Kyria bellydancer Netherlands

Guest post: Kyria’s top ten DVDs for intermediate and advanced bellydancers

Dear readers, I’m thrilled to bring you today’s guest post from Kyria, a bellydancer from the Netherlands. Kyria and I have chatted online about our shared obsession with bellydance DVDs, and I asked her if she could provide a professional dancer’s perspective on how and which DVDs to use for at-home training. 

This is the first installment: a guide to Kyria’s favourite DVDs and how they fit into her practice. Which of these do you use? Are there others you also recommend? 

Kyria bellydancer Netherlands

I started bellydancing fifteen years ago, when video instruction was practically unheard of in the Netherlands. At best, dancers who travelled to Egypt brought back bootlegged VHS videos of famous dancers. We played these over and over again and tried to copy the moves and figure out what the dancer was doing.

I learned to bellydance through weekly classes from various live teachers, which was invaluable because beginning dancers need corrections and feedback in order to learn correct form, posture and technique. And boy, did I need correction! I still do, that’s why I take weekly ballet classes and go to workshops. Being a professional dancer means being a lifelong student.

I enjoy learning new things and believe that regular practice and exercise not only make me a better dancer, but they also keep me sane and healthy. However, due to work and life I sometimes don’t have the opportunity to follow classes with a live teacher. That’s why I build my instructional bellydance DVD library. Not dancing or not learning is simply not an option for me.

Streaming, downloading and the good old hardcopy DVD

Lately the market is expanding into streaming live classes and services that allow subscribers to download or stream instructional classes. This is a great way to try out classes, and it is very flexible and suited to individual needs. For me streaming doesn’t work as I hate it when the connection falters, but if your internet connection is fast and flawless, it’s a great service. I am also pretty hardcore in the sense that I like to own material. If the mood strikes me and I want to practice or research, I want it to be available and in my possession. That’s why I prefer DVDs.

What DVDs I would recommend for practice at home for an intermediate to advanced dancer? Here are my criteria for regular practice:

  1. I pick DVDs that are intermediate level or up. I have a need for speed and quality and want my practice to be as effective as possible;
  2. I like to shop around in (belly)dance styles so sometimes I use an Egyptian DVD, other times ATS. Don’t get me started on my fitness DVDs!
  3. I like to go through a DVD at least 5-7 times, to really absorb the concepts, technique and choreography. It’s like following a semester of real classes: one class is not enough to fully understand and learn the material. I revisit my DVD collection as often as I can;
  4. Sometimes I have fifteen minutes, sometimes I have 90 minutes. I like DVDs that offer me flexibility to create a session that fits my time schedule.

My DVD recommendations for at-home practice:

Jillina – Shape Up n’ Hip Out!

This is my go to DVD if I want to do some cardio, dance and be challenged by some combinations. The brilliance of this DVD is that it contains three twenty-minute work-outs: beginner, intermediate and advanced. All three are good. When I am in a hurry I do the intermediate and advanced one. Jillina is a very generous and warm instructor and I’ve taken multiple workshops with her through the years. She delivers every time with exciting and interesting choreographies and has excellent didactic skills.

Rachel Brice – Serpentine

This dancer knows how to teach! I hope to do a weeklong with her someday. In the workshops I took with her in the past she hadn’t advanced yet to where she is now as an instructor. The two-DVD set contains drills, choreography and some talks and information on several subjects like the backbend. This kept me busy for months. Easy to pop in and choose what you want to do for the day. My only minor negative point is that the yoga warm-up and yoga cool-down are too long for my taste.

Jenna – The Heartbeat of Bellydance

Rhythms, a couple of choreographies and live drumming. What’s not to like about this one? The performances are taped in a cramped studio so I don’t think they convey well on this DVD. Great for intermediates to get to know rhythms and dance to the different rhythms. As a professional dancer, repetition of rhythms is always a good thing. The choreographies are not that complicated but Jenna has a personal style that is different from mine (so lots to learn) yet similar in musicality that I keep coming back to it because it is fun.

*my personal pet peeve is that I am big on musicality. DVDs that use awful music, that are edited with the dancer being out of sync with the music or dancers that have a musical interpretation that opposes mine are not on this list. I grind my teeth and put up with blegh music if the quality of the instruction is high or the content is awesome)*

Ranya Renee – The Baladi

The elusive baladi is captured on this DVD set. It is hard to videotape, explain and show baladi on a DVD but Ranya does an excellent job. She shows the instruments, explains the progression in the music, and offers nifty visual explanations on what muscles to engage and on to the actual dancing. I love that this is an instruction for improvisation and the baladi is one of my favourite styles. I have to be in the mood for this DVD and let the material simmer a while to get results, but it is one of the few DVDs that aim to create a strong connection between dancer and music. Improvisation and musicality are essential for a professional bellydancer.

