Review of Hannan Sultan’s Elegant Turns and Arabesques

I’ve had Hannan Sultan’s Elegant Turns and Arabesques for a couple of years. Up until now, I’ve mostly just peeked into it, sometimes to see how she describes the technique for a spin I’m having trouble with, sometimes even to try and work with it. However, I’ve been hampered by not really having enough space to practice properly — chaîné turns take room! — so was always a bit dissatisfied.

Enter today, and the opportunity to rent some studio space near the in-laws’. I knew I needed to practice, since I’m away from troupe training for an unconscionably long time, and have some sad, sloppy turns to deal with. And by a stroke of luck, I got the studio for four hours today — an unexpected luxury. Imagine — a sunny studio, with a perfect floor, mirrors, and a nice sound system, all to myself!

Working with Elegant Turns and Arabesques in a proper studio made all the difference. I suppose if you have a large, empty room at your disposal, you will also do well. But know before you start out that the turns and combinations Hannan teaches are really meant to cover room, and you will get the most out of the DVD if you can drill and repeat without bumping into a sofa.

The program itself is about 68 minutes long. Hannan explains at the start that you will really need to drill these techniques on your own to get them, and recommends stopping the video to practice or working on the moves independently. This is true for all dance instruction, but boy is it ever true for turns, which just genuinely take a lot of practice to be anywhere near passable. (At least if you’re me and turn-untalented.)

After a brief Introduction, Hannan discusses Posture, Visualization, and Arms. In this latter section, she reviews and demonstrates basic posture, talks you through a visualization to help direct the energy in your body, and quickly demonstrates how the arms are supposed to move with relationship to the shoulders. This was a quick section, and is really more valuable as a reminder than as detailed instruction. I have done something like the visualization she describes in troupe training (my teacher also studied with Aziza, so I wonder if there’s a connection there), and it is indeed a powerful tool that changes the nature of the movement. But it would have been more valuable in this video if Hannan had reminded us of the visualization during the turn practice.

The next section is on Turns and Arabesques, and covers the following techniques and moves:

Spotting
Three Step Turns
Cross Turn (I know this as a Tip Turn)
Chenee Turn (a.k.a. chaîné)
Chenee Variation
Low Turn
Flamenco Turn
Corkscrew
Barrel Turn
Arabesque
Jazz Arabesque
Backward Arabesque

Hannan teaches facing a mirror, and quite smartly has a ankle bracelet on her right foot so you can always tell which foot is which. She breaks down the turns carefully, including the starting position, goes over how to spot and reminds you to do so, and then drills it several times on both sides. And she sometimes has clever, funny ways of making you remember something — the mullet move is one I’ll treasure every time I work on my arms during spins.

The big takeaway for me, and the reason why I will love Hannan for ever, is that this video really, truly made a difference to my chaînés. I followed her instructions for spotting and doing them, and just practiced and practiced until they started to feel good. She teaches a variation of the chaîné in which you are on releve but with bended knees, and has you drill a combination of straight-leg and bent-leg chaînés. This turned out to be a great way to drill more chaînés together, since the slight change in point of balance helped me keep my focus. Pretty soon I found myself doing five, six, eight chaînés before getting dizzy or not landing right, whereas I’m usually dizzy and out after three.

Some other notes… instruction on the cross turn was good, but she mentioned the most important bit later, during the flamenco turn: keeping your thighs pressed each other. The barrel turn she teaches is a version with a single turn; it’s pretty, but I need to get a handle on multiple barrel turns. I adore the flamenco turn. It’s kind of fiendishly hard to get all those components working together, but after practicing for a while on my own I got a version which, though not right, made me feel wonderful.

The arabesques were also well taught and heavily drilled. I’m a big fan of the jazz arabesque, with the foot skimming the ground. The backward arabesque remains challenging, but is one of those moves you just need for oriental dance.

The final section has four Combinations, in which Hannan puts together turns and arabesques already taught. There are four of these, ranging from simple and fun to truly challenging. What’s really neat is the final combination, for which Hannan teaches you a number of variations that you can do when performing the combo with a veil. In effect, she winds up teaching several more turns (or rather, arm positions that change the look of the turn). She also introduces several steps here that are not turns or arabesques, but that are very pretty — in fact, one of my favorite moves in the whole DVD is in this section! All in all, the Combination section is what gives the DVD even more growth value, as these are things you really have to work on to get them looking smooth.

How could the DVD have been improved? Well, I thought most of the sections had a good amount of drilling, but a small minority ended too abruptly. I would have liked more tips on balance and the dynamics of the turn, since these are my weak spots. That said, I found that through the practice, these weak spots got less weak anyway.

