that can keep me occupied for years.

Staying in shape

The last couple of years I have been noticing that I like to revisit DVDs that I worked with in the past. My vast collection now spans over three hundred DVDs and serves as a library that I can go to when I am looking for inspiration or have a theme I want to work with. To stay in shape I regularly use exercise DVDs like Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred, power yoga, Yoga Booty Ballet (it’s wrong on so many levels yet very entertaining) and the New York City Ballet Workout.

Now that I am pregnant I finally have an excuse to buy prenatal bellydance DVDs and try those as I am going through the different phases of pregnancy. I am eager to see where my journey in dance will take me next but instructional DVDs will be part of it. Currently I am reorganizing the filing system for my DVDs and creating a schedule to stay in shape during my pregnancy and after the delivery. I work full-time and have little time left to attend classes, so DVDs are the perfect solution for me. I am exploring options like streaming classes but so far, I prefer DVDs or digital downloads as they are always available and are not dependent on a fast and smooth connection.

Kyria dancing pregnant on beach

Six and a half months pregnant and still dancing

Desk exercises — a playlist

So, I have a problem. The problem that arises from a good situation: I have been writing a lot lately. Why should that be bad? Well, it’s doing a number on my body. My shoulders are stiff, my lower back hurts, and I seem to have developed a nasty little case of tendinitis in my wrist.

So, all the writing is making it difficult for me to keep writing. And this comes in a period of my life when I have not only many deadlines, but also a ton of inspiration and ideas.

I need to see a doctor, obviously.And my ballet classes are back in session, which already helps a lot. But until then, I’m taking frequent breaks. So I put together A little playlist on YouTube of workouts around five minutes, most of which you can do while sitting in a desk chair. Please check it out, and let me know if you have any favorite videos or exercises.

The whole list: Desk Exercises playlist.

Or watch it here:

Joffrey ballet school's ballet-fit

Review of the Joffrey Ballet School’s Ballet-Fit

Okay, so you wrote a book on dance.

Or you produced a DVD.

Will you do me a favour, pretty please?

Give it a name that reflects what’s in it!

If you’re not sure if the name you picked fits the content, just send it to me. I will tell you. And I’ll save us both the pain.

I go on about this a lot, but it’s a real problem. I’ll be looking at some great product, but the name is just totally off for what it is. Then I go to the Amazon page, and of course half the people are annoyed that the thing they got isn’t the thing they bought.

This came about recently because I was on my way out of the house and, being a little bit obsessed with ballet as I am right now, I went to my dance bookshelf and picked a book at random. I’ve had a copy of The Joffrey Ballet School’s Ballet-Fit for years now. Years. I bought it in a mad rage I had for barre fitness — and this was in the days before a hundred barre DVDs came out. But I never really cracked it open.

It takes me a few minutes of reading to realise that this is not a barre fitness book. Yes, it has a section with exercises, but that’s totally not what this is about. In fact, when we get right down to it, it’s not even about fitness.

The Joffrey Ballet School’s Ballet-Fit is a guide to adult beginner ballet. That’s what it is. It’s for people who are thinking of starting ballet as adults or returning to it after a long time away. It’s for people who are already doing adult ballet and need tips on practice and goals. And it’s even for adults who are thinking about pointe.

And it’s excellent.

In fact, it’s a book I wanted without knowing it existed. I’ve googled “adult beginner ballet” so many times and only found superficial information. Most ballet books are for child dancers or their parents. Then there are books for pros. But adult learners are an afterthought.

Dena Simone Moss and Allison Kyle Leopold, the authors of Ballet-Fit, cover everything. They talk about reasons to start ballet as an adult, address typical fears potential students have, and give lengthy and detailed advice for choosing a school and teacher.

For the student who has started classes, there is advice on what to wear, the structure of a class, even which way to turn after working one leg at the barre (answer: towards the barre). I discovered, to my horror, that my beige-tights-and-black-shoes look that I wore to our recent recital was a no-no — the beige tights are too jazz and the black shoes cut the line. There was so much I didn’t know here!

Throughout, the authors are completely honest and realistic about what an adult ballet beginner can expect of themselves. They make it absolutely clear that with minor exceptions (men starting in their 20s), an adult beginner will never have a professional ballet career. They talk about the limitations of various body types.

But they are also positive. Adult dancers have a wealth of cultural knowledge to draw on when they’re learning — they have advantages children don’t. Adults are there because they want to be. And if they become passionate about ballet, they can still make it part of their lives by applying their dance knowledge in another form of dance, or in a dance-related career.

