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Are Reviews Relevant Anymore?

Medusa chooses a DVD

Facing Our Wealth of Bellydance DVDs

by Kyria
posted December 29, 2009

It seems that a new belly dance DVD is produced every day, and most of those DVDs are produced in the U.S.A., and I consider this a positive change from the times when VHS tapes were hard to get. Information is available now for anyone who’s willing to learn. However, I sometimes wonder how dancers are supposed to choose in the face of this overwhelming amount of information. For decades, the general consensus on intelligent choosing was reading the reviews written by other belly dancers. That would help you decide on the quality and content of the VHS/DVD, but here are a couple of reasons why this method is not working as well as it used to:

  • First of all, you need to know what DVD you want to buy or wade through piles of reviews. For example, numerous drum solo DVDs are on the market. In order to know which one you might like best, you still have to read reviews on all of them.
  • Secondly, reviews are biased by nature because they represent the reviewer’s opinion or point of view on the DVD. It’s possible that it doesn’t represent your needs. When you make a purchase, following the advice of a reviewer, you still won’t know if the DVD suits your expectations.

what?One of the solutions is reading reviews for several similar DVDs written in one composite article, like some recent reviews appearing in the Gilded Serpent. This is not a solution to the problem, merely an attempt to get a grip on the amount of DVDs out there. There’s another way to determine the importance of a DVD for your collection that will save you valuable time: you can look at the source where the DVD was made and the vision behind the product. Most DVDs are produced by dancers, producers, or entrepreneurs who are both.

DVDs made by Producers:

By comparing the vision of the producer, it is easier to determine whether their products will be valuable to you. Considering my personal DVD collection, the recording and sound quality of each disk is acceptable to excellent. What I need to know before buying a product is: what kind of information is on the DVD and what is the thought behind this information? The vision of the producer creates the framework for the format. Reading up on the vision is faster and easier then reading the reviews of the DVDs one by one. As an example, here are five different viewpoints from producers:

  • IAMED:"The International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance (IAMED) was established to provide belly dancers, belly dance enthusiasts, and the general public with high quality belly dance concerts and videos, and to recognize the international stars of belly dance, their achievements, and their contributions to this beautiful art form."
  • Bellydance Superstars:"The first concerted effort to take this ancient art form into the mainstream of international entertainment up there along with ballet and shows like Riverdance."
  • Cheeky Girls Productions: "Cheeky Girls Productions is committed to producing quality DVDs with professional dancers in an environment of dignity and respect. We try to equally showcase popular, in-demand dancers and lesser known, but equally talented, ones. All of the dancers featured in our DVDs were nominated by fellow artists. "
  • Natural Journeys: "Naturaljourneys™ offers high-quality DVD, video, and audio programming in such areas as Pilates, yoga, tai chi, belly dance, dance fitness, pregnancy fitness, ball fitness, weight loss, meditation, and other fitness disciplines."
  • World Dance New York: "Female-owned and managed, we produce, publish and distribute a wide variety of dance- and fitness-related video on DVD and in other formats."

Some companies specialize in belly dance while others have a broader view and create fitness DVDs. One company chooses local dancers nominated by fellow artists, while another wants to give recognition to the international stars of belly dance. There are pros and cons for every one of them and you can use this information to narrow your search.

DVDs made by dancers:

There are several DVDs that are used repeatedly. They contain information that is interesting for belly dancers, regardless of level. They are easy to use and put in a format that makes them suitable for short or long practice sessions. Not surprisingly, professional dancers have made most of these DVDs. My absolute favorites for practice are:

  • Aziza Practice Companion (recently redistributed by Hollywood Music Center)
  • Learn how to Bellydance series by Delilah
  • Shape up ‘n hip out! By Jillina
  • Stretch and Tone by Suhaila

These give me a good crossover between belly dance and working out, and they contain information to which I constantly return. Remember: just because they are my favorites won’t necessarily make them your favorites too! The dancers themselves produced these DVDs, and it shows!

