Nadira Jamal's roller coaster

Nadira Jamal’s Rock the Routine — reflection and a special offer

The first time Nadira Jamal ran her Rock the Routine course, I was there.

I was also the mother of a three-month-old baby and had just moved to a new country, but I was there.

So it was unlikely from the start that I would see it through, but I did work with the program as long as I could.

Nadira’s just announced that she’s running the program again, and this time, alumni can join — both to do it, and to be a resource for new participants. And I’ve signed up. Here is why.

Rock the Routine is a course designed to teach you how to perform a full, traditional six-part routine. You know, old school Am-Cab. You go through strategies for the Introduction, Veil, Middle Section, Chiftetelli, Drum Solo, and Finale. You not only learn how to keep an audience’s interest throughout an entire show, but improvisation strategies for each individual section, along with music tips — the whole deal!

Now, I’ve only done troupe performances, never a solo of my own. So it’s pretty unlikely I’ll be doing a full six-part routine on a stage anytime soon. But for me, it’s not really about the routine per se.

What I liked about Rock the Routine were all the little, manageable assignments. Nadira basically teaches you how to improvise dance in a structured way. Or how to structure choreographies, perhaps with some give built into them for improv. I do want to perform solos this year, and since I don’t really like to perform other people’s choreographies, I need some help. I need to know how to start.

Some of the exercises are five minutes long. Some are fifteen minutes. They’re doable little bits that are practice in putting moves together into a dance, and in a way that’s effective, interesting for an audience, and establishes a certain mood. This is what I want.

My one criticism of Rock the Routine when I first did it was that it moved way too fast for me. I suspect I wasn’t the only one, because Nadira took our feedback and slowed down the pace of the course. So I’m also looking forward to doing the course at a more reasonable tempo.

So that’s me. What about you?

Well, if you’re interested in doing Rock the Routine too, you can sign right up at:

http://www.bellydancegeek.com/rock-the-routine/

As with many online courses, you can do a basic version or a premium version that includes participation in a Facebook group for support, and the full routine playbook as a download.

This year, you can get an upgrade to the premium version for free. All you do is add the PREMIUM package to your cart. Then you enter the coupon code ATISHEH in the shopping cart and hit Apply. After that, you continue the checkout process.

If you do, I get a small commission, and you get the upgrade for free. (Sneaky Nadira is getting us alums to spread the word, you see. But everyone wins if we do.)

So that’s it. I’ll be there, working on my improv skills. Will you join me?

(The header image is from Morguefile!)

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.

Refining the Dance with Maria Sokolova

This is the one hundredth post on Atisheh Dance! Here’s to a “century” of me futzing around my living room in yoga pants and a hip scarf and then writing about it for the internets!

Yesterday I wrote about putting together my own customized dance practice using Datura Online. However, since I’m not a fan of boundaries, I used Datura for the warmup, drills, and cool down, but got my dance in from RAQStv. And namely, from a video I was reeeeeally excited about, Maria Sokolova’s 15-minute lesson from Project Belly Dance.

Kick it!

I actually already worked with this video once while I was on holiday, albeit with minimal warmup, so this was my second time doing it. There is quite a bit of material crammed into this little instructional, so it’s the kind of thing that’s worth repeating — and thankfully, RAQStv has it for a month-long rental.

Maria starts by teaching a basic combination facing the camera, then with her back to the viewer. After repeating it for a bit, she starts to go through each section, showing how to add nuance, contrast, and expression to each movement. It might be a particular twist of the torso, a way of moving the arm through space, a lovely variation on a spin, or the quality of expression during a movement.

I adore Maria’s performance style, this is the video I hoped she would make, and I’m so glad she made it. (And I’m just hoping even more that this is exactly what she does for her eventual Cheeky Girls instructional video, but slower, and more.) I think that for anyone who wonders how to get from the basic moves you do in class to a gorgeous performance — sometimes soft and feminine, sometimes assertive and dramatic — this video shows some of the ways to modify movement.

The material is tricky to get on the first time through, which is why it really does bear repeating. The second time I worked with the video, I had already internalized more of the combo, so focusing on the “extras” became easier. And because it is a quick video — it was, after all, the challenge to make a 15-minute instructional — Maria presents some material faster than she probably would in a regular class, especially right at the end. I will definitely do this at least once or twice more so as to learn as much as possible before the rental expires!

