Gilded Serpent presents...

Learning To Belly Dance The U.K. Way!

2 beginner DVDs

Hilary’s "Beginners’ Egyptian Dance" and
Charlotte’s "Learn to Bellydance"

by Sadira/Sierra
posted December 19, 2011

Hillary's DVD

“Beginners’ Egyptian Dance” by Hilary Thacker

Hilary’s biography states that she is a renowned professional Egyptian-style Belly dancer who performs and teaches throughout the U.K. and in the Middle East.

After watching her Beginner’s DVD, I can tell that she is an accomplished teacher, but I would not characterize her dance style as Egyptian.  Although most students who are wanting to learn dance at a beginner’s level may not distinguish the difference between Egyptian, Egyptian Classical, Egyptian Modern, or Egyptian Folkloric; there is a difference in styling between an authentic Egyptian style and the basic Arabic style mixture originating from the United States. If you are labeling your DVD with a specific style, it is important to differentiate what you are teaching.  Though there are some crossover movements on this DVD, it cannot be classified as beginning Egyptian dancing.

The DVD was recorded at the Temple of Aphrodite, used as the backdrop throughout the entire session. This background was a huge detraction for the teacher and a detriment for the student wanting to learn the movements she was describing. While a beautiful tableau, it was not conducive to learning by allowing the break downs of the steps to be seen, nor the intricacies of movements either. Producers sacrificed a beautiful photo opportunity for the more important reason for this DVD, and that would be to show close up and detailed video presentation of the dance movements.

While Hilary used a great variety of descriptive wording to break down the mechanisms of the core beginner movements, they were not visibly shown in the video presentation. Especially during the hands and arms section, the hands are diminished in size and were a total waste in including in the DVD as it is almost impossible to view.  The teaching breakdown of the video would have been sufficient–if movements were repeated enough to be seen–along with the body mechanics used to create the movements.

While Hilary uses amazing verbiage and mechanical parallels to describe techniques, many times the wording became over-whelming and not understandable for a beginner to break down on the level of body mechanics.

At times it seemed quite confusing, as she would use complex terms to describe a particular movement, and then, as she would continue to develop the step, she would stop breaking it down in a sequential pattern. The instruction is too “wordy” and left me feeling like the old dilemma of “trying to rub your stomach with your right hand while you pat your head with the other”.

It would help if the anatomical and placement areas of the body were more clearly defined than to align your hips or foot movements with “the edge of your hip scarf”.
Personally, I was thrown off by the use of Thacker’s terms for movements; however, that is just a case of semantics, because–I noted in the other introduction DVD–the same terms seem to be common names used by instructors in the U.K.  It’s different terminology than is familiar in the U.S. 

Strange names for movements used in the U.K. such as “snaky arms”, and the most repeated “wobbly walk” and “wobbly movement” in describing shimmies, as well as “quiver in your bellybutton” are off-putting. 

(I know if I were a novice, trying to imagine what that meant along with the undefined visual I was seeing, it would become a mess!) There were no counts to the rhythms or the steps, and it’s basically a DVD in which you follow along as the instructor demonstrates, instead of learning solidly correct basic posture and core positions.

I will say that, in this video, Hilary uses a well spoken and modulated voice in describing the steps.

She is very good at showing all angles of the body during the movement phrasing. The video is of good quality; except that you can’t define the movements by the placement of her body so far away from the camera. Each section that she teaches is stopped and clearly labeled such as: Hip Pivots, Isolated Movements, Hip Circles, all of which makes it easy for the viewer to connect the movement–its name and its appearance. If the breakdown of the steps were a bit more simplified, and we could see her whole body close-up, I feel Hilary would definitely offer an adequate beginner’s DVD from which to learn basics. Unfortunately, this DVD missed the mark by a long shot!

One of my pet peeves is introducing the art-form of Middle Eastern dance as a “therapeutic, healing, sacred art that has existed for 100s of years”. There is no real corroboration historically for this statement, and Thacker shows no reference as to why she believes that it is so.  I would hope for a bit of understanding about the simple 4/4 rhythm with which the dance is usually paired and how to count out the rhythms with the movements.

It’s always great to see a teacher show a complete dance routine at the end of the instruction, using the exact steps taught in the DVD. Instead, we see on this recording various montages of free form or class routine dances of her own students, interspersed. The first montage is totally Turkish music and the American Turkish/Arabic styling (as well as costuming) along with poor non-professional video footage of performances and shows with students and dance troupe.

I will say that unlike Egyptian style which Hilary believes she is teaching, I did see a lot of influence of styling from Rhea of Athens, Greece, who was my teacher back in the ‘70s and ‘80s and that viewing this DVD was a fine opportunity to see that core style continuing.

Rating: 2 ½ Zills
2.5 zil rating

 

Charlotte's DVD“Learn To Bellydance” With Charlotte Desorgher and The Hipsinc Teachers

If you want to feel like you have stepped through your television screen and entered an actual class, this is exactly what Charlotte’s DVD creates as an experience for her viewer.  I found this to be an extremely exceptional dance instruction DVD–well polished and taught!

In the beginning, while Charlotte  introduces herself and some of her hipsinc teachers, she intersperses that with what she believes Belly dancing offers on many levels beyond a simple dance modality or experience. She used the words “therapeutic and healing”; yet, her words are followed up with the reasons this is found in this particular dance form–from developing self-esteem and self-confidence–no matter what age or body shape you are, to actually giving help with posture, core postural alignments that help with the muscles and body wellness in general. That was a big plus!