Some of the advice the book gives is so specific that it has to come from experience, and is completely unlike the vague and often pointless advice one finds on the internet. The authors tell you, for example, why you shouldn’t always imitate the pros (they may make mistakes or be taking shortcuts that make sense at their level), how to behave in various situations in class, why it’s worth not sitting out centre work, why private classes are often not worth the money, how often you need to go to class, how to challenge yourself if you’re taking a class below your level without annoying your peers, and so on.

Ballet-Fit explains all the basics. The positions, arm and head movements, why tendus are important, what adagios and arabesques are. I loved this section because it allowed me to look up a number of the movements we do in class.

And then there is the workout. The workout has three sections: a warmup you can use at home or even before class, a basic series of barre exercises, and a set of strength and stretching exercises for the floor.

Now here is the thing. Most of these books sell the workout as a standalone workout. Ballet-Fit doesn’t. This is clearly a practice that is meant to supplement class. The assumption throughout is really that you are taking regular class with a teacher who can correct you and other students who can motivate you.

Someone else might not like it, but I love it. I wanted a guide to what I could do at home to supplement my classes, and here it is. Including warmups, great stretches, and strength work. And it’s all dialed down the way it should be for home practice. For example, the authors advise you to put your hand on your waist at home, so you can really focus on the action of the leg. The exercises also include counts, a series of tips for proper execution, and occasionally, options for advanced beginners.

The final section is on pointe: how to tell when you’re ready, how to build towards it, how to buy and tie shoes, and what to expect from a pointe class. I can’t imagine ever being on pointe, but I found this section fascinating, especially the explanations of how doing pointe clarifies why we learn the technique at barre.

You might not like this book if you react badly to the authors’ occasionally stern tone. They are very clear on what’s possible and what’s not, what’s appropriate and what’s not. Ballet has its traditions, and while the authors of Ballet-Fit acknowledge that some things (like in-class wear) will be looser for adult beginners, they still uphold those traditions.

I, for one, love it. It’s the perfect accompaniment to my regular ballet classes.

Kyria bellydancer Netherlands

Guest post: Kyria’s top ten DVDs for intermediate and advanced bellydancers

Dear readers, I’m thrilled to bring you today’s guest post from Kyria, a bellydancer from the Netherlands. Kyria and I have chatted online about our shared obsession with bellydance DVDs, and I asked her if she could provide a professional dancer’s perspective on how and which DVDs to use for at-home training. 

This is the first installment: a guide to Kyria’s favourite DVDs and how they fit into her practice. Which of these do you use? Are there others you also recommend? 

Kyria bellydancer Netherlands

I started bellydancing fifteen years ago, when video instruction was practically unheard of in the Netherlands. At best, dancers who travelled to Egypt brought back bootlegged VHS videos of famous dancers. We played these over and over again and tried to copy the moves and figure out what the dancer was doing.

I learned to bellydance through weekly classes from various live teachers, which was invaluable because beginning dancers need corrections and feedback in order to learn correct form, posture and technique. And boy, did I need correction! I still do, that’s why I take weekly ballet classes and go to workshops. Being a professional dancer means being a lifelong student.

I enjoy learning new things and believe that regular practice and exercise not only make me a better dancer, but they also keep me sane and healthy. However, due to work and life I sometimes don’t have the opportunity to follow classes with a live teacher. That’s why I build my instructional bellydance DVD library. Not dancing or not learning is simply not an option for me.

Streaming, downloading and the good old hardcopy DVD

Lately the market is expanding into streaming live classes and services that allow subscribers to download or stream instructional classes. This is a great way to try out classes, and it is very flexible and suited to individual needs. For me streaming doesn’t work as I hate it when the connection falters, but if your internet connection is fast and flawless, it’s a great service. I am also pretty hardcore in the sense that I like to own material. If the mood strikes me and I want to practice or research, I want it to be available and in my possession. That’s why I prefer DVDs.

What DVDs I would recommend for practice at home for an intermediate to advanced dancer? Here are my criteria for regular practice:

  1. I pick DVDs that are intermediate level or up. I have a need for speed and quality and want my practice to be as effective as possible;
  2. I like to shop around in (belly)dance styles so sometimes I use an Egyptian DVD, other times ATS. Don’t get me started on my fitness DVDs!
  3. I like to go through a DVD at least 5-7 times, to really absorb the concepts, technique and choreography. It’s like following a semester of real classes: one class is not enough to fully understand and learn the material. I revisit my DVD collection as often as I can;
  4. Sometimes I have fifteen minutes, sometimes I have 90 minutes. I like DVDs that offer me flexibility to create a session that fits my time schedule.

