Review of Heather Wayman’s Belly Dance for the Busy, Everyday Woman

Hmm…. I wonder who that busy, everyday woman in the title of Heather Wayman’s new DVD is? Look, dear readers, you know I try to write reviews that give you a sense of what it’s really like to work with a DVD. For a normal person. A regular, non-pro dancer, with a practice that goes up and down. But this time I went a little overboard with the method acting approach to bellydance DVD review. In the past while, I was so busy, and so everyday, that I could barely get to dance. Due to ongoing babysitting mayhem, one cold after another, and a husband working out of town, I’ve been missing my live classes, and often finding myself so pooped after a day of work and childcare that I can hardly bring myself to pop in a video. Heather Wayman, bellydancer So I’m the perfect test case. Heather Wayman’s Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman is designed for beginners, for women who don’t have a lot of time to devote to their practice, for women who can only do a little bit at once. And this is exactly how I worked with the program. I never did it all the way through. Instead, I made smaller programs for myself by combining the warmup, one or more segments of instruction, and the cool-down. Before I get into the details of the DVD, let me give you the big picture. I had two big question marks going in: would this program be accessible to beginners, and would it really work around a busy schedule? My answer to both is yes. If you have never taken a bellydance class, with a little concentration you could follow Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman. But while most beginner DVDs give you a lot of moves but don’t show you how to put them together, Heather shows you just a few moves, but puts them into a basic choreography you can dance. It’s a different approach to beginner instruction, one that incorporates music and transitions, but doesn’t give you every move in the book. As to the busy schedule, the fact that the segments are short did make me think that, okay, even though I was tired, I could just do the warmup and one segment and still have danced a bit that evening. Once I got my computer set up I tended to dance for longer than I intended, which was nice, but not always. But here was the surprise: even when I only danced a little bit, when I did make it back to class my movements were smoother, faster, better coordinated. This happened several times, and I was amazed to notice that even a short, well-structured program could make a difference to the dancing I did in class. In other words: you can do something, even when at your busiest, and most tired. Heather Wayman demonstrating beginner bellydance moves But now let’s get to the nitty gritty. Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman consists of an introductory sections, nine learning modules, and a closing section. Introduction Heather begins by describing the program, how to work with the DVD, and how the mirroring works. Mirroring is always important, but for a beginner choreography, even more essential. She then goes through proper dance posture. Her description is brief enough to remember, and she repeats it several times, and continues giving posture reminders throughout the program. One of the things Heather does that’s unusual for a beginner’s DVD is to explain why you should hold your knees or back in a certain way — either because it affects the look of the dance, or because it can prevent injury. Mirroring, posture, healthy movement — these things are, in my opinion, essential for beginner DVDs. This is followed by a short warmup. While it is not particularly long, it is also not just stretches. Heather does get you moving enough to raise your heart rate, so you’re actually warmup. What struck me about the warmup is that it’s all done standing, and even with the aerobic movements, can be done in a small space. Great for the home learner who doesn’t want to pull out the yoga mat or push the furniture around.

Heather Wayman demonstrates beginner belly dancing

The Modules Modules 1 to 6 help you build towards a choreography by introducing around three movements and putting them into a small combination. So, for example, module 1 introduces chest lifts, vertical chest circles, and shoulder rolls. The combo is then repeated with cues, with cues and music, then just with music. And every single one of these sections is reachable in a submenu, so if you want to practice in just one way, you can. Heather works through the verses of the song, and includes enough repetition of combinations that you wind up covering quite a bit of the song with a few basic patterns. The music is fun, and the moves are cute and go with the music in a clear, easy to grasp way.

Heather Wayman shows belly dancing moves

Especially when I began working with the program, I wondered: would a total beginner do okay with this? In a sense, it’s hard for me to tell. Heather’s descriptions of movements are very thorough, often even pointing out what muscles are used to drive a move. That can be helpful for some beginners, but others just need a lot of drilling, or more basic instruction. Shimmies definitely take a lot more time and work than they’re given here. But while this video does not offer a lot of individual drills, Heather does give a lot of tips on on typical beginner mistakes or “pitfalls”, which would allow you to self-correct. The thing that I thought was particularly clever was to offer a choreo that has changes of direction, level, and intensity. When we first learn bellydance, we tend to do a lot of “four of this, four of that” choreographies, usually facing forward (to the mirror). It’s hard, at the start, to see how you can do interesting things with the movements. While Heather teaches a limited number of moves, she’s implicitly teaching how they can be varied and built into a dance — and I think this is really important. The final three modules do not teach moves like the others. Module 7 focuses on Taqsim. In this section, Heather describes taqsim, and offers examples of how to dance to the taqsim beginning of the song. (The choreo lessons begin after the taqsim.) In Module 8, Heather goes through the choreography again, counting it out, then doing it with music and cues. And in Module 9, Heather goes through the combinations and moves already covered and suggests corresponding arm movements. Special Features Under the Special Features menu, you get a series of options. The first is a written list of the combinations. Next up is a mini-lesson on possible ending poses. From this menu you can also choose to dance along with a vide of the choreo taken from the back, or you can watch the dance as a costumed performance. And finally — a gag reel. But wait kids, that’s not all! Heather also offers bonus content on her website that I had a peek at. This is only available if you buy the DVD from Heather’s website. It’s material that didn’t make it onto the DVD for reasons of time, and it includes:

