Gilded Serpent presents...
The Complete Technique,
a private lesson with Ayshe
review by Mara al-Nil

Well, I have to say that I must take a bit of an issue with the title of this DVD.  "A private lesson" with Ayshe?  More like an intensive, private seminar!  This 2-hour "workshop" is one of the most comprehensive instructional DVDs for dancers I've seen. 

That said, this DVD is most definitely not for those looking for a "quick fix" or wishing to learn how to use the "Wings of Isis" in time for next Friday's performance.  It is geared toward serious dancers who are willing to expend the time and focused attention to work through the material in a thoughtful way. 

Ayshe is a consummate dancer who is passionate about her work and this comes through in the meticulous, detailed instruction she gives. 

Her meticulousness is also evident in production quality of the DVD.  From the opening shot of her spacious SkyLoft Studio with its clean lines, to the instructional, modeling and performance sections, the videography is superb.  The sets are uncluttered with either a plain black or light background against which Ayshe presents her instruction in a well-modulated voice.  Her costuming choices allows for easy visualization of the concepts she is presenting.

For dancers used to bellydance workout or similar fast-paced videos, Ayshe's approach will require a shift in expectations. 

From the initial anatomy review covering spine, body masses and arms, it is clear that there is quite a bit of didactic material to encompass before the wings can be used safely and with graceful strength.  The clear, detailed explanations of the various body parts, articulations and postures are demonstrated from different angles by Ayshe and by Neon, who has a different physique. 

Ayshe's style is strong and athletic and favors a classical modality, which derives from ancient Greek aesthetics.  In this style symmetry and grace are emphasized.  For example, the arms do not cross the midline of the body and the torso is lifted and arched.  Oriental dance forms are layered over this classical modality.  Also apparent are her roots in African, Flamenco and modern dance. 

I would have preferred seeing more of the familiar Middle Eastern moves demonstrated, however it is not difficult to extrapolate them from what is presented. 

Likewise, I missed hearing any familiar Middle Eastern music.  Ayshe prefers using a rather hypnotic, modernistic, almost New Age-y type of music, which does work well with her use of wings.  Others may find it a refreshing change from "the usual".

Throughout the groundwork in posture and movement, Ayshe stresses proper performance posture and safety.  She recommends finding a good instructor to ensure that the dancer will be working with correct body mechanics while using the wings.  In addition to strength in the arms and shoulders, core fitness and flexibility is essential.

Much of Ayshe's instruction therefore focuses on preparatory exercises for strength and flexibility.  The amount of detail and precision vis-à-vis proper execution of the exercises is exceptional. 

However, it may try the patience of, or even seem unduly tedious to, those used to 5-second sound bytes and faster-paced material.  She brings a nuance to the lessons which may be frustrating to those who simply want to "get on with it", but as an instructor myself, I found the information insightful.  She not only covers the correct way to do the moves, but also illustrates common pitfalls such as controlling unnecessary movements of the shoulders. 

Exercises are generally shown from several different angles to aid the student's understanding of the mechanics of the move.  Many of the exercises, which are legitimate dance moves in their own right, would be useful for veil work as well. 

A respected fellow dancer who uses wings commented that she had watched the DVD and thought that Ayshe "didn't teach how to use the wings".  I was surprised by that, since the DVD covered in depth all of the following: 
  • how to hold the wings,
  • moving with wings,
  • "bird" arms,
  • wing tremors,
  • positions and articulations of the arms,
  • path of the arms relative to the torso,
  • swirling/twisting moves,
  • pivot turns and kicks,
  • barrel turns,
  • movements to use based on where the audience is positioned relative to the dancer,
  • head movements with wings,
  • foundations for group choreographies using wings,
  • using two sets of wings simultaneously, and much more.

I can only surmise that my colleague threw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak.  The exercises, in many cases, are the same moves one uses with the wings.  There is, however, one classic move, the "cocoon", which was shown but did not have the comprehensive commentary that accompanied the other moves.  After each section of related moves, there is a practice, review and improvisation section where Ayshe demonstrates in various combinations what has just been learned.

In addition to the instructional sections, there is also a chapter on the wings' structure and styles, including the "swallowtail" wings, which can be used in smaller spaces.  Ayshe wears several different gorgeous costumes paired with a variety of wings, mostly double sets.  She uses sheer wings, lamé wings and even wings made of netting in a dazzling display of colors. 

With each change of wings and costuming, she performs a brief improvisational dance, which serves as a review of the lessons as well as an inspiration. 

The only thing I disliked about this section was one of Ayshe's costumes, which included a rather curious choice of some type of long, fuchsia organza face veil that fell to the knees.  To me it looked out of place and a bit silly, especially in contrast to all the other costumes, which comprised a true visual feast.

The DVD also includes Ayshe's full, very powerful and dramatic "Oceans of Ecstasy" performance in a nightclub.  As with the rest of the DVD, the production quality remains excellent, even in the somewhat darkened club setting.  In fact, there were only a few minor lighting problems on the entire DVD, but these were so negligible that if you weren't watching for them, you'd probably miss them.

As a final plus, at the end of the DVD Ayshe includes resources for anatomy and kinesiology textbooks, and recommended bodyworkers, ballet and yoga teachers.  Too bad they are all in the New York area!

In summary, I'd give "two wings up" to Ayshe's artistic vision and this comprehensive and well-made DVD.  Now, if I could only find a space large enough to practice in.

Available for purchase here

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