Aziza’s Ultimate Bellydance Pratice Companion

Buy it. Now. I’ve been using it for over seven years and I enjoy it every. Single. Time. Aziza is engaging, charming and knowledgeable and makes a 21-minute shimmy drill fun. This DVD can be used by beginners, intermediates and advanced dancers, making it rather unique in the world of instructional DVDs. Her workshops and Dreamcamp are also amazing and I highly recommend her. I took my first workshop with her in 2009 and I still go as often as I can as she keeps on working on new material and concepts.

Suhaila – Bellydance for Beginners 4 Volume Set

Suhaila Salimpour’s style might be your cup of tea, or it might not. This DVD set gives you a taste of her philosophy, in bite-sized work-outs. Each one contains a bit of drilling, combinations, and a short choreography. I did a three-day intensive with Suhaila which is much more focused on her method and philosophy. But, as a dancer with limited time, this set gives me a taste without needing to emerge completely in her concept. Even if Suhaila’s dance style is not your thing, her ideas about drilling, muscle isolation and layering are fascinating and quite useful. Plus glute squeezes can be done anywhere! Her glute squeeze technique has brightened up many long meetings at work.

Jillina – Instructional Bellydance with Jillina 3 DVD Set

For the choreography junkie in me, Jillina delivers excellent material that satisfies my hunger for surprising combinations, music interpretation, and footwork. Her footwork patterns are influenced by ballet, modern, jazz, and the Reda Troupe style of dance. Footwork is what I need to create my own improvisations and choreographies and beginner DVDs usually include a very basic level. If you are at a point where you want more, try this DVD set.

Jenna – Bellydance – The Next Level

I like this DVD because the warm-up is perfect for my body and Jenna is very good in explaining concepts. The drills section is great for an oriental style drill, and there are two choreographies I can work with to internalize the material. The drum solo is fun. My only comment is that the music is hard to come by as a European dancer, so I stream it from a Spotify playlist for my own practice.

Zoe Jakes – From A to Zoe

Lots of drills and classes with Zoe Jakes, with great tips on flutters and abdominal isolation. The nice thing about Tribal Fusion is that it has a different way of using and combining moves, and the stylisation is completely different compared to bellydance. When I feel like going out of my comfort zone, this is a good one.

Michelle Joyce – Killer Ziller

I didn’t include specialty DVDs in this list because I wanted to give a general list. I am not going to include DVDs on veilwork, assaya, khaleegy, Turkish, etc. I make an exception for zills as they are not specialty but a basic piece of knowledge for a professional bellydancer. They are a musical instrument that need to be trained as often as possible while dancing. I like to slip on my zills during regular DVDs and play basic zill patterns to get them into my system. This DVD offers a range of zill drills, combined with dance moves. It is perfect for regular practice and increasing awareness of playing zills while dancing.

Interesting links

Learning to bellydance from video – Shira

Eight dvds for home practice– Ananke

Learning bellydance by DVD – Jade

Online bellydance classes that I used, liked and recommend

Datura – Good stuff, from various teachers. Includes video’s in different styles, and you can choose between renting one video or subscribing for full access.

Suhaila Salimpour school online (if you are into her format. if you don’t know what her format is, try her DVD set first!)

Cairo Bellydance – For the experience of a workshop in Egypt from the comfort of your own home. Mostly juicy Egyptian bellydance, straight from a dancer living and performing in Egypt.

Sources for DVD’s

RaqsTv – Hard copy or digital download

Cheeky Girls Productions – A huge collection of instructional and performance DVDs (sometimes available in download). By dancers, for dancers.

World Dance New York – Plenty of bellydance instructionals, world dance dvds and pilates/yoga. Great value for your money.

Hollywood Music Center

About Kyria:

Kyria is closing in on celebrating her first decade as a professional bellydancer. Her (Dutch) dance website is at www.buikdansereskyria.com.  She lives in Utrecht, The Netherlands with her husband and dog and eagerly looks forward to a new addition to the family at the end of 2015. She is a member of two belly dance troupes: Sense of Bellydance (Utrecht) and the Dalla Dream Dancers (The Hague), teaches weekly classes at the Utrecht University and enjoys making belly dance costumes. She blogs about her costuming projects and all things belly dance at kyriascostumes.com.

