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 

Friday, May 2, 2008

Sahira - Arabian Spices

Overall: Fantastic choreography lesson
Duration: 1:15 of breakdown and practice
Recommended for learning some new moves

This is definitely one of the better DVDs out there for learning some new choreography. The only shortcoming is that there is no warm up or cool down, so you'll need to do that on your own. Sahira has a very likable personality, beautiful technique, and provides clear instruction throughout.

Sahira breaks down each combo individually, and walks through them slowly then at tempo multiple times. Every 4 combos, there is a review to the music. If you're an intermediate level dancer, you should have no problem remembering the choreography and combos.

Her introduction was short and gracious - a bit of info about the DVD, and then appreciation for her teachers, her dance studio, her troupe, and the dj. Throughout the DVD she credits her inspiration/teachers, so you know the source of the movements. This DVD includes original Sahira/Urban Gypsy combos, as well as modifications of combos from Fat Chance, Urban Tribal, Rachel Brice, and Domba.

Available from Urban Gypsy

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Temple of Jehan - Ultimate Bellydance Fitness Workout

Overall: Horrifying
Duration: 45 minutes

This DVD is divided into 7 sections: warm-up, strength, sensuality, joy, passion, energy, cool down. This should give you an indication of the overall tone and theme.

The warm up is fairly lame - the voiceover doesn't actually describe what the dancers are doing, so when you are bent over in a stretch you have to keep looking up at the tv to see what's going on. Not only that, but the dancers aren't very sync'd up, and the technique, overall, is pretty poor. We went through 7 minutes of things like "oriental poses" and "feel the vibrations of the earth".

Next is Strength, led by Drag Queen Cher. Watch out for those close-ups - they are scary! And what's worse than Drag Queen Cher leading a crappy bellydance DVD? She's doing it in bluejeans!! And not just any bluejeans, *bedazzled* bluejeans. I could barely follow this portion for a number of reasons (poor instruction, weird camera angles, etc) but primarily, I was fixated on Drag Queen Cher's bedazzled bluejeans. Ladies, take my word for it and don't try this at home!

Sensuality is the hair-tossing portion of the video. You need really long hair for this part or you'll have nothing to flip around. (These are the types of girls I get stuck standing next to in workshops.) Joy is mostly like an aerobic workout, while Passion & Energy are some typical cabaret moves, led by people with poor technique and little instruction, so good luck following along. The cool down is absolutely identical to the warm up, except the dancers are wearing different outfits.

Should you ever do this DVD (and I highly recommend that you don't), pay special attention to the lyrics of the songs. They say stuff like "my body is a temple... it has many rooms". They included some fascinating extras, like the "Cast of" video (in case you need even more shots of Drag Queen Cher) and the very special "Body Prayer", which can only be described as hippie performance art to spoken word.

Available from Amazon

Monday, April 28, 2008

Princess Farhana - Bellydance Basics

Overall: Entertaining
Duration: 35 minutes of instruction
Recommended for when you need a change from your old stand-by DVDs

Let me start by saying that I love her personality - her charm never ceases to make me smile. I took a TribalFest workshop from her, and while I picked up some cool burlesque moves, I would have been happy just listening to her tell stories for 2 hours.

While she's obviously a decent cabaret dancer, her technique just seems "ok" to me (not fabulous) and the performance was pretty uninspiring. There's only 35 mins of dance instruction on there, and she goes over everything once with very little detail or repetition - I'm not sure a true beginner could really follow it.

Also, it seems
like she wasn't mic'd, so they were relying on a mic on the camera
or something. The sound is really muddled and hard to understand at times. Overall, it was probably better than sitting on my butt watching tv, but I'm not sure I got much out of it.

On the plus side, she has FANTASTIC facial expressions throughout everything, which I really enjoyed. She also does a really cute intro. And there's a montage at the beginning that showcases a very entertaining array of her costuming. I think the zebra striped one was my fave!