I will have to admit that the producers who are run by dancers, like IAMED, Cheeky Girls and World Dance New York also create good products that are geared toward dancers. To be able to sell a large amount of DVDs the producer has to make them attractive to non-Bellydancers. For me, this makes them less suitable for the Bellydancer who is not specifically interested in fitness, pleasing her husband, or looking for a way to feel sexy.

Production companies that are run by dancers understand what dancers are looking for and know how to create valuable and useful products for the dance community. I applaud their initiative, and I hope that they will continue to produce DVDs in the future! Remember to ask yourself each time you consider a purchase: who made this product and what was their motivation?

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  1. Dina

    Dec 31, 2009 - 02:12:15

    “One of the solutions is reading reviews for several similar DVDs written in one composite article, like some recent reviews appearing in the Gilded Serpent.”

    To be honest, this is not the most reliable source for me for the very reason you indicated previously: Subjectivity. The oriental dance publications’ articles are necessarily written by one single person.
    I personally trust in amazon reviews – the most popular dvds have a minimum of 10, sometimes over 100 reviews. You not only get to hear MANY opinions coming close to representativeness amongst the bellydance interested and passionate ones, you also come across reviewers who share your taste, which you get a grasp for after a couple of reviews. These are the ones you will be most likely to trust in the future.

    Trailers are the 2nd most important, if deceiving tool. A good trailer makes me rush out and buy the product. Sometimes they do not hold up to what they promised though, and I would have been better off consulting amazon reviews first 🙂

    I wonder how others determine what dvds to buy?

  2. Kirsten

    Jan 2, 2010 - 02:01:39

    I have to say that if I’m looking to buy a DVD I first read the Amazon reviews (since I buy most of my DVDs from there).  I then will check Bhuz or OD since some times the newer DVDs don’t have a lot of reviews.  I also tend to trust the reviews on the message boards a little mores since most of the people there have been dancing for a while and most are at a professional level.

    If I can’t find a review on the message boards for a video that I can’t buy from Amazon, because it may be older or self-produced, I check the Bellydancevideos Yahoo group.

  3. Melissa

    Jan 3, 2010 - 06:01:40

    I take the professionally done reviews with a grain of salt. The fact is that some of my favorite videos were by dancers that aren’t well respected in the bellydance community and some of the videos I sold after one viewing were done by highly rated dancers. I think these reviews are better for people who want to immerse themselves in the bellydance community and don’t want to make an obvious mistake like saying they think Dolphina’s zil video is cute.  ;D

  4. Dina

    Jan 4, 2010 - 02:01:37

    I agree a lot. Pretty often the professional reviews are firstly viewed from a strong peer perspective – content is judged “excellent” if the performer is excellent and well-established to the reviewer. Outsiders to the community with a strict look on the content and its usability only  will not always judge the content excellent though, and walk away disappointed.

    Also some of the now much loved and appreciated youg companies like WDNY or Cheeky Girls raised some eyebrows with decade established dancers in the beginning one hears. How wrong were they to quickly judge Neon et al. as super commercial, when she put out some of the didactically most outstanding stuff an entire generation of new dancers is trained  with 🙂

  5. Tracy

    Jan 4, 2010 - 10:01:53

    (Disclaimer: I have written CD reviews for the GS, but no DVD reviews.)
    Just thought I would comment here on the value of reviews. I have a huge library of dance DVDs and have been inspired to buy them by many different things: taking a workshop with the instructor… hearing good things on the Bhuz board… having a dancer friend recommend the DVD to me. But in every case I go looking for reviews from multiple sources. I find Amazon reviews to be a really mixed bag, because the reviewers could be anybody, and often say things like “this was too hard.” Too hard? Knowing nothing about that person… that’s meaningless. What I look for is description of elements and notes about production. (Clips are very useful as well. I think everybody producing dance DVDs should post clips!) I try to read reviews critically and pull out what is important to me.  For example, if there’s a comment that the camera shows only the dancer’s face while she demos a move, I’ll steer clear! That bugs me. Therefore I like to read as many reviews as possible, and when possible, from sources who identify themselves, so I know a bit about their perspectives.
    I do sometimes wish we had a site like — full of searchable lists by instructors, categories, et cetera. Maybe one day.

