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

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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.

Khalida dancing drum solo with Issam

Review of Shimmies with Khalida

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One thing I’ve learned? It makes a difference when a dancer is as obsessed with DVDs as I am.

Khalida is a Belgian bellydancer living in Germany. She’s a gorgeous dancer, and, like us amateurs, works with a lot of DVDs. I frankly kind of love that — I always imagine the pros are getting private lessons in Cairo all the time, but in fact, many of them also like to take advantage of the incredible wealth of knowledge and instruction you can get on DVDs, at a fraction of the price of a workshop.

So I had high hopes when I opened up Shimmies with Khalida. I also really wanted to work on my shimmies, which are just kind of okay — I can do what I need to for a choreo, but they could be much stronger. What did I think? The DVD is… how to put it? Brilliant.

Khalida bellydance solo

The first thing to say is that Shimmies with Khalida features almost two hours of content. Sure, you could work with everything all the way through, and I did that one evening for what was a fantastic workout. But you can also adapt it in all sorts of ways. There are many different types of instruction here, including conditioning for shimmy work, technique instruction (with mini-drills) in a variety of shimmies, and a 21-minute shimmy drill. You can basically pick and choose what you want to work on. And here’s where you can tell that Khalida is an avid DVD user: not only is everything chaptered and available via the menus, but she gives you the amount it takes. For everything. So if you have twenty-five minutes, you can do squats conditioning and the long shimmy drill for example. Or if you want to do a shorter cool-down, you can choose one of the sub-chapters instead of both. And if you just want to brush up on 3/4 shimmies, that’s easy to do too!

Shimmies with Khalida typical menu

So let’s go through the program. After a brief introduction, you have a detailed posture explanation and a short but effective dancing warm-up. After that, you have one of the coolest sections of this DVD, and something that really sets it apart, about 19 minutes of conditioning exercises for shimmies. These include squats conditioning, a beautifully intense mini-workout with port-de-bras, soothing standing stretches, a brilliant seated shimmy drill in which Khalida teaches you tricks to keep shimmies even, followed by yoga-inspired seated stretches (though actually these include lunges and standing moves too).

khalida2

The sitting conditioning exercises — my favourite way to practice!

The Technique and Exercises section covers eight shimmies:

Basic hip shimmy
Egyptian shimmy
Shiver shimmy/freeze
African shimmy/bounce
Shoulder shimmy and twist
Choochoo shimmy
3/4 shimmy “up”
3/4 shimmy “down”

Khalida’s instruction is clear. She begins from scratch, though I don’t think this is really a DVD for beginner dancers, as she tends to build up quickly. In most cases, she doesn’t go to maximum speed though — an exception being the 3/4 shimmies, which I couldn’t even dream of keeping up with. Usually, her focus is on even movement, something I found useful as I’m usually just trying to speed up. In a number of cases, Khalida offered tips that I’d heard nowhere else, like moving your hips like a steering wheel for the basic hip shimmy. The choo-choo is a problem shimmy for me, but her instruction for this got me further than I’ve ever been before. What’s neat is that these instructional sections also include mini-drills, which might have you layering the the shimmy on hip work or doing arm moves while shimmying.

Khalida demonstrates choo-choo shimmy

Khalida demonstrates choo-choo shimmy

The next section shows the Aziza connection — Khalida has her own extended shimmy drill, in which she revisits all the shimmies she taught, but combines them into a long practice flow. Again, she layers them, adds arms, and adds movement across the floor. And here’s the thing I noticed when doing the whole DVD in one go — the drills she provides in the extended drill are not the same as in the instructional sections. They are new. So if you do both together, you are doing new, challenging drills all the time. I found I could follow along with most of it, though there were points — 3/4 shimmies again — where I was lost. But that also means it’s a program to grow into.

Khalida's extended shimmy drill

I’m relieved Khalida has also worked up a sweat in the extended shimmy drill

The workout part of the DVD closes with a soft cool down, and a delicious dancerly stretches session.