My one beef with this video had to do with production: Maria is wearing a green costume, and her background is green curtains! When I projected this, the lack of contrast made it a bit difficult to see her. (It was easier the first time around, when I was working from a large computer screen.) I suspect this is just because Project Belly Dance was being filmed on a time crunch and in the available space, but I still would have preferred a white background.

Stream(lin)ing my practice with Datura Online

Today I hooked up my computer to my projector and tried something new: doing an entire practice using streaming online programs. I’m used to live class, I’m used to just popping a video in and working with it, but I didn’t quite know what to expect. I’m working on a comprehensive review of Datura Online (and have review access for a month for that), but I wanted to work with the offerings out there to customize my very own practice session, just the way I want it. So here’s what I did:

I scrolled to the “topics” section of Datura Online, selected the “Warmup” option and picked a basic little warmup with some ab exercises for toning; in a second tab, went to “Movement” and then “Shimmies” because I’d seen a basic tutorial on layering 3/4 shimmies onto traveling steps; opened up another tab, pulled up RAQStv and loaded Maria Sokolova’s mini-class from Project Belly Dance so I could get a bit of dancing in; and in a final window, got a quick cool-down with yoga focused on the lower back from Datura. I had everything opened in its own tab, and I organized the tabs in order, so that I wouldn’t have to pause too long between segments.

I’m going to talk about Maria’s lesson in a different post, so I can focus on the Datura offerings here.

Warmup: Ab Warm Up + Conditioning: #1 with Colette Todorov (12:22 min)

To warm you up, Colette has you do slow, deliberate high steps, adding a few arm moves and twists to add a bit of challenge. It’s the kind of thing that looks very easy, but if you’re holding your stomach in as she instructs, becomes more challenging — especially at the end of a long day.

The real goodness is in the ab exercises. I loooved this bit. It’s short and sweet, but involves doing four different kinds of pilates ab exercises. However, instead of repeating each one for a long time and then switching, Colette has you do combination sets — first four slow, controlled reps of each move, then two. There was burn. It targeted the obliques and the lower abs too. Not the kind of thing that will give you washboard abs, but fun to do, and easy to work into a bellydance practice.

Drills: Basic Traveling with 3/4 Shimmies with Ashley Lopez (20:16 min)

This is a standalone section of a longer workshop on the 3/4 shimmy. I was drawn to it because the preview showed Ashley doing a simple, unaccented 3/4 shimmy. This is what I’m learning in one of my live classes, but is pretty different than what I have on most of my videos, and, indeed, from what I’ve learned in other classes.

Surprisingly, Ashley begins by getting you to do a regular shimmy, then try walking with it, then try smoothing it out. At my level, this is a bit easier said than done, and I had trouble figuring out how I was supposed to do that. Then she goes back to basics — phew! — talks about driving the shimmy from the obliques, and does it very slowly. Once the slow shimmy is going, you start walking forwards and backwards with it. And eventually, Ashley has you walk in a large square doing the shimmy at full speed, then try the shimmy on releve. Finally, she does the 3/4 shimmy on the down, and goes through the drills again.

What I liked: Ashley explains and demonstrates why this shimmy is useful. I find it a less exciting shimmy to watch and do than the “hip up hip out” kind of 3/4 shimmy, but her point is that once you get it down, you can accent whatever you like. She has helpful tricks, like clapping on the “1” before you even start lifting your foot. And, she gives pointers on form, as well as occasional tips on what to focus on if you’re just starting.

What I still wanted: I think it would be helpful to have an exercise to isolate the obliques in the movement, and the rev up to full speed was too fast for me. (Mind you, since I didn’t watch the entire workshop, I don’t know if she does a slower breakdown elsewhere — but I’m reviewing the videos as I find them.) I think this video would be a great drill for someone who already has a 3/4 shimmy going, but wants to polish her form and work on layering it onto traveling moves.

After I was done with the video, I wound up going to a full-length mirror and just working with the shimmy. I found that moving away from the screen was actually useful, maybe even necessary. Once I took Ashley’s tips but just watched myself, trying to get the form right, I started to see and feel improvement. Eventually, I got faster, and I was even able to walk a few steps with it. So I will most likely return to the video, but after I’ve drilled the shimmy for a bit on my own.

