Claudina Calligraveil double veil bellydancing

Review of Claudina’s Calligraveil: Single and Double Veil Dance Instructional

Readers of this blog may have noticed that it has spanned a few geographic locations. My very first posts were written when I lived in Connecticut, I then lived in NYC but didn’t write very much, moved to Dallas where I got pregnant and started writing about prenatal workouts during my leave, and I now live in Germany. (Are you tired yet? I’m tired.)

One of the goals I set for myself when I moved here and started taking classes from local teachers was to seek out and review more DVDs by European dancers. I know that many English speaking dancers are willing to get foreign-language bellydance instructionals, even in languages they don’t know, like Russian or Hebrew! But in fact, many dancers are now putting out videos in bilingual or even multilingual versions (like Meissoun of Zurich). And if you play the DVD on your laptop and it’s region free, you don’t have to worry about the PAL/NSTC issue that we used to have with VHS. It’s been my experience that there are some fantastic dancers and really great teachers here, and I’d very much like for them to be known more broadly.

Claudina Calligraveil bellydance performance

So, in keeping with that goal, today’s review is of a double veil DVD by the Weimar-based dancer Claudina, Calligraveil: Single and Double Veil Dance Instructional. Calligraveil is fully bilingual: menus and voiceovers (and there are only voiceovers) are done in both English and German. In fact, if you’re sick of language period, you also have the option of watching the tutorials with music alone.

The first thing to say is that this is an exquisitely beautiful DVD. Really, it’s one of the most gorgeous productions I’ve seen in any dance DVD. It’s also pretty challenging. There is an hour and a half of instruction alone, not counting the extras, so it’s really more of a reference work to learn from over a longer period than a workshop-type instructional. Because Claudina teaches every move first with just one veil, you can use it at the most basic level to learn or practice single-veil moves. However, you can also go beyond that and practice them with two veils. The DVD is thoroughly, carefully chaptered, so it would be easy to pick just one section and rehearse it over and over again (and I did some of that as I worked with it), or to skip over the harder, double-veil sections, until you’re ready for them.

Claudina Calligraveil bellydance performance

The DVD begins with two costumed performances by Claudina, one featuring Isis wings and matte, gauzy double veils, and another with shimmering veils. These are primarily spinning moves, and Claudina makes them look easy. As I discovered when I worked with the DVD they are not, in fact, easy. A short introduction tells you to warm up, and explains the props you’ll use to learn: tea cups, long silk veils, and a cane.

Claudina Calligraveil bellydance double veil props for instruction

The tutorial section, which is an hour and a half long, consists of ten lessons:

1. Introduction: Veil Selection, Arms and Posture, Warm Up
2. Veil Basics I: Handling Single Veil, Dervish Turn, Traveling Turn
3. Veil Basics II: Handling Double Veil, Isolate the Veils, Catch the Veils
4. Figure 8: Basics, Single Veil, Double Veil
5. Swirl: Basics, Single Veil, Double Veil
6. Circle: Basics, Single Veil, Double Veil
7. Serpentine: Basics, Single Veil, Double Veil
8. Butterfly: Basics, Single Veil, Double Veil
9. Moon: Basics, Single Veil, Double Veil
10. Final Tips: Cool Down, Improvisation, Experimentation

Basically, you have a few lessons teaching you how to hold one veil, how to do the fingers for two veils, where to grab the veil (and here Claudina showed a trick that will help me with single veil too!), how to switch fingers on the veil, and how to let go and catch both single and double veils in the air. She also quickly has you practice dervish and travel turns. The end has a small but nice cool-down, and there are a few dances in which Claudina gives suggestions on how to dance with the veil, how to improvise, how to experiment with veil materials. This woman is clearly a master of the veil!

Claudina Calligraveil bellydance double  veil instruction

The central lessons, numbers 4 to 9, each focus on a single veil technique. Claudina introduces the movement very gradually. She will do it first without any props, frequently changing position so you can see her from both front and side. Then she has you practice it with an appropriate prop, for example tea cups when the goal is to keep hands facing up, the bamboo cane when you need to keep your hands equidistant, and long white veils to help you see the shapes of moves. Then she teaches you how to perform the move with a single veil, and finally, she moves to the double veil version. All along, there are variations on each move.

Claudina Calligraveil bellydance double  veil instructionThe two things you need to know about these lessons are: they are very well taught, and they are pretty hard to do. Any single tutorial is more than enough for a day’s dedicated work. And although Claudina has a slender figure, I realised she must have an enormous amount of strength to handle so many different kinds of veils with such grace and power. I managed to do quite a lot of the DVD, but I realised at one point that my shoulders wouldn’t be happy with me if I pushed myself any further. I need to get better at single veil first, and develop some arm strength. However, if you are willing to take it more slowly than I was, and really work with each tutorial, the sections themselves are really taught thoroughly and from the ground up, and because of the chaptering, should be easy to practice. I also loved the idea of using different kinds of props to practice before actually handling the veil, and am now wondering where I can get those long strips of silk.

Claudina9

Calligraveil would be good for advanced beginner and intermediate dancers who want to improve even just their basic veil skills, and great for intermediates and up who are looking for the challenge of double veil.

You can order the DVD at www.claudina.de, and it comes in a neat, environmentally-friendly, cardboard pop-up case that my toddler son finds irresistible. And: I received a review copy of this DVD.

Claudina Calligraveil bellydance double  veil instruction

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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.

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.