  • Choreography notation in an Excel spreadsheet
  • A stream of the edited music
  • Downloadable files of the individual combos from the back view into a mirror, in a loop for practice
  • The same videos, but watchable in the browser
  • A video with alternative arms and stylizations for the combos
  • A set of bonus taqsim demonstrations to other music

Heather Wayman's costumed belly dance performance

Other notes I’ve taken a live workshop with Heather and corresponded with her via email and Facebook. (And this was, by the way, a review copy I worked with.) She has a healthy dose of bellydance nerdiness, by which I mean that she thinks. This DVD shows the marks of her thinking about how to make the material useful and approachable to the beginner in every possible way — menu options for each little section, various ways to practice the full choreo, etc. I sometimes found this a bit confusing (I couldn’t quite tell why some things were modules and other things were special features), but overall, I think having a DVD with lots of different options is a Good Thing, and a great use of the technology. The other thing I really liked, and that I very much hope other DVD producers will note, is the kind of music used in the DVD. What do I mean? Heather uses three different songs — one for warmup, one for the choreo, and one for the cool-down. All of these songs are on the same CD, Raksa With Amir: Music for Bellydance. You only need to buy one. Oh yeah, and the CD is moderately priced, is available digitally (because is a beginner really going to wait for an obscure vendor to mail them a CD?), and if you don’t want to spend nine bucks on the whole CD, you can just buy the songs individually. And the music is good. The choreo Heather teaches does not take up the whole of Halim Mix, but it occurs at the beginning, so someone looking to perform it would not have to do complicated cutting. Is it for you? If you are beyond the beginner stage, or are looking for a comprehensive collection of moves presented in a systematic way, this is not the DVD to challenge you in the way you want. If you are truly a beginner, or have only done a bit of class… if you want to start putting moves together into a manageable choreography, or even learn how to modify basic moves to make them look interesting, Belly Dance For the Busy, Everyday Woman would be a good choice. You can get it at Amazon, but the bonuses are only available if you order direct from Heather at www.bellybyheather.com. 10441961_10152095942980518_6287854576637646118_n

Review of Ruby Beh’s Pilates for Bellydancers

I’ve been traveling lately, and it hasn’t left much time for dance, or for any kind of working out. It’s pretty terrible, going from pretty regular movement to nothing. So tonight, after I put the kiddo to bed, I decided to try out Ruby Beh‘s newish instructional on RAQStv, Pilates for Belly Dancers. I wanted to dance, but even more, I wanted to give my abs a little attention.

Ruby Beh showing pilates hundred

What I found is an answer to a lot of my dance problems of the past year. One of my challenges lately has been moving from the idea that bellydance is totally “loose” (I’m not really sure where I got this, except by some dumb opposition to ballet), and building up abdominal strength, learning how to keep my core engaged, and hardest of all, learning how to breathe with all of this. I don’t think there’s a single dance class I attend where the teacher is not constantly on me to keep my core “zipped up.”

Well, that’s what Pilates for Belly Dancers is all about. Ruby starts out slowly, really slowly, with posture and practice breathing both standing up and lying down. I loved the meticulous tiny movements that at least started giving me a sense of how the breathing and muscular contractions should feel. She then guides you through some classic pilates movements (the hundred, roll-ups, etc.) but interweaves exercises that help you gain control of the specific muscles useful for bellydance.

After a workout that is challenging if done attentively, Ruby has you practice some basic bellydance moves with special attention to the core. Finally, she teaches a short combination. In both of these segments, she explains what effects can be achieved with a strong, controlled pilates foundation — the fast spin that can stop on a dime, the quick-changing footwork that doesn’t make you bob up and down.

The video is 1 hour and ten minutes long. There was a brief but satisfying stretch to cool down with in the bonus content material, which also included the pilates section from Ruby’s Flawless Floorwork: The Lost Art of Belly Dance Floorwork DVD. The filming is clear throughout, though there is one blooper that was not edited out and a few camera cuts are confusing. Think filmed class, not pro DVD. Still, I had no problems following along.

