Three Core Training DVDs and One Special Treat
--Core Training for Bellydancers Bellydance
Conditioning with Ariellah
--Industrial Strength Dance Workout with Shakra
--Bellydance Arms & Posture with Rachel Brice
writing these articles is a lot more fun than going to work.
I'm already late and yet here I sit, wondering how to best
arrange all my notes.
first two items, Core Training for Bellydancers and
Ariellah's Bellydance and Yoga Conditioning, present
various conditioning exercises that are designed to ultimately
improve your bellydancing. The third, Industrial Strength
Dance Workout with Shakra, is more about active movement.
The last one, Rachel Brice's Bellydance Arms & Posture,
offers conditioning for the upper arm and shoulder to practice "Carriage,
Coiling, and Serpentine Stylization."
Training for Bellydancers
This is old-school core training. The Fitness
Pharaoh is a DC-area personal trainer named Gerson Kuhr,
who's worked with a lot of bellydancers. His core training
exercises are standard floor exercises, mostly crunches,
leg lifts, and twists of various sorts. The exercises are
very specific, are carefully explained, and even come with
an illustrated booklet.
DVD is well-organized and informative, almost more of a textbook
than a straight workout.
his introductory remarks, it's a little ironic listening to
a huge, heavily muscled man claiming that his exercises will
give you a more feminine body. The cheesy touches are kind
of fun - his full-bore "pharaonic" attire, the dancing
letters, and the stage set with tiny pyramids.
got a direct and gravelly delivery that actually inspires confidence
in the workout itself. He promises that the benefits can be
accomplished in only 15 minutes a day, which sounds like one
of those 1-800 TV ads selling some new and revolutionary type
of vacuum cleaner.
exercises are divided into 5 core areas of the torso: four
of which are various frontal abdominal groupings, and the last
being the low back. Each section is preceded by a color-coded
anatomical illustration and a description of the benefits from
conditioning that particular muscle group. The Fitness Pharaoh
presents clear performance goals and instructions for exactly
how fast, how many, etc.
caveats about this type of core training are:
much emphasis on "core integration" and "core
strength" can make your torso look too stiff.
actually more to the core than the torso.
core training is only the first level. You won't become an
Olympic gymnast by using this DVD.
not sure why all the back muscles are lumped under one category.
demos were clear, but not all that inspiring. The Fitness Pharaoh
didn't look like a dancer. He looked like a bodybuilder. The
three dancers who also demonstrated the exercises could have
shown a lot more torso flexibility and articulation. I wish
he had used someone like Ariellah or Suzanna
del Vecchio as
a model to demonstrate the exercises. The dancers in the DVD
didn't have anything like his musculature or the body definition
of someone like Rachel Brice, either.
performances seemed like generic cabaret, lackluster and rather
bland. It would have been interesting to have dancers from
several different styles demonstrate how the core training
had helped their particular dance.
get the most out of this one: It's all on the floor. Watch
the exercise instruction portion first. Pause and take notes,
until you have a complete list of all the exercises and pointers.
Then go through one of the workouts. After that, you won't
need the DVD anymore, just run through the exercises from your
notes until you know them by heart. Then, go to a good fitness
trainer or Pilates instructor for a few private sessions, if
you can afford it.
Zil Rating: 3, for beginners
and Yoga Conditioning with Ariellah
Is there really anything that special to the yoga/bellydance
mystique? It's not the fact of mixing the two, but how you mix them
that's important. My yoga experience consists of over 10 years of
personal practice, mostly in group classes at dedicated yoga studios.
I expected that anyone teaching yoga would have the same depth as
a full-time yoga instructor, and with the dancers, that's not always
DVD is a lot more comprehensive than Rachel's first DVD (not
the one reviewed here). There's a lot more material, including
75 minutes of drilling, two yoga warm ups to choose from, and
40 minutes of choreography, combinations, and performances.