Cool Down: Basic Short Yoga Sequence with Rachel Brice (9:07 min)

This is a quick way to stretch out and relax your back after a practice. The exercises Rachel chose here are for both the upper and lower back. They resemble some of the moves in my Viniyoga back videos, but with an extra twist or two. Basically, the cool down is composed of slow motion stretches and movements, timed with inhalation and exhalation, and the result is a delicious feeling of relaxation. Simple, sweet, a winner.

So, it was a good time this evening. It was amazing what could fit into each short segment. The beginning and closing videos were very handy as-is, while the 3/4 shimmy drills needs some, well, preliminary drilling on my part to be do-able. (I will most likely work with the entire workshop for that, so I can get a sense of how Ashley builds up to full speed.)

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? 

Back to basics with Neon’s Instant Bellydancer

Every now and then you just have to go back to the basics.

What’s the context? Well, there’s a bunch of context.

I recently signed up for the launch of Nadira Jamal’s online program, Rock the Routine. It’s what she calls a “home study” course, and I’m doing it at my own sweet pace — which is to say, at the pace permitted by an international move and a baby. Although I’m unlikely to perform a full cabaret bellydance routine anytime soon, I’m finding it great. Part of what’s so valuable about it is that following along with the program makes me see what I need to work on. While Nadira teaches improvisational strategies, as I try to work with them I start to notice which moves come really easily, and which bellydance moves have become, well, flaccid due to lack of practice.

I’ve become frustrated enough with this that I decided I needed to go back to the basics. Not just basic choreo or easy drills, but the fundamentals. I didn’t want something with long explanations, but I wanted the chance to focus on the movements, to work on everything from the ground up. So I thought of Neon’s Instant Bellydancer.

Now, the two Instant Bellydancer DVDs were among the first items in my bellydance video collection. (I bought the individual videos, Instant Bellydancer 1 and Instant Bellydancer 2 back then, and years later was sent a copy of the two-DVD set for review). Although it’s really more of a movement catalogue, not a thorough program of dance instruction, I loved it. And I loved the little geometric shapes used on the screen to indicate how movements should be performed.

The videos are not set up the way a basic bellydance course often is — the easiest movements first, and then harder ones — but by geometric shapes. And so the first video, for example, features:

Horizontal circles
Vertical circles
Horizontal semicircles
Vertical semicircles
Horizontal infinity loops (aka figure 8’s)
Vertical infinity loops
And two practice sessions.

Each shape is performed with various parts of the body: the hips, the chest, the head, and then the movements are put together into basic drills.

What is it like to work with Instant Bellydancer years later? On the minus side, the lack of a warmup really stood out for me. Given that it’s for beginners, it should have a warmup, especially since the moves start to really push your muscles if done correctly. There is also a section with head and upper body circles that is potentially dangerous. Neon gives multiple, and I mean multiple, warnings to avoid these sections unless you are warmed up and have strong neck muscles, but I suspect that some people might go ahead and do them anyway.

On the plus side, Instant Bellydancer is a fantastic way to review the basics if you already really know them but are out of practice. Some videos aimed at beginners introduce movements really slowly, which can be frustrating for review. Moreover, doing these now-familiar moves again, I was able to focus on subtle instructions I had missed the first time, like Neon’s hints for hand, arm, and head movements. And finally, I noticed how lopsided I am. Clockwise, I can do everything with ease, but counterclockwise, I really have to struggle! (You can bet that when I was doing the dishes today, I had Nancy Ajram on and was doing counterclockwise circles like crazy!)

I only made it through the horizontal circle section last night, but it was quite a bit to work with. More interestingly, I thought it would go wonderfully with Nadira’s tips on making friends with your safety moves, that is, with the moves you tend to resort to when out of ideas anyway. Some of Nadira’s instruction, on her blog and on Improvisation Toolkit Volume 1: Movement Recall, involves taking a basic move and doing variations of it. And in a way, this is precisely how the mini practice sessions on Instant Bellydancer work! One program is very basic, while the other is quite advanced and sophisticated, but their methodical approaches to dance make them work well together.