Beyond DVDs – Try Live Streaming!
Online Dance Instruction: Ansuya, Sadie, and Cera Byer
Reviewed by Nivasi
posted March 10, 2013
Oh, Technology! You’ve brought us so many new ways of advancing our dancing skills: instructional DVDs, belly skypes, Raqs TV rentals, recorded classes online–and now–live, interactive classes online. Just how helpful are these cyberlearning tools? Let’s talk about the “Powhow” classes.
If you haven’t heard, Powhow.com is a fairly new website that offers live, interactive classes streaming online in just about every subject imaginable. That’s their plan, at least; they’re still getting started, so I’ve searched for several classes that don’t exist yet. So far as I can tell, the only requirement for teaching on Powhow is a willingness to pay them for the use of their site, so the quality of teachers might vary. This is probably for the best, as I doubt the people running Powhow would know how to judge who was good enough to teach all potential subjects. I suspect the system is self-regulating, and bad teachers won’t make enough money to keep offering classes. However, good teachers could also end up lacking enough students and therefore, income to keep teaching online. With that in mind, I offer my opinions on classes I took with 3 different, well-known belly dance teachers on Powhow: Ansuya, Sadie, and Cera Byer.
I have been dancing for 10 years, and I learned primarily from a teacher who uses Suhaila Salimpour’s technique to perform Oriental or Egyptian, as well as American Tribal Style and Tribal Fusion. This means to me that I’m fluid stylistically but have high standards for technique.
I had a lot of technical issues with my first online class, which turned out to be because I was using the wrong web browser. I always use Google Chrome, but I saw after the first class that Powhow is designed to work with Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, but not Chrome. It’s not like any buttons were missing or anything obvious, but the video froze, jumped, lagged, and broke up frequently when I used Chrome, so I wasn’t really able to drill the combinations well.
Powhow has technical assistance on standby during all classes, and they are prompt and try to be helpful.
They told me that the problem was my ping rate, which is a little higher than their recommended rate (which is ridiculously low). I haven’t had any major technical issues since I started using Firefox for classes, so you can still take classes with slower Internet than they recommend. There is occasionally a little lag between video and sound, but it’s small enough that I can choose between following what I see or what I hear. I have also learned that the video works better if you only watch the teacher, and turn off the feed for the other students (there is an arrow above the thumbnails of the other students; clicking it switches the video on and off). It’s very easy to setup and start the class, they offer multiple payment methods, and customer service responses are quick.
If you have super slow internet, Powhow will be a frustrating, and probably not worthwhile, experience for you, but if you have decent Internet that’s close to their recommendations in terms of speed, I recommend it. However, because of the frequent minor lag, it is much better for learning concepts and working on technique than learning combinations and choreography.
Rating: 2.5 zils
Ansuya is currently offering 3 classes on Powhow: Pure Bellydance, Bellydance Fusion Workout, and Advanced Bellydance Technique, all on Saturday in the middle of the day (depending on your time zone). Ansuya is a warm, funny teacher, and is very conscientious about checking in on the students to see how they’re doing and if they have any questions (she can see all the students in the class, and students can see each other at the same time as watching the teacher, but only one at a time). Taking an online class will never get the same amount of feedback as a live, in-person class, but Ansuya does her best. I have taken Bellydance Fusion Workout and Advanced Bellydance Technique, and I definitely preferred the Advanced Bellydance Technique. I didn’t get much of a workout from the Fusion Workout, but that may be because I have been dancing for so long and I practice enough that it takes more for me to work up a sweat. This was also the class where I had the technical issues, so that probably contributed to my lack of sweatiness. We learned some fun hip-hop fusion combinations, drilling them a few times before adding on to the mini-choreography. It was a fun class, and would be useful for a challenge if you’re a newer dancer, or appropriate for more experienced dancers who want something to make them move.