(Don't try to work through the entire thing from beginning
to end in a single session the first time you play this.)
all the pyrotechnics, the very best part of this DVD is Ariellah's
posture. She has the core integration without either the stiffness
of a weightlifter or the distortions of some of the other Tribal
Fusion dancers. She has a swimmer's body, smooth, sleek, and
toned. Maybe her elegant posture is from those 6 - no wait,
it's 12 - years of ballet training with the Royal Academy of
liked Ariellah's approach to "core". She talks about
more than just the trunk, and gives good instructions for the
drilling section, along with flawless demos of the drills that
are long enough to be very useful. The drills included torso,
hips, snake arms, ribcage, shoulders, head, and taqsim. There
were no hand floreos or other hand isolations, and no stepping
yoga sections are not all that deep. She does an abridged version
of some commonly used sun salutation flows and positions, concentrating
entirely on the physical aspect. I went all the way through
the longer warm up, about 15 minutes, and still wasn't that
warm at the end. There was little emphasis on breath, which
to me is an absolute fundamental for effective yoga practice.
you don't have any yoga experience, you should go and get some.
I would try something like an Ashtanga flow class, to learn
variations on the sun salutation. Taking some Pilates will
also help. You will need some good feedback and hands-on correction
in order to get the most out of the exercises and drills.
trains you to be aware of each part of your body. This leads
to much greater control for isolations and other movements.
For me, it was being in a stretch or flow and learning to "breathe
into" a particular area. It's a different level of mind/body
integration. That's why it was disappointing that Ariellah
didn't include more of this.
had some nice musical choices for the yoga. I heard ouds and
flutes instead of industrial noise. She's got full musical
credits at the end.
been holding off on finishing up this review until I tried
the combinations, and I was too exhausted by the drills to
pay enough attention.
- if you want the Tribal Fusion goodies: sculpted arms, ooey-gooey
torsos, ultra-slow serpentine undulations, and razor-sharp
hip work, you can find lots of it here. In the combinations,
Ariellah overlays the isolation drills on top of each other,
and weaves them into complex, multi-layered movements. As choreography,
I'd find it too busy and somewhat squirrelly. But, if you can
get these movements into your body, you can use them in your
own dance any way that you want.
methodically breaks down every single movement in each combination,
carefully explaining every mechanical detail until I thought
my head would explode. Then, in the "Choreography" section,
she does an entire routine consisting of all the combinations
strung together, to two different pieces of music with somewhat
different moods and tempos.
you play the "Choreography" practice section,
it loops so that you can do the combination over and over
over without having to fiddle with the remote or your computer.
That's very handy!
teensy complaint about the combination practice section. The
first piece of music is instrumental only, but the second piece
of music included a haunting and poignant 9-11 scenario - someone's
last phone call while the plane is going down. I would have
liked it if Ariellah could have indicated somehow, in her expression
or body language, that she was cognizant of some sort of meaning
in those lyrics. Yeah, yeah, I know, it's only a drill. But
still, it was a little odd to watch her work through the routine
to this imagery with a dreamy expression of far-away sweetness
in her eyes that never seemed to change.
performance sections were well-filmed, and provided good studio
demos of what she's training. Ariellah has the range of motion
and flexibility to do really sharp pops and really smooth undulations.
Her strength has not cost her her flexibility. She's a much
better example of how to apply core training to bellydance
than the performances on the Fitness Pharaoh. A fellow dancer,
to whom I showed the performance section, remarked that it
was nice to see the Rachel Brice styling on another body type.
get the most out of this DVD: Put the mirror in front, slightly
off to the side. You don't need a ton of floor space, but get
a yoga mat if you're doing the warm ups first. I'd just do
my own yoga warm up and then go straight to the drills. There
are two drill sections that are complete workouts, one intermediate
and one advanced, so just pick one. Use the Pause button to
drill one exercise a little more but try not to wear yourself
out too early. Then try one of the combinations. I think if
you try to run through the entire DVD in one workout session,
you'll run out of juice, mentally if not physically. This DVD
really requires full concentration and attention.
