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Gilded Serpent presents...
Better Late Than Never
A Review of 2005’s
Tribal Fusion Bellydance, Yoga, Isolations and Drills:
a Practice Companion with Rachel Brice

review by Erica

I have been using this DVD off and on for almost three years, and here I am finally getting around to writing a review of it. For a long time I was working out to it everyday but then I had a baby and fell off the tracks a little bit. I started Bikram Yoga a couple of months ago and, for the first time, am regularly going to another location three times a week to work out. I have noticed that I no longer do yoga everyday at home, like I used to, so I have decided to use Rachel Brice’s DVD to get back on track and add some bellydance to my days too (my teacher, Christina, is not teaching her advanced class because of an injury, so I have been bellydance-less for months!).

The yoga of the title is used as warm up and cool down for this workout. The first time I performed these four asanas (two to warm up and two to cool down) I remember sweating, shaking, and feeling like I had just had a major workout in the ten-minute warm up. Yoga is not for the weak of mind or body.

If you still have not tried yoga (I realize that there is one or two people in North America who have not), don’t expect this to be easy. The long, slow sun salutation works your legs and increases your strength and balance. The locust pose is pure torture for your abs and back.

My complaint about the yoga sections is that you are expected to go from a standing position to lying down without any warning and, I have found, without enough time. The three sun salutations end with you standing tall, and then after the black screen announces that Salabasana is next, you see your instructor lying face down with everything on the ground. The cool down also has the same up and down action. You end your drills standing and then are told to press up to hands and knees and watch Rachel move up from a lying flat position. Cat and cow is the posture you are starting, and you end with a forward fold and roll up to standing. Next thing you know, you are supposed to be on the floor with your legs out in front of you, ready to stretch both legs out to the sides. The poses are great at what they do (warm and limber you up and cool you down), but the planning could have been better, or a verbal transition would smooth things out and make you feel less rushed.

There are three versions of the workout, a 15-minute, 30-minute and 45-minute workout. I usually do the 45-minute set, though calling it 45 minutes is a bit of an exaggeration. It is more like 30-ish minutes with a long savasana (corpse pose) of relaxation at the end. Savasana is one of the most important poses in yoga, though one of the most misunderstood and ignored. It is good that there is so much focus on this pose, and it feels truly luxurious to just lie there for so long sometimes, but I do sometimes feel a bit let down by the timing of this workout.

The workout itself begins with the hips and focuses on the upper body, namely the hips and back.

Rachel Brice’s dancing is famous for being serpentine, but also focuses a lot on locks and pops.

She takes us through hip locks, chest locks, both up and down and a combination of the two, and pelvic locks. The smoother drills include undulations both up and down, small hip circles and rib cage figure eights. She does a really good job at breaking down the undulations into four movements. The movements don’t seem like they should go together, but they magically create a beautiful dance move when they transition from the sharp, separate positions to a smooth, unified roll.

The arms are in one of two positions through the workout – down and slightly bowed with the hands at the hips or up at shoulder level, parallel to the ground. I have not yet tried Rachel’s new arms DVD, but this first workout seems like good preparation for the arms workout. Holding your arms up for so long in one position is particularly good training for strengthening what is typically a weak area for us dancers.

When I was pregnant, I wondered about the safety of this workout for my uterus and its contents. I was particularly worried about the pelvic lock, where you snap your pelvis forward, bringing the bottom up towards the ribcage while tightening your glutes. I suspected that this was probably the last thing that I should be doing to the area where a new life was forming. But then, in an old, ‘70s looking pregnancy book, I found an exercise that was exactly this move, only done softly. It turns out that pelvic tilts are recommended for pregnant women, so I was on the right track without even knowing it.

If you are pregnant and practicing this workout (with softened variations), be assured that you can continue it with relative ease after the baby arrives. Because the workout is all standing in place (except for the yoga bits), you can strap your baby into a bouncy chair or car seat and rock the seat with one foot while continuing to workout with your upper body. This keeps baby occupied and happy, and it adds an extra layer of challenge to your workout!

Another change that I have added to the moves is to take out the squat. Rachel has you stand in her “dance position” with your knees bent and your knees over the toes. I have had one teacher tell us that she wants no “squatty dancers.”

(If you have studied with this teacher, you know who I am talking about.) As beginners we are told to bend the knees as much as we need to in order to gain depth and get the moves right. As we become more flexible, we should not have much trouble with dancing in a standing position. Being upright is better for our bodies, from what I have been taught and believe, so I have taken out Rachel’s dance position and replaced it with a straighter knee.

You can use this DVD to test your rhythm knowledge by naming the rhythms that are used for the separate isolations. The drumming is not the most inspiring music for dancing and interpretation, but it works perfectly for the drills you perform.

My remaining complaint is the editing of the performance. Rachel transforms her cozy, intimate looking studio into a candle-filled, gorgeous performance space and dances to, I think, a Pentaphobe piece. The editing is very choppy and it is hard to see what is going on. We are all familiar with the agony of edit-happy filming in dance, and I think we all agree that a good dancer’s work can stand alone, without any fancy film work. The editing for this piece works with the music, is an interpretation with the music, but then again so is the dance. The frequent, sudden changes in angles are like the locks that we just practiced and Rachel is performing now, but they really take away from the pleasure of watching her dance. As usual, she includes some amazing, awe-inspiring moves, so it is worth watching the performance, even if it is hard to see what she is doing.

The introduction by Carolena Nericchio is not very memorable. It is worth watching for the historical value, but I think I have only watched it once, likewise her outtakes.

Overall, this is a fantastic workout that I recommend to anyone. It will tone and strengthen your abs like a lying-down, crunches workout cannot do.

I especially noticed that my lower abs, the ones way down close to the groin, have developed amazingly. Not everyone likes drills (I love them), but if you stick with this DVD, you will find that you quickly have far more control with your undulations and with minor movements.

This DVD is available from the BDSS site also

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