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

Bellydance and Pregnancy – An Interview with Sera Solstice

I’m very excited to introduce a new feature on this blog: interviews with video artists and producers. Kicking us off is Sera Solstice, a pioneer of the East Coast Tribal style of bellydance. Besides founding Solstice Studio in New York City, she has produced five DVDs with World Dance New York, among them Foundations of Bellydance: East Coast Tribal, Lunar Bellydance, and Solar Bellydance. I previously reviewed Bellydance: East Coast Tribal, but for our first interview I wanted to ask Sera about a subject near and dear to my heart, the relationship between bellydance and pregnancy. Before continuing, you can read my review of her video Goddess Dance – Prenatal Bellydance & Meditation.

Why did you decide to put together a prenatal bellydance video?

I wanted to document/record my pregnancy and be able to share it with others. It was my second pregnancy, and I felt that it was a very special and sacred time. My first pregnancy was filled with fear and anxiety of all the unknowns. During the second go-around, I had more confidence. The meditations and presentation are what I wish I could have had during my first pregnancy. Perhaps there are a few Moms-to-be out there that could benefit from it.

How did bellydance help you during your own pregnancy?

There were many days when I didn’t feel like doing ANYTHING. But I still had to show up to teach class because I had committed to doing it. As soon as I would drag myself out of the house and to the studio, I realized how good it was for me. Suddenly I was surrounded by loving community who could share in my experiences, and I got great exercise. Getting your blood moving is so very important. Bellydance expands your body awareness, especially in the hips and abdomen. So it really helps a woman to connect to her body when she is pregnant, and be able to connect to the changes, and celebrate that through movement. It helps to connect to the baby too, as you feel your whole womb moving, its as if you are dancing with the baby. I think it makes women feel like a Goddess.

What are some of the greatest myths or misconceptions about prenatal exercise, or about dance more specifically? 

I think there is definitely an overload of precautions, and this is so no one is held responsible in case someone gets hurt. But the problem with all the warnings, is that it opens up the psyche and the consciousness to imagine these possible injuries, and then, I believe, it can make a person afraid, and therefore less trusting of their body, and therefore, more prone to the exact thing they are afraid of. What is most important is for a dancer to listen to her body.

Is bellydancing during pregnancy helpful to women even if they wind up having – or plan to have – a caesarean?

Of course! Bellydance is not just meant for preparation for birth. It is an active meditation of connecting with your body. I would assume it would help a woman heal faster from Caesarean, as she would have a stronger body, and a stronger desire to get back to that physical place of enjoyment of her body. As well as having stronger muscles in the abdomen. Plus a stronger back to help her to NOT use her abdominals as she is healing.

Is there a difference between the benefits an amateur can gain from prenatal bellydance and an advanced student or pro? 

Yes. A dancer who is already familiar with Bellydance will be able to achieve more benefits since she has already built the strength and flexibility BEFORE her body begins to change during the pregnancy. I would recommend that someone who has not studied any bellydance, try to get in as many classes as possible before your body starts the massive physical changes during pregnancy. I don’t think it is good for a 3rd trimester pregnant dancer to pick up Bellydance for the first time. I think it is best to go easy as possible and do movements that your body is already familiar with. Bellydance is a very internal dance. Many dancers seek it for its external image and style, but ultimately, the dance initiates from within and is most powerful in this way. So if a new dancer can approach it this way and not worry so much about looking like her teacher, than she could begin dancing during her 9th month of pregnancy. But again, it is about perspective. I see many people overdue it in order to get the results to LOOK right. A new dancer who is more concerned about FEELING right is on the right path.

How did you learn to meditate, and what role do you think it can play in a new mom’s life?

I started meditating as a teenager and have read countless self-help books and participated in countless spiritual, new age, shaman workshops and rituals. I had to make this meditation, really for my own birth, as I recorded it 3 days before I gave birth. I knew it was pretty far out, and may be a bit too inaccessible for a first-time meditator, but it was what I was called to do. For me, this was what the DVD was all about. The meditations were the most important element. I think WDNY played it down a bit in the title, probably because it was so far out there, but I had to commit to what I felt moved to do. It helped me a lot during my birth. I hope so much that Moms-to-be can use the visualizations. It is meant to be listened to multiple times over to prepare for birth.