Rating: 4 zills, yes 4! Intermediate/Advanced.
Strength Dance Workout with Shakra
Afro-Industrial Goth Boot Camp! That's what this is,
and it's good clean fun. It's led by three members of Shakra, and
they come on like super heroes. The target audience might be teenage
girls and young adults. As a teen I would have loved this. I would
have thought I had died and gone to heaven.
are three of them, teaching as a team. They wear boots. I don't
know if you need the boots. But their moves will work well
in boots, and look good in boots. Nitpick: black boots on a
dark floor made it harder to see some of the footwork.
word "bellydance" does not appear anywhere in the
title, and it's only one of several influences that Shakra
mentions, along with African, Bhangra, Modern, and Hip-Hop.
My own experience in these genres is mostly African (Senegalese)
dance classes, so I was interested to see their interpretation
of some African dance style.
will need a lot of floor space for this one. As much as you
Goths, this could be a good companion piece to Tempest's Bellydance
for Beautiful Freaks, which is more about image and imagination.
This one is about boot stompin' cardio with cool moves that
are fun and sometimes challenging to do.
missing a staged performance section. It would be nice to see
Shakra perform a short set, maybe even at a live show, as part
of their workout DVD. This would show where you could ultimately
take it. They had some previews as background during their
is a surprisingly versatile workout, including a lot of footwork
and valuable tips on safety and body awareness. In the introductory
section, they have excellent breakdowns of movement and posture,
not overly simplistic but very applicable and immediate. They
offer very useful visualizations for many of their movements.
workout sections are high-energy, with more jumping around
that is usual on a "bellydance" DVD. After all the
slinking in place that's on some of the Tribal Fusion DVDs,
this newfound freedom is a nice change and will get your heart
rate up, too.
not quite as strenuous as the boot camps and kick boxing classes
at my old gym, though. The hip-hop aspect seemed a little watered-down
to me - I don't think they would have passed the audition for "Stomp" -
although since they weren't pretending to be world-class hip-hop
artists, who cares? Sometimes the workout was a little too
stop-and-go, interspersing short cardio drills with pauses
may have been because it's targeted at younger people who might
not have much fitness experience, and so Shakra took a more
supportive approach that allowed more rest points. They offered
frequent verbal encouragement, both to one another and to the
viewer. The "team" feel, the group dynamic, was very
call their dance style "Transfusion Dance" and aside
from having a reasonably balanced dance vocabulary and style,
they also had the concept of "Gears" which is basically
to take each movement and do it first half time, then full
time, then double time, and finally overdrive. This allows
the viewer to learn the movement and get comfortable with it
first, and then to see how the movement changes at higher speeds
(it gets smaller).
also interesting that as a fusion offering, they kept more
of the differentiators between the styles in a way that showed
their understanding of the forces at work behind each movement.
For example, they used more than one basic posture or stance.
One was feet close together, reasonably upright and facing
front, a bellydance "home" position. The other was
a wider, bent-over, flat-back stance, which I remember from
my African dance classes.
my Senegalese dance classes, I remember the instructors constantly
shouting "Bend over! Get DOWN!!" every single class,
because their basic "home" position is a wider stance,
slightly bent over, with a flat back, and slightly bent knees.
If you try that in a bellydance class, you'll get corrected.
position is better really depends on what movement you're doing
next, for maximum muscle recruitment. It's good to understand
which ones go with which movements instead of insisting that
there's really only one true way.
a totally unrelated note, my roommate brought back an old Fred
Astaire movie last night; I noticed that he and the two female
leads ALL used a dropped crouch position during their dance
had really good exercises. The ones I best remember are the
shoulder pull, the shoulder roll with stilled hands, and some
stepping jumps. Many of these movements, particularly the stepping
patterns, were presented as general memes that could be applied
to many world styles of dance.
would be nice to add higher jumps and more explosive power.
