The Gilded Serpent

Gilded Serpent presents...
Bellydancing With Fire
with Leslie Rosen
Reviewed by Rebecca Firestone

zil rating:

I was eager to see this DVD, being a fire dancer who, like Leslie Rosen, learned it as a craft from personal experience. It's aimed at people who've already have bellydance experience, and who want to use the fire to add to what they already know. The only disappointment was that the performance footage didn't show much of what she spoke of in the Technique section, or even the Photo Gallery, which showed very inspirational images and costuming.

This DVD is a treasure chest of ideas.

It's unpretentious, low-budget, hits all the right fundamentals, and is just crammed with ideas that can be adapted to all kinds of dance styles. Leslie Rosen looks like she's done Flamenco, bellydance, and Indian dance, but that's just a guess.

The intro starts out with a few vague references to ancient traditions, archetypal wossnames, gods and goddesses, and gypsy dancers. There's a nod to various world fire traditions, including the Egyptian shamadan, and dances of Rajasthan apparently done with pots of fire on the head. (There's also the Samoan Fire Knife Dance, which I have on video, and some Indian martial arts that train with spinning staffs.)

Rosen shares an interesting personal bio, and speaks of her apprenticeship training. She urges the viewer to seek a local teacher and a local group to work with, stressing the need for community and further study. The only thing she doesn't cover is making the equipment. When I learned, we had to make our own tools. It was like our trial by fire before the fire. But you know what? It's OK to purchase tools, too. It saves a lot of time. The big thing that all fire dancers look at first when evaluating one another is whether they have good fire safety.

Leslie gets an "A" on fire safety. Her safety section is a great overview, covers just about everything, and has clear visual demonstrations of fuel handling, dipping, and shaking out the excess fuel.

Two things I would have added to the safety chapter:

  • First, I would have liked demos on handling accidents, not that I've ever had any, but they do happen; and
  • Second, I would have talked about the importance of pre-show site inspection, especially for professional gigs.

Leslie covers good costume notes, both safety and aesthetic. In fact, many of her notes, especially choreographic notes, would be applicable well beyond fire. She mixes notes on choreographic and stage composition with suggestions for archetypes and sources of inspiration. She explains some of the unique aesthetic properties of fire: basically, it leaves trails.

The Technique section is something I'd call a workbook, almost like a juggler's toolbox. It's not "technique" in a ballet sense. It's more like a huge sketchbook full of movement concepts and ideas, and it's left to the viewer to add the style.

It's kind of a DIY approach, which works well here. She tells you to do your own warm-up first, and to get your heart rate up. She assumes that, as experienced bellydancers, we all know how to do this and we don't need to be spoon-fed. Her warm-up stretches are OK; some of my favorites are in there. The warm-up seems to be a mishmash of jazz, Hindu temple dancing a la Shahrazade (of IAMED video fame), and perhaps T'ai Chi.

The various moves are organized in a very systematic and thorough way. I didn't like all of it - some of it was a little too busy - but most of it I did, and the ideas are presented in a way that lets the viewer apply them in pieces without destroying anything.

I thought, "My god, she's just giving her game away here, almost for free." I've been disappointed in some other videos from great dancers which covered the 1-2-3 basics and nothing more. This was more like her thought process. But how's she going to teach workshops on Luscious Layering when she's telling us every secret she has right from the get-go?

The only thing I would have added would be a "lit" demo alongside the studio demos, since things look totally different in the dark with a single, moveable light source.

One item I didn't agree with purely based on my own experimentation and observation:

  • I think that fire dancers have to make a choice between focusing on the fire itself, the source of illumination, or
  • focusing on that which it illuminates - namely the dancers or stage action.

If the fire itself is the focus; it should be moving…drawing patterns on the retina while the dancers are still. If the focus is on that which the fire illuminates (skin, most likely), essentially you are using the fire as a mobile and localized light source, an aid. When both the fire and the dancer are moving, they cancel each other out because the eye doesn't know where to look. Fire is already visually distracting because of its irregular flickering movement. Our eyes are designed to track movement. So if the dancers are moving, the fire should be still, and vice versa. Doesn't mean you can't draw swirls with a torch and then hold the torch still to show off a belly roll.

When I started watching this DVD, I went straight to the Performance section and as I said, it was disappointing. It's very hard to film fire, though, so all of my videos look exactly the same: dim and washed-out. This was a solo, so none of her great ideas for group choreographies could be seen in action. The Photo Gallery had a lot of group shots, including excellent costumes and poses. It's too bad we couldn't have seen some of the items in the Photo Gallery as part of the Performance section.

All in all, a recommended selection, for anyone interested in working with fire, and even for people who aren't.

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