I love this DVD, not only because I think the instruction is excellent, but because there’s such attention to detail. Khalida has a friendly, cheerful, but not over-perky demeanour. She gives frequent tips to keep the shoulders down and chest up, as though sensing what I need. Many dance or workout instructors doing more complex patterns might neglect one side in favour of another — what struck me about Shimmies with Khalida was that in almost two hours of instruction, that happened once, maybe. If the right side works, so does the left. And the production itself is beautiful and clear, filmed in a large, bright studio, with a big mirror behind Khalida showing you how things look from the back.

Finally, the special features. These include two performances by Khalida, one of them with Issam on drums. There are behind the scenes pictures, an interview with Khalida, and some promotional material.

I received a review copy of this DVD, and I’ve also chatted with Khalida on Facebook. All that aside, Shimmies with Khalida is a truly excellent DVD, and frankly a great workout too. I love the conditioning section, and also that you can customize practices using the DVD. And there are simply so many different drill ideas here. You could do an instructional section a few times over for good practice, or you could take a drill and then do it to music on your own. Or you could just do the extended shimmy drill once a week to keep everything smooth. There is lots to work with.

You can get Shimmies with Khalida at http://khalidashop.com/, and there is also a listing on Amazon. You can also now stream and download the DVD at https://gumroad.com/khalida, which loses the chaptering magic, but adds the convenience of working with it wherever you are, on a computer or tablet.

Review of Hannan Sultan’s Elegant Turns and Arabesques

I’ve had Hannan Sultan’s Elegant Turns and Arabesques for a couple of years. Up until now, I’ve mostly just peeked into it, sometimes to see how she describes the technique for a spin I’m having trouble with, sometimes even to try and work with it. However, I’ve been hampered by not really having enough space to practice properly — chaîné turns take room! — so was always a bit dissatisfied.

Enter today, and the opportunity to rent some studio space near the in-laws’. I knew I needed to practice, since I’m away from troupe training for an unconscionably long time, and have some sad, sloppy turns to deal with. And by a stroke of luck, I got the studio for four hours today — an unexpected luxury. Imagine — a sunny studio, with a perfect floor, mirrors, and a nice sound system, all to myself!

Working with Elegant Turns and Arabesques in a proper studio made all the difference. I suppose if you have a large, empty room at your disposal, you will also do well. But know before you start out that the turns and combinations Hannan teaches are really meant to cover room, and you will get the most out of the DVD if you can drill and repeat without bumping into a sofa.

The program itself is about 68 minutes long. Hannan explains at the start that you will really need to drill these techniques on your own to get them, and recommends stopping the video to practice or working on the moves independently. This is true for all dance instruction, but boy is it ever true for turns, which just genuinely take a lot of practice to be anywhere near passable. (At least if you’re me and turn-untalented.)

After a brief Introduction, Hannan discusses Posture, Visualization, and Arms. In this latter section, she reviews and demonstrates basic posture, talks you through a visualization to help direct the energy in your body, and quickly demonstrates how the arms are supposed to move with relationship to the shoulders. This was a quick section, and is really more valuable as a reminder than as detailed instruction. I have done something like the visualization she describes in troupe training (my teacher also studied with Aziza, so I wonder if there’s a connection there), and it is indeed a powerful tool that changes the nature of the movement. But it would have been more valuable in this video if Hannan had reminded us of the visualization during the turn practice.

The next section is on Turns and Arabesques, and covers the following techniques and moves:

Spotting
Three Step Turns
Cross Turn (I know this as a Tip Turn)
Chenee Turn (a.k.a. chaîné)
Chenee Variation
Low Turn
Flamenco Turn
Corkscrew
Barrel Turn
Arabesque
Jazz Arabesque
Backward Arabesque

Hannan teaches facing a mirror, and quite smartly has a ankle bracelet on her right foot so you can always tell which foot is which. She breaks down the turns carefully, including the starting position, goes over how to spot and reminds you to do so, and then drills it several times on both sides. And she sometimes has clever, funny ways of making you remember something — the mullet move is one I’ll treasure every time I work on my arms during spins.

The big takeaway for me, and the reason why I will love Hannan for ever, is that this video really, truly made a difference to my chaînés. I followed her instructions for spotting and doing them, and just practiced and practiced until they started to feel good. She teaches a variation of the chaîné in which you are on releve but with bended knees, and has you drill a combination of straight-leg and bent-leg chaînés. This turned out to be a great way to drill more chaînés together, since the slight change in point of balance helped me keep my focus. Pretty soon I found myself doing five, six, eight chaînés before getting dizzy or not landing right, whereas I’m usually dizzy and out after three.