They had some of that, but I wanted to see them get really
they could have been a little more "on"... they seemed
to lag just a little, like an Egyptian cabaret dancer. In fusion
dance it's just as important to know whether to be early or
late as it is to know the rhythm is a Mandiani or a Maqsoum.
Hip-hop is a very ON TIME rhythmic sense, and you have to really
hit the downbeats with strength and explosive power. This is
distinct from the leisurely flow of Egyptian Raks Sharki, or
the driving whirlwind feeling of West African dance. Shakra
is influenced by all these styles - but even if you're mixing
African with Hip-Hop and Middle Eastern moves, whatever sense
of timing you use is going to flavor the entire dance, so choose
was interesting to have a mechanical breakdown for the
African moves. I've had so many breakdowns for bellydance,
and Pilates, but the Senegalese classes were all sink-or-swim. "Follow
the bouncing butt" except it was more like "Follow
the blindingly fast feet". Shakra's movement breakdowns
seemed physically sound and easy to pick up. Shakra's African
styling was pretty strong, except that they seemed to do many
of the African-style combinations from an upright position,
which made them more difficult to do. But Shakra says in the
intro: "Please feel free to modify these movements
any way that feels good, any way that you want."
would have liked to see film clips of the "root" arts
that inspired them. Seeing not just one, but perhaps several,
master dancers who might have been their direct influences,
would help in understanding Shakra's adaptations.
Rating: 3.75 zills, all levels
Arms & Posture with Rachel Brice
This late arrival (in my hands, I mean) is more specialized and less daunting
than Ariellah's conditioning marathon. I got through the entire thing in about
an hour. It's filmed in a studio with a mirror, so you can see several angles
at once - very useful.
just because it's shorter does not mean it's less worthy in
any way. Rachel and Ariellah have worked together as founding
members of The Indigo. The bio page on Ariellah's web site
seems to imply that Ariellah learned quite a bit of her bellydance
style directly from Rachel, but what has Rachel gotten from
Ariellah, I wonder?
Brice is the queen of serpentine stylization, and I like this
DVD a lot better than her other one, which consisted of introductory-level
Tribal Fusion technique, a more generic yoga workout, and an
oddly filmed performance section. In this one, Rachel has successfully
adapted and fused yoga and dance to create a set of conditioning
exercises that are truly optimized for achieving her signature
yoga warm-up was a combination of basic "half-A" sun
salutations with balletic arm movements integrated with breath.
It sounds a little hokey, but it wasn't. It showed an elegant
integration of the arm paths in a way that led very naturally
into the other sections.
was a series of seated drills for shoulder isolation that seemed
to me to be the essential part of getting the Rachel Brice
arm style. (I had expected this on her earlier DVD, but alas.)
Just do these every day until your arms fall off. The way it's
filmed shows every single muscle in her incredibly well-toned
offers good vocal promptings throughout, seeming to anticipate
what kind of mistakes people were mostly likely to make ("remember
to keep your throat relaxed"), and encouraging when some
of the drills intentionally went on for one to two minutes.
Her teaching style is very confidence-inspiring.
she goes on to show examples of arm placement in dance, including
drawing up, pressing down, arm undulations, and some side to
side undulations. It's very methodical and carefully thought
out, and seemed like the result of a lot of teaching experience.
While going through
the exercises and the drills, I noticed that many of Rachel's
movements as demonstrated seemed to be outside of my range of
motion. At first I blew this off because it was my first time
trying it out, but now I think it's a real issue.
A mature classical
style works on the universal lines of force that are present
within everyone's body, such that even people
with limited ranges of motion or other challenges can still do
the techniques "correctly". I remember in yoga classes,
the instructor would sometimes get a stiff or musclebound person
and would have to adapt the postures for that particular student's
abilities. But, that posture was still correct in terms of yoga
alignment - and yoga benefit.
