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Tough to Choose What’s Best from Ranya!

Ranya's 2 DVDs

Belly Dance Egyptian Style: The Baladi
Belly Dance Egyptian Style: Modern Oriental

by Zumarrad
posted October 18, 2010

Ranya's Baladi DVDThe Baladi, the first of two Ranya Renee‘s teaching DVDs that I viewed for this review, had been hyped to the max online, so I was determined to find something wrong with it. I failed. It really is as good as people say it is.

A dance friend described it aptly as something you can “geek out” on. It is jam-packed with information about the music, different styles of baladi, and the movements to use in this improvisational style.

There are three full length costumed performances – a nightclub style, men’s style in galabeya with stick, and a “cocktail” of baladi songs. From there, Ranya takes you through body alignment and core technique, which will be useful for any student of Egyptian style dance whether they particularly lean towards baladi style or not. But the DVD begins with an in-depth examination of baladi music and feeling, and this is one of its greatest strengths.

Ranya uses terminology I had not heard before to describe the parts of the baladi progression, drawn from her musical studies. She also brings in guests: Nawaby, an accordionist from Mohammed Ali Street, talks about the men’s (tet) and ladies’ (awadi) styles and the different music for each, and also plays little demonstrations of baladi phrases associated with different places and peoples. After Ranya has talked us through the differences between the two styles, oudist Maurice Chedid sings the two songs found in the tet (with translations shown on screen). This is excellent stuff but it also serves to make you want such experienced and knowledgeable musicians of your own, all the time, to teach you more and more.

Baladi music plays throughout some of the talking sections in this DVD and if you are hard of hearing or easily distractible this might be a problem for you; however, I think the intention is to further reinforce the sounds of baladi music, and I liked it.

The Baladi is a two DVD set. The second is full of drills, or more accurately, repeated sections of baladi music to which Ranya improvises over and over, designed to help you learn how to hear the musical changes and respond to them. You can watch, emulate and hear all at the same time, and they are very useful (particularly when the voiceover is enabled) but quite different to what most people think of as drills.

Ranya's Modern OrientalOn Modern Oriental, the focus is on learning a choreography, though there is still plenty of attention paid to technique, alignment and musicality. Ranya’s breakdown of the way Egyptian music has changed in recent years and how that impacts on modern oriental dance is excellent. She gives an extensive posture and alignment breakdown (though not as exhaustive or as funny as the one she gives on the baladi DVD), and a gentle but thorough warmup and technique “review”, which is really a runthrough of much of the technique to be used in the choreography later. The movements are not broken down in great detail here – it is like being in a class.

Then there are two versions of Ranya’s appealing choreography to Layalina, one aimed at beginners and one at more advanced dancers. There’s also an option to add veil.

Each is broken down into short sections, followed by a demonstration of that section, repeated. There are also great drilling sections, in which step combinations are repeated over and over. The “beginners” choreography is pretty challenging for absolute beginners, however, and I wouldn’t recommend the DVD to someone who has not done any belly dance before.

Overall you definitely get the feeling you’re watching a quality product when viewing either of these DVDs. Both are well shot largely in a light, mirrored studio space, with attractively lit performance footage. They both have an attractively presented root menu so it’s easy to return to individual sections. Ranya presents technical breakdowns and performances in several practice outfits and costumes, which adds some nice variety and inspiration. She makes a point of thanking her mentor Yousry Sharif on both DVDs, which is another nice touch. Ranya is a talky teacher – which I like – and cutaways to footage of her performing or demonstrating body movement work well to break up the “talking head,” but sometimes the editor has chosen shots from the side as she addresses the main camera, which feels odd.

One additional benefit for me is related to body type. Ranya and I are built very differently, but like me – and unlike most of my dance heroes – she has a comparatively short waist. Being able to see how belly dance movements can look on a torso that is more like my own is a real bonus.

She also appears refreshingly lacking in vanity; the body alignment/muscle awareness sequence on the Baladi DVD is worth the purchase price for the entertainment factor alone, never mind the excellent breakdown.

The musical focus is very strong in both DVDs but the Baladi, with talks by the musicians and Ranya talking us through the baladi structure, is by far the most in-depth and well worth having. Both DVDs are a good buy and will keep you busy both in body and in brain, but if you need to select just one I would recommend the Baladi over the Modern Oriental without hesitation. Ranya may have done herself a disservice by producing something this good, especially given it’s a double DVD, to compare to any later offerings.

Ranya has a real knack for producing effective visual metaphors and creative descriptions for the ways that movements work in the body. Her DVDs are an excellent advertisement for her as a teacher and should I ever happen to drop by New York City, I’ll be checking out her classes!

Baladi: 4 zills
Rating 4 zils
Modern Oriental: 3 and a half zills.
Rating: 3 1/2 zils

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