Some other notes… instruction on the cross turn was good, but she mentioned the most important bit later, during the flamenco turn: keeping your thighs pressed each other. The barrel turn she teaches is a version with a single turn; it’s pretty, but I need to get a handle on multiple barrel turns. I adore the flamenco turn. It’s kind of fiendishly hard to get all those components working together, but after practicing for a while on my own I got a version which, though not right, made me feel wonderful.

The arabesques were also well taught and heavily drilled. I’m a big fan of the jazz arabesque, with the foot skimming the ground. The backward arabesque remains challenging, but is one of those moves you just need for oriental dance.

The final section has four Combinations, in which Hannan puts together turns and arabesques already taught. There are four of these, ranging from simple and fun to truly challenging. What’s really neat is the final combination, for which Hannan teaches you a number of variations that you can do when performing the combo with a veil. In effect, she winds up teaching several more turns (or rather, arm positions that change the look of the turn). She also introduces several steps here that are not turns or arabesques, but that are very pretty — in fact, one of my favorite moves in the whole DVD is in this section! All in all, the Combination section is what gives the DVD even more growth value, as these are things you really have to work on to get them looking smooth.

How could the DVD have been improved? Well, I thought most of the sections had a good amount of drilling, but a small minority ended too abruptly. I would have liked more tips on balance and the dynamics of the turn, since these are my weak spots. That said, I found that through the practice, these weak spots got less weak anyway.

The positives are solid instruction from a beautiful dancer, with some truly lovely moves and combinations thrown in. After working with Elegant Turns and Arabesques I spent some time improvising. Whereas I usually shy away from turns and arabesques, now I was flitting around the studio with glee.

And sometimes the universe tells you to dance

I try not to be too, too superstitious, but every now and then, the universe organizes its messages a little too neatly. Everywhere I turn I hear the same thing, and finally I start to think that maybe I should pay attention. Take breathing. Suddenly, everyone’s telling me to breathe! Alia Thabit, who tells me to prep for the 90 Day Dance Party by breathing in time to the music. Or I do Hala Khouri’s yoga DVD, and am struck by how much the breathing helps me unwind. Or my real life teachers are suddenly focusing much more on working with breath to create movement. Or I get an email from Rosa Noreen’s Delicious Pauses Online Intensive, and she’s going on about…. well, you can guess.

Okay, so I’ve figured out I should take a breath now and then. Maybe even when I’m moving. But another little synchronicity got my attention lately too. First, it came my way from Life is Cake, in the form of a video in which several dancers talk about the evolution of their style. What really hit me was Autumn Ward’s contribution, which you can see here.

Autumn talks about a period in her life when she worked on a number of skills she thought would impress a nightclub crowd, and how she wound up returning to her own passion for intricate, lyrical dance. I thought it was so honest and vulnerable for her to talk about moments gone wrong (or at least awry) in her artistic path, and also so inspiring. It’s so easy when doing creative work to get caught up in what we can’t do, what other people can, and so on. And often that can be positive — as Autumn points out, it can lead to acquiring new skills. But sometimes it’s also key to remember where your passion is, what your strength is, what’s authentic to yourself. And really, that’s where the greater part of the effort needs to go.

Then Alia posted a quote from Seth Godin on her Facebook wall:

The ability to say, “It’s not for you,” is the foundation for creating something brave and important. You can’t do your best work if you’re always trying to touch the untouchable, or entertain those that refuse to be entertained.

“It’s not for you.”

This is easy to say and incredibly difficult to do. You don’t have much choice, though, not if you want your work to matter.

Now, that’s pretty great stuff right there. I have no idea who this Seth Godin fellow is, but I’d buy him a cup of coffee if I saw him just because of that one blog post. What a wonderful line to keep in mind, not just for the living critics, but the imaginary critics who populate my head? “This is not for you, babe. Move on, there’s nothing to see here.”