Available from Princess Farhana

Ariellah - Contemporary Belly Dance and Yoga Conditioning

Overall: Excellent!
Duration: over an hour
Recommended for daily practice

This DVD is kick-ass! All these girls tend to do the same yoga poses, and I think Rachel teaches them best, but the drilling on Ariellah's DVD is *intense*. There are 45 minutes of yoga and drills before you even get to the choreography breakdown and practice.

This DVD is definitely a good value - high quality video, heaps of material, and clear, thoughtful instruction.

The only potential down side is that Ariellah is very stoic and lacks the evergy and personality she demonstrates in person.

Available directly from Ariellah

Suhaila - Bellydance for Beginners with Suhaila: Fitness Fusion Jazz

Overall: Comedy, with a side of bellydance technique
Duration: 30 minutes of aerobic-style workout

Truthfully, this review could apply to any of her "Fitness Fusion" series. And I have one word for them all: weird

The whole thing is set up more like aerobics, with very little instruction and
very little bellydance. While I will admit I did use muscles I don't normally use and Suhalia is a beautiful dancer, I don't exactly feel like this is helping my bellydance at all, other than to get a little more exercise.

The formula is this: 30 minute aerobics style workout, followed by a 3-4 minute performance piece (I swear the first one didn't even have Suhaila in it); inspirational speech from Suhaila (no
joke - "When you have kids and the dishes are piling up, its an accomplishment just to brush your teeth every day"), then some weird circle thing where each of her background dancers stands up and improvs for Suhaila and her kid while the other girls sit and clap.

The "Jazz" DVD featured an actual dance combination (shocking!), which was about 56 moves long with no breakdown and used words I've never heard before/didn't know what the move was. Here's an example of the words
coming out of her mouth:

shassey up
walk around
hip hip hip
turn and clap (yes - this is the white man's overbite move)
step ball change
shoulders back
step and kick
walk it out
hip hip
and now reverse it!

I mean, honestly, there was no way to follow what the hell was going on! And where are all these ballet terms coming from? And why doesn't she explain what the hell they mean?

Eventually, I stopped trying to follow and just shimmied around my living room while she yammered at me through the tv. It was a bit maddening.

Available from Suhaila

Kassar - Fluid Precision: Contemporary Tribal Bellydance

Overall: very disappointing
Duration: 1 hour (which is ore than anyone can stand)

For the record, I love watching these girls dance so I was very excited to get their DVD! Unfortunately, its pretty disappointing. There are some cute moves, and lots of material, but the instruction isn't very good at all, and nor do I think the technique is
all that great.

For the performance piece, I didn't find them perfectly sync'd as they seemed in the past, and the camera work has got some weird, hand-held "rock concert" style angles that were strange.

The 45 minute warm-up is decent, but the taller girl does such a weird thing with her right arm and right shoulder that I question whether she was injured or something. The smaller one had such dis-proportionally large breasts that my boyfriend walked past and was mesmerized for about 5 minutes. Now, there's nothing wrong with a big rack, you just need to dress for it.

The isolations were only 15 minutes, and a joke. They moved quickly through taxim, over taxim and some chest stuff so fast it wasn't effective. And again, the taller girl was so off she appeared to be doing different moves entirely.

And to tell the truth, I really wasn't a fan of the choreography they put on there. There was a nice move here and there, but overall, I can't every playing this DVD again.

Available from World Dance New York

Sera - East Coast Tribal: Basics, Combinations & Strength Workout

Overall: Great!
Duration: Approx 1 hour of warm up, drills, and combinations
Recommended as a supplement to classes and rehearsals

This DVD is a quality production. Great instruction, good workout, good practice, and man those girls are in sync! the combos and drills are ones I have not seen before, and the instruction is clear and thoughtful.

The performance piece was a bit weird, in that the blue-screened her, and then put her on this weird digitally animated background and used a lot of "creative" camera angels. (Hello - who wants a bird's eye view of bellydance?!) But she's definitely a good dancer.

