Sunday, November 29, 2009

Amy Sigil - Unmata

Overall: Pretty Disappointing
Duration: almost 2 hours of workout, plus extras
Recommended for any intermediate or advanced dancer with Unmata workshop experience

As my troupemates will tell you, I'm a huge fan of Amy Sigil and will take workshops from her whenever possible. I love her "don't ask questions - just follow" teaching style, and her "double that" approach to drills is always a challenge. (Amy's workshops are always a series of movements that build up into combos, every step of the way her yelling "double that!" or "half that!". You may take 4 eight-counts to do a chest circle, or have only a single count.) The DVD is very much in this vain, and its certainly the genuine Amy we all know and love - notes tucked into her waistband, yelling over the music, and occasionally making herself laugh by messing up.

You will find all of that on this DVD. Unfortunately, all the joy of Unmata is completely ruined by the horrendous video quality/production. You cannot follow Amy by watching her from her left profile, which is where the main camera is placed. Though they did have one bird's eye camera in the back of the room, the angle was far too high and the quality was barely above that of a convenience store security camera. Constantly switching angles doesn't help either. Considering what Suhaila's own videos look like - shot in a professional studio with top quality lighting, cameras and sound, I find it pretty offensive that this DVD is treated like a grade school project. $25 is not cheap for an instructional DVD, and I expect more from a Suhaila product.

Because of the poor camera angles, it will be hard for anyone without a lot of bellydance and Unmata experience to follow this. That said, it is her typical style - small movements eventually build into combos which eventually build into a series of combos or a choreography. All said, its just under 2 hours of material. There is a brief cooldown at the end, but no warm up or intro which is a little strange - almost as if the beginning of the video has been cut off. There is also a very strange moment around 35 minutes where someone decided to interject a short moment of Amy talking about her inspiration. The video has been treated with some cheap effect to make it look like she's coated in lead paint - very alien (not in a good way), very distracting, and has no business being dropped into the middle of the workout.

Other material includes Unmata's Funeral piece, which I have seen live and adore. The editing on it is so frenetic you may have a seizure watching it - it absolutely ruins the mood and makes it impossible to watch And if that wasn't bad enough, there's the "Psychedelic" version, which includes even more amateur video effects like warping and tinting. Whoever edited this video needs to go back to their day job. I can't believe Amy Sigil saw and approved this DVD.

There is an Amy Sigil interview which is very real and talks about her troubled past and how she got into dancing, which is refreshing change from the rest of this mess. There is also some footage from the forthcoming Unmata Rodeo DVD, and then the very enticing "Truth or Dare - chillin with Suhaila" portion of the DVD, which I'm sure will be the highlight but I have not yet had a chance to watch.

So in summary, I sadly have to recommend skipping this purchase unless you are a die-hard Unmata fan with lots of bellydance experience and are just desperate for some variety in your DVD collection.

Available from Suhaila

Sunday, October 18, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance - Get Fit: Cardio Funk

Overall: Good cardio workout, lots of fun
Duration: 1 hour 15 minutes
Recommended for any dancer who loves the show and is tired of their usual bellydance DVDs

Being a huge fan of the show, its not at all surprising that I liked this DVD. The routines were fun, and just challenging enough that I had something to work towards, but not so challenging that it was frustrating. The dancers gave the right amount of instruction and came across as sincerely having a good time. This DVD features routines led by Travis, Courtney and Lauren but also includes Twitch, Dimitri and Katie in the ensemble, who I assume are teaching on the other DVD in this series.

It starts with a 15 minute warm up, which includes a lot dynamic isolations that any bellydancer would appreciate: chest circles, shoulder rolls, and even hips. Each of the 6 dancers takes a turn leading you through in aerobics/Amy Sigil style - just follow along.

The 3 dance routines are led by Lauren (Hip Hop dance set to house music - my only critique of her piece. The music just didn't fit the dance.), Travis (contemporary set to rock music, which was a nice surprise) and Courtney (disco, set to disco). Each routine consists of about 4 unique eight counts of material, repeated in various ways and then all strung together. There's about 15 minutes of instruction, and then 5 minutes of running it at various speeds, sometimes with just counts, sometimes counts and music, and then eventually full speed with music only.