Anyway, long story short, I put one and one together and figured the universe was telling me the following: first, however frustrated I sometimes get with myself in my dance classes, with the fact that I’m not further along than I really am, I needed to chill out, and also realise that at some point I’ll have to figure out what kind of dancing I most want to do, even if my skills and technique still have a lot of developing to do. And second, in my real life work, which is also creative, I needed to care a lot less about what people might think if I were to carry it out precisely as I want to. And that latter bit was much more important. Because in way, the dance world was telling me what I had to do at work.

The result? This week I finished an important chunk of a long project, and in fact, the hardest section so far — one I’ve been fighting with for more than a year. I rewarded myself by going to the wonderful local bellydance store, Saidi, and buying my first bedlah. It’s turquoise, so much louder and more revealing than what I went in looking for, and just unapologetically glittery. I’m a big believer in spending money on instruction and not on costuming, but in this case, I had earned it.

And my dance classes were filled with all sorts of little moments of joy. First, in ballet, having our teacher ask us to do a flat back, and actually getting it right. I have struggled with the flat back for ages, so having her come by, take a look at me, and say “it’s perfect” was like finishing a long hike. Or noticing that some of the armwork I did in the Aziza DVD was seeping its way into my bellydance class work. Or today, practicing those killer Soheir Zaki hips at home and finding that it actually made a difference when we drilled them.

Hmmmm…. I hear you wondering. Is there a moral to this long, rambling post? Basically:

1. Do what your passion tells you to do.
2. Enjoy small victories.
3. Try breathing once in a while.

Review of Aziza’s Hands, Arms & Poses

Aziza’s oft-repeated wisdom is: “Be amazed.”

At one point while I was doing this video, I thought: “Dude, if I found my body doing what hers is doing, in the way that hers is doing it, I sure would be amazed!”

When you see the title of the DVD, namely Hands, Arms & Poses, you can be forgiven for thinking this video will give you ideas for things to do with your hands and arms while you dance. And it does. Aziza covers useful stretches for the hands, does drills to isolate your wrists, teaches lotus hands as well as beautiful positioning of the fingers. And while the arm work centers on the port de bras, there are good tips for moving with intention, and other arm pathways as well.

That said, I kept thinking the video (which I received as a review copy) should have been called something else. Because the real strength of this program is not in giving you a thousand hand or arm positions — it doesn’t — but in teaching coordination and control. And for that, you have some really fine drills.

After a quite dancey warmup of eight minutes, focusing on the arms especially, you have a variety of exercises. The section called “Drills & Exercises” with “Drills.” This 17-minute segment is a great standalone mini practice companion, the bulk of it being slow and steady arm flows layered on top of  rhythmic hip movements. This is the kind of thing that some instructors do have you practice early on (one of mine does), but not reliably, and it is challenging. When I did this section, I had to think that I should probably do it at least once a week. Seventeen minutes can’t be that hard, can it?

Aziza is looking to see if you’ve been doing your wrist isolations.

Next come two sections on foot patterns. In each, Aziza teaches a long combination, has you repeat it a few times in both directions, and then adds changing arm work to it. I’ve grown to love the teaching technique of drilling a combo with stylistic variations, and I think it’s a wonderful way to show what varying arms can do. The first combination is somewhat easier to get a handle on, while the second shows Aziza’s ballet training, and has rather more difficult leg work. Aziza doesn’t then explain every single arm moves, but you’re supposed to follow along and, probably, improvise a bit on your own.
The one thing that drove me absolutely nuts during this section is that once Aziza gets going with the arm stylizations, the camera focuses way too much on her lower body and feet. I found myself wanting to stick my hand through the screen and yank the view up to Aziza’s arms!

After some wrist isolations, we move on to the “Poses & Combinations” section. In a way, this is the hardest of all, though it looks the easiest if you’re just watching the video. There are three combinations of, well, poses, but the trick is that you’re supposed to move with incredible control from one to the next. Imagine a crazy hard tai chi. When I posted about doing Hands, Arms & Poses on Facebook, Lauren Zehara confirmed my suspicion that this is truly hard, but worthwhile, dance practice:

It’s very different from what most dancers study in their regular weekly classes. Aziza is assuming that we can do all the basics (hipwork, etc) and challenging us to do that while holding exquisite lines in the body and moving with grace and intention. THAT is challenging at any level, and great stuff to work on!

