ballet with constanze janssen

Movespiration weekend with Khalida

Months ago, I decided my end-of-summer treat would be a weekend of workshops at Khalida’s studio called Movespiration. I knew Khalida a bit, through her DVDs and from online conversations. I’d reviewed her Shimmies DVD and worked a bit with her All About Arms program, and over email we geeked out a bit on dance and movement. So when she said she wanted to bring her favorite movement teachers into her studio for two days, I thought it would be worth going along for the experiment.

I also liked the idea of easing into bellydance by trying it again along with other dance and movement forms. And frankly, after so much stress this year, I thought it might be great just to focus on my body, no matter what the practice was. These were my two goals for the weekend.

What I knew was that we would do some taekwondo with Master Chae Seung-Eun, ballet with Constanze Janssen, and bellydance with Khalida. In fact, the two days I spent in Würselen were even more varied. Master Chae is also an expert in Haidong Gumdo, Korean sword fighting, and one of our classes with him was devoted to this art. Constanze did ballet barre exercises and centre work, but she also led us through a modern-inspired floor barre.

Sandra van Frankfoort-Mamentu, who was in the workshop as a participant, took the lead on Sunday morning and led us through a tai-chi warmup. Even Khalida’s own classes were varied: we did do a bit of bellydance movement and technique, but Khalida also introduced us to a wealth of exercises and body techniques: lymphatic drainage, tricks to improve alignment or release certain muscles, practices for increasing turnout and flexibility and reducing pain. (She taught us so many things, in fact, that at one point I had to sit down after a session and just write them all down as fast as I could.)

My biggest surprise of the weekend was how much I enjoyed the martial arts we practiced with Master Chae. Now, I’m not a very high energy person, nor do I think of myself as particularly strong, so I was a bit nervous about what taekwondo would be like. The exercises we did were exhausting, but in the best possible way. I found, to my surprise, that I loved punching and kicking. I had the good fortune to work with a partner (Lou of Brussels) who practices taekwondo, and she pushed me hard. It was wonderful. With every kick and punch I felt I was getting some of the year’s stress out, felt like I was cleansing myself of negative emotion and frustration. And at the end, although I was sweaty and had pushed myself to the limits of my energy, I actually felt revitalized.

The same was true for haidong gumdo, which we practiced using foam-covered swords for the most part, and blunt wooden swords for cutting paper. This required more precision and speed than I could muster, but also had that element of force. It felt like something I desperately want to do again. Later, as I was telling Master Chae how therapeutic I found it, he said calmly, “It looked like you had some things to get out.”

Atisheh cutting paper with korean sword

Cutting a newspaper with a blunt sword takes a bit of practice

Ballet was a learning experience too, though in another way. I’ve been taking beginner ballet classes for a couple of years now, and figured I knew the basics. In Constanze’s class, I found so much to improve just in my posture and pliés that I was sweating from the first minutes. It was such difficult work (even keeping my stomach in is still a challenge), but so important in terms of how it felt to work with that strength. My balance and turns are still terrible, and I think part of that is that I’m still not pulling my muscles in the way I need to to rice up out of my legs. On the other hand, floor barre, while challenging, was a lovely release, with lots of stretching and flowing movement.

It will take a number of weeks to work through what I learned during the Movespiration weekend. There are a few things though that I want to reflect on:

  1. Sometimes it’s great to go really far out of your comfort zone. I would never have thought that I’d enjoy taekwondo as much as I did. But not only was it great psychologically, it also felt good as movement. I wonder what it would be like to take that knowledge that I actually enjoy putting maximum energy into something and bring it to dance.
  2. I think it would be a fun exercise to take a similar type of move and practice it in two or different ways, switching between movement traditions. Like: doing a tai chi walk, a ballet walk, and a bellydance walk one after the other. Or alternating taekwondo kicks with grands battements. Or playing with tai chi, ballet, and bellydance arm paths.
  3. I love stretching programs that are intense and feel like something is really happenig, but I need to learn more about the ways smaller movements and alignment changes can affect flexibility.
  4. So much of what we learn in bellydance has to be drastically unlearned for ballet. I knew about legs — we practice keeping legs slightly (sometimes very) bent in bellydance, while ballet is all about the straight leg. Then there’s the stomach, which needs to be flexible for bellydance, and pulled in tight for ballet. But I was surprised to see how useful it can be to keep the glutes really tight too in ballet, which of course would be harder to do in bellydance. I’m not sure if there’s a good solution to switching, other than consciously practicing both.
  5. It might be worth incorporating some journaling into dance: thinking more clearly about what I want out of any given class or practice session, and articulating for myself what kinds of things I want out of the dance itself.

