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Leila and Dhyanis's DVDs

Leila’s "Belly Dance for Beginners" &
Dhyanis’s "Absolute Bellydance Basics: Fundamentals for All Styles

Review by Zumarrad/Brigid Kelly
December 13, 2010

Leila's DVDBelly 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
Zil Rating- 4


Dhyanis's DVDAbsolute 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
Zil Rating- 2

Absolute Bellydance Basics: Fundamentals for All Styles by Dhyanis
Available on
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  1. Suzanne MuirNo Gravatar

    Dec 16, 2010 - 07:12:24

    Even though I am not an absolute beginner, Dhyanis’s presentation of the moves provided me with several ‘Aha!’ moments.  For example, I was able to figure out that my previous difficulty with head slides stemmed from the fact that I was holding my head too far forward.
    I particularly liked the addition of varying tempo, as soon as the move has been learned.  It added a playful element that encourages improvisation and rapid assimilation of the moves.
    Yes, the movements are exaggerated.  I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing, if one is attempting to teach a beginner by means of video alone.
    Working with this DVD left me feeling energized and supple.  It is not a purchase that I regret.

  2. DhyanisNo Gravatar

    Dec 21, 2010 - 10:12:11

    After reading this scathing review of my first DVD, compiled after 35 years of continuous study of different styles of this dance – ouch – snakebite! So a few well-chosen comments in my own defense – I was indeed a “child” of the 70’s bellydance scene in America, but what I compiled in this DVD is mostly what I was NOT taught back then. After extensive travels to the countries of origin (e.g. Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Israel, Greece, etc.) I have understood the underlying keys common to all the styles, including softening the knees at all times and learning the isolation “alphabet” of the body. Also the postural alignment on a vertical central axis (we used to dance leaning back) and muscular control from our low center (I did not even mention that is our power chakra or hara, not wanting the DVD to become too woo-woo).

    And with a solid additional dance background which includes ballet, modern, Polynesian, Indian, Flamenco, etc. – we call those “squats” pliers, and we use stretching and strengthening exercizes to prepare the body – safely – to more easily accomplish the demands of bellydance. Many of those were gleaned from such luminaries of our field such as Sahra Saeeda, Rachel Brice, Eva Cernik, Karen Barbee, etc. etc). To address the final point, several of my students have become world class dancers/teachers. This year the stunning Mira Betz, who got her basics from me,  told me she still quotes my teachings to this day. That was the highest compliment! 

    Finally,  to check my credibility vis-a-vis the true origins of this dance, please consult “Grandmother’s Secrets – The Ancient Rituals and Healing Power of Belly Dancing” by Rosina-Fawzia Al Rawi of Iraq, who came to our studio and shared with us what dancing meant in her life.

  3. Helene HollNo Gravatar

    Jan 2, 2011 - 03:01:28

    I took my first belly dance class with Dhyanis 18 months ago as an “absolute” beginner.  I am a certified personal trainer and I am currently enrolled in the Advanced Studies/Teacher Training Program at the Iyengar Institute in San Francisco.  I have more than 30 years of fitness experience and can discern a good teacher from an inexperienced instructor.  Dhyanis is both an experienced and a passionate belly dance instructor.
    The Absolute Belly Dance Basics CD is true to Dhyanis’ teaching method in the actual studio. She has an exceptional ability to break down each movement into its basic building blocks and to use imagery very effectively to convey how the body should move.  She is both an attentive and patient teacher – qualities which are invaluable when teaching beginners.  As she amply demonstrates in her CD, she is also a stickler for proper form: i.e. engaging the core to protect the back, lifting the torso, retracting the shoulder blades etc… and she never sacrifices form for movement.
    I have played her CD many times since it was put out and can honestly say that it has helped me to develop more sophisticated moves because I can follow the mechanics at my leisure.  The arm sequence is especially helpful on screen as that is one of the more complex moves for a beginner to master.  The viewing of a single move from different angles is something which I have not seen often but is in fact quite helpful as it gives a feel for the movements in “3D”.  She has a good warm-up routine which is very important to incorporate in order to avoid injuries. Lastly, her brief history of belly dancing adds value to the art form as it places it in a long historical lineage.
    I highly recommend this CD to beginners, and to more advanced students alike who may wish to brush up on their basics.  It is a safe method which will ensure greatly flexibility and fluidity of movement when practiced regularly.


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