Review of Kaeshi Chai’s Expressive Bellydance Veil

Years ago, when I lived briefly in New York City, I managed to catch a few bellydance workshops and classes here and there. I took classes at Serena Studios (I think I still have my card with a few unstamped spots on it), and took a veil-oriented class with Elena Lentini in which I managed to wind up more tangled and dazed than I care to admit. During one of the workshops I took, I remember noticing Kaeshi Chai quietly doing her thing at the side of the room, and being impressed that a dancer who was already well known was continuing her training with us plebes. So when I saw Kaeshi begin her veil video by acknowledging her influences, among them Serena Wilson and Elena Lentini, it was a full-blown dose of New York nostalgia.

Kaeshi Chai’s Expressive Bellydance Veil is a compact introduction to a range of veil moves. I approached it as a beginner in things veilish, having had very little veil work in class (hence my confusion in Lentini’s studio), and not having worked with any other veil DVDs yet. Kaeshi begins by describing different kinds of veils available and explaining how to steam it. (Useful!)

As for the rest of the video, I think it’s best to think of it as a sort of movement encyclopedia. She introduces basic veil moves (like “around the world” and “butterfly”) in one section. This is followed by six combo sections, three with veil moves that begin from the front of the body, and three beginning in the back. In each combo, Kaeshi actually presents another three veil moves, and then puts them together into a small combination, which she repeats a few times.

The instruction is careful, but quick. Kaeshi will often show how a move looks, then demonstrates it slowly, often setting the veil down to explain the hand or arm paths without it. Then she has a few more practices, sometimes giving little tips along the way. A couple more sections after the combos show you how to move into a vertical hold on the veil, and show veil ropes, turbans, and whips.

My experience was that I was surprised by how quickly I got some of the moves, and how frustrated I got with others. The DVD doesn’t have a lot of drilling, so I think to make it work you really have to focus on little bits — take it one move at a time — and just practice, practice, practice. I’ll clearly need quite a few tries to get a sense of the weight of my veil and how not to get it in my face every time I do the butterfly. I would also suggest doing a warmup focused on the upper body before beginning, since your arms, shoulders, and neck will benefit from being loosened up, and then ending the practice by stretching these muscles.

The final segment of the DVD is a costumed performance by Kaeshi that uses all of the moves she presented in the DVD. It’s very lively and peppy, not the sort of romantic and languorous dance one often expects with veil, and it was nice to see that the veil can be used for a variety of effects.

Because I’m almost an utter beginner, pretty much all of the veil moves were new to me. There were no veil wraps, which I actually have done in class, but there were to-me-unexpected moves like whip and rope that used the veil for a fast, dramatic effect. Will you like the video? The DVD is well chaptered, and Kaeshi is personable on screen. At 50 minutes, it moves very quickly through a lot of information, so you have to be willing to stop and drill on your own. And while there is a bit of attention to how certain veil moves or arrangements might work with particular bellydance moves or steps, the focus here is clearly on what you can do with the veil itself rather than on creating a whole dance.

I think this video would be good for someone who would like a manageable introduction to holding and using the veil, or who wants to add some new veil moves to their repertoire. I don’t think it would satisfy someone looking for a long, everything-about-veil video with lots of drills and choreography. As for myself, I really enjoyed it because I was able to fit it in at the end of a long day, and can imagine returning to practice individual moves, which is my level right now. But it also made me curious for more on how to put a dance together!

Expressive Bellydance Veil is also available from Hollywood Music Center (from whom I got a review copy).

Finally got a veil!

So, I have quite a few veil DVDs, some of which I also need to review, and I thought the next few months would be a great time to do so. My torso and belly might not be as flexible, but I can still use my arms, right? The thing is, I’ve done very little (like, really, really little) in-class veil work, and even that was years ago and rather randomly taught. And this week, when I was working with Jennifer Jimenez’ “Lets Dance Together – Prenatal Dance Fitness” (review coming soon) and got to the scarf/veilwork section, I went to find the piece of chiffon I’ve had lying around for years and — could not for the life of me find it. I found practice zills, hip scarves, poi, all kinds of little props I have hanging around, but no chiffon! I realised the awful truth — I badly needed a veil.

But what kind? It turns out that bellydance videos have varying amount of information on choosing a veil. Veil with Aziza and Kaeshi Chai’s Expressive Bellydance Veil both go over the basics, silk and chiffon, and Kaeshi also shows how to steam iron your veils to keep them looking fresh. There’s a small section on choosing veils in Sarah Skinner’s Seven Veils, but the really long introductions are in Skinner’s Bellydance with Veil and Shoshanna’s Fabulous Four Yard Veils. Skinner’s intro is more of a show-and-tell — you can tell that she’s really in love with her veils! — and she focuses quite a bit on the makeup of the fabric and the look, weight, and hemming of the veil, going through varieties of chiffon and even more unusual fabrics. Shoshanna doesn’t deal with quite as many kinds of fabrics, but she gives more examples of how particular veils might work in dance, what moves she likes to do with what kinds of veils, and also which veil fabrics are too heavy and might cause injury!

Other resources I like are Dina Lydia’s article, “Making a Veil,” and Zorba’s “So Many Veils, So Little Time!” In the end I went to Little Egypt, a store and bellydance school here in Dallas, and picked up a couple of silk veils at their sale that were pretty much cheaper than on eBay! (And a little practice cane… because I’m bad.) I’d still like to get to a fabric store nearby and see what kinds of chiffon are out there, and if I can make a really sturdy — or at least disposable — practice veil out of some on-sale fabric, but for now I’m ready to go!