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.

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This style is my style: A Guest Post by Chantal Dos Santos

I met Chantal at the Randa Kamel and Ranya Renee workshops sponsored last May by my studio Hayal. Since of us are dancers from Canada living in Germany, we had quite a bit to talk about. One of the topics that kept coming up was the difficulty of finding one’s own personal style in a crowd of influences. I’m delighted that she’s agreed to write my very first guest post on this subject!

Chantal has been bellydancing since 2006, and has expanded her range with studies in a number of other dance forms, including flamenco, African dances, Russian Romany, and contact improvisation. She’s now based in Nuremberg, where she performs and teaches — among other things a course on bellydance combined with pelvic training, a course in which many women with traumatic experiences explore movement. You can learn more about her work at www.cdsmovement.com.

Read Chantal’s post, and then let us know — how do you go about finding your personal style? What have been the challenges? What has helped you learn what to incorporate into your dance?

This style is my style: A reflection

Chantal Dos Santos

Years have gone by since I’ve taken up bellydancing and in that time I’ve seen rounded arms and soft knees straighten out into right angles and muscular accents; I’ve seen ballet training become a prerequisite as pirouettes and arabesques have found a home in the basic footwork and travelling steps of oriental dance (next time you are at a Randa Kamel workshop, count how many times you hear these two terms. I dare you to try and keep track!) Thanks to our modern world full of YouTube videos, blogs, social networks, Skype, and the relative increased mobility of people, one who is fascinated by bellydance does not have daydream of a exotic world far away. Everything you need is a couple of clicks away. But how does one sort through all of this input, and organize it into one unique personal style? This is the step that I’ve reached in my dance practice.

I’ve found I’ve reached a point where the learning curve is very steep. A lot of teachers have left their mark on my dance style, so now I’m at the critical point where I’m sifting through what seems to be a mountain of moves and distilling them into one cohesive set of movement vocabulary. Kind of like trying to create a palatable 3-course meal out of a random assortment of ingredients in your kitchen. Thankfully there is more than half an onion and a shrivelled old pepper among the ingredients in my cupboard, but even the most luxurious dark chocolate will leave a bad taste in your mouth if you sprinkle it with caviar.

For a bellydance enthusiast, I watch an embarrassingly low number of bellydance videos and rarely attend shows. Ever since I’ve relocated to Germany, I’ve kind of observed the bellydance scene from afar, taking the opportunity to engage in other dance forms and somatic movement workshops. I’ve carefully avoided becoming part of the scene. Being part of a “scene” has its positives and its negatives for sure….too much input can be as bad as not enough input. When is enough enough? Fifi’s Jewel, Dina’s large hip circle, the floats of American Cabaret …where does a girl who just wants to dance fit in? Honestly if someone else has done it before, I don’t really want to do it. When I look at a good dancer, I don’t see just the movements, but rather the joy in movement. The way the movements flow together, the character and emotion they bring to a performance, the nuances that make them unique and memorable.

Technique training is and always will be the cornerstone of a dancer’s practice. Without it we can’t reach the level where we are free to express ourselves. I look at it like any spoken language: you first need a certain amount of vocabulary in order to communicate, and continuing to acquire vocabulary increases your ability to express yourself.

I’m thankful for teachers who push students to be their own dancer, and give students the tools needed to get past any fear and discomfort and hone their own style. This past Summer I went to an amazing 6-day Feldenkrais / Contact Improv retreat (hugs and kisses Thomas Kampe and organizer, Sicularte!). The most important point I took away from it were two simple sentences: “You are the expert of your own body. Everything you need to know is inside of you.”

So, I am much more selective now about which workshops I pay for. I have no more qualms about saying “He/She is a great dancer but that topic is not what I need right now”. Now when I choose a workshop, I am focused on what I want to get out of it and also open to the possibility of a pleasant surprise: maybe be I will hear a word of wisdom, or learn a move that gives me a great feeling in my body. That’s what bellydance has to be for me: a great feeling in my body. Whether I find that feeling in straight and muscular, or soft and earthy will play a big role in what comprises my personal style. I’m on my own now, armed with stacks of DVDs, a bellyful of training and a pinch of courage, on the journey to find what feels great, and eventually my personal style. Let the discovery begin!

Review of Ruby Beh’s Pilates for Bellydancers

I’ve been traveling lately, and it hasn’t left much time for dance, or for any kind of working out. It’s pretty terrible, going from pretty regular movement to nothing. So tonight, after I put the kiddo to bed, I decided to try out Ruby Beh‘s newish instructional on RAQStv, Pilates for Belly Dancers. I wanted to dance, but even more, I wanted to give my abs a little attention.

Ruby Beh showing pilates hundred

What I found is an answer to a lot of my dance problems of the past year. One of my challenges lately has been moving from the idea that bellydance is totally “loose” (I’m not really sure where I got this, except by some dumb opposition to ballet), and building up abdominal strength, learning how to keep my core engaged, and hardest of all, learning how to breathe with all of this. I don’t think there’s a single dance class I attend where the teacher is not constantly on me to keep my core “zipped up.”

Well, that’s what Pilates for Belly Dancers is all about. Ruby starts out slowly, really slowly, with posture and practice breathing both standing up and lying down. I loved the meticulous tiny movements that at least started giving me a sense of how the breathing and muscular contractions should feel. She then guides you through some classic pilates movements (the hundred, roll-ups, etc.) but interweaves exercises that help you gain control of the specific muscles useful for bellydance.

After a workout that is challenging if done attentively, Ruby has you practice some basic bellydance moves with special attention to the core. Finally, she teaches a short combination. In both of these segments, she explains what effects can be achieved with a strong, controlled pilates foundation — the fast spin that can stop on a dime, the quick-changing footwork that doesn’t make you bob up and down.