My DVD recommendations for at-home practice:

Jillina – Shape Up n’ Hip Out!

This is my go to DVD if I want to do some cardio, dance and be challenged by some combinations. The brilliance of this DVD is that it contains three twenty-minute work-outs: beginner, intermediate and advanced. All three are good. When I am in a hurry I do the intermediate and advanced one. Jillina is a very generous and warm instructor and I’ve taken multiple workshops with her through the years. She delivers every time with exciting and interesting choreographies and has excellent didactic skills.

Rachel Brice – Serpentine

This dancer knows how to teach! I hope to do a weeklong with her someday. In the workshops I took with her in the past she hadn’t advanced yet to where she is now as an instructor. The two-DVD set contains drills, choreography and some talks and information on several subjects like the backbend. This kept me busy for months. Easy to pop in and choose what you want to do for the day. My only minor negative point is that the yoga warm-up and yoga cool-down are too long for my taste.

Jenna – The Heartbeat of Bellydance

Rhythms, a couple of choreographies and live drumming. What’s not to like about this one? The performances are taped in a cramped studio so I don’t think they convey well on this DVD. Great for intermediates to get to know rhythms and dance to the different rhythms. As a professional dancer, repetition of rhythms is always a good thing. The choreographies are not that complicated but Jenna has a personal style that is different from mine (so lots to learn) yet similar in musicality that I keep coming back to it because it is fun.

*my personal pet peeve is that I am big on musicality. DVDs that use awful music, that are edited with the dancer being out of sync with the music or dancers that have a musical interpretation that opposes mine are not on this list. I grind my teeth and put up with blegh music if the quality of the instruction is high or the content is awesome)*

Ranya Renee – The Baladi

The elusive baladi is captured on this DVD set. It is hard to videotape, explain and show baladi on a DVD but Ranya does an excellent job. She shows the instruments, explains the progression in the music, and offers nifty visual explanations on what muscles to engage and on to the actual dancing. I love that this is an instruction for improvisation and the baladi is one of my favourite styles. I have to be in the mood for this DVD and let the material simmer a while to get results, but it is one of the few DVDs that aim to create a strong connection between dancer and music. Improvisation and musicality are essential for a professional bellydancer.

Aziza’s Ultimate Bellydance Pratice Companion

Buy it. Now. I’ve been using it for over seven years and I enjoy it every. Single. Time. Aziza is engaging, charming and knowledgeable and makes a 21-minute shimmy drill fun. This DVD can be used by beginners, intermediates and advanced dancers, making it rather unique in the world of instructional DVDs. Her workshops and Dreamcamp are also amazing and I highly recommend her. I took my first workshop with her in 2009 and I still go as often as I can as she keeps on working on new material and concepts.

Suhaila – Bellydance for Beginners 4 Volume Set

Suhaila Salimpour’s style might be your cup of tea, or it might not. This DVD set gives you a taste of her philosophy, in bite-sized work-outs. Each one contains a bit of drilling, combinations, and a short choreography. I did a three-day intensive with Suhaila which is much more focused on her method and philosophy. But, as a dancer with limited time, this set gives me a taste without needing to emerge completely in her concept. Even if Suhaila’s dance style is not your thing, her ideas about drilling, muscle isolation and layering are fascinating and quite useful. Plus glute squeezes can be done anywhere! Her glute squeeze technique has brightened up many long meetings at work.

Jillina – Instructional Bellydance with Jillina 3 DVD Set

For the choreography junkie in me, Jillina delivers excellent material that satisfies my hunger for surprising combinations, music interpretation, and footwork. Her footwork patterns are influenced by ballet, modern, jazz, and the Reda Troupe style of dance. Footwork is what I need to create my own improvisations and choreographies and beginner DVDs usually include a very basic level. If you are at a point where you want more, try this DVD set.

Jenna – Bellydance – The Next Level

I like this DVD because the warm-up is perfect for my body and Jenna is very good in explaining concepts. The drills section is great for an oriental style drill, and there are two choreographies I can work with to internalize the material. The drum solo is fun. My only comment is that the music is hard to come by as a European dancer, so I stream it from a Spotify playlist for my own practice.