Why do this kind of work? I think if I’d run across this material a few years ago, I would have thought it pointless and boring. But in the meantime, I’ve worked with Rosa Noreen’s Delicious Pauses, and I took a workshop with Heather Wayman in which she shared some of Nadira Jamal’s tricks for using poses to structure improv. Both Rosa and Nadira are well aware of Aziza’s work, I know, but through them I was prepped to see the value of this. It is very hard to slow down the way Aziza practices here, and to keep looking good. I found myself naturally checking in on my abs, to see if they were pulled in, because I needed that muscular support to control my movements. And, while I wouldn’t do all of the poses, a lot of them were quite beautiful and pleasurable. It became, dare I say it, almost meditative to repeat them with intention.

After a brief, also dance-based cool down, you’re done. But you’re actually not done. Hands, Arms & Poses includes three performances. One incorporates the movements into an actual dance, another offers a dance with veil, and a third is “vintage Aziza” in a powerhouse performance from 1994. Other extras include photos of Aziza as a young ballet student and beginning bellydancer, and an interview.

Production values are very high. The quality of the film is extremely good, and the video itself is shot in Le Windsor, a nineteenth-century Montréal hotel. Aziza uses real music, from Hollywood Music Center, track information is given, and the music is in time to the exercises, not just a vague backdrop. The one thing I wasn’t fond of was the fascination with the feet in the foot patterns (!), but in other sections of the video the camera knew where to look. This is a gorgeous video, and one I will return to again.

You can get Hands, Arms & Poses at Amazon or via Aziza’s website.

 

Blogging Project Belly Dance: Season 2, Episode 2: On your toes, ladies!

The second episode of this season of Project Belly Dance was a grab-bag of reality show tricks and twists. You will dance — but not to your own music! Some people will be eliminated, but one will be voted back in! Another will be voted all the way to the finals! And, oh yeah, how about memorizing this long script and performing it in front of a camera? In Russian!

Well, ok, to be fair, the Russian script went to Dalida, a Russian speaker. But, you know, this show had more turns than an old-fashioned telephone cord. (And if you still get that reference, or even remember phones with cords at all, go pour yourself a martini and stare a little into space with me.)

Lara cuts a fine figure on the stage

Where were we? Ah yes, the gala show after the first elimination ceremony. The eliminated contestants, sweat still glistening on their brows, now get to perform in front of an audience.
This part goes by pretty quickly, and Lara is brought back into the competition.

Now comes the really fun part. The remaining contestants are brought on stage, but then asked to improvise to someone else’s music. I found this part of the program particularly thrilling. Part of this is because I’ve been drinking Nadira Jamal’s improvisation kool aid, but part of it has to do with the fact that I think improv is so much more fun to watch. Choreos, especially when done by pros, can look impressive, but there’s often so little tension. What will happen? Well, whatever the dancer decided would happen, drilled and rehearsed and set in stone. Improv means liveness to me, because liveness has to include the possibility of disaster.

Not that you could tell when watching the first few dancers that they were improvising. Amanda Rose was all fluid perfection:

And Christina Gadea seemed to anticipate every beat:

As things went on, and after the music mixup, the dances were also impressive, if a little rougher around the edges. The main thing I noticed was that facial expressions became a lot more serious on average. That’s why when a dancer was able to communicate emotion and improvise, I tended to take notice. For example, check Maria out:

If this woman is stressed out by improvisation, she sure is doing a great job of hiding it. Her face is showing what I feel when I’m dancing, and that’s pretty exquisite.

The final challenge was a speaking challenge, because, after all, the winner is to star in one of Cheeky Girls’ DVDs. The results?

Sometimes it’s good to have a reminder that being on camera is not something that comes naturally. I have new-found respect for Snooki.

After this torture session was done, and the judges deliberated, the final six were announced: Ziva Emtiyaz (the audience pick for the final three), Tiffani Ahdia, Christina Gadea, Lara, Maria, and Sa’diyya!

So I’m thinking I want to see a bellydance version of RuPaul’s Drag U….