In short, I was thrilled with the program. Ruby’s generous with pointers on form, and she will sometimes give modifications. She has the experienced instructor’s ability to know, magically, through the screen, just what I’m doing wrong and to correct it. She also has a knack for coming up with lots of illustrative similes to help conceptualize a movement.

All in all, it was so good for me to spend an hour really paying attention to what my core was doing at all times, how all other movements, whether exercise or dance, related to it and drew on its strength. Like Ranya Renee, Ruby talks about engaging the kegels too, though I haven’t heard this talked about in my classes. I haven’t been as delightfully concentrated during a pilates program in a long time. I wish I could buy this on DVD, but at least it’s being offered as a two-month rental on RAQStv.

Review of Samra’s Shimmyrobics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review of Maha Al Musa’s Dance of the Womb

As I near my due date, my thoughts turn more and more towards preparing for birth and labour, rather than just keeping fit and dealing with the aches and pains of pregnancy. For a while now I’ve been watching and working with sections of the Maha Al Musa’s 2-DVD set, Dance of the Womb: A Gentle Guide to Belly Dance for Pregnancy and Birth (which I received as a review copy), and I’m happy that I’ve played with all of it just at the right time in my pregnancy.

In what sense? Dance of the Womb is much less a workout, and much more a guide to and meditation on connecting with your body to have the best pregnancy and birthing experience possible. To be frank, I don’t think I would have appreciated it very much in my second trimester — I did take some peeks into the program, but was not moved to work with it just yet. And I was lucky to have a pretty active third trimester, for the most part, which enabled me to take on more challenging prenatal programs and even normal dance DVDs. (Though I wasn’t jogging or weight lifting or anything I probably wouldn’t do anyway!) But working with Dance of the Womb as everything in my body is starting to get heavy and painful, and as labour itself approaches, has been just right.

Dance of the Womb has two very different components. One DVD contains a short film of Maha’s home birth of her third child. Between beautifully-shot landscape scenes, photographs, and videos of the birth itself are interspersed interviews with Maha’s midwives. This is an intensely personal film, and really, for lack of a better word, quite amazing. Again, I think this isn’t something I appreciated so much earlier on in my pregnancy, but as I’ve come to see how many of the women I know wound up with cesarean sections recently (the vast majority), I’ve wound up more passionate about being able to labour naturally and with a minimum of interference. I would be too nervous to have a home birth, at least right now, but seeing that it’s possible, and seeing Maha do it, is truly inspiring at this point in my pregnancy.

It’s also inspiring in a practical way. Labour is a long process in many cases, and very different from what they show in the movies. Actually, it’s also quite different from the movies I saw in the Lamaze class on dealing with pain naturally and in the hospital’s prepared childbirth class. Those tend to be shorter and to focus on the last, most painful part of the first phase of labour (transition) and the birth itself. As astounding as all of those births are (both my husband and I are in tears when the lights go up), the videos themselves make the process look rather horrifying and unmanageable. The documentary in Dance of the Womb has a lot of shots of Maha walking and moving around, and as boring as this probably is to someone not currently with child, it’s great to see how she manages most of labour, and that she can manage it. The video also inspired me in nitty gritty ways. While I don’t live in the paradise of nature Maha inhabits, I do have a little bit of a park just outside my apartment, and only when I watched her video did it occur to me that I could spend some of my time outside instead of cooped up, communing with the carefully landscaped nature available to me!

Astoundingly beautiful

The first DVD contains the dance program itself. This is broken down into the following chapters:

Warm Ups (45 min)
The Circle (26 min)
The Spiral (9 min)
The Figure 8 (12 min)
The Cervix (4 min)
The Hands & Arms (13 min)
The Chest (7 min)

This is, as should be obvious, an enormous amount of instruction and practice time. What this means, practically, is that it was a little tricky for me to get started with it. I really had consciously to set aside a good chunk of time for it, and even then had to break it apart into two sessions. Again, this makes sense at the end of pregnancy, as I wind down from the usual pace of my work and more carefully take time to take care of myself.

 
The Warm Up is a program all on its own, comprised of a variety of yoga-based stretches and movements for improving bodily mobility. The instruction is incredibly precise, and the pace is slow. There is much focus on concentration and breath. Despite the fact that I’ve done what feels like a million prenatal workouts by now, I was still surprised by how many movements in this section were new to me. They effectively stretch every part of the body (every part), and are quite satisfying. I’ll add that I was working with this during a pretty high anxiety week, and it really helped to calm me down.

