The Gilded Serpent
The Gilded Serpent presents...
Jillina’s DVD or
All Jillina, All the Time

Video reviewed by Yasmela/ Shelley Muzzy

Jillina’s boxed set of 3 instructional DVDs looks like the first by-product of the recent Bellydance Superstars tour.  Now let me say right off that I like Jillina’s dancing.  She is perky, cute, and technically proficient, so I was excited to be asked to review this set.  The set is attractively boxed, each DVD a different color, very slick.  In fact, the production quality is exemplary. 

For those of you familiar with Jillina’s other two teaching videos produced by IAMED, the format followed is similar although professional production quality has refined it even more.

The actual stage set is attractive but not distracting.  Jillina teaches in front of a mirror with the camera at an angle that allows us to see her back as well as her front.  I liked this because it is similar to the situation you would find in a studio.  The format includes voice-over introductions and a short warm up during which Jillina instructs the viewer to do a more thorough warm up before dancing.  Then follows technique, combinations and choreography.  Each DVD concludes with a live performance that includes the choreographed section just taught. 

The series progresses from a fairly basic choreography on Level 1 to a more complex one on Level 3.  After warm ups, Jillina introduces individual movements pertinent to that choreography, and then puts them into combinations.  The combinations are repeated without music and again with music. Each combination is numbered at the bottom of the screen for easy reference.  After this, Jillina teaches the choreography using the previous combinations.  She builds the choreography by stringing sections together without music and then again with music, including a new combination at the end of the musical demonstration, giving the viewer a preview of what comes next and how it fits into the choreography. 

This is a good format that works very well, giving the viewer ample opportunity to learn each and every sequence.  At the conclusion we see the choreography performed in the context of a live routine.  I especially appreciated the list of music used that was included at the end of each DVD.

Jillina brings a wealth of outside dance training to her unique interpretation of Oriental dance that includes jazz, ballet and Hawaiian.  This is not modern Egyptian style dance; it is pure American pop belly dance, heavy on technical gymnastics and precision movements.  I think you really need some Middle Eastern dance background before approaching this set.  Jillina gives us only the steps necessary for the combinations and choreographies she uses.  She verbally encourages us to use the combinations and choreography in our own way in our dancing, but this set could by no means be construed as a course in Oriental dance.  If you are looking for history, background or foundation technique, you won’t find it here.  There is nothing ethnic about Jillina’s dancing except an occasional nod to folk styles in the names Jillina gives to some of her steps or in a bit of khaleeji head tossing and Saidi bouncing.  Other than that, her dance is pure ballet/jazz derived with years of muscular training evident in her signature “omi” and energetic bounces and pops.  I have to admit she makes me think of Tigger at times, that is when I’m not thinking about drill teams and dance competitions.  The music throughout is predominantly modern Middle Eastern pop.  And all of this is good fun, I think….

After the exceptional quality of the teaching segments, I am really perplexed by the thinking behind the filming of the performance sequences. 

I read somewhere that Fred Astaire insisted that all of his dances be filmed to include the total dancer, no close ups of faces or feet.  This cameraperson obviously did not read the same material I did.  There is nothing more annoying to me than being right in the middle of watching a performance when the camera zooms in on the dancer’s face, feet or boobs!  PLEASE!  And there seemed to be some attempt at an artsy feeling, trying to make the viewer feel like one of the audience.  This was especially annoying!  Peering between the heads and shoulders of the audience on the floor because of the cameraperson’s attempt at a “realistic” angle is a waste of film.  If I wanted to do that I could sit on the floor of some Hafla performance, I wouldn’t buy a DVD!  And what a tough audience!  The performance was filmed in someone’s palatial house, the audience sitting on the floor and strung out up a staircase with another attempt at an artistic setting.  At times it was hard to tell if they were alive or not.  Occasionally they made a half-hearted attempt at clapping or participating.  Couldn’t they find a halfway-educated audience, ply them with hors d’oeuvres and wine and make it seem less like a wake?  It reminded me of parties at which I have danced where the audience wasn’t quite sure of what they were supposed to be doing.  Subdued is an understatement.  I would have felt sorry for Jillina if I weren’t so annoyed that she spent interminable minutes looking down at her mid section as if she was in awe of what her body was doing. Who told dancers that this is attractive, educational or necessary?  It is unfortunate to have spent so much money on such a slick production and loose it in the performance sections.  As I said before, I like Jillina’s dancing, and I am well aware that filmed dance seldom captures the excitement of a live performance, but all of these sequences seem over rehearsed, too perfect; perfect costume, perfect hair, perfect music, perfect setting, just dead.  They are very disappointing except from a purely technical aspect.

This dance is not all about mechanical choreography.  It would be nice to see Jillina just let it all down and DANCE. 

I was bored by her muscle gymnastics and worn out because she was so busy.  I kept looking for at least a small spark of “feeling”, even a mistake to let me know this hadn’t been rehearsed ad nauseam.  Perhaps she was just tired and eager to be finished after such a huge effort.

On the whole, Jillina’s DVD gives us our money’s worth.  Top-notch production, excellent format, a very good deal.  I have paid as much or more for videos produced in someone’s garage with poor sound and bad teaching.  This is not one of those.  I think we should all hope that the quality of these DVDs spills over into other productions from other dancers. 

This is a really professional effort.  If you like Jillina, you will love this set.  If you are new to the dance, please be aware that this is a very Americanized version (and very regional at that!) of this dance form.  If you are looking for history, understanding of folkloric roots and styles, and some foundation technique with explanations, this is not the product for you.  Why does it so often seem that slick packaging means loss of soul?

I recommend this set to dancers who have experience and are looking for some fresh ideas, or might want to explore the best of modern American pop style Oriental dance, but as always, this is no substitute for a live warm person.  You won’t learn to dance from a video or DVD, but you can learn a lot about Jillina’s style from this set.

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