In your experience, how soon after birth can women start to dance again? 

A woman should wait 6 weeks minimum. Unless the baby slides out without pushing, chances are the pelvic floor muscles have undergone some damage. The womb needs time for healing and for contracting back into place. It is most important that a woman does not rush out and start trying to work off the pregnancy weight. She is doing a disservice to the beautiful home (womb) of her baby, and her own body that worked so hard to find balance during this time. It makes me sad to see so many women who spend so much of their thought-energy on how much they weigh after the baby is born. It is a beautiful gift that you have received, that you were able to birth this little being. Celebrate your body, that did this work, treat yourself like a goddess, and enjoy your baby. Listen to the subtle voices of your body. IF it hurts, AT ALL, don’t do it! I waited at least 6 weeks, because I could feel there was damage to my pelvic floor, and I wanted to recover and heal, physically and emotionally. Birth is a traumatic miracle. It takes a lot of processing and adjusting. It is a whole initiation into a new stage that you will never return from.

Did having a child change the way you approach your dance? 

Yes. Life experience is what makes good art. I have such depth of life-experience, I have endless emotions and anxieties and frustrations, and incredible joys and loves to dance about. Dance about dance itself is quite boring to me.

I’d like to thank Sera for generously answering my questions about bellydance and pregnancy! I think “birth is a traumatic miracle” is a quote to hold on to — I can’t think of a single sentence that has better summed up my experience of it. And now I’m inspired to go back to my daily meditation…

You can visit Sera’s website at www.boldbellydance.com and find out more about her videos at World Dance New York.

Mala on setting up a dance practice

If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, do go and take a look at Mala’s post on setting up a dance practice:

http://malabhargava.com/belly-dance/your-kind-of-practice.html

This is something I’m obsessed with, since I have so many videos, so much enthusiasm, and so little time. The best thing I’ve done for my practice is starting this blog and trying to review videos more often — it motivates me to work with new programs and revisit old ones.

But what spoke to me most about Mala’s post is this: sometimes we amateurs want to be super-organized and ambitious about dancing, especially when we fall, and fall hard, for something as enchanting as bellydance. But the thing is, it’s sometimes good to remember that we’re not professionals. That doesn’t mean not taking dance seriously, but it does mean that we have to remember to have fun with it, because nobody is giving us a grade or a cheque at the end of our dances. We’re doing it for ourselves.

Review of Rosa Noreen’s Delicious Pauses

Belly dance videos have come a long way since I made my first purchase, over ten years ago, of a Veena and Neena video that consisted mainly of them hopping side to side for what seemed like an eternity. We got better “basics” videos… then we got better workouts, and better drills… videos focused on all kinds of specialized forms of the dance (can you say “tribal style iranian-texan fusion with double feather poi and an isis tail”?). But one of the most inspiring innovations in the industry, from where I sit as a consumer and lover of dance, has to be the videos that deal with high-level dance concepts: how to refine movements, the tricks of performing, and how to convey a feeling or tell a story with dance. Rosa Noreen’s new DVD, Delicious Pauses: Negative Space in Movement, is just such a program.

Now let me start by saying that I have my biases when it comes to bellydance. While there are many fabulous dancers who practice forms of it, the ones that make me happiest to watch — and who most make me want to dance — are those who dance with a certain kind of simplicity. Now, that doesn’t mean simplicity is easy to achieve, but rather that they imbue the most basic movements with expression, fluidity, tension. And this is actually hard work. So right from the start, I was drawn to the concept behind Delicious Pauses: using drawn out movements, dramatic stops, and “negative space” to keep the audience engaged and interested.

The DVD itself has three sections. The first is a theoretical introduction, in which Rosa Noreen describes the kinds of pauses she will teach later in the DVD, along with some other principles of her methodology. I won’t give away the whole bag here, but I will say the most interesting for me was her use of breath to aid either a sense of calmness or a dramatic move. I’m used to thinking about breath in yoga, but have never managed to do it much in dance, and this video really made me see how integral a part of dance conscious breath (and not just remembering to breathe) can be.