The subsequent chapters are all dance based, but also all subtly different from each other. Each takes as its focus either a part of the body or a basic shape associated with bellydance, and each teaches bellydance movements. However, some chapters are structured like more typical dance instruction, and teach you movements and variations on them (like the figure 8), while others introduce a basic shape or idea and then have you move and improv freely (hands & arms). Instruction is detailed and from the ground up — while I picked up some new things, a woman who had never bellydanced before in her life could learn to do these movements comfortably and safely. Moreover, Maha often gives tips on using the particular movement in childbirth, especially when the form would be different for labour than it would be in “proper” bellydance.

The key sections are the circle and the spiral, probably because those are the most elemental movements both for bellydance and for birthing. The focus here is really not on dancing in a performance sense, but on using the movements to enter a meditative, trance-like state. And it works, at least for me. Again, this is a quality of the video that I think makes it less suitable for an energetic early pregnancy, but fabulous for the end stretch. If I go into labour tomorrow (and this is not unlikely), I will probably play the circle and spiral chapters and move along with them.

You have to be creative to figure out how to suit the program to your needs. The 45-minute warmup would be enough for any day, and does incorporate some of the bellydance moves too. You could do the warmup and then a variety of chapters, or just some of the chapters on their own. The pace is slow and careful enough that I don’t think a lengthy warmup is really necessary.

Dance of the Womb: A Gentle Guide to Belly Dance for Pregnancy and Birth is a valuable compendium of preparation, information, and inspiration for birth.

Review of Amira’s Belly Dance & Yoga For Pregnancy Prenatal Exercise

My exploration of dance-based prenatal DVDs continues with Amira’s Belly Dance & Yoga For Pregnancy Prenatal Exercise, a massive three-and-a-half hour video that includes yoga and strength exercises, dance movement instruction and practice, birthing prep, interviews with health professionals and dancers, and two performances. Amira provided me with a review copy, and in our correspondence she mentioned having intended to make a much shorter program — I guess she got carried away with the research!

Amira’s yoga warmup

So this video is really several programs in one: the first, which most people will probably buy it for, is a gentle conditioning program for pregnant women with a strong dance component. The second is a reflection on childbirth from several different perspectives: Amira’s as dancer, pregnant woman, and researcher, those of a midwife and a chiropractic doctor, and testimonials from six dancers who had children. These programs are also intertwined to some extent. I’ll deal with the second program first.

Amira’s Belly Dance & Yoga For Pregnancy Prenatal Exercise for Childbirth Information

The thrust of Amira’s work is very much about recovering non-Western modes of bodily movement and preparation for childbirth. This can be seen in her introduction, and in little segments between the exercise sections of the workout. My own reaction to this was split. On the one hand, it’s incredibly silly to force women to give birth lying down, and it’s also patently clear that many of the movements in bellydance are precisely what doctors now recommend to pregnant women to alleviate pains and prepare for childbirth. “Ancient wisdom” is a broad and vague category, but there is clearly a lot we can learn from forms of movement that are not sitting at one’s desk. On the other hand, I also tend to resist idealizing either the past or non-Western medicine. Pregnancy is not a disease, but it is dangerous, and a lot of women died in the past who wouldn’t die today in North America or Western Europe. (Maternal mortality is still a major issue around the world, one Hilary Clinton has drawn attention to recently — see this, this, and this.)

Dancer Maggie shares her birth story

This is why what spoke to me most from this part of the video were the testimonials of dancers, who spoke about their own birth experiences. What came out of this was that pregnancy and birth are complicated, messy, and deeply individual. Some wound up having C-sections, some had tough pregnancies but were able to give birth vaginally, and every woman seemed to have a mix of joys and regrets. All thought they had benefited from their dance practice, but in different and nuanced ways — a feeling of femininity, a strengthened bond with the baby, or better body awareness. I loved that this section of the video showed that becoming a mother is not one-size-fits-all deal, even if many of us have ideas about what the “perfect” childbirth might look like.

Amira’s Belly Dance & Yoga For Pregnancy Prenatal Exercise as Prenatal Workout

The exercise section of the video contains five sections:

Yoga Warmup & Stretch
Strengthening
Belly Dance
Exercises During Labor
Cool Down and Stretch

This is quite a bit of material, and you will probably prefer just to do the warmup, cool down, and one of the sections in the middle on a normal day. I’ve tried it all except for the labor exercises, though these are mostly also bellydance movements, with the interesting addition of breathing practice that even women confined to bedrest can do.