There's lots of encouragement to "add your own flavour", "have fun with it", and "put some funk into it", which I liked. Each dancer was doing the same steps but adding their own flare. There was lots of shouting, cheering and laughing throughout, which made you feel like you were part of a dance party, not just working out. The dancers are all in casual workout gear, though their outfits were slightly different for each routine - disco meant everyone had some bling, hip hop was a little more street etc.

The final routine was called Cardio Funk Bonus, where they basically stitched together bits of each routine, plus the occasional 8 counts of freestyle.

The cool down was 5 minutes long and can only be described as "slow jams". Just when I thought the DVD was going to turn south, Twitch took the lead and made it seem natural and fun, and the stretches were certainly welcome after all the jumping around.

The DVD also includes interviews with Travis, Courtney and Lauren, who all talk about how they got into dance and their experiences making the video. I enjoyed watching them and the outtakes from filming the video were fun. (Courtney curses a lot.) And then there's Nigel, who just sounds like an ass - instead of just encouraging people to dance more and be active, he lectures on how its too late to be a dancer, but you can always move around your living room or something like that. It was really pompous and unnecessarily condescending.

All in all, I'm definitely adding this to regular rotation of my dance DVDs, and am excited for the arrival of the second disc in the series!

Available from Amazon

Friday, May 29, 2009

FatChanceBellyDance - Woman Power Workout

Overall: Not much of a workout, but better than sitting on your couch
Duration: 1 hour
Recommended for hippies who want some bellydance-ish low impact aerobics

This DVD is mostly led by Karen Ames - an older woman who is fairly "goddessy" in her demeanor and doesn't strike me as a person with a lot of bellydance experience. I do love that most of the video is shot from behind, as though you were standing in class. The audio is sync'd, and though the instruction isn't exactly detailed, its certainly enough to follow along. (And this is far from being a technique video, so detailed instruction isn't all that necessary.) 

It starts with Karen leading some moving stretches.  These do get you fairly warmed up, but its a far cry from any sort of intense conditioning.  As a disclaimer, I have never taken any African dance, so I know absolutely nothing about the style, but the whole video felt more African influenced than bellydance to me. But they were using a lot of African-ish drumming music, so that could have influenced me.  

Next up was the veil sequence, or what should have been called "fling some fabric around".  It really wasn't anything akin to bellydancing with a veil - simply more low impact movements while dragging a veil along for the ride.

This is followed by Leg Power & Grace (or something like that). It involved lots of kicking.  This was probably the section that came closest to a cardio workout, but not terribly intense and felt very African in its style.

Carolena takes the lead for "tribal cardio".  This is about 15 minutes of arabic, hip bump, and egyptian to pretty slow music. There's no instruction - just follow along if you can stay awake.  At best, this section is boring. I can't imagine how out of shape you'd have to be to have this section get your heart rate up enough to actually be a cardio workout.

Next up is strength training, which requires weights or a pole and band, both of which are for sale at FCBD of course! The exercises were focused on the upper body. I didn't have a pole and band handy, so I just watched this session. It seemed like the same exercises you'd encounter with circuit training, but with fewer reps. Carolena who was the only person using hand weights, and it was pretty hard to see what she was doing.

Finally, the cool down section is a collection of "temple stretches" - poses based on Indian temple figures.  This was a little more interesting,  but certainly not enough to justify buying this video.

Overall, it definitely wasn't the "power workout" I was hoping for, but if you're looking for a low impact session embracing your inner goddess, well, maybe this is the DVD for you.

Available from FatChanceBellyDance

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Bellydance Superstars - Tribal Fusion Fundamentals

Overall: Pretty crappy, but Sheri's portion just might be good enough to save it
Duration: 1 hour
Recommended for people who want to work on floorwork, or will buy anything put out by the bellydance superstars

The biggest issue with this DVD is that the instructional overdubbing is not properly sync'd to the dancers, so the instructions always come a little too early or a little too late.  The music also seems like it was added in arbitrarily during post production, so you'd do better to just mute the DVD and put on your own soundtrack half the time.  Second to that is the ever-rotating camera angle - constantly switching from close up to a full body mirror shot to a third angle.  All said and done, its near impossible to follow anything.

