Khalida dancing drum solo with Issam

Review of Shimmies with Khalida

(Before you read this — subscribe to my newsletter and get the latest updates!)

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.

Advertisements

Review of Azhia’s The Dancer’s Companion: Preparation, Drills & Cool Down

I’m about to do something awful.

I’m about to review a DVD you can’t get.

Well, I’m sure you could try. Someone on Bhuz probably has it. But when I got the video Azhia was selling off her last batch. In fact, as far as I can tell, she’s retired as a dancer and focusing on her career as a makeup artist.

Which is a shame, because not only is she a beautiful dancer with great technique and a modern feel, but she has some cool ideas about how to put together a bellydance practice DVD.

Azhia doing lower abdominal work as preparation for bellydance

The Dancer’s Companion: Preparation, Drills & Cool Down is a modular program composed of a brief introduction, a 16-minute “Preparation” for dance, 24 minutes of drills, a “Beyond Basics” section that suggests ways to vary the drills, and a brief cool down. Ah yes, and two studio performances.

The Preparation is not so much a warmup as a series of yoga-inspired stretches and targeted muscle work. It won’t get your heart up, but it includes some good things, like grand plies to work on thigh strength and exercises to strengthen the foot muscles. This section could be used on its own to prepare for doing another program — in fact, this was the main reason I bought this DVD.

The drills begin with arm positions layered on an ongoing shimmy. These are a little like some of the exercises I loved in Aziza’s arms DVD. Then we get hip eights, vertical and horizontal, performed in both directions and varied. Azhia has you do them both with heels on the ground and bent knees, and with heels up and straighter legs. There are undulations, up and down, and the three basic hip circles — large, small, and omi/afro. The neatest part of the drill section is right at the end, when Azhia has you work on a combo of all of the movements practiced, at different speeds, with different foot work, in order to get the transitions smooth. This is most definitely the kind of thing I need.

Azhia demonstrates how to change bellydance movements with level change

There are a few things that are difficult about following. Not every movement is cued, though most are, and she doesn’t mirror. So eventually I found it easier just to mirror what she was doing rather than listening to her say “left” and “right.”

That said, there are really some neat things about this video. It’s designed for you to grow into. For example, at various points she gives you tips on how to change up the movements. You might take a different arm position, or work at a different speed. The little “Beyond Basics” section is a mini-tutorial on more things you can do to get even more nuanced movements, like adding a twist to the lower body while doing vertical figure eights, or doing an omi with one heel up, or adding a level change. The result, as it looks on Azhia, is delicious, and it’s worth working towards.

Finally, the neatest thing is that the entire instructional part of the video is filmed in three angles: front, side, and back. You can either choose an angle at the beginning of a section, or flip between angles if you have magical DVD remote control powers. I do not, alas, have the latter, but I did find that watching the DVD on my Mac’s DVD Player, I could go to the Features menu and choose “Angle” to pick my angle, and it would switch right in the middle of the video. This seems like it would be particularly good if you’re interested in seeing how those horizontal figure eights look from the side, or if you want to follow Azhia from behind as if she were a live teacher.

Azhia demonstrates the side view of a bellydance horizontal figure eight

This is explicitly not a beginner video — you need to know your basics. But Azhia still gives you a lot of tools to check up on how you’re doing even when you don’t have a teacher in the room, as well as ways to grow beyond the basics of what she demonstrates in the video.

Review of Samra’s Shimmyrobics

There’s a bit of a story to this review. A long time ago, in a bookstore far, far away, I found a DVD in the discount section called Belly Dance – Total Workout For Body Shaping (don’t buy from this link, but do read the comments!) It was three bucks, it didn’t look too promising, but I am a bellydance DVD addict and can not let anything go by. There’s always something to be learned.

When I got home and popped it in, however, I realised that the woman in the video had nothing to do with the woman on the cover of the case. In fact, even weirder was the fact that the video itself was a rhythm instructional, not a workout at all!

Part of the situation is explained on the Amazon page by Samra herself. The video is basically a copy of her video “101 Shimmies Volume 2,” sold under a deceiving cover and title by an unethical distributor. It’s not a workout, and in fact her attention was for the video material to be combined with instruction from her other DVDs. Someone just using this will be rather surprised by the lack of any basic teaching of moves. What’s more, she doesn’t receive any royalties from sales of the video. From our correspondence, it seemed she was even more upset that a confusing, poorly-branded video was out under her name.

I thought part of what I could do is work with the actual videos, and see what they have to offer. Now, these are old school videos. Samra herself told me that the production company was a small town affair, and this is true. The editing, production, music cueing, is all far from glossy or smooth. But what is actually in the content?

I’ve worked with Shimmyrobics twice so far, and in two rather different ways. The first time, I did the video all the way through, albeit in pieces. It’s almost two hours of material, beginning with a one-hour instructional section. What follows is a short, but pretty thorough warmup, five workout combinations, a cool down, and an advanced workout which is the five combinations strung together. When I first worked with the video, I was a bit annoyed that the warmup came after the instruction, although the chaptering certainly allows you to click on the warmup first. However, the second time I did the video, I just did the workout, and in that case, it was easy just to click on warmup and stay with the program until the end.

