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DVD review:
Shareen el Safy's

Exploring the Drum Solo “DVD”
by Mara al-Nil

I attended Shareen el Safy’s Drum Solo workshop and was interested in purchasing her DVD because she assured the class that it would have all the material that was covered in the workshop. Although at $50 it seemed pricey, I ”bit the bullet” and bought it because I am someone who benefits from repetition.  It takes time, more than a few hours in a workshop, for things to sink in.  Shareen is an expert dancer presenting material worth learning. 

I am pleased to report that what she said was true—everything she covered in the workshop is on the DVD.  Finding it, however, is another matter.

Let me digress a bit and ask a question.  When is a DVD not a DVD?  In general, when I buy a DVD I do so because I do not want to buy a video version.  I do not want to be forever fast-forwarding or rewinding looking for a particular item of interest. Perhaps I am guilty of making unwarranted assumptions, but when I buy a $50 nice-looking plastic case with a shiny disc inside, I expect to be relieved of the nuisance just described.  I expect—a standard DVD format.  What I got, though, was a video dumped directly onto a disc.  The content is not listed anywhere! I found NO menu, NO chapters, NO nothing (except a video in a different shape). Cute!  Repeatedly hitting the “next” button on my remote took me to completely random sections of the video. 

Had I paid by VISA and not by check, I would have disputed the charge, sent the thing back and had my money returned.  Feeling stuck with the so-called “DVD”, I decided to make the best of it, and see if I could salvage any of my investment.

The introduction was pleasant enough, with a nice shot of the ocean and Shareen talking about this and that.  I started to think, “Well maybe this is going to be okay after all.”  The first inkling that it was, in fact, not okay was the extreme close-up of Shareen’s face.  She was not saying anything particularly important at that point to warrant seeing her pores.  I found this technique used by her videographer repeatedly: over, and over, and over, and over.  As annoying as this was, unfortunately, it occurred most often when she was talking about placement of one’s hips or feet, or demonstrating an actual move. 

Additionally, an outdoor patio in the brilliant afternoon sun was the setting for the entire presentation.  It allowed little regard for what is generally known as “lighting”.  As the afternoon advanced, so did the deep shadows that progressed, from the lower part of Shareen’s body at the outset to covering her entire face by the end of the video.  In between these times, she moved continually in and out of the shadows.

As disconcerting as this was, it was nothing compared to the discographer’s inability to keep her centered on the screen! 

I’m not talking about the previously mentioned “focusing-on-the-face-while-she’s-talking-about-the-hips” trick.  I am talking about having her disappear from the screen almost entirely! For example, while demonstrating the Feiruz rocking shimmy, she says, “The weight is on the forward foot and we bump forward…”  However, only a wisp of her hair and edge of her shoulder are on-screen!  Eventually, the recording person caught up with her, leaving us with a few seconds of usable demonstration.  This happened repeatedly.  There was even a truly remarkable part of the video where a glitch showed her body separating into 6 horizontal sections and moving independently of each other!  Now that would be a move worth learning! 

 Shereen’s choice of costume also contributed to recording difficulties.  The beautiful aqua sequins of the beledi dress sparkled magically in the sunlight—great for performance, but distracting on an instructional video.  Her black hip girdle did not have any fringe on it, so it was hard to differentiate her shimmies from the ocean breeze rippling her dress.  The dress also made it difficult to see what her knees contributed to the movement.  The situation did not improve by her hopes that,  “it’s not too hard for you to see with the costume” and  “you can see it with the black girdle on”. 

For any aspiring producers of instructional dance videos out there, please take a hint: do a 15-minute trial run-through with your videographer, check for problems such as those I have mentioned, and CORRECT THEM before releasing your video and especially, your DVD  It would have taken only minimal effort to recognize these problems, correct them and re-shoot.  Likewise, if after correcting technical issues, something else goes awry, re-shoot it. 

In my opinion, when the star loses her balance,  “Maybe I’ll stay more centered next time” is best put at the end of the video in the “bloopers and outtakes” section.

The audio was fine, however.  Shareen gave generous musician credits to Amir Sofi and his orchestra for selections used, as well how to contact him to purchase the music. 

Regarding the actual content, there was useful information buried in Exploring the Drum Solo.” Numerous steps starting with the simple single drop, shimmy, alternating shimmy and one leg shimmy progressed to the more interesting Fifi hip slide, Mona pivot step back, Samia shoulder shimmy hip drop combo and Sohair 3 point hip with rib cage. In addition to the aforementioned problems, which definitely compromised the content, there was the issue of the organization of the material itself. 

Shareen el Safy has had many, many years of experience, and she sprinkled the entire video with references to Egyptian stars. Where one might justly accuse others of name-dropping, this is decidedly not the case here.

  Shareen has studied and worked with, or has known personally, many of the recent great names in Egyptian Dance—Sohair Zaki, Mahmoud Reda, Lucy, Dina, Fifi Abdou, Mona Said, Nagwa Fouad—the list goes on.  The tidbits of personal experience she shared (who originated certain moves, how they compare to folkloric moves, who was dancing where in the heyday of Egyptian Dance, who retired in ’92, etc.) formed a context for this dance form, and were thoroughly delightful to hear.  The problem was that she shared them in a tangential, almost stream-of-consciousness way.  It could have been charming, except that she did it many times in the middle of teaching a move. 

These digressions, while entertaining and informational, left little focus on the actual instruction.   Shareen spent more time on anecdotal material than on teaching the moves themselves.

Inexplicably, interspersed between the Rhonda shimmy and the Hanan move is a “talking head” segment entitled The Golden Age of Egyptian Dance that I think would have benefited by incorporating clips, or at least stills, of the stars mentioned.  This should have been part of the beginning or end of the instructional part, (but then again, everything ran together anyhow).  Had this “DVD” been better planned, it could have been structured and chaptered so that all the actual teaching either preceded or followed the additional commentary on the moves.  This would enable one to go directly to a specific move for review, without the student having to listen to the commentary each (and every) time, causing the comments to become annoying.

Finally, although Shareen demonstrated many of her moves, she offered no information on integrating them in order to perform a drum solo. In fact, the music she used to demonstrate the moves was a nice moderate tempo 4/4, but not drum solo music!  Shareen did not discuss the drum solo, per se, such as how to interpret or analyze it for choreography or improvisation, but she did present an improvised performance at the end of the video that incorporated several of the moves she had just taught.  In this regard, I felt that the instruction fell short of “exploring” the drum solo, as the title of this DVD suggested.

Lest you accuse me of writing nothing but a total rant here, please let me state my conviction that there are basic standards that a DVD must meet.  This is not the ‘60s or ‘70s when a crappy 8mm home movie, with all its flaws, was better than having nothing at all.

The technology exists today even for an amateur to produce a better video or DVD  than “Exploring the Drum Solo.” IAMED publishes high quality material consistently, as do a number of well-known instructors such as Delilah, Keti Sharif, Suhaila Salimpour, Suzanna del Vecchio and less universally known dancers such as Neon and Atéa   Certainly, I would not expect or accept any less from any well-established professional instructor on the current workshop circuit—nor should you.

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