Each girl has 20 minutes to review their concepts, drill, and then present a combo or two. Therefore everything goes by very quickly - I wasn't even sure if I understood the concept (let alone danced it properly) before we were on to something else. The performances that follow each section are all mesmerizing - no question that all of these girls are amazing dancers - but they did all start to look the same after a while.  

Kami is up first with "drills for locking". She doesn't explain what locking is, and there's no warm up.  You'd do better to start with Moria's section first. Kami does chest and shoulder locks, plus a number of hip locks.  Her instruction isn't very detailed, but her pantomiming was good and I'd recommend watching this one with your own soundtrack.  As usual, she looks gorgeous and moves perfectly.

Moria leads "conditioning for layering".  This is a lot of squats, plus some very aggressive yoga. I'm not the most advanced yoga practitioner, so I stopped halfway through for fear I would hurt myself - it was pretty advanced, moving quickly, and her instruction wasn't very detailed despite talking throughout the entire thing. (It turned into white naoise after the first minute.)  She does a number of drills for layering while standing and sitting, including glute squeezes with chest isolations, etc etc.  And while I found some of the movements challenging, the A/V sync issue made it extra hard to follow and it all goes too quickly for my taste. Definitely not for people who are beginners to yoga or bellydance. 

Samantha follows up with finger cymbals.  She does everything with movement, so it will definitely be challenging for a beginning zil player. I found her instruction adequate, and she had some cute combinations of movement and rhythm. 

Sherri's section was  about floorwork and transitioning to the floor. This was by far the best section of the DVD and its only saving grace, the great irony being Sherri never actually toured with the BDSS due to an injury.  She gives excessive warnings about adequate warm-up and recommends Moria's workout prior to her own session of squats and levels.  She goes over some good prep for back bends, a number of transitions using squats/level changes, berber walks, turn & sit, plus some great movements to try on your kneels.  Her instruction is thoughtful, useful, and calm - she only speaks when necessary.  She was the only girl to use positive reinforcement, which I appreciated. Sherri's only problem was her striped circus pants - she's got the closest thing to a perfect body I've ever seen, and these pants made even her legs look chunky.

Unless you're looking for help in the floorwork dept, I'd skip over this DVD. 

Friday, March 27, 2009

Asharah - Modern Tribal Bellydance

Overall: Plenty of material, but the instruction could be more detailed
Duration: 2.5 hours +
Recommended for people who love Ariellah's DVD, but are a little burned out from doing it over and over again.

The DVD starts with about 45 minutes of warm-up and conditioning.  Asharah has a nice mix of stretching, strength conditioning, and warm-up drills and they aren't the same old routines so that's very refreshing.  Her instruction is adequate for an experienced dancers, but could use more detail to reach beginners. Its especially challenging when you're doing stretches where you can't face the tv - you just can't tell what you're supposed to be doing!

There are a lot of good drills on there - over half an hour on hips alone.  She does all the hip work on flat feet as well as up on her toes, with level changes, and also sometimes with one foot lifted entirely off the ground.  Its a good workout and a thorough set of drills. However, she does tend to count things down like an aerobics instructor, which gets a little irritating after a while. 

She has about 20 minutes of strobing (aka ticking) - I haven't seen another bellydance DVD cover this, and Asharah definitely executes well on it.  Its a nice breakdown of how to do it, and some good drills that ease you into the idea.  She covers arms, chest, and body undulations.  This is followed by 6 different combinations, which she breaks down and drills. And then there's about 10 minutes of cool down, a component often overlooked by other DVDs.  All in all, an impressive amount of material - so much so, it took me 3 different sessions to get through it all!

As I've come to expect from World Dance, this is a very professional production with an abundance of material.  It would be great to see their dancers in a nicer setting once in a while, but I guess if that's my biggest complaint, they must be doing something right.