The instructional section has a ton of material. Even though I’ve seen a lot of it taught in other places, there were some new moves or combinations of moves for me, and also certain moves where the description was particularly enlightening. I still have to work on my choo-choo shimmy, for example, but Samra’s explanation of it is one of the most helpful that I’ve found so far. She also includes some moves from her other dance influences, like a backwards African shimmy and an African stylization of the chest shimmy. (In fact, these were some of my favourites in the workout!) Samra’s descriptions are detailed, and often include pointers on safety. The full run-down:

Head: forward and back; side-circle tilt.
Shoulders: lifts and drops; rolls; thrusts; quiver and shimmy.
Ribcage: slide, shimmy, circle.
Abdomen: pops – in, out.
Knees: side, flex, moderately straight, circle.
Feet: point/flex, circle.
Hands: close/open, shimmy, palms up or down.
Hip slide shimmy
Muscle shimmy
Jello/Fellahi
Freezes and Vibration
Knee Shimmy
Walking Shimmy
Hip Patterns (various hip bumps, lifts, and drops)
Hip Circles
Hip Bumps
Walking Hip Lifts and Drops (the latter a little like the Soheir Zaki step)
Running Choo-Choo
African Choo-Choo
Omi Circle

The workout has five combinations. For each combo, Samra does the steps individually and drills them for a while, then strings them together and repeats them in four directions. Rinse, repeat. After the first teaching of a combo, on-screen text lists the moves. I liked some of the combinations more than others, but taken together, they really did get my heart rate up, and even gave me a bit of next-day burn!

Two things I wasn’t as excited about were the repetition of combos in the four directions, and the fact that the music accompanying the workout is just a basic rhythm, without a real connection to the moves. I later read on Samra’s website that the latter was intentional, and that she expects students to use the moves with their own music. Accordingly, the second time I did the workout, I had my trusty mp3 player ready with my iPod in. I started pausing the video between the combos, putting on some really danceable pop (Natacha Atlas, if you must know), and practiced the combos to the music. And I did not stick to the four cardinal directions. Instead, I took the moves from the combo, changed up the number of times, the order, and did the traveling moves in a variety of directions and floor shapes. It became really fun, and a chance for a bit of structured improvisation!

The verdict? If you want something really smoothly produced, this is not the video for you. However, there is so much info on it, that beginning dancers especially are likely to find something new or useful. And the workout really is a workout. If you’re willing to play with the video creatively to make it part of your own practice, you will enjoy it.

You can get Shimmyrobics at Samra’s website, www.samrasexpressions.com. (Don’t buy it from Amazon under the fake name!)

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.)

Review of Sarah Skinner’s Bellydance Shimmy Workout for Beginners

Sarah Skinner’s The Bellydance Shimmy Workout is a really smart, useful program, and one that could be adapted to a number of different dance practices. At its core are five shimmy drills of five minutes each. The idea is that you could do one a day if you were pressed for time and wanted to get a bit of regular practice in. In fact, the very last drill incorporates all kinds of shimmies, so you can work on a bit of everything in just five minutes. The drills include upper and lower body shimmies, basic bellydance moves and traveling steps, layering, and traveling with shimmies. While this isn’t a video a beginner is likely to be able to do, I do think The Bellydance Shimmy Workout is a great tool to go from beginner-level shimmies to advanced beginner and further.

 

I am personally unlikely to get my workout clothes on and the computer set up just to do five minutes of dancing. But I’m thinking maybe I should change that. And I could imagine incorporating one or two of the five-minute drills into a longer practice, perhaps with another technique or choreo video.
What I like even more is that if you play The Bellydance Shimmy Workout all the way through, it’s more than just a collection of workout segments. You have a warmup and cool down, a great strength-building drill for dance, and oh-so-necessary stretches between each of the shimmy drills. Do the full hour, and you have a real workout, but done in beautiful, dancey, WDNY-style: cardio, stretching, strength, coordination, balance, dance technique, all in one package.
In fact, I think you could even take the warmup, strength drill, and one shimmy drill and use them as a solid prep for some improvising… now that would be a fun dance practice.

The quality is, as is to be expected with WDNY, high. Sarah Skinner and her two backup dancers are beautifully dressed and well filmed. Sarah’s voice cues are right on and encouraging, with good reminders to breathe. The music is upbeat and gets your energy going for some serious shimmying – some new agey stuff, some Balkan, some clearly Middle Eastern. You also have the option of doing the workout with music and no voice cues. The variety of shimmies covered is really good – it’s not just about a knee-driven shimmy and a choo-choo, but you get to practice ¾ shimmies and the Arabic hip walk.

I do have one beef with this otherwise excellent video, though, and that’s right in the title: “for Beginners.” The Bellydance Shimmy Workout for Beginners is not for beginners. I’m not saying a beginner couldn’t work with this video and have fun, but if she expects to be able to follow along with much of it, she will be disappointed. Shimmies are hard to get. While some dancers pick them up fast, many take years to really learn the more challenging ones. They really are not a matter of watching them a couple of times and following along.
The “cutesy butt” shimmy!

The video includes a brief (circa 15 min) tutorial on the basic moves and all the shimmies used during the workout. This is great as a review of shimmies, but it’s not lengthy and detailed enough instruction for someone who doesn’t know a shimmy at all. Sarah’s teaching is clear and beautifully filmed, but you’re really not going to learn to layer a ¾ shimmy on a traveling step in a minute’s instruction. It’s just a matter of packaging. I know in the world of live bellydance courses beginner classes can go on forever and cover truly difficult material, but I think expectations are different with a video.

If you’re not an absolute beginner though, and you want a shimmy drill, this video’s the thing. I’m thinking of putting The Bellydance Shimmy Workout on high rotation. It’s exactly what I need to progress in my dance, it’s short enough to do on a regular basis but long enough to get good and warmed up, and, well, it makes me happy!

I received a review copy of The Bellydance Shimmy Workout