If you’re like me, the theory will leave you interested but confused. This is where the second section comes in, a series of detailed exercises in which Rosa Noreen has you practice the different kinds of pauses. Now, this is very methodically done: for, say, undulations, she reviews all the principles, shows you how different pauses might work with an undulation, has you practice them in a follow-along drill (no talking, just on-screen text), and then has you improvise using the same movements.

I loved how incremental this strategy was, and how it kept building up on itself. Rosa Noreen repeats the concepts a lot, but it turns out they mean different things when applied to different movements. Having the theory and then showing all the ways it can be applied using practical exercises is just excellent teaching, in my opinion. And while only the main sections are in the DVD menu, the chaptering is detailed enough that I could easily skip to a certain section or repeat what I needed.

What I found was that once I hit the “improv” segments, my body started taking over… but it also started almost unconsciously incorporating the different kinds of pauses into other moves as well. This is really superb training for improv, because it’s not about doing a million moves, but about being able to vary the basic moves in interesting ways. By the end of this video, you can do six variations on a horizontal hip figure 8 without really even thinking about it too much!

The final section includes two combinations that have you practice the pauses and concepts, this time in a slightly different way — for example, with a languorous sweep of an arm, or a intentful pose. To be honest, they didn’t look like much when I watched them, but I did find when doing them that they also “taught” in a different way than the theory and exercises. The combos are presented and drilled in super small increments, then added together, re-explained, and drilled. For someone who has an easy time learning choreography, this would probably be tiresome. I am not that person, so I happen to be happy for very slow choreo teaching, and kind of wish every teacher did it this way!

Delicious Pauses is only about 75 minutes long, but it contains material that will be worth going over repeatedly. Although all the instruction is with bellydance moves — and you do have to know the moves already — the concepts could be more generally applicable to dance. I’ve watched it through once and then worked with the exercises and choreo once, and already I feel different performing the same moves. I have a better sense not just of what it’s like to slow down (and in fact, it’s harder to slow down than to speed up), but the kinds of effects and sensations I can get from varying regular speed, staccato, and slow movements.

This is really smart stuff, and lot of thought and care has been put into the making of this DVD. We’re light years beyond Veena and Neena’s “genie hop.”

Delicious Pauses is available at Amazon via the link, and from http://rosanoreen.com/. I received a review copy of the DVD from Rosa Noreen.

Review of MommyShape Prenatal Complete

If you’re looking for a moderately challenging, customizable workout to keep in shape while you’re expecting, MommyShape Prenatal Complete could be just the DVD for you. I received a review copy from its creator, Diane Angela Fong, and was very pleased with the program, though I think knowing what you’re getting is the key to being satisfied with it. So far, I’ve worked with it twice, taking advantage of its modular structure. I haven’t done every exercise on the video, but I have used it in two ways I consider typical.

Structure

The workout is basically divided into five sections:

Warm Up
Sculpt & Stretch
Dance it out!
Yoga & Relaxation
Cool Down

The times for these are given, and you can pick and choose which you will do, though you do have to click again for a new section. Doing all of them would take about 70 minutes, which if you’re heavily pregnant you might find a bit much (though I would have done it easily earlier in my pregnancy). But this morning, for example, I did the Warm Up, Dance it out! and Cool Down segments, which took a little over half an hour, and I felt like I got a good workout out of it. At the beginning of each section, Diane tells you what props you’ll need for that section, which is a good chance to pause and get things in place.

But here’s the kicker: if you want a little bit of each, you can also do the “MommyShape Complete” workout, which has segments from each section, and is 50 minutes long. I actually did this version earlier in the week, and I really like the inclusion of this option. I love it when DVDs have a lot of material, but if a program is too long, it can become overwhelming, and I’m less likely to use that DVD when I’m busy. So having a simple, one-click workout that will provide a bit of cardio, a bit of sculpting, and a bit of stretching, is just right, and a great introduction to the DVD.