  6. Lynette Harris

    Jan 4, 2010 - 10:01:15

    Yes, GS will need to put our reviews in database eventually that is searchable by all those categories.  Time and money! Volunteers?

  7. Dina

    Jan 4, 2010 - 11:01:16

    “I find Amazon reviews to be a really mixed bag, because the reviewers could be anybody, and often say things like “this was too hard.” Too hard? Knowing nothing about that person… that’s meaningless.”

    True. The only thing that is worse are things like “the instructor was unattractive/not in shape etc”.

  8. Martha Duran

    Jan 4, 2010 - 04:01:30


    Before I started writting for Gilded Serpent I use to buy DvDs from well know dancers end most of the time ended up with follow along dvds or excercise your way to fitness dvds that didnt have much innovations in the dance. First of all I recommend that before you buy a DVD you ask yourself WHAT KIND OF DVD DO I WANT? WHAT FOR ? TO EXCERCISE ALONG OR TO LEARN FROM? FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES? after you answer that is when you go and read the reviews.
    Personally i have never trusted reviews or comments made in Amazon most of the stuff written there is made by either friends of the dancer on the dvd or new to the dance world dancers…
    NOW I only buy DVDs from people who i have attended workshops or i have gone to see at a show. THere are many DVDs outhere that are terribly reviewed because they lack of production but i get more info or instruction or a better show from than highly produced dvds.
    Sorry if someone out there who loves to comment or review on Bhuz or Amazon gets offended but most of the comments are too positive and lack information of the content and that makes me feel that i cant trust the reviewer.
    Here in Gilded Serpent I know I can reallly trust a review because I know you cant review a friend thats a rule here. And I know that everyone who writes in Gilded Serpent is a well known well respected in the dance community dancer and most of all highly experienced.

  9. Tracey Farmer

    Jan 8, 2010 - 07:01:11

    I read the article and pretty much the writer answered her own question.  I think reviews are relevant if they stick to the material its supposed to represent or teach, not the popularity of the dancer.   A lot of the DVD’s I’ve reviewed are by dancers I’ve never met or don’t know too well,  like Mahsati Janan.  Never met her, but I think she does a good job in teaching fan veils….if that’s what you want to learn. A glowing review about her DVD won’t mean much to a dancer not interested. 

    I like the set up/breakdown on how we now try to compare DVD’s… quality, instruction, material, etc.  There are so many beginning drum solo, finger cymbals, etc you can compare each one, but it all boils down to if you’ve been exposed to the instructor/dancer and like their style.  For example, if people are not a fan of your, and no matter how big a star you’re supposed to be, they will not buy it. 

    We’ve all been disappointed by a CD or DVD purchase.  That’s why we have swap meets. GS reviews are just trying to help dancers make a quality choice. 


  10. Tracey Farmer

    Jan 8, 2010 - 07:01:48

    Excuse the typo above…

    My example means that some people aren’t  fans of certain genres in bellydance.  So no matter how popular the instructor, there are those who will not buy their products.  But then are those who will buy anything with a famous name attached.

    I agree with Melissa, who commented above that some of her favorites are not by well known/well respected dancers.  Maybe a review on GS will give these artists exposure they deserve, especially if they’ve produced a great product.

  11. Claire

    Jan 21, 2010 - 11:01:27

    Well, I *would* read the reviews…if reviews of bellydancing videos/DVDs were ever anything but positive.  Seriously, in Zaghareet, Habibi, and most places online (other than Amazon, which often doesn’t have reviews for independently produced instructional videos), I’ve yet to see a review that wasn’t superlatively positive and glowing.  Doesn’t anybody ever see a video that they hate? Why don’t we ever see those reviews?

  12. LynetteSerpent

    Jan 22, 2010 - 12:01:08

    You haven’t been reading Gilded Serpent for very long have you? Take a look at our reviews and our submission  guidelines. Reviewing is a tough job but very important to an arts community. Would you like to do a review for us. Send me a note! If you find a review on our site that you don’t agree with, please leave a comment below the review. This benefits all to have your additional views.

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