Zoe Jakes – From A to Zoe

Lots of drills and classes with Zoe Jakes, with great tips on flutters and abdominal isolation. The nice thing about Tribal Fusion is that it has a different way of using and combining moves, and the stylisation is completely different compared to bellydance. When I feel like going out of my comfort zone, this is a good one.

Michelle Joyce – Killer Ziller

I didn’t include specialty DVDs in this list because I wanted to give a general list. I am not going to include DVDs on veilwork, assaya, khaleegy, Turkish, etc. I make an exception for zills as they are not specialty but a basic piece of knowledge for a professional bellydancer. They are a musical instrument that need to be trained as often as possible while dancing. I like to slip on my zills during regular DVDs and play basic zill patterns to get them into my system. This DVD offers a range of zill drills, combined with dance moves. It is perfect for regular practice and increasing awareness of playing zills while dancing.

Interesting links

Learning to bellydance from video – Shira

Eight dvds for home practice– Ananke

Learning bellydance by DVD – Jade

Online bellydance classes that I used, liked and recommend

Datura – Good stuff, from various teachers. Includes video’s in different styles, and you can choose between renting one video or subscribing for full access.

Suhaila Salimpour school online (if you are into her format. if you don’t know what her format is, try her DVD set first!)

Cairo Bellydance – For the experience of a workshop in Egypt from the comfort of your own home. Mostly juicy Egyptian bellydance, straight from a dancer living and performing in Egypt.

Sources for DVD’s

RaqsTv – Hard copy or digital download

Cheeky Girls Productions – A huge collection of instructional and performance DVDs (sometimes available in download). By dancers, for dancers.

World Dance New York – Plenty of bellydance instructionals, world dance dvds and pilates/yoga. Great value for your money.

Hollywood Music Center

About Kyria:

Kyria is closing in on celebrating her first decade as a professional bellydancer. Her (Dutch) dance website is at www.buikdansereskyria.com.  She lives in Utrecht, The Netherlands with her husband and dog and eagerly looks forward to a new addition to the family at the end of 2015. She is a member of two belly dance troupes: Sense of Bellydance (Utrecht) and the Dalla Dream Dancers (The Hague), teaches weekly classes at the Utrecht University and enjoys making belly dance costumes. She blogs about her costuming projects and all things belly dance at kyriascostumes.com.

Nadira Jamal's roller coaster

Nadira Jamal’s Rock the Routine — reflection and a special offer

The first time Nadira Jamal ran her Rock the Routine course, I was there.

I was also the mother of a three-month-old baby and had just moved to a new country, but I was there.

So it was unlikely from the start that I would see it through, but I did work with the program as long as I could.

Nadira’s just announced that she’s running the program again, and this time, alumni can join — both to do it, and to be a resource for new participants. And I’ve signed up. Here is why.

Rock the Routine is a course designed to teach you how to perform a full, traditional six-part routine. You know, old school Am-Cab. You go through strategies for the Introduction, Veil, Middle Section, Chiftetelli, Drum Solo, and Finale. You not only learn how to keep an audience’s interest throughout an entire show, but improvisation strategies for each individual section, along with music tips — the whole deal!

Now, I’ve only done troupe performances, never a solo of my own. So it’s pretty unlikely I’ll be doing a full six-part routine on a stage anytime soon. But for me, it’s not really about the routine per se.

What I liked about Rock the Routine were all the little, manageable assignments. Nadira basically teaches you how to improvise dance in a structured way. Or how to structure choreographies, perhaps with some give built into them for improv. I do want to perform solos this year, and since I don’t really like to perform other people’s choreographies, I need some help. I need to know how to start.

Some of the exercises are five minutes long. Some are fifteen minutes. They’re doable little bits that are practice in putting moves together into a dance, and in a way that’s effective, interesting for an audience, and establishes a certain mood. This is what I want.

My one criticism of Rock the Routine when I first did it was that it moved way too fast for me. I suspect I wasn’t the only one, because Nadira took our feedback and slowed down the pace of the course. So I’m also looking forward to doing the course at a more reasonable tempo.

So that’s me. What about you?

Well, if you’re interested in doing Rock the Routine too, you can sign right up at:

http://www.bellydancegeek.com/rock-the-routine/

As with many online courses, you can do a basic version or a premium version that includes participation in a Facebook group for support, and the full routine playbook as a download.

This year, you can get an upgrade to the premium version for free. All you do is add the PREMIUM package to your cart. Then you enter the coupon code ATISHEH in the shopping cart and hit Apply. After that, you continue the checkout process.