Difficulty

Diane is a professional dancer, and despite being 35 weeks pregnant in the video, is in excellent shape. She moves quickly from one position to another — much faster than I could! Especially in the sculpting and yoga sections, there are modifications to make positions easier depending on your level or trimester, but I can tell you that despite partially modifying, I really felt a burn in my thighs the day after doing the “Complete” program. (In a good way.) If you’re not in the habit of watching a video through before doing it (and because of time constraints, I’m not), you may be frustrated with how quickly Diane moves. However, this could also be a positive — when you’re doing a segment for the second time, you’ll waste less times with explanations and lengthy setup.

Dance

The dance segment is also tricky, but lo and behold, there is a separate 15-minute dance instructional that goes through the moves more slowly. The first time I did the video I didn’t bother with this, impatient chipmunk that I am, and I was able to follow along with almost everything just fine. I did watch the instructional before doing the program again, and that helped, but it’s not strictly necessary if you have dance experience.

The dance itself is a cardio workout with a mix of bellydance, African, modern, and Latin dance moves. Diane repeats it three times, using arm variations to keep it interesting, and then does a modified, slowed-down version for a cool-down. I have to say I really liked this segment, despite, or maybe because of the fact that it’s so different from my usual bellydance. Diane performs the moves with grace, which I find inspiring, and for a while there I felt that I was taking a modern dance class in an airy California studio. (Instead of, you know, in my living room.) And I really felt tired by the end.

My two warnings are that Diane doesn’t mirror, so you have to adjust for left and right, and while there is light rhythmic music in the background of the dance segment, the dancing is not done to the beat. These didn’t throw me off, since the general feeling of the dance portion was more loose and flowing, but they could if you are expecting mirroring and timing.

In sum, MommyShape Prenatal Complete would be great for you if you are earlier on in your pregnancy or have maintained a light workout routine, if you can adjust for left and right, and if you have some experience with basic dance moves. At 35 weeks, I find it gives me enough of a workout to really feel I have done something — beyond just stretching — but is still doable. If you are completely out of shape and/or want to be able to get everything on the first go, this is probably not the best program for you. My favorite aspects of the DVD are that it’s customizable but doesn’t force me to make decisions if I don’t want to, and that the dance segment is fun and well-performed.

MommyShape Prenatal Complete is also available at http://mommyshape.net/.

Pining for Pina

If you’re anywhere near a movie theatre that’s playing Pina right now, open a different browser window, buy a ticket, and go to see it immediately. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just head straight to the cinema. Trust me.

Some of the theatres in my city are playing it, both in 2D and 3D, and I’ve been recommending the movie like mad to anyone who will listen. I saw it twice this past summer in 3D while I was in Germany, and will probably see it again, in however many dimensions I can, before it leaves the cinemas again. “Pina” is probably one of the most exquisite things I’ve seen on a movie screen. If you love dance, if you love art or music, heck, even if you just like seeing beautiful things or fascinating people, you will love it.

“Pina” was originally planned as a documentary. Pina Bausch, one of the leading choreographers of modern German dance, was working with director Wim Wenders when, a few days before beginning the shoot, she died suddenly of cancer. Wenders wound up making the piece anyway, but it became an homage to Bausch herself. Pieces from her dance works are interlaced with her dancers’ recollections of working with her,of  learning their craft from a charismatic, understated, and powerful woman.

Why see it? The dancing is passionate, stunning, sometimes joyful, often troubling. The dancers themselves are equally fascinating; we are used to seeing the sameness of Hollywood faces on the big screen, but here are artists who can control every muscle and the intention behind it, and whose faces show the individual lines of long experience. The discussions of dance are incredibly subtle, and would be of interest to any practitioner. For example, in archival footage, Bausch describes performing a choreography that demanded she keep her eyes closed throughout, but feeling that this repetition was somehow different, not right — then realising that it made a difference to the feeling of the dance whether she looked up or down behind her shut eyelids. See it also because the cinematography beautifies Wuppertal, an industrial German city made enchanted by the dancing filmed in its parks, public transit, and mines.