This DVD was handled professionally from start to finish. It was obviously developed and coordinated to create a cohesive recording–start to finish. Charlotte is front and center in the video, with a clear view of her entire body length showing the fineness of movements.  I found her to be a master at breaking down each movement to its finest and finite levels of degree so that the student would not only perform the movement correctly but see the interplay of correct alignment of the body and use of the body mechanics.

First and foremost, Charlotte began with a warm-up technique that the viewer starts with along with her. Instead of telling a student to warm up before starting the DVD, she starts the DVD with a guided warm-up that includes the muscles and stretching that facilitates getting the particular muscles involved that may be new to first-time students. Foremost,
Charlotte teaches the core postures needed throughout all of dance training: a straight back, tucked pelvis, relaxed, with slightly bent knees. Without addressing these first major posture points, not only do injuries take place by doing movements incorrectly, it immediately sets the dancer into her prime resting space to which one returns during and between movement and transitions. Bravo! She consistently repeats throughout the video these baseline postures and reminders.

Desourgher’s teaching style is warm, supportive, and repetitive for each movement on both sides of the body; it is re-examined from it’s basic breakdown to added-on and refined movements. I can’t speak enough about her excellent body mechanics and understanding of the physical and muscle individualization. To give a student a firm and solid base, she is able to deconstruct in a excellent manner.

Once she breaks down each movement, she then uses a medium, quickly paced 4/4 tune and shows it to you as if in a class setting–with the background of her other teachers repeating the movements along with her.

She ends each portion with “Well done” and you feel you are a part of the class and her encouragement.

Another important point is: she shows the difference in how a step should be executed along with the wrong way of executing it–how it affects the body line and the movement itself. Dancers can see how a slight movement made too largely or not executed as shown can appear ungainly. She then shows each individual movement from all four angles of the body and it how it should be defined.

Charlotte’s instruction is warm, personal, and well disected. I would highly recommend this DVD for beginners to intermediates.

Another important aspect is that she counts out the steps with the rhythm as you are learning the steps and gently incorporates the use of arm movements when you are ready to add them.

Again, I was struck with the terms used in the U.K. for their steps which would be confusing for an American dancer to interpret. Charlotte explains that in the U.K. what is known as an “Egyptian Walk”, is called a “Three-quarter Shimmy” in the U.S.; that information helped clear up some of my confusion in the earlier DVD that I mentioned. Again, the old “wobble” term is used during shimmies and “let it just go free” seem to me not to be a constructive way to teach technically correct shimmies, but perhaps that is a matter of semantics.

At the end, she puts together a lively and fun choreographed routine that employs all the movements you have just learned, and you can actualize them into a entertaining dance. She also mentions the name of the song and the artist of all music used in the recording.

Charlotte is a dancer’s teacher; she ends with an appropriately pleasant cool-down stretch and focuses on the dynamics of proper body mechanics with a twist of fun and joy! So many beginner (and especially advanced teaching DVDs) assume the viewer knows what a good warm-up and cool down ought to be–when they have no idea. She incorporates the whole package so that you have an experience tantamount to being in an actual live class.

My only complaint is that the video qualities of this DVD are not first rate, her voice at times comes out with an echo and the room can, at times, cast shadows. In regards to her montage of students speaking (while I first thought it was unnecessary as I listened to their personal stories) I realized how much they all truly embodied what the terms “healing”, “therapeutic” and “sacred” mean as they pertain to this dance through student experiences.

 
Rating: 3 ½ zills
Zil Rating- 3

Comparison of both DVDs:

Both these videos show a similar structure of what is considered basic core beginner movements and steps. Except for the quality of videos and the different styles of teaching, they are similar in what steps they consider to be beginner core movements. They include: isolated movements, hip sequences, pivots, shimmies, hand and arm movements.

While Hilary’s Beginners’ Egyptian Dance was well thought out; it did not deliver–due to  inconsistency and wordiness in describing how to break down each step, as well as lack of quality in making it possible to see the movements being performed for a newly beginning level dancer. You get a wonderful sense of the difference but commonality in U.K. with the standardized wording they use for the varieties of  movements they teach, but remember they are not the same as the names used for the same steps and movements in the U.S. Using words such as wobbly, letting your navel free, etc. is, to me, a problem that encourages a student to just shake everything she has without control or precision.

While Charlotte may have had a bare-bones studio in which to tape; her enthusiasm, excellent verbiage and control of understanding how to  break down moves incrementally makes up for that slight quality standard. Her enthusiasm, repetition of steps, and showing both sides of the body (as well as all angles) will make you a more observant and enabled beginner. You will also have fun and feel a part of the larger movement of all of us dancers who love this dance.

Therefore, my advise is to definitely pick up “Learn To Bellydance” by Charlotte Desorgher and know what it’s like to learn your beginning basics correctly and enjoyably so that when you decide to take a real class in person, you will be far ahead of–if not equal to–regular class attendees. Have fun!

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  1. Helena OrientaleNo Gravatar

    Nov 14, 2012 - 05:11:25

    Being based in the UK, can I just clarify that terms like “wobbly walk” are not commonly used here!  I have only heard these used on Hilary’s DVDs, so I am guessing they are unique to her.
    For a while there was a tendency to use exotic names over here, and some teachers still use these, but most now seem to stick to descriptive names – “undulation” rather than “camel” for example.  Except, interestingly, for “maya”, originally a US term as far as I can gather, but which has become ubiquitous over here too thanks to the abundance of US DVDs in the UK market.

 

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