The video is 1 hour and ten minutes long. There was a brief but satisfying stretch to cool down with in the bonus content material, which also included the pilates section from Ruby’s Flawless Floorwork: The Lost Art of Belly Dance Floorwork DVD. The filming is clear throughout, though there is one blooper that was not edited out and a few camera cuts are confusing. Think filmed class, not pro DVD. Still, I had no problems following along.

In short, I was thrilled with the program. Ruby’s generous with pointers on form, and she will sometimes give modifications. She has the experienced instructor’s ability to know, magically, through the screen, just what I’m doing wrong and to correct it. She also has a knack for coming up with lots of illustrative similes to help conceptualize a movement.

All in all, it was so good for me to spend an hour really paying attention to what my core was doing at all times, how all other movements, whether exercise or dance, related to it and drew on its strength. Like Ranya Renee, Ruby talks about engaging the kegels too, though I haven’t heard this talked about in my classes. I haven’t been as delightfully concentrated during a pilates program in a long time. I wish I could buy this on DVD, but at least it’s being offered as a two-month rental on RAQStv.

Veil and Drum Solo Workshops with Aisa Lafour, and other dance notes

My dear readers, I’ve been a busy dancer. I had an incredibly intense week about a month ago — lots of work, lots of kid, lots of dancing in the evenings, either in class or with a video or doing improv, and then on top of that, a super Saturday of workshops with Cihangir Gümüstürkmen. (I will write about this soon.)

Then I was tired. Just exhausted. I didn’t want to dance anymore, I took about a week and a half off. You know the feeling — not inspired, not motivated? I really just wanted to go home in the evenings and spend time with my family, and not be in the studio. I also felt a little sick. I thought, what’s wrong with going to bed ridiculously early for a while? (Answer: nothing. Nothing at all.)

I read my emails from Alia Thabit and Rosa Noreen, and felt guilty for not doing my improv or my Delicious Pauses homework.

I watched a bit of a few videos. Ranya Renee’s Baladi DVDs, and Autumn Ward’s Beautiful Technique. Listened to baladi songs while going about my business, and practiced taking apart the music. Realised that I have a ton of music, but not enough baladi. One night after work I wrote a little piece for the RAQStv essay contest. The prompt was to write about our practice, about how we fit dance into our lives. I wrote about how I try, but so, so often fail.

But you know what? Sometimes taking a break is good. I actually felt re-energized when I went back to classes. A few things clicked that I had been struggling with before. I won the RAQStv contest. And this past Saturday, I took part in two workshops with Aisa Lafour sponsored by Hayal Oriental Moves.

The first workshop was veil technique for beginners, along with a choreo to the gorgeous song “Yearning” by Raul Ferrando. I have very little experience of veil in class (or, well, anywhere else), so I was glad for the opportunity to do a workshop on veil that assumed nothing. Aisa had us start at the very beginning, walking back and forth with the veil, watching how it moves, and learning how to arc it up above us to get it behind or in front. Then we moved on to technique for a few traveling moves, and the rest of the technique was done in the course of the choreo. What I particularly appreciated — and want to remember — are the little performance details Aisa put in. Things like moving softly down as the veil falls, so as to mimic the veil’s movement with one’s own body. I adore these kinds of details, the refinements that make dance really beautiful and more than just a bunch of movements.

While this was all going on, I had Realization of the Day #1: bellydance, oriental dance, however you want to call it, is so ridiculously complex, involves so much training, attention to the tiniest muscle movements, practice with props, learning music, and yet most of the general public thinks it’s nothing more than hoochy mama butt grinding.

And then my veil got caught on one of the ceiling lamps.

The second workshop was a drum solo to “Drum On” by Ali Darwish. This was a really peppy, fun routine, with a number of different shimmies, some fast spins and travel accents, and a few cute Latin elements. I particularly enjoyed a funny butt shimmy Aisa described as coming from Brazilian dance, and which she called the “rabbit.”

It was above my level, but I love having a sense of what I might learn, review, try again work on. Here in Berlin, a lot of workshops are pretty explicitly geared to levels, which I’m not as used to from the US. There, people just went to workshops. On the one hand, it makes sense, since instructors can teach advanced material to advanced dancers. But I also think there’s a lot to be gained from doing workshops a bit above one’s level, since they give you an understanding of where you have to push yourself to get to.

Then I had Realization of the Day #2. Readers of this blog know I’m not a huge fan of learning choreos. I’m a slow learner, and I often get frustrated trying to remember and keep up with everyone else. But I realised on Saturday that learning choreos is not just about a certain approach to dance, or even about learning transitions. It’s also that certain moves are just not so likely to pop up in drilling or technique lessons, but somehow do make their way into choreo instruction. These might be transitions, or traveling steps, or stylizations, or they just might be somewhat lesser-used moves that the “home” instructor hasn’t covered yet.

Anyway, the point was, for once I found myself really enjoying the process of learning a choreo. Some parts of the song really clicked for me, others I had a lot of trouble with (and believe me, I know those are precisely the ones I need to practice!). But all in all, there were just a lot of really delicious movement combinations that were fun to do. And the more we rehearsed them, the sweatier we got, and the looser the muscles did too, so some of the passages also became easier to perform.

When we were working on a particularly tricky bit, Aisa mentioned that she’d had a hard time at first with the combo, and had to practice to get it. This kind of thing is so good to hear when you’re struggling to pick up a phrase. She then talked about how she often choreographs above her dance level, so as to challenge herself. I thought this was also a wonderful reason and way to do choreography. If improv is about finding your safety moves and working with them, why not choreograph to bring more moves into that repertoire?

So now, some classes, workshops, DVDs, and writing later, I am once again a happy dancer. And I know precisely what I need to work on.