Available from Asharah

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Jenna & Raquy - The Heartbeat of Bellydance

Overall: An impressive amount of material to appeal to all levels of dancer
Duration: 1 hour +
Recommend for everyone, whether you want to improve your drum solo choreography, learn more about the various drum rhythms or just work on layering shimmies.

This DVD is one of the most well-rounded and thoughtful programs available. Jenna takes you through a brief and thoughtful introduction to an 8 minute warm up. 

There are 3 choreography workshops, presented in various formats so you can find the method that works best for you. You can watch the entire performance, then go through the breakdown of moves, then a practice session. Or you have the option to play the breakdown and practice interspersed so you can practice as you go. The choreographies are numbered, as are the moves within them so is easy to follow along. The practice also includes a visual count of the beats, for those people new to drum solos.

The narration is excellent, and Jenna goes through each combo slowly, followed by a slow motion closeup of the feet where needed (for turns, etc.). She addresses positioning, weight changes, and other details which make it easy to follow.

There is also a Rhythm Workshop led by Raquy, who breaks down various middle eastern rhythms. She starts by clapping the accents, then playing the rhythm on the drum so you can consider what dance moves might compliment the patterns. The final chapter in this section was an improvisation with Jenna, so you can see the rhythms and dancing combined.

There are 3 part of shimmy drills - the first is a breakdown of a 3/4 shimmy.  It was an interesting perspective and would probably help out some beginning dancers. (As someone with a developed 3/4 shimmy, I found it a bit confusing and would recommend skipping this part.)  Then there are 3/4 shimmy drills (again, tailored for beginners) but the Shimmy Layering drills were excellent. Jenna walks through 8 minutes of different movement that can be combined with shimmies, all the while reminding you to keep your hips moving.

While the narration, audio quality, camerawork and framing are all very professional, the one complain is that there is some strange moray pattern on the footage. So much so I started question whether my tv was dying, but its just the DVD.  It doesn't make it unwatchable, but definitely irritating, especially as everything else is so close to perfect.

Available from World Dance New York

Sunday, June 8, 2008

FatChanceBellyDance - Tribal Basics Vol. 7 Creative Steps and Combinations

Overall: A lot of combos, but a hard to follow
Duration: About 1.5 hours of instruction, plus a performance
Recommended for people who pick things up quickly/aren't concerned with the details.

So overall, this video is more of a "do as I say, not as I do". Or maybe its "do as I do, not as I say"?  Hard to tell really. There is instruction, and there is supporting video, but a lot of times Carolena would demonstrate things differently than you would expect based on the narration.  The queues are "soft", to say the least. 

The warm up was practically non-existent, and definitely didn't get me warm. According to Carolena, you should be sure to tuck your hips during the warm up since that's the only time you'd be concerned with that. (?!?!)  She wasn't kidding, though - there were several times in the video I had to stop and gape at her butt-out posture.

There is a TON of material on here - provided you can decide for yourself what's going on.  Even with the close-up inset of her feet (which was a great idea and something I've never seen before), its pretty hard to follow her queues. A lot of the moves incorporate turns, so there's always an angle you can't see, especially if you're following along at home.  

Another complication is that the music doesn't always seem to be sync'd up, which is distracting. And Carolena doesn't always start a new move on the one, which is her choice of course, but something that I struggled with compared to my own style of dancing.

All that said, there were some cute combos on there, especially if you like floreos.  Lots and lots of floureos. Maybe they should consider renaming it to Tribal Basic 7 - Creative Floureos.

The performance piece I thought was helpful - they covered all the moves on the DVD and its great to see them done by a big group and some different girls executing them. The overall presentation of combos was something that worked well for me - a group performance of the combo, then a quick into note by Carolena, a demonstration by Carolena, then the breakdown, then repeated practice of the combo.  Again, had the narration been in line with the demos, this would have been brilliant!

So if you're into ATS, this should add some new combos into your arsenal, but it won't become your standby for drilling/workout a la Rachel Brice or Ariellah.

Available for purchase from FCBD