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Gilded Serpent presents...
Review of
Princess Farhana's
Bellydance & Balance:
The Art of Sword and Shamadan

by Eugenia Chao

People who already know Princess Farhana's impressive accomplishments and glamorous credentials might be a bit taken aback upon putting "Bellydance & Balance" into their VCR and pressing "play".  While Farhana is a brilliant performer, the video looks a bit like it was filmed with a handheld camera, and the sound quality is nowhere near professional.  These realistic qualities, however, might make viewers feel like they're sitting in Farhana's living room with her, or taking a private lesson in her studio.  Even the tape itself has the humble appearance of a homemade, self-labeled tape.

This may not be the most professional-looking bellydance video you ever bought, but it definitely serves its instructional purpose -- perhaps more so than many high-budget productions. 

A full 48 minute video includes a brief history of the dance, warm up, stationary and traveling movements with sword balancing, and a shamadan or candelabrum routine.

The brief history segment of the tape shows beautiful paintings and photographs of historical and fictional dancers balancing objects such as jars or swords on their heads as they perform.  Farhana herself narrates during this informative part of the video.  This section would make a great introduction for bellydance students and any audience unfamiliar with the dance form.

"Bellydance & Balance" is for beginning balancers, not beginning bellydancers.

Farhana goes through different movements combined with sword balancing fairly quickly.  Only balancing techniques are addressed and none of the movements are explained, so the viewer must already know basic hip moves, undulations, drop kicks, belly flutters and rolls as well as some floor moves.  One might find it difficult to follow Farhana through all the movements while successfully keeping the balance object (book or sword) at the center of one's head (my book was slipping all over the place); this video has challenging technique combinations that one can practice again and again to improve gradually each time.  In other words, you get many classes out of one video tape.

In the warm-up segment, Farhana teaches the viewer some excellent ballet-inspired plies and releves that strengthen calf muscles.  (She can do a full split -- definitely the most flexible teacher I've ever seen.)  She also makes sure that the neck and shoulder areas are fully warmed up for balancing later. Farhana teaches the whole routine twice, once with demonstration and her counting the beat only (no captions or explanations), the second time with captions that break down the choreography. 

This highly versatile routine can be adapted to different kinds of slow music with either sword or candelabra.

Farhana fidgets a little while she talks, and looks slightly bored, but the advice she gives is valuable.  Here are some of her gentle warnings to the aspiring balancer-bellydancer:

1. Do not leave your candelabra alone in a car. (Farhana's shares her personal negative experience with this.)

2. Clean the wax residue off the cups that hold the candles.

3. Battery-operated candles are extremely heavy, even if you don't think so at first.

4. Be sure to know the locations of curtains, draperies, and air conditioning vents in the venue where you will be dancing. This prevents starting a fire or wax being blown all over your body.

Farhana also gives the viewers helpful tips about purchasing and caring for swords and candelabras.

The tape ends with Farhana doing a beautiful, fluid candelabra routine.  She is simply fantastic. 

If you are willing to look past the home video quality and quaint cheesiness of this tape, do check out Princess Farhana's "Bellydance and Balance"!

This video is now digitally re-mastered for professional sound quality in DVD format.
For more information contact the Princess herself.

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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

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