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

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

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

Lara cuts a fine figure on the stage

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

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

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

And Christina Gadea seemed to anticipate every beat:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging Project Belly Dance: Season 2, Episode 1

You would think, given that I have a blog dedicated to dance videos and everything, that I would be totally up to date with Cheeky Girls’ Project Belly Dance. I’m not. I somehow never managed to watch the first season — what can I say, not only is life busy, but my husband is more interested in Top Chef, Project Runway, and RuPaul’s Drag Race (sometimes too interested…), so those are the reality shows I watch regularly. In fact, I even bought two of the DVDs that came out of Season 1, Project Belly Dance – The Final 6 and Andalee’s Musicality Matters, with the bonus disc. But as is usual with my life, I haven’t even gotten to watch those.

Anyway, since today was my day home with baby, I decided I would start watching Season 2. You know, enjoy the tension and everything. Baby watched quite a bit of it too — he was trying to nurse, but would sit up and look at the computer screen frequently, entranced by the belly dancing. I am raising him well.

Some first thoughts? First, I can tell that the producers really worked at making this a positive program, one that would show bellydance in a good light. We all know there is cattiness out there, whether at the amateur level or among pros, but the structure and editing here are all about good dancing vibes. Yes, this does not have the same kind of entertainment value as good ol’ reality show bitchiness, but I think it’s the right choice for bellydance. In fact, I read online that Lotus Niraja and Michelle Joyce were inspired by RuPaul’s Drag Race, a show that, at least in its first season, was also all about playing with reality show generic forms while keeping things warm and supportive.

The first episode has two sections. First, each contestant is introduced and performs a solo for the judging panel, and later, the contestants are challenged to produce a 1-minute group choreography and are invited to vote for the dancer who was best to work with.

While I was stunned by the level of choreography the dancers were able to come up with in such a short time — and by the fact that they made non-boring group choreo to boot — my favourite part was watching the solos and comparing the judge’s takes with my own. I found I often had similar reactions to some of the judges, but they had such better ways of explaining what I had seen — what looked captivating, what needed some work. And then there was a kind of attention to detail which is the hallmark of the pro. The judges noticed when a belt was off-kilter, when a facial expression was a bit too frozen, but also when the dancer had taken an artistic risk that was worth recognizing.

So which performance really stood out for me this episode? The sheer gorgeousness of LaUra:

One of the judges said LaUra is who she’d like to learn from, and this was totally my feeling watching her dance. It was sophisticated but felt natural, everything looked good, and I thought, “I want to learn to dance like that!” Also, great hands and arms. This dancer knows what to do with her extremities.

Also, let’s be honest. I love that dress.

What about you? Which performance was your favorite this time around? 

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.

Review: Michelle Joyce’s Drills! Drills! Drills!

First things first. Drills! Drills! Drills! is not a DVD for people who have not learned the basic posture, movements and isolations of bellydance. If this describes you, go directly to a beginner’s video, do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

The drills Michelle offers here are, for the most part, not strenuous, but you do need to have ingrained at least some basic bellydance movements to the point where you can do them without thinking: shimmies and hip bumps should be second nature.

The second key point is that the movements are, in general, geared towards helping you define your isolations, layer movements, and even use different parts of your body at different rhythms. Michelle points out several times that you may not like the moves you’re drilling, and you may not want to use them in a choreography, but that they’re helping you build dance skills.

That said, if you *do* have bellydance experience, and you’re looking for a video which will help you train for bellydance (or get some light exercise) in a “dancey” way, this is it. The video begins with a few strengthening exercises for the quads and abs, and then moves on to a seemingly endless series of varied drills. There are drills which will have you practicing your isolations with different foot and arm positions, drills done while dancing a grapevine, drills where you do a zig zag shape with your hips, pelvis and chest.

I loved the variety. The drills are well-thought out and clearly organized, but they don’t follow the same pattern. This required me to use both my body and my mind in different ways, and kept the movements from being dull. I loved the fact that Michelle puts in little reminders about proper form as you’re doing it. There isn’t a lot of arm work, but there’s definitely greater use of the lower abdominals than I’ve seen in other videos.

If you’re like me, you will find that some things come easily to you, some take a while to click, and some things seem impossibly hard at the first go. This is absolutely a DVD to grow into. At nearly two hours of running time, there’s a wealth of material, and you can always do only one part of a layering drill if you’re not at Michelle’s level yet. After the section on finger cymbals, the drills are also done with zill accompaniment — this was impossible for me, but it was a great chance to repeat the drill I had just done.

Most importantly, the program was fun, despite its slightly military name! The section on 3/4 shimmies is a lot looser than the early drill sections, and I found myself improvising to the beat. In other words, the drills started to become dance. My advice to dancers using this program is add your own warm-up and cool-down, but also to put on a song or two of music you really like after you’re done drilling and just let go. You may just find your body reacting to the music much more readily than before, and with a greater variety of movements.

(Full disclosure: I received the DVD through one of Michelle’s generous giveaways on the bellydancevideos yahoo group.)