This is where I am right now. I took this week to rest and let things settle — and have a bit of fun — but tomorrow I return to ballet. I’m curious to see how what I learned affects my approach, and eager to start experimenting with some of the adjustments I learned in class. I’d also love to do more taekwondo. I’m not sure I have time for another regular commitment, but I’ll see if there are any introductory lessons close to me.

And what I will definitely try to do is attend Movespiration again. Given how much we did and learned, it was an incredible value. The variety of practices we tried out took so much concentration that it felt like a real mental vacation from daily life — and that was just what I needed.

Atisheh and Khalida

Me with Khalida, who gave me an impromptu lesson on posing!

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Playing with Khalida’s All About Arms (Hands Technique)

I think we’ve all been there in our dance lives, no? For whatever reason, we stop going to regular classes, or stop practicing on our own, and we feel further away from the dance than ever. I mean, that’s the frustrating thing with dance — although there’s muscle memory and all that, it takes so little to fall out of shape. Out of whatever shape you were in. In one of the ballet memoirs I read recently there was a line that went something like this: “Miss one day of class, and you notice. Miss two days, and your teacher notices. Miss three days, and the audience notices.”

Well, you’d definitely notice my bellydancing, because I haven’t taken regular classes in almost two years.

khalida hands 2

have been taking ballet, which I’ve grown to love, but I miss oriental dance, all its variety, all its wonderful music, the way it feels so natural to my body. So recently I complained on Facebook about how I didn’t really even know where to start anymore with bellydance, having been so long out of practice. I have DVDs to review too, but my poor shape makes them harder to take on — and more stressful too.

I got a bunch of advice, and Khalida offered to send me her new arms DVDs, a sort of hardcopy version of a class she offers by streaming and download. And I said sure, because I figured that even if the rest of my body was lazy, maybe my arms could play. They also tend to be pretty neglected in ballet.

Tonight, after four weeks — four weeks! — of just no dancing at all due to all the work and traveling I’ve had to do, I finally got my act together and did the first class in the series, “Hands Technique.”

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. It was pretty great though. After a brief posture check and warm-up, Khalida basically goes through about a million stretches and exercises for fingers and wrists. She even shows you how to do a massage of your own hands. This class is almost 50 minutes long, and the first 20 minutes are taken up with warming, stretching, and exercising hands and wrists.

khalida hands 4

I’ve never seen anyone do this on a video. It’s usually three stretches and then, “here are fifteen things you can do with your hands.” The reason I loved this is that I have major wrist problems from computer use, so even basic hand and arm work has become difficult for me in the last year. But my wrists are sooooo loose now, and I was able to move them freely after all those stretches. At one point as I was doing them I thought, “This is what everyone should do at the end of the week. Just spend an hour stretching the poor hands and wrists that got stiff at a computer.”

The rest of the class is dedicated to two sections, one on hand waves, and the other one on hand and wrist circles. In each case, Khalida shows multiple ways of performing the movement, often with very tiny variations. There’s a distinct Persian flavour to some of her movements too, which I love. For difficult movements, like lotus hands, she’ll explain the movement in several ways. At the end of each of these sections is a flowing practice section set to music.

When I say this class was not what I expected, it’s because I didn’t think there would be so much material, and such a level of detail, in what is basically just one of four classes. While you can definitely do this video in one go, and I mostly did, I still found myself stopping it sometimes so I could go to the mirror and check out how things looked, what a difference small variations made. I think this would be good for a dancer who is past beginner level and who wants to work on strengthening and varying her hand work. I also think it would be very good for teachers looking for new exercises and ways of explaining movement.

khalida hands 1

Khalida’s class made me, personally, realise two things: one, my arms don’t have that much endurance anymore (man, I got tired during the practices), and two, hands and arms were one of the things that made me fall in love with bellydance in the first place. If I want to go back to the dance, this may be just the way to do it.

You can find out more about the All About Arms class series at Khalida’s website.

 

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.