The program is extremely careful, and very gentle. While you will stretch and strengthen your muscles, there are no jarring movements or even footwork. Everything is cued slowly and precisely. It means you should do this video on a day when you’re not in a rush (you might be frustrated with the pace), but also that you’re unlikely to injure or unduly strain yourself. Subtitles and inset videos will sometimes show modifications. And the program as a whole is a complete package — every part of your body will be gently stretched or worked, though it won’t feel like an intense workout. The best result was one I didn’t even notice right away. After doing this video, I had almost three days without sciatica pain.

Kitty paws help pregnant pain!

The “Belly Dance” section consists of basic movement instruction, but no choreographies. For women who are new to bellydance, Amira’s instructions will be approachable. More experienced dancers will not find challenging moves or routines, but I think this section would be a great long warmup for a pregnant woman continuing her dance practice. (It doesn’t have lots of lunges or extended shimmies that other warmups I know use, but which might be difficult or dangerous during pregnancy.) What I think is really valuable about this section, even for women who know how to do a chest circle and a maya, is that Amira’s slow and careful repetition of the movements forces you to pay attention to your basics. I found myself really focusing on the fundamentals, striving to extend my range of motion, and working on doing basic movements in a beautiful way. It made me think that there could be a plus side to dancing when pregnant!

And yes, bellydance does feel very good when you’re pregnant! What I found funny was that Amira included a section on arms and hands and claimed that it was for the beauty of the dance rather for any health benefits. Beautiful handwork is my favourite part of bellydance, so I’m with her on that, but I think she’s wrong on one point. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to carpal tunnel syndrome, and nothing is as great for that as bellydance hand flourishes are! They’re gorgeous, but they also have health benefits. Go figure.

The summary? You will love this DVD if you want a full but gentle prenatal workout, if you want to luxuriate in movement that will support your pregnancy, and if you want to hear about other women’s thoughts on and experiences of childbirth. You will not love it if you want a fast or sweaty workout, or if you do not want to hear about childbirth practices around the world (there are informational bits between the workout segments). You can get the DVD at www.pregnantbellydance.com.

Review: Shamira’s Bellydancing: The Sensuous Workout

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

This is one fierce costume, if I do say so

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

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

However, this video is fantastic if you want:

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

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

Review: Sera’s Bellydance East Coast Tribal

I finally worked through Sera’s Bellydance: East Coast Tribal after owning it for a while, and I was stunned at how excellent it is. There are a few flaws (which I’ll get to later), but those aside, it’s a superb video.

First things first. This is not a beginner’s DVD. Sera neither gives the kind of explanations of basic movements a beginner would want, nor does she present all the basics of bellydance. No way. It is, however, a great DVD for intermediate dancers. Sera goes over some basic movements (especially in the warmup), but in such a way as to help you increase your flexibility and power.

The 20-minute warmup and the 10-minute drill section get you doing some basic stretches, focusing on your isolations, and quite importantly, working on powering moves from particular muscles. The dancers mirror your movements (so when she calls “left,” they actually move to their right) which I prefer. Sera is extremely thorough about calling out which muscle to use for a move, and always managed to remind me as soon as I forgot. I *was* worried about the neck stretch, since she moves the head all the way back, and some moves also seemed quite hard on the knees, so I modified them. In the choreography Sera is careful to point out which sections are knee-unfriendly, and sometimes offers a modification, but this is not the case in the workout. She does, however, tell you when certain moves are difficult for beginners, so you don’t get discouraged.

I would say that, considering how cheap the DVD is, the warmup is worth the price alone. I know I’m going to use this (with some extra stretching) as an introduction to other bellydance videos.

Next comes a demonstration of the combinations to be learned, and then very detailed instructions for each of six movement combinations. I had watched the video before, but only by doing it could I see what a brilliant teacher Sera is. She has that uncanny ability to know *just* when you’re relaxing a certain muscle, or doing a movement lazily, or forgetting about your posture, and to give a perfectly-timed reminder.

On the other hand, the combos themselves are challenging and, to my eye, beautiful. It’s not hard to get the basics of each, but to do them right, with the correct arm movements, good timing, and perfect form, is hard. This is a major strength of the DVD: you can grow into it a little. Both the warmup and the dance instruction are basically doable for an advanced beginner/intermediate, but they have enough layering and little details that you have a reason to go back and do the video again.

As you can probably tell by the length of this review, I am impressed! I do want to say though that it’s not the right DVD for you if you just want to pop something in the player and shake your hips around. Some of the muscular movements can be quite strenuous. You need to pay attention to the instructions, you need to listen to your body to avoid injury, and you may even need to pause it and practice a movement slowly and carefully on your own. And you need to stretch thoroughly at the end. But this is what makes it so good.