I have taken the Advanced Bellydance Technique class twice, and both times we worked on a drum solo choreography. The first time, we did some soft, Hula-inspired warm-up movements, perhaps because Ansuya has just moved to Hawaii. In learning choreography, I found her explanations of movements clear, concise, and entertaining. She is careful to show combinations from the front and the back, and always checks in with all the students before moving on. She will provide technique explanations if needed, and sometimes just throws in some technique details. I enjoy getting different teachers’ points of view on beginning technique, especially when someone gives new little details without coming across as patronizing. I feel Ansuya pulls this off well. My only real criticism of this class is that there isn’t enough time at the end to drill the choreography and really get it down. Otherwise, Ansuya is a detailed-oriented, caring teacher, and has gone to great lengths to make a professional presentation; her home studio is decorated with colorful Indian and Middle Eastern textiles, giving it a harem feeling, and it seems to be a room devoted to dance.
I also enjoy Ansuya’s focus on community and spirituality in belly dance.
She has a Facebook group for students who take her Powhow classes or subscribe to her website with recorded classes, and she regularly shares her class plans, as well as photos and tips she finds inspiring. I think this is especially important if you are looking into online classes because you don’t have a local belly dance community. Overall, I definitely recommend online classes with Ansuya.
Rating: 3 1/2 zils
Sadie now has 2 classes: Group Bellydance Technique and Combinations on Saturday mornings, and a 6 week Drum Solo Technique Intensive on Wednesday evenings. I took the group technique class, and we worked on shimmies. Again, her explanations of technique were clear and concise, and she differentiated between straight-legged/Egyptian shimmies, bent-legged piston hip-type shimmies, and the small vibrational or “freeze” shimmy. We drilled all of them for a long time, and did some layering as well. I really appreciated the lengthy drilling; it’s important, and it’s a common mistake to not drill something enough after explaining it.
Sadie is also exceptionally diligent about showing things from the front and the back, looking at all of the students, checking in to see how they’re doing, and if they need any help.
After all the shimmy drilling, Sadie taught a short combination one might use at the end of a drum solo. We drilled it a lot, and I appreciated the cultural/belly dance tradition information she gave along with it. Although I felt Sadie’s presentation was lacking some ambiance, she is articulate, friendly, and helpful, and I recommend her class.
Rating: 3 zils
Cera Byer is not currently as well-known as either Sadie or Ansuya, and she is a Tribal Fusion dancer.
Having taken an in-person workshop with her at 3rd Coast Tribal and her Stretch/Tone/Strength class on Powhow (now called dance conditioning), I believe firmly that every belly dancer of every style should study with her.
Why? Because she’s more a mainstream dancer than a belly dancer. She’s extremely knowledgeable about anatomy and Western dance technique, and can provide the solid general dance foundation that is so often lacking in belly dance instruction. I think this foundation is really important, but if you’re not into that, then classes with Cera Byer are probably not for you. In addition to the dance conditioning class, Cera offers a fusion belly dance drills and combinations class, and will soon be offering recorded classes to stream anytime. I found that the time in her class passed quickly, and although I didn’t feel like I was working as hard as I expected for a dance conditioning class, my body felt totally different at the end of it. Her presentation environment is less professional than the other 2 – clearly, we were dancing in her bedroom. Personally, I have no problem with this, but it might disturb some students. I felt that Cera’s explanations were clear, and she gave good feedback to ensure we were doing the exercises right and getting the most out of them. Cera is straightforward and entertaining, and I recommend her classes.
Rating: 3 zils
As stated above, I recommend Powhow in general (as long as you have good internet), and classes with all 3 instructors. Although the technology for live streaming classes still needs improvement, it provides a rare opportunity to expand your dance education, and the feedback it offers is essential if you’ve only been learning from DVDs. I have given Ansuya a half zill more than the other 2 because her presentation is more professional, and she offers more classes, as well as the online community. Despite the higher rating for Ansuya, I recommend all 3 teachers equally because they all offer different things. For straight Egyptian belly dance technique information and practice, I think Sadie is the best option. For a community, an experience that emphasizes sensuality and feminine empowerment, and a lot of combinations that you can use, Ansuya is the best choice. For dance conditioning, drills, and general dance technique, Cera Byer is the way to go. There are also several lesser-known dancers offering a variety of classes on Powhow, and I encourage you to check them out – you never know what you might find.
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