Review of Aslahan’s Taming Your Zills

You get a zills DVD. Or you go to class. And suddenly you are learning ten different rhythms, trying to layer them onto movements, and feeling that it’s all impossible.

At least, if you’re me.

I’ve done a bit of both, and most of the time, I can’t figure out how I’m going to get from here (no zill ability) to there (dancing with zills in a non-monotonous and coordinated way). I have a tough time with learning rhythms. Over various drum workshops and drum DVDs I’ve realised that it gets better with practice, but I need to learn things slowly. I certainly can’t jump into full rhythms and dancing.

Enter Aslahan. Her DVD, Taming Your Zills, is something different. She does not try to teach you a dozen rhythms and a choreography to go with them. The goal of her DVD is to get you to internalize some basic zill building blocks and be able to move while playing with them. That, frankly, is already a lot. She’s an improvisational dancer, and so it’s no surprise that her lessons and drills are particularly valuable if you want to be able to move freely to the music and still accompany yourself by playing zills.

Taming Your Zills is a smart DVD, and a must-have for anyone starting out on zills, as well as for anyone who has begun but doesn’t feel comfortable with them yet. In sixteen lesson, Aslahan takes you from the basics of holding the zills and playing what she calls the gallop (often called a triplet), to moving various parts of your body while playing increasingly harder patterns, and even to dancing to your own zilling!

Aslahan 1

It’s not a DVD to do in one go. Aslahan explains in the intro that you should really take time to work with each lesson and internalize it before doing the next one. The lessons themselves are brief, but they are followed by substantial drills or “exercises”. Here’s something I like: not only are the lessons and drills chaptered, so you can easily repeat an exercise, but you can also reach the exercises directly from a separate menu.

Here’s something I really, really like: the drills are not all the same. Aslahan has exercises in which she has you practice patterns. She has a series of drills for you to learn to move your arms or your hips with different patterns. In some exercises, she will play a pattern and you repeat it, thus teaching you to recognize patterns by their sound. There are a few improvisational drills too, at basic and advanced levels.

Along the way, Aslahan offers a wealth of useful tips: how to know which hand you’re using when you’re just starting out; good ways to incorporate zilling into particular songs; how to dance a whole show while keeping your zills on; dealing with zills in hair; and how to vary the volume of the zills by holding them differently (and when you might want to do so).

Because of its organization into lessons, Taming Your Zills is a great DVD to incorporate into a practice routine. In about ten minutes, you can complete one lesson and its exercise, so you can also work on the rest of your dance. I also like that the exercises vary between full-body dancing drills and ones that can be done with arm movements only, or even just with hands. This means that when I’m a little lazier or tired, I can practice a bit without getting out of my chair.

Aslahan 2

While Aslahan only covers three actual rhythms, she gives you the tools to build on what she shows. I really like being able to play along with someone or with a video, but I also found myself pausing the video and practicing on my own at different paces. It’s a DVD to use for a while. You could do the drills along with her but substitute different dance moves, or you could take the patterns she uses and practice them with other rhythms you learn.

Aslahan’s Taming Your Zills is a pedagogically smart and very useable instructional DVD. She makes me even me feel that, little by little, I could learn to dance with zills! Two performances round out the video and offer inspiration.

You can find Taming Your Zills on Amazon, and you should also check out Aslahan’s site, www.aslahan.com!

Roundup: How (and why) to learn bellydance online for free – Updated

We all know (well, most of us) that the best way to learn to dance is with a live teacher. And there really is no substitute for someone who can guide you in person. But there are some good reasons to use video instruction, and the free dance resources I mention below are perfect for this kind of thing:

1. You want to review a move you learned in class.

2. You didn’t understand your teacher’s explanation, and want to see how another dancer introduces the movement or idea.

3. You want to drill movements, and you’d like some guidance as you do so.

4. You need some inspiration, something fresh to make dance exciting.

5. You don’t have a lot of time, and you just want to incorporate five or ten minutes of dance into your day, maybe even in the office!

6. You’re on the go, and want to watch someone teach a move on your phone or mobile device.

Now, there are some truly bad teachers offering their “services” for free online, and every now and then one of those videos makes the rounds. But the truth is that there is also some good instruction out there. None of these will replace live teaching, and in most cases the free stuff isn’t even as comprehensive as DVDs or longer structured instruction. They can, however, make a wonderful adjunct to your regular classes.

Totally Free, but High Quality Instruction Online

Tiazza Rose: Amazing, amazing, amazing treasure trove of videos. Not only does Tiazza go over many basic movements, but she also has videos featuring veil moves, cane, folkloric moves, about a million small combinations and some longer choreos.

Mahin’s Daily Bellydance Quickies: You have to sign up for the Daily Quickies email list. What you get is not basic instruction, but a potpourri of little daily hints, tips, and lessons in your inbox. One day it’ll be an email with ideas on how to keep your drilling fresh, another day it will be a stretch useful for dancers, and yet another day you’ll get a combination to do with a particular rhythm.

My Bellydance Workout: Coco of Berlin has a variety of basic movement lessons and really useful drills. Everything is filmed clearly in a bright studio.

Bellydance Boulevard: The website connected to this YouTube account is defunct, and I suspect the videos aren’t being updated anymore. But what’s there is really neat. First there is a series of videos on basic bellydance moves taught by a single instructor. Then follows a variety of focused mini-workshops by a variety of teachers around the world. You want Soheir Zaki hips? Here they are!

So, what about you? Have you used any of these programs? Is there a wonderful secret source of free online bellydance teaching I’ve missed?

Update:

Reader LadyDeyrdre adds a few more useful contributions, and in looking them up I am reminded (how could I forget?) that Neon also has a series of quickie bellydance move instruction videos on YouTube. So, the additions:

Anthea Kawakib: A short playlist of basic zill instruction on YouTube.

Neon: At latest count forty-two videos, going from basics to traveling moves.

Irina Akulenko: Also a pretty solid series of beginner instructional videos, with some good tips. These are on the Howcast website, but are also available on YouTube.