By stating clear performance
goals with visualizations such as "keep your hand always in front of your sternum" or "palms
gently face each other as if you are holding a giant beach ball",
people with injuries or limited ranges can still be successful,
and can still work it out for themselves somehow. The essence
of the movement should not begin at an extreme point, in other
words. It should begin at point zero and the students can gradually
grow along a continuum until they, too, can fold up like a pretzel.
performance section is nothing short of supernatural. OK, maybe
it's only demi-god level, but that's still worth the $17.99
or whatever Amazon wants for it. She's wearing this outfit
of shiny disks that, well, you have to see it. The flashes
of presence that I used to see in her are here, in this performance,
all the time. Maybe it's because this one was live? It wasn't
as well-lit as Ariellah's studio performances, but the super-charged
immediacy of the live event made up for it. Rachel performs
to pre-recorded music, but it's Turkish Roman music rather
than industrial noise.
has great musicality and is not afraid to dance to live music
from a wide array of bands and musicians, anything from specialty
regional music to jazz fusion to industrial. But, just because
she understands a Turkish Roman 9/8 inside and out, does not
mean that she dances using Turkish Roman styling or movements.
She does her own thing, the serpentine thing, all the time,
adapting the tempo but not the attitude.
liked her performance personality. It's more expressive and
less deadpan than it used to be. I would almost watch this
one purely for her stage charisma. I mean, it's nice to be
able to fold up your arms overhead like one of those folding
geometric mobiles at a science museum, but it's not as "core" -
hah, core training! - as having a strong presence.
the Bonus section there's a hilarious interview/chat between
Rachel and Miles Copeland, the promoter of the Bellydance Superstars
who helped to propel Rachel to international bellydance fame.
She's sitting at a backstage dressing table, snapping orders
at him: "Tell them how long it takes me to do my makeup!" and
he's responding to the camera with authoritative facts on these
vital details. We learn that it takes her 1.5 hours to get
ready, and that she wears 2.5 lbs of jewelry on each arm. Then
she turns to the camera and adds, "If you wear a lot of
heavy jewelry, you should use WEIGHTS for the arm drills!"
she says, "I'm really from Planet India. Not India, the
real place. Planet India."
Rating: 3.75 zills
What About Yoga and Pilates, Then?
Rachel Brice at the Serpent Rouge Show
at Broadway Studios, North Beach, San Francisco, May
really learn the conditioning exercises, newbies should get
some personalized, hands-on correction from
a fully qualified instructor in each of these disciplines.
This person should have a really good eye. The "eye" is a talent
that can't be fully taught; I've had some of my best Pilates classes from
people who were still in the middle of their teacher training.
you skip the in-person classes, you can develop bad habits
and never know it.
both Yoga and Pilates there are numerous styles or schools.
I think the style is less important than the instructor's depth,
but you should feel good about the entire approach as well
as the person training you. If you go into it with fear or
reservations, you'll hold back unconsciously and limit your
Tribal Fusion a Mature Genre?
The performances on Rachel's and Ariellah's DVD were not choreographic works.
There was no real notion of choreographic development - it started when the
music started, and went on till the music stopped. All the performances used
the same set of movements in the same way, in similar costuming to different
and inter-changeable pieces of music.
don't think the Tribal Fusion style is really a complete "system" by
itself. It's a pidgin dialect. But then, some people actually
say the same thing about cabaret bellydance. I don't know if
they're right or not. One writer on MED-list says, "Most
Cabaret styles are also a fusion of movements from different
areas with one area as the primary/foundation." So I guess
that if Tribal Fusion would just pick a primary root art, at
least on a piece-by-piece basis, I'd be happier with it somehow.
If it doesn't continue to evolve, it's a fad. But regardless
of whether I like it as a style, their exercises are terrific.
a comment? Send us a
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uneven exchange between music and dancer, I feel, took away from
a performance that had the potential to be much more dynamic.
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