If you do, I get a small commission, and you get the upgrade for free. (Sneaky Nadira is getting us alums to spread the word, you see. But everyone wins if we do.)

So that’s it. I’ll be there, working on my improv skills. Will you join me?

(The header image is from Morguefile!)

Atisheh's practice dance space/home studio

Reflecting on Nadira Jamal’s How to Build a Sustainable Practice Habit

I paid 109 dollars for an online course.

I never finish online courses.

I did not finish this online course.

Was it worth it?

Hell yeah.

***

I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t sure about it at first. When Nadira Jamal, a.k.a. The Belly Dance Geek, advertised her online course for developing a practice habit, I knew it was the right thing for me, but worried about starting another online course I wouldn’t finish.

Then again, it was a bit of a catch-22. My biggest problem in dance is the discipline to practice. Would I have the discipline to stick with a course that would teach me discipline?

The other issue is that I knew, before I even signed up, that the coming months would be insanely difficult and busy. Lots of international travel, lots of deadlines. Lots of things more important than dance in my life.

But I decided to go through with it anyway. Part of the reason was that I knew Nadira (from email, from facebook, etc.) and I knew she’d done a lot of research on habit formation. And I’m interested in good habits for reasons beyond dance — I want to write every day, and I want to cook more often. So I thought of the course as a way of getting Nadira’s research instead of doing it myself.

Nadira talks about this concept of the “hilariously low minimum.” The idea is that you set a goal that is so laughably small, that it’s truly easy to achieve. It gets you to show up. If you still want to quit after that, you can, and the deal is you don’t get to feel guilty about not doing enough. But often, showing up is the hardest part, so you keep going.

Well, I decided when I began that I would stick to that idea like white on rice. My goal would not be to practice an hour a day, but 20 minutes max. And I would keep my hilariously low minimum. If I only danced 2 minutes a day, that would still be a quarter of an hour a week of dance I otherwise would not have had.

So what happened?

As I predicted, a strong takeoff, and sputtering in the middle. But that was okay. I saved all of Nadira’s audio lessons (which I did listen to), and all of her worksheets (most of which I didn’t wind up doing), and I know I can always go back to them. Nadira also had an option to join a Facebook support group, and that kept me going even when I faltered with the homework — and it is still running now.

But that didn’t matter. Because in the time that I did stick with the program, something happened. I changed. I changed from a person who couldn’t even imagine practicing (that’s for professional dancers!) to a person who just plain did.

I’m not any more disciplined now, really. But that was the magic of Nadira’s program — it wasn’t about building discipline, it was about making practice an easy decision. She advises trying morning practice, because we have the most willpower in the morning. I resisted this for a while, but when I kept being too tired to dance in the evenings, I switched to mornings. Mornings are much, much better. Mornings make everything possible, it turned out. It also — to my massive surprise — turns out that I don’t mind going to bed at 10 pm and getting up at 5:30 am so I can dance. Is your mind blown? Mine is.

One of the exercises Nadira had us do early on had to do with figuring out the importance of dance in our lives. I realised that dance is very, very important to me, but that it still comes way after family and my career. That made it clear to me that I had to make space for dance in my life, but also that it was okay if it made space for the other priorities. I would still like to be dancing more, especially in class, but I’m not as frustrated as I would be if I weren’t dancing at all (which was the case for so many years).

Changing the way I see myself — from a person who can’t practice to one who can — has also made it easier to get back on the wagon after sickness and travel. There is a kind of mental block that isn’t there anymore. I don’t have to tell myself I can do it. I just put on my dance clothes and practice.

I discovered that a personal practice brings joys that are different from class. Class is often more intense physically, because I don’t get as lazy. Personal practice is more creative. Even when I did drills or worked with videos, I almost always wound up breaking off from the “program” to improvise to some music. I found myself inventing all kinds of little moves and combos. I found myself dancing.

My only regular dance classes these days are ballet, and those began just before Nadira’s course. So part of the fun of my practice time is seeing how much even a few months of ballet has changed the way I move, my ability to stay on relevé, my ability to spin or do arabesques. My practice time is fun, and it’s skill-building, but it’s also a way to check in with myself, to see what moves and skills have become sloppy, and what has become strong.

I will go back to the course and redo it at some point. I will probably also “do” the course with other habits in mind — like writing. But for now, it was worth $109 to become a person who practices.

***

How about you? How do you build your practice habit?