Available from Amazon

Rachel Brice - Bellydance Arms & Posture

Overall: Excellent!!
Duration: 1 hour of intense arm-oriented exercised and drills
Recommended: for everyday ass-whooping

This workout is primarily focused on arms, though there was a brief interlude of deadly levels practice. It goes from stretches to isolations to
breaking down choreography. All in all, its a really great workout, and her instruction is thoughtful and helpful. She really is a great teacher, and I think she's one of the best as far as DVD instruction goes.

That said, there is a VERY bizarre "interview" (I use the term loosely) of
her by Miles Copeland. She eventually gets around saying how the process of getting dressed is like a transformation, which is probably the only
intelligent thing on there. I blame Miles mainly - he is asking her super
dumb questions, like how much her bracelets weigh.

Also, I'm fairly certain her performance piece was over dubbed with different music. There is almost no correlation between her movements and the music (which was Beats Antique). I really question that this was some post production last minute decision, as she is much more musical than that piece conveys.

This DVD is so hard I find in intimidating, which is a rare and good thing. I really ought to do it every chance I get!

Available for purchase from The Indigo

Gypsy Caravan - Tribal Technique 6: Tribal Styling

Overall: Don't bother
Duration: 30 minutes

I would retitle it "Indian Stylings & Skirt Swishing". The quality overall was poor - like the DVD had been made from a VHS tape. The picture was not at all sharp - lots of pixel loss.

It was 10 mins of warmup, 15 mins of instruction, and 5 mins of practice, which might make this the shortest DVD I've done yet! The rest was a bunch of footag of them from Tribalfest & TQNW. One of the stranger parts was when Paulette made her other girl do situps
while she sat there and described them.

Overall, the whole program was neither challenging or interesting. The instruction wasn't very good, and since they didn't bother to flip the video, a lot of it was hard to follow (left meant right, etc etc). Also, since they had big skirts on for half the time, you couldn't see what their feet were doing, not that I need much instruction for waving my skirt back and
forth anyways.

Available from Gypsy Caravan

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bellydance Jam With Bellyqueen

Overall: Recommended for intermediate level practice
Length: 30 minutes of warmups, drills and combos, then cooldown

So I really, really wanted to hate this DVD. Anything called "Bellydance Jam" that features "bellydance moves you can use in the clubs" has got to be bad, right? The beginning montage shows girls in "club clothes" bellydancing with each other in a very contrived club setting - ugh. Well, as much as I hate to admit it, I actually liked this DVD.

The quality of the video was very very good - no frenetic camera angles. And kudos to these girls for dubbing the instruction in a voiceover session instead of panting their way through it while dancing like many other videos I've seen. Their technique was great, they always looked pleasant and sincere, and generally like they were having fun. While the technique breakdown probably wasn't detailed enough for an absolute beginner, I found their commentary to be thoughtful and sufficient for anyone with some experience. I even found a few combos a little challenging.

The 30-35 minute practice starts with some "moving stretches", which felt great after a day sitting at a desk. There is about 20 minutes of movement instruction, where they build on combos. They string everything together at the end for a nice 2 minute practice of the combos, before a decent cooldown.

Bonus points to these girls for offering an alternative voiceover in Spanish!

The "improvisation section" on the other hand, was pretty comical. This is where the club dancing comes in - complete with club clothes, and ambient club dancers in the background! I seriously can't imagine anyone breaking out these combos in a club scenario without getting laughed out of the room. They did give a nice overview of how to dance to the music, but overall, it just made me laugh. It all culminated with a few minutes of club music and videos akin to the iTunes visualizer so you could practice in a "simulated club environment". Heh.

The performance clips were mixed - I found their solo pieces to get boring after a while, but there are a couple nice montages of group pieces that were interesting. There's one from the Bellydance Superstars, but it doesn't seem to be limited to just Bellyqueen footage, so who knows what I was watching.

Overall, this DVD is a great way to decompress from work if you don't have a lot of time. Its a good supplement to your collection, but not something to do every day.

Available from CD Universe

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Stay tuned...

for my bellydance (and the occasional other dance style)DVD reviews - I promise not be politically correct or mince my words.