Really — just go see it. Then come back and tell me what you thought.

Review of Secrets of the Stage Volume One

Secrets of the Stage Volume One: A Performance Course for Belly Dancers came out a while ago — 2007 to be exact — and around that time Michelle did a giveaway and I wound up with a copy. I remember watching it back then, but for some reason I wasn’t in the right place yet to appreciate the video. I’m not sure why. Maybe I didn’t have the patience to sit and watch dancers enough… or maybe I wasn’t thinking intensely enough about how to make bellydance my own. Whatever the reason, my current state, physically a bit slowed down but with an unusual amount of time on my hands, led me to turn to it again. I’m not looking to perform in the near future, so I’m really writing this from the perspective of a learning dancer who simply wants to improve, and to think more deeply about the dance I love.

Zari guides her audience

The video consists of several sections:

Calmness and Simplicity
You and Your Music
Focus and Energy Projection
Exercises

The four “theoretical” sections feature one or more brief introductions by Michelle Joyce which are then followed by full-length dance clips of dancers: Adriana, Nanna Candelaria, Sandra, Shoshanna, Zari, Zaheea, and Michelle herself. As you watch each clip, the dancer “narrates,” reflecting on the dance you’re watching or her dancing in general.

There are some truly memorable moments. For example, in the “Calmness and Simplicity” section, Adriana describes performing a glass dance in which the glasses cracked when she stepped on them. In the video, you cannot see her bat an eyelid out of time, but to hear her tell it, the crack was so loud that the front rows of the audience heard it.

In Adriana’s clip, the narration tells you the backstory behind a dance. In other cases, the dancer speaking teaches you how to see what is in front of your eyes. Zari performs a haunting dance to “Ana Bin Tezarek,” and part of what makes it so haunting, you learn, is the way she changes focus between her body, the audience, and so on. I think I would have noticed that Zari dances with varied expression and that she uses her eyes wonderfully, but I wouldn’t have known that it’s not just about looking up or down, but about guiding the audience’s interest in a certain conscious way. This doesn’t just tell me how to learn from Zari, but is also a kind of training in how to watch other dancers, what to look for, how to learn the craft.

Michelle demonstrates how dynamic sitting in a chair can be

One of the things I loved about this video was discovering a number of dancers I really, really enjoy watching. While all were lovely, I’m left wanting hours more of Zari, Sandra, and Nanna, all very different from each other, but all embodying qualities I adore about the dance. Another quality I loved was the focus on simplicity in the first section. There are a ton of bellydance instructionals out there that will teach you how to accomplish complicated drills and combinations, but how many, even five years later, reinforce the idea that simplicity in dance can also be beautiful and delicious to watch?

Finally, the exercises. There is a guided relaxation, a chair exercise in which you only dance with your upper body, an improv exercise in which you dance to the same short clip of music four times without repeating your movements, and a brief focus exercise in which you place your focus with intention. I did all of these (minus the guided relaxation) on a different day, when I was warmed up from another workout. And frankly, I thought they were kind of genius.

The chair exercise really forces you to exploit the movement potential of your upper body — chest, hands and arms, head, facial expressions. The improv exercise features seven different musical clips, and not only did it prompt me to be creative and to move across the floor more than I usually would, but it also made me listen to how different the clips were from each other musically, how each one “asked” me to perform different kinds of movements. The focus exercise was brief — I need to practice it with my own music — but I found it took my attention from my own body and its movements to points outside my body. This changed the feeling of dancing completely, and really allowed my body to react to the music on its own, without as much interference from me — if that makes any sense!

Even though I watched Secrets of the Stage Volume One all the way through twice and did the exercises, I feel I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface. There is so much information in here, too much to absorb all at once, and the real test will be to practice the exercises with my own music. Still, I found the video marvelously liberating — this is really a program about dancing rather than about performing a series of movements in a certain way, and as such, it is deeply pleasurable both to watch and to work with.

Secrets of the Stage Volume One is also available at Cheeky Girls Productions.