The positives are solid instruction from a beautiful dancer, with some truly lovely moves and combinations thrown in. After working with Elegant Turns and Arabesques I spent some time improvising. Whereas I usually shy away from turns and arabesques, now I was flitting around the studio with glee.

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Quickie Review of Spins and Turns with Marguerite

One of my major weak spots in dance is the turn. This is the legacy of not having taken ballet classes beyond those miserable ten weeks as a child, but I don’t know how to spot, I have little balance, and I can rarely end where I’m supposed to. I still remember going to a trial class with a well-known New York City bellydance teacher, and her having the students do chaine turns across the floor. For some reason, the entire class seemed to be filled with pro dancers (and this was notan advanced class) who could chaine up a tornado if they needed to. I got dizzy after a few steps.
The mermaid spin: not happening for me anytime soon.
 I’ve been working towards spotting in one of my weekly classes, where the instructor teaches it quite well. But I worked with Spins and Turns with Marguerite to see if I might learn any tricks that could help me outside of class time.
The verdict? Spins and Turns should almost just be called “Spins with Marguerite.” Well, that’s not totally fair, but the focus is very much on technique for performing extended spins and whirling. In this sense, it is varied and covers a lot of technique: Marguerite covers preparatory stretches (though no warmup), step turns, pivot turns, turns on releve, and barrel turns. She offers multiple types of spotting techniques, including a cool one that involves spotting on the ceiling. There are different kinds of arm positions, again, mainly to add interest to longer spins, or with veil. And there is a section on level changes, including the quite difficult “mermaid” spin performed on the floor. (This was painful enough that I realized after one try that it would be unsafe for me to continue on my own.) The head flip turn I didn’t even attempt – I knew that would be a bad idea. Finally, there are tips on shoes, surfaces, and even braiding a tassle into your hair. A couple of performances round out the video, an old school orientale performance in heels, with zills and veil, and an “ethnic” spinning dance in Central Asian-inspired costume.
If you are looking to learn to spin for meditation or performance, this video would be just the thing. I imagine if you wanted to incorporate extensive spinning into a veil choreo, it would be useful too. It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, however. I usually encounter choreographies that have a few three point turns worked into other footwork, or several turns in quick succession across the floor. The video didn’t really cover these and it also didn’t quite tell me how to stop on point.

The other thing really has to do with me as a learner. Turns – both getting up to speed and spotting – are hard for me. Marguerite breaks things down very carefully. Nevertheless, when she goes up to speed I’m not sure how I’m supposed to make that leap. I’m still looking for that video that will help me with really minute, step-by-step instruction on getting brief turns just right.


 

Ballet for Oriental Dance with Autumn Ward

I took part in Autumn Ward’s “Ballet Technique for Oriental Dance” workshop yesterday at Salsa International. I have pain in the weirdest muscles today (my pecs hurt, if you can believe it!) and places in my hip, and my credit card also hurts because of the Sharifwear sale they were having…. but all in all, it was great.

You obviously can’t learn much ballet in two hours, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise. I thought this class might be something like an introductory ballet class, but it was nothing of the kind. Instead, it was much more interesting: Autumn discussed some aspects of ballet that have been incorporated into oriental dance, and how they might vary from the ballet forms. This also included some descriptions of ballet technique — she made us do some very interesting exercises for getting a proper pointed foot, for example.

Autumn talked about arm positions in ballet and how we vary them for oriental dance, and made us do a partner exercise where we had to use our arms, in position, to resist against our partner. (Hence the painful pecs and back muscles today, which I take as a good sign!) We worked on that hipdrop-kick movement that gets used so much in bellydance, and on getting a graceful leg extension.

And, we spent a lot of time on turns. I’m probably the most turn-challenged person on the face of the planet, but I loved her instruction. First of all, she talked about how ballet drives spins and turns from the legs, while oriental dance drives them with the arms or the hips. She went over arm technique, and right away I realised how much I had been missing by not using my arms. And although she mentioned spotting, she didn’t start with it. My trouble is that spotting, if anything, makes me more dizzy and confused, and makes me forget about what my body is supposed to do. I found I did alright when I just focused on my body — my footwork, and powering the turns with my arms — but the moment I tried to introduce spotting I lost it all.

We also covered arabesques, spinning inward and outward, and when each might be used. All in all, it was a wonderfully useful, tight class. I’m not a brilliant spinner now, but one can’t be after two hours. Stil, I now have a much better idea of what to do, and strangely enough, I have this desire to run around a room spinning — I can see how it could get addictive!