Leila’s "Belly Dance for Beginners" &
Dhyanis’s "Absolute Bellydance Basics: Fundamentals for All Styles
Review by Zumarrad/Brigid Kelly
December 13, 2010
Belly Dance for Beginners by Leila of Cairo
I would never have selected this DVD based on its cover because it gives the impression that it’s mostly for feel-good fitness and seems to emphasise sensuality a little too much for my comfort. That’s a shame, because this DVD is a great learning tool.
I stopped being the target market for beginner DVDs a long time ago, though, and I’d be happy if somebody purchased this DVD aiming for a gentle, sexy-feeling workout and fell in love with Belly dance through its influence.
Leila of Cairo’s DVD begins with welcome instructions regarding the safe and sensible use of the lessons (both written on the screen and presented verbally by Leila herself). Her spoken cautions are excellent. The DVD is filmed in a large, well-lit, and attractively decorated space without visible mirrors. (It could be a home studio or spacious living area.) Leila’s teaching outfit is perfectly colour-coordinated with the soft brown walls of the studio, which could be a little tricky to deal with if your eyesight is not very good. There’s also an annoying tendency to change angles on her mid-movement. Nonetheless, Leila gives a lot of detailed verbal instructions, which I like, and the audio is very clear and clean.
Leila also talks about the possible origins of the dance, but is cautious, referring to childbirth and fertility associations as things “some people think” and they “might be true”. She talks about the different styles of Belly dance and the benefits she perceives in the dance. She is also not afraid to talk about some movements being sexy.
Leila introduces, first, basic dance moves, then, “integrated” movements (ones that involve travelling). She emphasises an upright, stacked, slightly forward, neutral-pelvis posture and spends a lot of time talking about safe technique and stylistic variations.
In fact, she talks a great deal, but this is just the kind of teaching I like; so, it’s fine with me. She breaks movements down to their foundational building blocks. I like the way she encourages students to start slowly and keep movements smaller and more controlled.
Some teachers would frown on her use of the term “stomach muscles” but this is really a semantic quibble. I love the way she breaks down shoulder shimmies, for instance, in the “traditional” shoulder-push way, then shows you how you can create a more modern Egyptian feeling by taking the movement into the ribcage. Her description of using the inner thigh muscles to drive straight-leg Egyptian shimmies is new to me and really helps.
In addition to the meticulous breakdowns, there are some “follow the bouncing butt” sections to copy, in “relaxation”, “sensual” and “energising” modes – a little cheesy – and an additional (lovely) performance. to watch.
There is a lot of material on this DVD. It’s a real course, and even an experienced dancer will benefit from some of the technique breakdowns. I do not recommend anybody try to learn Belly dance from scratch without a teacher, but this is a pretty comprehensive and well put together alternative. The only downside might be that there is simply such a lot on this DVD that an average student might give up half-way through. I recommend this for isolated groups of dancers, with no available teacher, who want to give themselves a weekly class. However, be aware that there is no warm-up or cool-down section on this DVD.
Rating: 4 zils
Absolute Bellydance Basics: Fundamentals for All Styles by Dhyanis.
This DVD offers basic dance techniques from long-time California-based dancer, Dhyanis, and it includes some performance footage.
Unfortunately, Dhyanis pushes one of my biggest buttons right at the start by launching into a “historical” description of Belly dance being “older than the written word, stemming from ancient rituals, by women, for women”, etc. (You know the drill. No, no, no!)
She continues with some quite valid observations about the health and emotional benefits of Belly dance, including a sad personal anecdote about how the dance helped her through bereavement. (I feel mean now.) Dhyanis has a pleasant soothing voice, but a disconcerting habit of dancing around while speaking, and during her teaching sections, the balance of volume between background music and Dhyanis’ voice is not good, making it difficult to hear.
The postural alignment and warm-up section involve a lot of squatting, followed by a series of vigorous stretches that look neither fun nor safe. Many of the stretches are familiar as cool-down moves, but Dhyanis performs them with alarming bounces that make me fear for her hamstrings and, especially, her neck. In my opinion, these are not safe stretches. Additionally, the shoulder isolations that she demonstrates are a little jerky and large for my taste.
The first move Dhyanis teaches is a vigorous Pelvic Tilt, facing front to camera unfortunately, though it looks much better when she faces the side. Dhyanis teaches all movements on this DVD in a very deep squat, and they are large and look a little uncontrolled, particularly the hip shimmy. Her Ribcage Isolations are positively violent! However, many of the isolations and movements she teaches resemble things my teacher taught me years ago, and when done in a less extreme manner, they are useful exercises and movements.
Similarly, apart from the deep knee bend, bouncing stretches and jerky presentation, the information that Dhyanis gives (about using the abdominals and glutes to support the movements) is not bad. She also breaks down Snake Arms in a manner similar to the way my teacher did, which I have never seen on a DVD before (though her execution is quite different).
I found her Veil Section underwhelming, and not especially helpful in terms of technique.
In a lot of ways, I feel as if I am watching a 1970s instructional booklet come-to-life. An astute dancer, trained in a different style, could, perhaps, use this DVD to give their dance an old-fashioned American Cabaret style flavour, but I think there are better examples of the dance style out there. Dhyanis seems like a fun and pleasant teacher, but I would not recommend this DVD to anybody wanting to study Belly dance from scratch. The DVD blurb suggesting that the movements on it are basic to all Belly dance styles including tribal is misleading, too – not taught this way, they’re not.
Rating: 1 zill
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